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Amazon Studio’s Outer Range Episode 1 and 2 Review And Recap- The Symbolism Of The Void, Buffaloes, And Autumn Rivers

Outer Range Episode 1 and 2 creates an intriguing mix of mythology and Western stoicism in a hypnotic opener.

Outer Range Episode 1 and 2
Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Creator Brian Watkins has reimagined the Greek myth of Cronus into a Lovecraftian Western of cosmic proportions. Amazon’s latest series is a western sci-fi starring James Brolin. That one sentence alone was enough to draw me. It is an intriguing mix of existential dread and the American frontier. It reads like The Outer Limits and Home On The Range had a weird little puppy that you aren’t entirely sure you wanted but find yourself unable to put down. Outer Range Episode 1 and 2 was strange and mesmerizing, and unsettling in unspeakable ways.

Lightning flashes across a too dark sky as a buffalo with several arrows stuck in its side and a horse and rider drive towards something ominous and impossible to understand. That’s the opening moment of Outer Range. Everything is too dark as if something has come up from the depth of hell to take over this beautiful untamable land. That is by design; as we soon learn, there is something magical about the western parcel of Royal Abbott’s ranch that is tainting everyone and everything around it.

Brolin, a quiet and imposing Royal, is a cattle rancher who has lived on his wife’s family land for decades. His eldest son Perry, Ozark’s tragic Ben, lost his wife Rebecca nine months ago. She went missing without a trace, and he is left to pick up the pieces for his daughter. Royal, along with his wife Cecilia, Lili Taylor, in an understated but powerful role, helps him keep it all together. She quietly keeps the faith for the whole family even as terrible things pile up around them. Royal’s younger son Rhett boozes and rides(bulls and women) his way through life. The stink of depression, neglect, and grief hangs over the entire ranch.

While Royal tends to his spooked horse and missing cattle, another man sits and growls at the darkened sky. He is the patriarch of the rich and entitled Tillerson’s, who have been the Abbott’s neighbors since the beginning. These two men are polar opposites, but they stem from the same hardened place. They both have secrets and stories that are gradually unfolding.

Outer Range Episode 1 and 2
Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Imogen Poots'(Vivarium) impossibly named Autumn Rivers wanders onto the Abbott Ranch as if dropped from the sky with fistfuls of cash and more cryptic speech than Robert Ford from Westworld. Autumn wants to camp for a few nights. She twirls a necklace with an ordinary but strangely dangerous-looking rock and has drawn countless pictures of the Abbott brand despite claiming to have never been there. She smiles a little too freely and laughs at her own out-of-place jokes, especially in this harsh land that time forgot. Royal ultimately lets her camp on their western edge. Unfortunately, she knows more and less than she lets on, and he senses that.

Meanwhile, the Tillersons have waged war inexplicably on 500 acres of the Abbott’s land. Wayne(Will Patton), along with his three sons Trevor(Matt Lauria), Luke(Shawn Sipos), and scene-stealing Billy(Noah Reid), who sings his way through most encounters as if he doesn’t know where he is, take advantage of their wealth to push their weight around until one night Trevor pushes too far and Perry kills him. Instead of taking him to the hospital or calling the Sheriff, they take Trevor home to Royal. Royal instructs Perry to clean up and go upstairs to his daughter. He won’t let her lose another parent. Those mistakes lead them all down a rabbit hole of interdimensional travel and mythology that is barely getting started.

When Royal’s lawyer advises him to give up the land, he chooses to appeal to Wayne instead. The meeting, which should be about land rights, finds itself oddly overshadowed by a disconcerting drink choice. I found myself obsessed with Clamata and erotic art. Is the hole making everyone act weird, or were the people that live there already warped by something that called to the void?

Royal is deeply troubled, and that’s before he finds a perfectly round bottomless hole on the same land that Wayne Tillerson wants and before his son kills someone. The void moans and groans and breathes. It also seems to transport Royal for just a moment into the future when Sheriff Joy(Tamara Podemski) comes to let them know they will no longer be actively searching for Rebecca. After futilely trying to fill and cover the hole, he shouts his frustration because that is all he’s capable of in this place full of repression.

