Sci-Fi Western 'Outer Range' Still Proves a Trippy Mystery Worth Plunging Into in Its Compelling Second Season

Josh Brolin and Imogen Poots are excellent in this Prime Video series about an eerie void on a Wyoming cattle ranch that randomly appears and disappears.
Sarah Ward
Published on May 23, 2024

It was true of season one of Outer Range and it doesn't stop proving the case in season two: thinking about Twin Peaks, Yellowstone, Lost, The X-Files, The Twilight Zone and primetime melodramas while you're watching this sci-fi western series is unavoidable. In its second go-around, throw in Dark, too, and also True Detective. Here, as streaming its latest seven episodes via Prime Video from Thursday, May 16, an eerie void on a Wyoming cattle ranch sends people hurtling through time, rather than a cave beneath a nuclear power plant — and that concept, time, is dubbed a river instead of a flat circle.

The idea behind Outer Range, as conjured up creator Brian Watkins for its debut season in 2022, has always been intriguing: what if a tunnel of blackness topped by a mist of floating energy suddenly opened up in the earth? Also, where would this otherworldly chasm lead? What would be the consequences of taking a tumble into its inky expanse? What does it mean? It isn't literally a mystery box Dark Matter-style, but it also still is in everything but shape. Watkins, plus season two showrunner Charles Murray (Luke Cage, Sons of Anarchy, Criminal Minds), equally ponders what effect such a phenomena has on a rancher family that's worked the land that the ethereal cavern appears on for generations, as well as upon the broader small-town community of Wabang.

Getting trippy came with the territory in season one, in an instantly entrancing blend of the out-there and the earthy. Season two doubles down, dives in deeper and gallops across its chosen soil — a mix of the surreal and the soapy as well — with even more gusto. Just like with a vacuum that materialises on an otherwise ordinary-seeming paddock, no one should be leaping into Outer Range's second season unprepared. This isn't a series to jump into with no prior knowledge, or to just pick up along the way. It isn't simply the premise that Outer Range takes its time to reveal in all of its intricacy, a process that remains ongoing in season two; the characters, including Abbott patriarch Royal (Josh Brolin, Dune: Part Two) and stranger-in-their-midst Autumn (Imogen Poots, The Teacher), receive the same treatment.

Whenever it swirls up in Outer Range's modern-day scenes, the inexplicable hole makes its presence known in the Abbotts' west pasture. The patch of ground unsurprisingly has Royal's attention — and, as they each become aware of its existence and what it means, that of his sons Perry (Tom Pelphrey, Love & Death) and Rhett (Lewis Pullman, Lessons in Chemistry), and his wife Cecilia (Lili Taylor, Manhunt). Across both seasons, Autumn and Deputy Sheriff Joy Hawk (Tamara Podemski, Reservation Dogs) are individually drawn there, each to investigate in their own way. So is the neighbouring money-hungry Tillerson clan, from eccentric family head Wayne (Will Patton, Silo) to his Cain- and Abel-esque sons Luke (Shaun Sipos, Reacher) and Billy (Noah Reid, Schitt's Creek). Then there's scientist Dr Nia Bintu (Yrsa Daley-Ward, World on Fire), who persists in attempting to convince the Abbotts to let her unfurl her research.

Stare into this gap in the dirt and no one's reflection glares back, but it still acts as a mirror for the show's key figures. They see in it what they want, be it past mistakes, future possibilities, a way to escape bad choices or the means to secure a better tomorrow (or power or cash). This is a series of hops back to the 19th and 20th centuries, and not as flashbacks; of adult kids palling around with their parents when they were child-free and decades younger; of a psychedelic mineral that unleashes visions (and gets Reid singing); of haunting tragedies and lingering omens; and of mind-bending flashes juxtaposed with a classic setting roved and lensed in a classical manner. It's also about the void that calls at the heart of everyone, be it Outer Range's versions of the Hatfields and the McCoys or those enmeshed in their lives, as we each inch second by second towards the oblivion that awaits us all.

Dark and moody in tone even when it canters across the range at its sunniest, this is a series about battles over the pivotal piece of land, reckoning with the past's echoes, existential anxiety and crises of faith, too; no one can accuse either Watkins or Murray of not being ambitious. The fact that Royal and Cecilia's granddaughter Amy (Olive Abercrombie, The Other Zoey) disappeared at the end of season one gives season two its throughline — but scouring far and wide for a missing girl is just one of its searches, and the questions about her whereabouts add to its lengthy list of mysteries. Outer Range confronts the notion that life is sifting through the unknown and unknowable, then navigating wherever it flings you. Whether that's a matter of "cosmic destiny bullshit" or how the pieces fall into place by chance is a query that each character would answer differently, as might each viewer.

While lurching from cowboys to cults, and also from rustic to dreamlike, there's a central performance in Outer Range that's paired perfectly to each of the show's array of shades. Brolin, who also makes his TV directorial debut with one of season two's episodes, is exceptional as the strong and stoic western archetype — and at unpacking it as episodes trot by. Poots embraces Autumn's status as an enigma unravelling, while Taylor rides every emotional beat of a matriarch left wondering if she can still believe in anything that she's ever known. Giving Podemski her own dedicated instalment, following Joy back to when the Shoshone were clinging to their Wabang land as homesteaders settled, is both a showcase and a reward for the grounded portrayal that she keeps serving up.

It was also accurate of season one as it is now: whether skewing towards Taylor Sheridan or David Lynch, one of the delights of Outer Range is its willingness to swerve and veer like it too is a fog hovering over an obsidian abyss. Sometimes, the series hurtles itself into interpersonal minutiae. Sometimes, it's an all-out western, not just the neo- kind. It can be a kidnapping thriller, and then a drama about feuding families and yearned-for legacies. Sometimes, it's a gleeful and eager spring into absurdity. Swish them all together and Outer Range remains worth the plunge, compellingly so, as it flows towards a hopeful third season.

Check out the trailer for Outer Range season two below:

Outer Range season two streams via Prime Video from from Thursday, May 16. Read our review of season one.

Published on May 23, 2024 by Sarah Ward
Tap and select Add to Home Screen to access Concrete Playground easily next time. x