NYCC 2016: Magical Realism and Power Vacuums This Season on Outsiders

It’s difficult to describe a show like Outsiders, the WGN television drama that’s making it’s sophomore season debut this coming Tuesday. A marriage of Sons of Anarchy and Justified with a splash of magical realism, it tells the story of a mountain clan living on the fictional Shay Mountain, a part of the Appalachians in Kentucky, and their interactions with one another and also with the townspeople. 

Season one ended in a massive climax, seeing the police face off against the Farrells in a massive standoff on Shay Mountain. G’Win (Gillian Alexy), who has gone from healer to queen to potential usurper, has become bren’in, the clan leader after the supposed death of Big Foster (David Morse). Asa (Joe Anderson), the black sheep and prodigal son of the family, returned after being gone for 10 years, only to be treated as an outsider and being utilized by G’Win to kill Big Foster. The police, led by Wade Houghton (Thomas M. Wright), are faced with the task of dealing with the Farrells, and Wade must deal first hand with the invading coal company that has upset the delicate balance in the town with their promises of riches as long as the Farrells are evicted from the land. 

There should be no surprise that the upcoming season looks to be just as wild, if not wilder, as the story continues to spiral. As we’ve seen from first looks into season 2 and trailers, there’s a lot in store. Wade is looking into a murder committed by one of the Farrells, and the police also seem to be carting Lil Foster (Ryan Hurst) off to jail after being caught in a fight. We’re the first to admit that just the sight of seeing Ryan Hurst in a prison jumpsuit is giving us nightmare flashbacks to Sons of Anarchy. But Wade doesn’t seem like the “plan a prison shanking” type of guy… for now.

The Farrells have taken in another tribe from the other side of the mountain, one that is all female, and seem to be influencing G’Win. Not only have they raised their numbers, but the coal company has decided to build a chain link fence around the Farrells instead of fighting them head on. This might bode ill for Hasil (Kyle Gallner) and his Romeo and Juliet romance with Sally-Ann (Christina Jackson). The two ended on a sour note, with Sally-Ann getting lost on the mountain for two days before finally being rescued during the bren’in coup. And of course, there’s Asa, who seems to be shrouded in mystery in the promotional material. From the looks of it, he seems to be going off the rails — literally — in one shot we see him standing in front of an oncoming train with arms stretched out.

When we spoke to some of the cast at NYCC this last October — which cut through the end of their filming schedule — it seems that the show has doubled down on the weirdness and the mystical nature of their setting. Hurst described the magical realism of the show as having the “aroma of magic”, and that the show went through a balancing act between the supernatural and the real. And while there’s definitely a feeling in television these days that reboots and repeats are crowding the airwaves, Alexy described Outsiders as a “different, unique, and wacky show”. It definitely does not follow the trend to repeat what has already been done.

Showrunners Peter Tolan and Peter Mattei drew inspiration for the Farrells of Shay Mountain from all sorts of different tribes and indigineous communities, citing the gypsies of Eastern Europe in the 90’s, the Amazonian tribes from the 30’s, various Native American cultures, and even biker gangs. Morse describes it as a more collaborative world building, on the part of the actors, saying that they’re encouraged to develop the rituals that are suggested by the writers to make it a part of the history of the people. 

Fans might be surprised to hear that despite the other trend in current television — kill off main characters for the shock value of it all — the creators actually pulled back on some of the deaths they planned for the first season, “We thought it was too much.” Even Morse’s Big Foster, who many might have assumed was dead, is coming back in full force.

As for Hasil and Sally-Ann’s whirlwind romance, it doesn’t look like the two will be spending too much time apart. Promotional trailers seem to suggest that the couple aren’t on the best of terms, but that Hasil is still chasing after her. Jackson teased that audiences would be seeing more of Sally-Ann’s story in the second season but remarked, “I don’t know if people are going to like it…” And from the trailers, it seems like Hasil won’t be spending much of the episode in peace among his people, as one shot shows him in a fighting cage with other people. “I probably have a bruise on my face through the entire season,” Gallner confesses. Despite that, the people will probably still ship these star-crossed lovers. Jackson and Gallner are definitely privy to their fan’s adoration, Jackson admits, “I’ve been reading the fanfics. […] I did not think it would become what it would become.”

With the new clan of people from the other side of the mountain, G’Win seems to have her hands too full to deal with her previous beaus. After spending much of season one defining the character by the men she was involved with, the showrunners have said that they’ve decided not to do that this year. With her new position as bren’in, it seems like she’ll be dealing with in fighting amongst her clan, the coal company, her own ambitions, and that new clan who seem like they’re up to no good.

Outsiders returns January 24th on WGN at 9/8c.