Content Warning: The following article contains mild descriptions of violence against a child.
If you finished season 2 of Castle Rock, saw both IT: Chapter Two and Dr. Sleep in theaters, and are still craving more Stephen King, we’ve got very excellent news: A new Stephen King miniseries premieres on HBO at 9 p.m. ET, and will fill that dark, haunted King-less void in your heart. The new show, The Outsider, is based on King’s 2018 novel of the same title, and follows a beloved teacher and Little League coach, Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman) who is accused of brutalizing and murdering a little boy named Frankie Peterson (Duncan E. Clark).
Maitland is arrested by police detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) at a baseball game in front of everyone as to publicly shame him for his heinous crimes the police department is certain he committed. Anderson is convinced he has the murderer, and tries to turn the small Georgia town against him.
Maitland, who immediately gets a lawyer, claims he is innocent. Although the cops are hell-bent on prosecuting Maitland, they find strange, conflicting evidence: Witnesses saw Maitland with the boy right before the murder, and the teacher drives a van that’s discovered to be covered in the victim’s blood. But! Maitland couldn’t have done it, because he has an alibi — he was a conference when the murder happened, and there’s physical proof of that. Could there be two Maitlands? Can a person exist in two places at the exact same time? Physics says hell no, but the Stephen King universe is like, sure why not.
But even then, that’s not exactly the case in The Outsider. The plot is much more sinister.
What Or Who Is The Outsider?
Warning: This article includes book spoilers from this point on.
Maitland didn’t kill the little boy. The Outsider did, of course! The Outsider refers to the monster that goes around brutally killing children, and this is referenced in the The Outsider trailer itself, so this news shouldn't be too shocking. While Anderson thinks he has enough forensic evidence to put Maitland away for good, that’s where private investigator Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo) comes in. She believes there could be something supernatural out there that they haven’t considered. That supernatural element is The Outsider, the creature who has been out there, preying on kids. Anderson and Gibney realize that they need to stop The Outsider before it claims more victims.
In the novel, The Outsider is kind of similar to Pennywise from IT. Both can shapeshift, but while Pennywise becomes more powerful as it feeds on fear, The Outsider’s source of fuel seems to be sadness. In some of King’s novels, the author has mentioned a space where all of these monsters come from. Pennywise is from the Macroverse or “Todash Space” and so is another villain, Dandelo, a monster from The Dark Tower who feeds on laughter. The Outsider’s true form is worms — specifically, worms that slurp up people’s DNA and can take on their exact shape.
Why Is The Monster Called “The Outsider”?
While there’s no real or direct explanation as to why The Outsider is named The Outsider, or why King titled the book The Outsider (besides alluding to living on the frays of society and being able to feast upon people’s emotions without being caught), The Guardian does point out The Outsider does join the conversation around the U.S.’s current political turmoil, and that may or may not explain the name. Not only does King create characters who wear Make America Great Again hats (they form in a crowd to intimidate the accused Maitland), but his work addresses how our country feels about sex offenders, who are often outsiders in society (in the book, Maitland is accused of raping, mutilating, and killing Frankie).
Gibney starts doing research on The Outsider in her efforts to stop it. Why does it only kill children? What’s its motive? How is it able to shapeshift? Clearly, this thing isn’t human. So what is it? Gibney learns about El Cuco, the Latin American version of the Bogeyman, a scary monster who attacks children who are up to no good. Parents sing lullabies about El Cuco, warning their kids about what can happen if they misbehave. The Outsider is essentially King’s version of El Cuco, whose identity originates from ancient times (like, BC ancient) and can take the form of dragons, alligators, ghosts, and pumpkin heads.
In IT, Pennywise is defeated when the kids it feasted upon proved that they weren't scared of the clown anymore. The heroes definitely seem to be the grown-ups this time, but it'll take a lot more than just the manifestation of bravery to defeat The Outsider/El Cuco.