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Prime Video's Outer Range Opens Up in a Hole New Way in Season 2

Far out in the west passage of a Wyoming cattle ranch, dark and looming and as elusive as Brigadoon, lies a hole. A vast, black chasm surrounded by swirling energy, which sends anything and everything that falls down it through the obsidian abyss of time. Where it might end up, nobody knows; but most of the time, it's sent exactly where it needs to be.

That's the twisty conceit at the heart of "Outer Range," one of Prime Video's most intriguing new series, whose 2022 premiere gave us a tonally daring neo-Western that dipped its toes into the family-feud soap, science-fiction, and murder mystery. Think "Yellowstone" by way of "Twin Peaks," with the mechanics of Netflix's sorely-underappreciated "Dark" thrown in. Its first season felt like a little miracle, as two feuding families battled over control, and understanding of, the hole, and by extension the knotty mess of their own lives and chronologies. Season 2 takes a few missed steps toward the confounding, but commits deeper to the show's own weirdness, which is appreciated.

Starting up right at the end of the stampede that punctuated last season's end, the opening minutes of Season 2 see the Abbott clan both temporary and emotionally scattered. Granddaughter Amy (Olive Abercrombie) is missing, matriarch Cecilia (Lili Taylor) feels her faith slipping through her fingers, and grizzled head of the family Royal (Josh Brolin, his stoic grimace and bottled-up emotions the perfect avatar for Western masculinity) watches in horror as his secrets tear his family apart. Not only that, other characters are either comatose (like Noah Reid's songbird Billy Tillerson) or displaced in time, like eldest Abbott son Perry (Tom Pelphrey) or dogged Native sheriff Joy (Tamara Podemski). Only Lewis Pullman's Rhett seems to have come out relatively unscathed, contemplating leaving town with new girlfriend Maria (Isabel Arraza). 

But, it seems, the hole isn't done with them yet, as the same forces seem beset on controlling, understanding, or profiting off it in new ways. The Tillersons, the Hatfields to the Abbott's McCoys, still plot their revenge against the clan that controls the hole they so crave: elder son Luke (Shaun Sipos) hears voices coming from their obscene wall of deer heads at their ranch, and butts heads with eccentric patriarch Wayne (Will Patton, always the best kind of slimy) over their strained dynamic. And in the middle of it all is Autumn (Imogen Poots), the mysterious drifter who entered their lives and, as the previous season implied, is the now-missing Amy all grown up.

Much like "Dark," "Outer Range" uses the conceit of time travel and its labyrinthine possibilities to explore the gaping voids inside its cast of characters. Whether it's Royal trying to hold his family together amid the revelation that he himself is from the past (the hole brought him to the 20th century from the 19th as a child), or Perry's healing encounter with a younger version of his mother and father, the show's cast all have emotional wounds from the past, or portents of the future, from which they're running away. For some, the hole means a chance to right past wrongs. For others, it means pure profit. Or escape. But it's less of a resource than a crucible, through which all must pass in order to understand themselves more fully.

The show's writing, led this time by Charles Murray, who takes over for series creator Brian Watkins, contains the same level of heady philosophizing and convoluted plotting as its inaugural season. But there's something different about it—it feels relaxed, more well-structured, and ravenous to further pry open the pages of each character's story through the lens of the hole. You feel this most in episode four, "Ode to Joy," the standout episode of the season, as it follows Sheriff Joy's years-long stay in the 1880s, among the Indigenous tribes that lived there in the final years before homesteaders drove them off. The sight of a modern Native woman, modernized in so many ways while still clinging to the culture of her people, experiencing life among their ancestors, is distinctly powerful -- doubly so when it lets her witness (and participate in) a formative moment in a familiar character's life. 

That said, the plotting isn't without its missteps, and Murray struggles to figure out where some of the pieces Watkins gave him truly fit. Rhett and Maria are the biggest victims of this, spending half of the short season driving around thinking about leaving and the latter half standing around, never impacting the story in any real way. The Tillersons also feel scattered this season, with only Patton's scenery-chewing in the latter half standing out (not to mention a bizarre country-Western pop music video coma hallucination from Billy, one of the show's rare tips of the Stetson to the absurd). 

Still, the ones that do get service -- Royal, Autumn, Joy -- let us see the clash between what could have been and what could still be, and similar metaphysical questions about the nature of our existence. Are we always fated to be who we'll become? Or can a change of scenery, or chronology, change that?

It's astonishing to see "Outer Range"'s deft command of tone, one as nihilistic and brooding as "Dark" but suffused with moments of surprising warmth and tips to the ridiculous. (That kind of camp is necessary; after all, this is a show where more characters talk about hole than a Folsom Days group chat.) Characters experience psychic visions with the help of black soil the hole produces; bodies tumble through the void while falling through it in ways not unlike the Sunken Place from "Get Out." 

But these gestures toward the oblivion of existence feel part and parcel of the show's bone-deep sincerity toward its characters—all of whom pivot their lives, deaths, and decisions around the existence of a simple hole in the ground and the terrifying possibilities that await them within. And the season builds to a cliffhanger that promises even more astonishing mysteries to come. Bring on Season 3, I say.

Whole season screened for review. Premieres on Prime Video today, May 16th.

Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is a Chicago-based film/TV critic and podcaster. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Spool, as well as a Senior Staff Writer for Consequence. He is also a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and Critics Choice Association. You can also find his byline at RogerEbert.com, Vulture, The Companion, FOX Digital, and elsewhere. 

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