“This Is One Strange Town” shows signs of improvement here and there, but its persistent issues still work to undermine all its efforts — and they don’t seem to be going away.
This recap of The Outpost Season 2, Episode 2, “This Is One Strange Town”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Apologies for the delay — wouldn’t want anyone thinking I’d been scared away from criticizing The Outpost, despite any risks to my personal and professional reputation that might be associated with doing so. It’s just that, frankly, I had better, more important things to be doing. But I’m free this evening, and since there’s clearly a consensus online that the CW’s diverse fantasy show receives a bit of an unfair kicking, I’m going to be especially prudent in this recap, and only criticize things I believe to be worthy of criticism — which would be all of it.
Only joking, obviously. The Outpost Season 2, Episode 2 actually had some elements that I enjoyed, so it’s only most of it I consider to be appalling. Which is an improvement, I’m sure you’ll agree. Anyway, let’s get on with it.
As if to remind us of the second season’s overarching plot, Talon is confronted at the beginning of “This Is One Strange Town” by her new Blackblood rival, Rebb, who dispenses some worldbuilding. There’s talk of banishment to another world and a great betrayal and a long, simmering rivalry between humans, the Blackbloods and Talon’s traitorous clan, but nothing really comes of it this week. I’m happy to see The Outpost expanding its mythology, even if, thus far at least, its mythology seems to be almost entirely pinched from other genre properties. Talon and Rebb have a brief, low-stakes fight before a meeting is arranged for later.
Here’s a point: The choreography in this show isn’t very good. There are a couple of types, generally speaking. There’s choreography that is supposed to look good — think the fancy saber duels in the Star Wars prequels. And then there’s choreography that is supposed to help tell a story and develop characters — think of the saber duels in the original Star Wars trilogy. The choreography in The Outpost doesn’t accomplish either of these goals. It looks like exactly what it is — basic choreography, visibly overrehearsed, and intended to kill time, above all else. It isn’t awful, granted, but it’s totally uninvolving.
Here’s another point: It’s easy to mock The Outpost for having a pocket money budget, but as some aggrieved fans on Twitter quite rightly pointed out, that doesn’t constitute a criticism in and of itself. I’m perfectly willing to accept that. But it becomes a valid criticism when horrendous CGI is overused as though nobody involved in the show’s production has realized how bad it actually looks. And that’s frustrating because “This Is One Strange Town” made very little use of special effects and was all the better for it. Whatever increases in the budget this second season enjoys are obviously put to better use making its setting feel lived-in, and you could see that in The Outpost Season 2, Episode 2. More of this would be fine with me.
Elsewhere, Gwyn is drunk and causing a ruckus in town, partly because she’s grieving Garrett’s apparent death, but also because her current situation seems rather dire. All of the local bigwigs are pledging fealty to the Prime Order. There’s still a plagueling epidemic. There’s nobody to prevent the guards from being unruly, and there’s no sign from Talon of a promised demon army. This is the state of affairs in “This Is One Strange Town”, but a possible solution is on the horizon.
In The Outpost Season 2, Episode 2 he’s referred to as Baron Something-Or-Other, but IMDb has him credited as Tobin. Either way, he’s an absurdly handsome gadabout nobleman played by Aaron Fontaine, who fittingly isn’t a great actor. But goodness, he’s a pretty face, and he knows it. He promises to pledge all his lands and armies and suchlike to Gwyn, the last remaining true noble, provided she marries him and gives him a child. Not a minor request, then, and Gwynn handles it deftly. But she needs an army. Is it worth her abandoning her principles — and sullying Garrett’s memory so soon — in order to preserve her kingdom?
“This Is One Strange Town” produces another semi-interesting development: Tobin’s counselor, Gertrusha (Glynis Barber), is the Mistress’s sister, an elegant aunt to Munt and Janzo. The Mistress’s feeling of inadequacy is something to be reveled in by those who dislike the character; while she’s mostly played for comic relief, we get a glimpse here of how far she’s willing to go just to show out — people dying thanks to her bootleg drug-smuggling operation doesn’t matter, and neither does the long-term future of the Outpost, just so long as she gets to flaunt her riches. This, more than almost anything else she’s done so far, makes her pathetic and detestable, as a villain should be.
That’s just about the end of the decent stuff, however. Much of the latter half of The Outpost Season 2, Episode 2 is devoted to a ridiculous subplot in which Gwynn’s sly handmaiden Naya gives Janzo a makeover, ostensibly to impress Talon because the queen has decided they’d be a good match. And I hated all of this; I’ve been criticized — or more accurately attacked — in the past for complaining about Janzo, but anything I say about him is nothing compared to how the show treats him. On multiple occasions, he has been romantically rejected by Talon. Even now, when the prospect of them being together is suggested, she spits out her drink. Any time the idea of Janzo being romantic with anyone is floated around, someone laughs. Gwynn gives Naya specific instructions to “Fix him,” so that Talon will find him attractive enough to sleep with.
And how does she do this? She gives him a haircut and tells him to stand up straight. It’s insulting. And more to the point it’s ridiculous. I don’t see anything wrong with Talon and Janzo having a platonic relationship — in fact, that’s much more interesting than a forced romance. But the idea he should be “fixed” first is ludicrous. If she doesn’t want him for the person he is, then why would he be satisfied with her wanting a spruced-up version that isn’t true to him? It grossly undermines a character who is consistently characterized as the show’s smartest. It makes him look desperate and needy, and it makes Gwynn look cruel and shallow.
I still can’t stand Janzo, by the way. If I’m defending his honor, there’s a serious problem with the writing. And to be fair, he’s actually quite a handsome fella beneath all that silly affectation.
Of course, there’s a serious problem with the writing anyway, and it’s only exacerbated when characters stand up to emphatically deliver lines that wouldn’t seem out of place in a parody. I often think that The Outpost might actually be a parody and that I just didn’t get the memo, but the more you think about that the less sense it makes. I half wish it wasn’t to be taken seriously, as then I’d probably enjoy it more. Alas, here we are. “This Is One Strange Town” ends with Withers arriving at Garrett’s apparent resting place, though finding no body, bleating his son’s name to the ceiling while clutching his fallen sword. It’s like a panto — and a bad one, at that.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.