Netflix's new teen drama Outer Banks shares plenty of DNA with the teen soaps that came before it — the coastal beauty of Dawson's Creek plus the class clashes of The O.C. mixed with some of the dramatic twists of One Tree Hill — but it turns out that the biggest element of the series, about a group of teens in North Carolina's coastal Outer Banks barrier islands (or OBX), is a Goonies-esque treasure hunt that puts them in some very real danger (but with a very major prize at the end).
While the series takes place on the OBX, it was actually filmed in South Carolina due to the controversial North Carolina bill barring trans people from using bathrooms that match their gender identities in state-run buildings (it has since been repealed).
What do these clearly twentysomething "teens" with fantastic bone structure and plentiful daddy issues get into while wearing bathing suits, crop tops, and little else? Oh, just some drug deals, gun possession, destruction of property, breaking and entering, multiple arsons, grand theft auto, and more — all while maintaining several different love triangles. It's all the crazy drama of OTH, but with some major hunting-for-the-Declaration of Independence National Treasure intrigue. Let's explore it all.
Episode 1, "Pilot"
As in any respectable teen movie, our series begins by a charismatic narrator, in this case John B (Chase Stokes), giving the lay of the land via voiceover. Figure 8 is the rich side where all the wealthy people, aka the "Kooks," live. The south side is the Cut, the home of the working class "Pogues" — named after the throwaway fish — and where our main group lives.
JJ (Rudy Pankow) is a surfer, BFF of our hero, a "klepto, and a future tax cheat." Kiara (Madison Bailey), aka Ki , is an idealistic and socially progressive animal lover who is technically a Kook — her dad runs a big local restaurant — but she feels much more at home with the misfit Pogues. Pope (Jonathan Daviss) is the smartest one in the group — or so we're told — and a bit of a weirdo, but he has the most promising future. John B, our narrator, lives in an old fish shack on the water. His dad disappeared nine months ago and his mom split when he was a kid; his legal guardian uncle is somewhere in Mississippi building houses. Which means he's a 16-year-old boy on summer break living the absolute dream.
Important to know about John B: He is only referred to as "John B," not John (lot of other Johns in his high school class, perhaps?), he's clearly the kind of child who absolutely needs adult supervision, since he and Pope go surfing as a hurricane is about to hit the OBX, and he refuses to believe his dad is dead until someone finds the body.
The day after Hurricane Agatha makes landfall, the gang goes out to party (a cherished post-storm tradition) and runs into a boat that sank the night before. They salvage a motel key, but decide not to tell the coast guard about the wreck. As they're driving away, the camera pans to a DEAD BODY. Dun dun dun!
If there's one thing this show has, it's a lot of exposed torsos. If there's another thing, it's music cues that tell you exactly how to feel about something. Music cue or not, though, a dead body is Not Good.
Also in the post-storm cleanup: we see the clearly rich Deacon from Nashville, er, Ward Cameron (Charles Esten), talking to a woman (clearly a Pogue) about someone named "Scooter," whom she hasn't seen since before the storm. If you were wondering if Scooter was the body, you'd be on to something.
The gang decides to test out their new motel key, and John B and JJ find a code to the in-room safe written on a Post-it — kind of defeats the purpose of a safe if you leave the combination out in the open, but okay. Inside, they find a bunch of cash and a gun, so they take a stack of bills and the weapon and hide just in time for the cops to go inside. One of the cops pockets some cash too, so naturally the score then tells us exactly how we should feel about him: he's a bad guy. Later, he goes to a museum where very dramatic music plays as he looks at a diorama of a ship called the Royal Merchant. It was lost at sea in the 1800s with $400 million in British gold on board, and now it's a rotting pile, evidenced by the photo he holds up of what looks like a present-day photo of the decaying boat. It's not so lost after all!
