FYI: “The Outpost” Fails To Tread New Ground… But You Should Watch It Anyway
These days, fantasy is cool. Once a niche not considered worthy of serious critical or commercial attention, a generation raised on Lord of The Rings and Harry Potter have ensured that its place in the mainstream has been cemented. Now, shows like Game of Thrones and Once Upon A Time have proved that both high and contemporary fantasy can consistently draw in an audience, and paved the way for other fantastical shows to follow them. Unfortunately, The Outpost is unlikely to capitalize fully on that legacy.
Right from the beginning, The Outpost feels more like a second-rate Dungeons and Dragons campaign than it does a rich and sprawling narrative. Instead of lush scenery and scenic vistas, we are introduced to this world through landscapes that feel dreary and washed out, a trend that persists even in sets that should feel warm and brightly lit. Even the costumes feel like renaissance fair cast-offs that have been wrung out and left to bleach in the sun; armor looks flimsy enough to bend while finery looks like one good tug could have it coming apart at the seams.
Of course, budget constraints are nothing if the story is compelling or at least entertaining, especially when fantasy is concerned. Shows like BeastMaster and Conan the Adventurer thrived despite their slapdash look, with their homemade aesthetic only adding to their initial appeal and cult following today. The Outpost has the potential to occupy a similar place in Syfy’s roster as the plucky underdog of the network, but it would need a fresh and unique take on its premise in order to do so, and it fails to deliver on that as well.
The set-up is this: Talon, played by an engaging if underutilized Jessica Green, is the last of the Blackbloods – a race of elf-like creatures with the power to summon demons and create portals to other realms. We open with her mid-way through her quest to exact revenge, a bold and intriguing narrative move that is almost immediately undercut by a flashback sequence that explains everything. Having watched as her entire village was slaughtered by state-sponsored specialist mercenaries, she is determined to bring those responsible to justice. That journey brings her to the Outpost: a small village that seems to consist entirely of the watchtower, the tavern, and the Captain’s quarters.
From there, the show attempts to set up the tapestry of plot threads that high fantasy epics are known for, handling some far more deftly than others. The ribald tavern owner’s quest for power and prestige at any cost is by far the most enjoyable, brought to life in bawdy and grimy technicolor by Robyn Malcolm, who is determined to chew the cheap scenery completely into oblivion. Others seem straight out of the Game Oof Thrones playbook: there’s a thinly-veiled White Walker pastiche in the form of Grayskins, and the Outpost is constantly fighting off parasite-carrying zombies known as a Plaguelings, as well as demons whose place within the universe is never fully explained.
With that said, by far the most bizarre arc is that of Gwynn (Imogen Waterhouse), the beautiful and regal Commander’s daughter who feels as though she’s stepped out of an entirely different show. Coolly distant and coyly girlish by turn, much of the show’s greater plot revolves around the secrets she is keeping, but episode to episode we don’t see her do much more than drink and speak cryptically to other characters. She’s even the catalyst for an infuriatingly tepid but also flat-out baffling love triangle, in which she believes the object of her affection is in love with Talon, while he believes that Talon and Gwynn themselves are in love.
These myriad plot points frequently run into and get tangled up in each other, or are left to languish, forgotten for multiple episodes while others are played out. I almost respect the ambition and scope that led to this problem, as it shows that showrunners Jason Faller and Kynan Griffin have a vision for their world that extends far beyond what has currently been explored. The problem is, for all the talk of monsters, tyrannical governments, moving armies and demon realms, we get to see very little.
That’s not to say that The Outpost is not worth watching. It’s worth viewing just for the moments that are so bizarre they become hilarious, such as the completely left field moment in which two characters, surrounded by the corpses of those infected by parasites, debate the possibility of a woman being seduced by a witch. “I’ve seen it happen,” says one guard. “Women falling for… other women.” The other guard looks on incredulously, the show caught between acknowledging the more progressive aspects of the modern world and actually integrating them into its own setting. There is also stilted dialogue, uncomfortable silences and bad editing work galore which, combined with the ever-present melodrama of both the plot and characters, makes the show perfect for giggling at over popcorn with a group of friends.
Budget constraints, generic story arcs, bad CGI – The Outpost could survive all of this if it didn’t take itself so seriously. However, its insistence on playing every dramatic moment straight, no matter how much it reminds you of a college drama production, has actually become its greatest asset. It makes the show a great guilty pleasure watch, especially for fans of the fantastical that can’t handle the density and tragedy of Game of Thrones.