There is stressful television and then there is the season 1 finale of Netflix’s Outer Banks, “The Phantom.” The episode centers around John B.’s (Chase Stokes) flight from his Outer Banks island hometown after he is framed for the murder of Sheriff Peterkin (Adina Porter). Although, viewers know John B. isn’t the bad guy here. Instead, cocaine-addled Rafe (Drew Starkey) — brother to John B.’s girlfriend Sarah (Madelyn Cline) — is the true killer.
Yet, by the end of “Phantom,” Rafe is safely on land, and John B. is left to drown in the ocean with Sarah. But John B. and Sarah don’t die — they’re saved by a ship crew. While this unexpected turn of events seems awful, it’s actually the best thing that could happen for John B. and his fellow Pogues. John and Sarah’s salvation ship is heading to Nassau in the Bahamas, and that’s exactly where John B. needs to go.
The groundwork for “Phantom’s” surprise twist begins in eighth episode “The Runaway.” Through many shady tricks — including murdering John B.’s dad Big John (Charles Halford) — Rafe’s father and villainous real estate developer Ward Cameron (Charles Esten) finds the Royal Merchant gold in “Runaway.” This terrible fact is confirmed when John B. goes to the Crane house — where Outer Banks’ central hidden treasure has been stashed for centuries — and finds Ward Real Estate signs everywhere. Ward bought the Crane home specifically to gain access to the well that is housing the gold. When John B. gets to the gold’s original hiding place, it is gone.
Ward officially possesses all of the Royal Merchant gold, which Big John spent 20 years trying to find — only for Ward to kill him over the secret. Learning that Ward was successful in his master plan is the ultimate slight for John B. after the tragedy of Big John’s now-confirmed death.
Now that Ward has the gold, he is planning to fly it to Nassau, where “Caribbean National” will take over possession of it, as he tells his blandly dastardly wife Rose (Caroline Arapoglou). In this moment, Ward does not explain what Caribbean National is, but it’s fair to assume it is a bank. As Ward told John B. in previous episode “Dead Calm,” he already had a plan to transfer the gold into the kind of fortune one could actually see in their bank account. Letting an international financial institution take the gold in exchange for a multimillion dollar off-shore bank account sounds like a solid scheme.
John B. almost foils Ward’s ability to ferry the gold to the Bahamas, but Rafe “saves” his dad by fatally shooting Peterkin (who nearly arrested Ward before taking off for Nassau). At the top of penultimate season 1 episode “The Bell Tower,” we see Ward’s plane full of the Merchant gold take off to the Bahamas. Everything Big John worked for is seemingly out of John B.’s grasp forever. This is a problem that becomes exponentially worse when the Pogues realize Ward has framed John B. for the murder of Peterkin. Not only has Ward killed John B.’s father and stolen the gold, but now he has turned John B.’s entire island against hm — inadvertently putting a $25,000 bounty on his head in the process.
By finale “Phantom,” John B. can’t think about the Merchant fortune. He’s too busy trying to stay alive, escape the island, and make it to Mexico to reunite with his friends in two months. That is why, in the final 10 minutes of the episode, John B. and Sarah boat directly into a horrifying sea storm. That wildly deadly plan of action is the only way John B. can lose the small army of federal and local police trying to apprehend him for allegedly killing Peterkin.
Although John B. was hoping to end up in the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina and Virginia — where he would then trek to Brownsville, TX. to cross the border into Mexico — the storm obliterates his boat, leaving J.B. and Sarah floating in the wreckage. This is where those kindly ship workers come in. Earlier in “Phantom,” John B. managed to recover the one piece of Merchant gold he hid in his home. When he wakes up in the ocean and sees a commercial ship in the distance, he uses the gold to signal the crew. Eventually, they come and save John B. and Sarah.
Initially, John B. and Sarah ask the ship’s captain to drop them off at the next port, whatever it is. Then John B. asks where the ship is even going. “Nassau,” the captain responds, instantly turning the pair’s terrible day around. “The Bahamas,” Sarah whispers. In that moment she realizes they have stumbled upon a ship going exactly where the Pogues need to be to steal back the gold — and ruin her dad's life — in a possible season 2. “The gold,” John B. says.
In John B.’s final conversation with Ward in “Phantom,” J.B. swears he’s “coming for Ward.” Now, the perfect plan to do just that has fallen into his lap.