Next, the gang heads to "the Boneyard," which John B describes as a three-layer burrito comprised of Pogue kids, Kook kids, and tourists. For some reason, Pogues don't hook up with each other, so they spend their time at the Boneyard macking on people (their parlance, not mine) from other groups — mainly tourists. Notable sighting: Sarah Cameron (Madelyn Cline), the most popular Kook girl and Kiara's former BFF — they had a mysterious falling out — girlfriend of an extremely WASP-y d-bag named Topper (Austin North), and the daughter of Ward, who owns the boat where John B works. JJ and Topper fight about who knows what — Topper is a douche — and John B tries to break it up. They somehow roll into the surf so they're wrestling each other in soaking wet clothes that stick to their skin. The camera lingers a little bit, because although this is not The CW, the creators of this series want us to know early on that it's okay to objectify these men. Then JJ darkens the mood by pressing the gun he found earlier to Topper's head. Seems like a cool, completely not-unhinged thing to do!
Oh, and before this episode ends, there's something else John B wants to tell us via voiceover: A week before his dad disappeared, Pops said he thought he found something and might have to vanish for a bit. That might have something to do with what the gang finds later when they go back to scavenge the wreck with scuba gear this time: a compass that John B recognises as belonging to his father.
Episode 2, "The Lucky Compass"
John B is convinced his father is still alive (yes, thank you for explicitly telling us in voiceover, John B, but that was extremely obvious). He decides that, after waiting nine full months, now is the best time to enter his father's office. His dad kept it locked at all times because he was afraid of other people stealing his research about where the Royal Merchant could be. You'd think that if your father vanished mysteriously at sea as he was hunting a famous shipwreck, then you'd definitely check out his OFFICE FULL OF CLUES before doing anything else. But not John B! John B waits nine months to discover that the compass has had a series of ill-fated owners, along with a secret compartment where his dad had carved a message for him: "Redfield." Smarty pants Pope says that although it is the most common name in the county, it could also be an anagram. Sure, why not.
Just as the gang makes this stunning discovery, a pair of bad guys drive up to the house. We can tell they're bad because of the music, but John B and co decide they're bad guys because they're unfamiliar and menacing. Good instinct! The kids escape (into the chicken coop, where JJ does another totally reasonable thing and kills the rooster that refuses to shut up), but the bad guys take basically all the evidence that John B's dad, Big John, had been keeping secret — blueprints to the ship, notebooks handily labeled "manifests," and "the Florida theory" (indie movie or emo band?).
John B decides "Redfield" is a clue that refers to the Redfield Lighthouse, where a weirdo lighthouse keeper says his view has been the same for 30 years — except it changed two days ago, with the storm. And while Royal Merchant experts believe the boat was pushed out to sea on the South end of the eye of a hurricane, he believes it was on the North end and was actually pushed closer to shore. "Ten miles thataway," he says, like a man in a western or something. Then the mood changes and he radios for the cops to come so the gang runs away again. Caught up in the moment, John B kisses Ki, but she pushes him away. She doesn't mind, she just can't, because of their weird rules. (Also, her dad really doesn't like him.)
A kind cop lady, Sheriff Peterkin (True Blood's Adina Porter), comes to visit John B to give him a stern talking-to. She knows he has the compass, she knows he took it from the wreck, and she needs it back as evidence or she's going to charge him. There's no bad guy music, so it feels like she's probably good, but we don't know for sure.
Early in the morning, Sarah catches John B sneaking on to her dad's boat to return the scuba equipment he "borrowed" (aka took without permission for the night). And while she promises to keep it a secret, d-bag boyfriend Topper finds out and tells Ward about it. Ward confronts John B, and fires him after he confesses. It's the violation of trust, you see. John B sees Sarah as he's leaving, and he tells her he got fired because of her. But he says it really close to her face so you know there's some chemistry happening there. Then he leaves by running down the street with one button on his shirt buttoned so his bare chest glistens in the wind. At it again with your CW-esque objectification of this "teen," Netflix!
The bad guys (remember them?) somehow find John B and chase him as he does his nearly shirtless sprint. Eventually he runs into a fence (electrified, thanks to a live wire downed from the storm) and falls, giving one of the bad guys enough time to catch up and stand menacingly over him as he grunts, "Now you're going to give me what I want." It's almost… sexual? Or is that the remnants of the practically shirtless running talking? Sheriff Peterkin shows up and saves the day, and tells him it would be a whole lot safer to give her the compass than anybody else, so he does. She's probably right, but that also probably won't stop the bad guys from continuing to hunt him down.
