Amazon’s Outer Range review: Bringing the weird fiction mindset to westerns

When the characters realize that the world they know is, in fact, “something else,” they have permanently crossed a threshold. The thin membrane that they might otherwise call normality has been punctured and the air of stability is leaking out. There is some attempt to cling to their worlds, to grasp something immobilized. But it is inevitably too late: there is no way to put normal when it never existed in the first place.

Almost all fiction involves characters trying to fix or improve their world. But only one genre literally points to the world, the universe, and existence: “weird fiction” or “weird new fiction.” This genre involves stories about the everyday, the normal, infused with an otherworldly, abnormal and strange aspect at its core that resonates to conclude. not a thing is what it seems. The realization unravels everything that surrounds the object or space, assimilating the world and, therefore, the characters.

A modern classic is by Jeff VanderMeer Annihilation, about a bordered coastal area called “Area X” that threatens the entire world (it moves, see?). Caitlín R. Kiernan pits bureaucracy against the supernatural that he calls Earth in his Dreamland Agents. Mark Z. Danielewski house of leaves it’s about what happens when the boundaries of your home expand into parts of the world or universe that shouldn’t exist. HP Lovecraft’s characters realized that they were insignificant entities in a universe ruled by unfathomable arcane entities. David Lynch and Mark Frost twin peaks slowly laid bare the reality of small-town America in a cosmically nightmarish place. NK Jemisin expands the limits of what cities are The city we became.

At its core, the (new) weird is about infusing what we take for granted and showing how, at its very core, what is normal, in fact, is not. When you can’t trust a house to be a house, how can you trust reality to be true?

In the new Amazon series outer range, the threat to normality is much simpler: a gigantic hole. This mysterious, seemingly bottomless hole emits strange noises and fumes. Set on a modern-day Wyoming cattle ranch (run by Josh Brolin’s patriarchal Royal Abbott), Brian Watkin’s neo-Western fiction seems to be what happens when dallas meet David Lynch.

The penultimate episode and the season finale will be released on May 6. And a lot has happened to get us there.

The troubles of a modern-day cowboy town, complete with missing wives, bar fights, and the first gay (serving) sheriff, are literally punched down a creepy hole at a ranch owned by a family called the Abbotts. This is the “weird”, embodied in a noisy void. It’s a negative space, one that has been suddenly carved into the world as the characters have always known it.

But the void isn’t the only strange new entity appearing in town: Imogen Poots’s Autumn Rivers (an intentionally ridiculous name for an unintentionally ridiculous character) is a mysterious hippie drifter who arrives at the same time as the void, wanting to camp in the Abbott ranch. Like the void, Autumn begins to insert herself into the Abbotts’ lives, messing up, annoying and generally refusing to leave the family alone. Autumn seems to be deliberately written, so it seems that even we, the audience, are in a closed room with a mosquito. His unrelenting presence, his refusal to leave, reflects the realization that the characters suffer when confronted with the harsh truth that reality is inherently broken: once seen, there is no escape.

Both the void and Autumn splinter into the Abbotts’ lives, digging into the membrane of their normalcy. Old wounds rise to the surface, what was once thought buried resurfaces, and ghosts from other times and places glimpse out of the corners of eyes and memories.

Despite not understanding it, Royal incorporates the void into his life. It becomes a hideout, a dumping ground, and, with some intervention from Autumn, a portal to… another place. But the fact that he is being used does not mean that he is understood.

Royal discovers that the earth (as on the ground) itself is not what it seems, that the void perhaps alters times or is a portal to a dimension, one that perhaps works both ways. The characters’ attempt to maintain balance and hold on to their world in the face of this grinding cosmic shift puts outer range somewhere inside the wide tent of the strange genre.

outer range is doing for dallas than Breaking off has done for office space: insert the strange, the uncomfortable, the strange in a familiar genre. Just as audiences are familiar with soap operas involving cowboys or movies about corporate drudgery, so too are the characters comfortable with their world and realities. However, by adding some extraneous element, such shows upend what we and the characters know. We are on the journey because there is no telling where this is going to go, what this means for the world and the reality that we initially thought we knew. The weird genre works because the storytelling isn’t about solving a mystery or defeating a great evil, it’s that we suffer along with the characters by having an existential crisis. As (another) terror, it is enjoyed because the crises we suffer are, at least, contained within the four corners of the show.

outer range it’s enjoyable not only because it’s mysterious, it’s well written and beautifully shot with amazing sound design. It’s enjoyable because it gives you permission to suffer the pain of insignificance, the horror of sudden ignorance, but unlike the characters, it comes out the other side. Everything is inherently…wrong. While there may be answers, and certainly the show isn’t shy about giving us Some it responds faster than I expected: the trip is more pleasant. Nothing will put the membrane back to normal. We, like the characters, are left with nothing but a bitter displacement of the ground on which we walk.

outer range

Imogen Poots in outer range.
Image: Richard Foreman/Prime Video

Focusing on the haunting emotional journey, rather than plot details, is central to the weird. You will never get adequate and definitive answers. This is not due to a bad plot like Lost, but because the “answers” in such stories are inherently impenetrable. What designs do Lovecraft have? Mysterious the gods have? Why is Daniewleski’s house on Ash Tree Lane infinitely complex and not bound by space and time? what is judy in twin peaks?

But such stories begin with the premise that everything is broken, that the truth leads to “madness”, that our embittered brains are too simple to understand. With that premise, the answers will never solidify. The membrane that held it all together is gone.

And, as some horror writers love to point out, leaving it up to the audience’s imagination is often a worse curse than providing an answer (there are exceptions). i’m not watching outer range for answers: I’m placing you firmly within the confines of a managed existential crisis, traveling alongside Josh Brolin as he navigates his universe that is crumbling, sometimes literally, around him.

Stories don’t have to provide answers, or at least concrete answers, that fit together like the missing piece of a puzzle. And this is a genre that is not, I would say, designed for answers but for experience. We already have Poirots and Marples: now is the time for more emptiness and cosmic crises. Bring the turbulent blackness.

outer range is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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