Major spoilers for Outer Banks on Netflix are ahead. The season 2 finale of Outer Banks gives its central characters a satisfying — if purposefully incomplete — ending. The Pogue crew of John B. (Chase Stokes), Sarah (Madelyn Cline), Kiara (Madison Bailey), Pope (Jonathan Daviss), JJ (Rudy Pankow), and newcomer Cleo (Carlacia Grant) are safely hiding out on an abandoned Caribbean island, planning their next move; Sarah’s family, the mostly-nefarious Camerons, are headed to their own private island with the priceless Cross of Santo Domingo in tow. Back at home, the remaining Pogues’ loved ones mourn their disappearance.
Then, there’s a twist. John B.’s dad, Big John Routledge (Charles Halford) is alive. Yes, the same Big John, whose murder at the hands of Cameron patriarch Ward (Charles Esten) set off the events of Outer Banks, has been alive this whole time. It’s a twist that makes you ask, “Does anyone actually die on this show?”
Big John appears in the last two minutes of finale “The Coastal Venture.” Carla Limbray (Lost’s Elizabeth Mitchell), season 2’s newest villain, opens the stinger by arriving in Bridgeport, Barbados. She approaches a house and an unknown man answers the door. He explains that whoever called Limbray to the island is in the back and has been “half dead for a long time.” The mystery man is Big John. Apparently, he wrote to Limbray about “the shroud,” which is a holy garment rumoured to be hiding in the Cross of Santo Domingo (the rumours, we learn earlier in the season, were wrong). Limbray has spent all of season 2 looking for the shroud, as mythology suggests it can heal the sick. The shroud is Limbray’s last hope, since she is ill and on the verge of death.
“I know where it is,” Big John says. “I can help you. But you have to help my son.”
This twist undoes a lot of emotional — and world-building — work from Outer Bank season 1. In the eighth episode “The Runaway,” viewers learn the specifics of Big John’s “disappearance,” which was actually a homicide. Big John and Ward were business partners on the hunt for the Royal Merchant gold, which is the core treasure hunt for much of Outer Banks (until it turns its attention to the Cross). Once Big John asked Ward for legal assurances that they would split the gold 80% to 20%, Ward became hostile. A fight ensued and Ward eventually pushed Big John into a possibly fatal head injury. Rather than choosing to call for help for Big John, Ward dropped his body into the sea for financial gain.
Flashbacks reveal that Big John survived the would-be drowning, made his way to a sandbar, and survived long enough to craft John B. a clue for the Royal Merchant gold. We see a corpse in Big John’s island shelter; the corpse is holding the compass Big John left for his son and in the same position viewers last saw Big John alive. This is John B.’s body. Except, apparently, it’s not — since the season 2 finale shows Big John alive and not exactly well in Barbados. The series now has to explain how Scooter (David Ury), another associate of Ward, found Big John’s corpse months prior. Outer Banks can’t even pretend this newly resurfaced Big John is actually a surprise identical twin — checking a classic melodrama trope box — since he seemingly directly refers to John B. as his “son.”
However, fans shouldn’t be surprised that Outer Banks overturned one of its most emotionally impactful demises. Season 2 is defined by its refusal to let big character deaths actually stick. In third episode “Prayers,” Sarah is rushed to a doctor after she is accidentally shot by her brother Rafe (Drew Starkey). After surgery, Sarah flatlines due to massive blood loss and her doctor (Marshall Bell) walks away, telling John B. there isn’t anything to be done. John B. tearfully performs CPR for minutes on Sarah’s lifeless body (far too many minutes for someone’s brain to lack oxygen, Grey’s Anatomy will tell you). At first, it appears Outer Banks is ready to kill off a beloved main character like Sarah to give the Pogues an intense new reason to want revenge against the Camerons — or, in a pragmatic sense, free Sarah’s portrayer Madelyn Cline from her OBX responsibilities in favour of hanging out on yachts for Knives Out 2. But then John B. tells Sarah’s corpse, “I love you.” Suddenly, her monitor is beeping once more. Her finger trembles. Sarah Ward is alive.
Sarah’s dad Ward pulls a similar, if more scheming, bait and switch later in the season. In sixth episode “My Druthers,” Sarah, her friends, and the police watch Ward falsely confess to killing Sheriff Peterkin (Adina Porter) — which is a crime Rafe comitted — from his boat, My Druthers. The ship then explodes, supposedly killing Ward. For a few episodes, Outer Banks is forced to live in a new world, where Ward isn’t the primary moustache twirling villain. Naturally, Ward resurfaces in penultimate episode “Trapped.” In the finale, Ward explains that he purposefully faked his death by blowing up My Druthers and escaping with scuba gear.
At this point, don’t be surprised if the Royal Merchant comes back in Outer Banks season 3 as a ghost ship.