Later, when cleaning out his dad's office (really he's just making a bonfire out of the trash, including his dad's murder board of shipwreck stuff) he has an epiphany, stamping out the fire on the shipwreck board just as it singes the name Olivia Routledge. John B takes the gang to the graveyard to dramatically tell them in front of a big-ass crypt that Redfield isn't a place, it's a person: his great, great, great, great grandmother Olivia. Redfield was her maiden name. And if nighttime in a deserted graveyard wasn't creepy enough, a snake pokes its head out of the crypt they're about to try to break into. JJ barks at it (cool and normal and totally hinged) because moccasins are notoriously afraid of dogs (…okay), and when they can't open the door, Ki says she can squeeze through the hole in the wall.
What does she see that elicits an "oh my god?" Smash that "next episode" button, baby!
Episode 3, "The Forbidden Zone"
The thing that was so awe-inspiring? A FedEx envelope. Well, a FedEx envelope that that said "For Bird" on the front, to be exact. But of course before they can open it, the bad guys show up and the gang scatters. Pope's pants come off for some reason as they jump the fence, and it turns out the two dudes in the golf cart are the groundskeepers, not the bad guys, so it was completely unnecessary to ruin Pope's clothes like that, but oh well. Anyway, inside the envelope is a map with the coordinates of where Big John thought the boat was. Like, literally an "x" marks the spot. And also a mini cassette recorder, because Big John apparently hadn't gone digital just yet. A flashback (this is new!) revisits Big John recording what he says on the cassette (just about where the wreck probably is) and loading the gun John B and JJ found in the safe.
Back in the present day, the gang all decides what they want to do with the millions they're about to get. Pope wants to pay for college and textbooks (think bigger, babe!). Ki wants to record a double album. JJ wants to buy a mansion, and John B wants to "go full Kook." They sneak into the rich beach club to use their internet (power is still out on most of the island, but not in Figure 8 where the rich folks live).
They discover that those coordinates from Big John are only 900 feet deep, which they can probably get to if they can get a hold of an underwater drone. Luckily, they know there's one in the impound lot, so they concoct a harebrained scheme that actually sort of works to break in and steal it. (Another chill thing that JJ does is be stoned all the damn time, to the point where Pope tells him to lay off.)
While Sarah and Topper are getting drunk at some sort of school-sanctioned beach cleanup, Ward is yelling at his son for being "almost 20" and not as responsible as the Pogue he just fired. Proving him right, the son goes to a drug dealer's house and asks for credit because he needs to make some cash quickly. At a Kook party later, Topper jumps off of a roof into the pool while holding Sarah in his arms, and for some reason despite the fact that she didn't want to do it, she smiles at him and tells him that she'll totally go all the way tonight. But she changes her mind, and Topper storms off to go do coke that her older brother, Rafe, is selling to the other rich kids. Sarah goes home and drunkenly tells her little sister that she didn't end up sleeping with Topper because it didn't feel right, but she's not sure why it didn't feel right. What, being forced into actual mortal peril against your will doesn't do it for you?
The group goes to Ki's dad's restaurant for some food, and John B and Ki dance while the others look on. Clearly there's a lot of chemistry there. But the next morning, Sarah visits John B to tell him she didn't rat him out to her dad and get him fired, and gives him some Skinny Pop because she knows it's his favourite. (A reminder: ~chemistry~ is happening.)
Good news: The aqua drone the gang stole works. Bad news: Bro besties Topper and Rafe jump Pope while he's delivering groceries on the golf course and steal the beer he was carrying. Enter: The casual racism subplot. Pope tells JJ about the incident, who convinces him to sink Topper's mega-expensive boat in retaliation. Pope, you are supposed to be the smart one. Do not take your cues from your 16-year-old juvenile delinquent friend!
Ki and John B are surfing, and discuss the fact that they almost kissed. But nothing else comes of it. The rest of the gang just shows up and they go surfing. There are a lot of cool shots of them surfing with absolutely zero close-ups of any of their faces, because let's be real these are absolutely body doubles.
Then, the next day (or later? Who knows how time works on this show?) they go out and find the Royal Merchant. Listen, we are only three episodes in. If you thought that this would be the end… it feels like maybe you haven't ever watched a serialised television show before. There are seven more episodes! It can't be this easy, right? (Right.)
More episodes to come. The full recap will be posted on Friday, April 17.