After tossing Trevor into the void, Autumn confronts him and echoes his words about Cronus from the beginning of the first episode. Then, after asking why he hasn’t told anyone and agreeing to keep his secret, she shoves him into the hole too. The next morning Royal wakes up back where he started and sporting a gunshot in his leg.

Brolin delivers a chilling prayer before dinner that night that is more a barely controlled tirade against a God he believes has abandoned him than a plea. Even more telling than his rage is his silence. He doesn’t tell anyone, even Cecilia, about falling into the void. Late one night, he pulls out a hidden picture, but Autumn confronts him about fate and his memories before we learn more. She claims to not remember anything of her early childhood before stepping foot on this land. Now she remembers it all. Royal, on the other hand, is cagey. Does he remember anything before Cecilia’s family took him in?

Before any of that can be considered, we get a flashback or flash-forward as it were of what happened to him in the void. He found himself facedown near the hole with giant drills pulling up unknown substances and belching alarming quantities of black smoke; a large timer is set to zero, and industrial lights wink on. There are soldiers with guns pointed at him and a crowd of people dressed in yellow watching. His family, Luke, and the Sheriff are all there.

Cecilia comes over from the crowd and tells Royal the land is no longer theirs, and he died two years ago. Instead of celebrating his miraculous return, she tells him to run. Luke next steps out of the crowd and fires into his leg as chaos reigns. Royal dove back into the void, which is presumably how he returned to his time. We will have to wait to find out why no one is surprised to see him back from the dead and why they are so angry with him.

Music by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans keeps us unsettled and alert even when nothing is happening because this is a black hole of a place being sucked down by time(possibly literally), circumstance, and tragedy. Outer Range Episode 1 and 2 are dangerously dark. Whether by necessity or accident is never quite established, but Bensi and Jurriaans’ unusual score does all the heavy lifting even when it is difficult to see what is happening. It’s a strong start for this inventive genre redefiner.

Outer Range Episode 1 and 2 set up the rules, loose as they are for this alien world full of as much wonder as fear. Amazon will release the next two episodes next week. Follow all our weekly coverage.

Stray Hollows:

The story of Cronos is mentioned many times. In Autumn and Royal’s recounting, he held a sickle which he used to open a portal on earth between our world and the next. His mythology begins with killing his father, Uranus, and later being killed by his children. Throughout history, his name has been synonymous with time or Chronus. This is particularly significant considering the place Royal finds himself after Autumn pushes him into the void. Has Cronus once again opened a portal between worlds or times?

What secrets does Autumn have to swap, and why did she push Royal into the void?

Autumn is when the plentiful harvests traditionally take place. It is a time of abundance but also death. Old crops are tilled under for new ones to grow in the Spring. Is Autumn there to force that culling of the earth?

Everyone sees the buffalo at different times. This isn’t a hallucination or a singularly focused message. This animal came from inside the void, more than likely just as Royal popped out. Did the missing cattle and Rebecca fall in as well? Will they appear somewhere else soon?

Buffaloes symbolize abundance and manifestation. It is an enduring reminder of our past and connection to the living spirit of the Earth. Is the buffalo a warning to Royal?

Oh, Billy, your rendition of I Have Nothing by Whitney Houston sung in your whitey righties will be remembered forever.

Clamata is such a weird drink to offer a guest.

Why is the Abbott brand on the cliffs and mountains? Was the land always destined to be theirs?

What’s the color yellow mean to you? Perhaps the bigger question is what does it mean to Autumn and why. She answers power, but what does that really mean? Why does it appear in the two years since Royal died, she has started a cult of yellow-clothed worshippers? Yellow symbolizes enlightenment, hope, and creativity. However, it can also symbolize cowardice, betrayal, and sickness. So, which side of the equation is Autumn on?