‘Outer Range’ Creator Answers Burning Questions About Episodes 1 and 2
Brian Watkins tells TheWrap about that hole, the buffalo and Easter eggs.
“Outer Range” is our latest streaming obsession.
The new Prime Video series, which unleashes two new episodes each week, centers on a family of farmers, led by Royal (Josh Brolin) and Cecilia Abbott (Lili Taylor), who are attempting to keep their fragile family unit together while forces conspire from within and without. There’s the mysterious hippie chick Autumn (Imogen Poots), who has come to camp on their land; the lingering suspicion of eldest son Perry’s (Tom Pelphrey) missing wife (and mother to his child Amy); and the borderline suicidal rodeo riding of younger son Rhett (Lewis Pullman). Plus there’s the ranch next door (led by a colorful Will Patton) threatening their land. And in the first episode there’s a murder and an otherworldly void that opens up on their property.
TheWrap spoke at length with series creator Brian Watkins about every question from the first and second episode. He has answers for everything (besides what the Abbotts’ dogs are named), and
TheWrap will be bringing you episode-specific and spoiler-filled Q&As with Watkins every week as two new episodes of “Outer Range” premiere on Prime Video on Fridays.
Major spoilers follow for “Outer Range” Episodes 1 and 2.
Was that always the opening of the first episode?
It was, yeah. It always was that sequence of returning to the pivotal moment of the first episode. And I think importantly, it always started with the buffalo. A very important opening image of the series and what hopefully speaks to the larger symbology of the show.
Cecilia’s dream – it more than a dream? Is it something of a prophecy, do we think that she has tapped into whatever this underlying energy is at the Abbott Ranch?
It’s an interesting question and I think like it speaks to her character’s crisis of faith that she’s supposed to go through in these first four episodes. I think what I mean by that is this is a roundabout way of answering your question, but for someone like Cecilia, the spiritual is not the supernatural. It’s the supernatural. It is the very things in and around us. It’s our past. It’s our relationships. It is the world as we see it and feel it and sense it as informed by a sense of what is sacred and a sense of what is higher, what is holy. And I think that dream is the catalyst for us to go into that. We’re going to hear a story that reaches those planes that you just described, like where the spiritual plane collides and intersects with the earthly plane. So that, to me, particularly as audiences are carried into episodes 5, 6, 7, 8, will be an exciting thing for them to see.
Are there Easter eggs and other things we should look out for in the early moments of the first episode that speak to things that will be important later in the series?
I think you’re right to point to the symbology of the show. I think there’s objects in this show that have a life to themselves and are like little prophetic signposts for our characters. When Royal takes in the wall of owls in the second episode, his character is at this place of… He knows he’s on an enemy ground. Right? And looking at this wall of owls, I told my production designer when we were figuring out how to transfer that from the script to screen, I said, “Imagine like a wall of murdered wisdom. See what you can do there.” And I think it’s a signpost for Royal’s character as he’s going into this sort of bartering with his enemy. There’s little symbols like that that really take shape.
You’re right to point to the Easter eggs of what’s in Amy’s room, what’s on the flag, but also I think the songs that Billy sings in those lyrics, there’s little Easter eggs here and there that might guide you towards what’s going to happen. We were wanted all along and it speaks to the sort of tension of masculinity that’s at play for these characters and how that plays out over the course of this season. I think be it the Buffalo, be it the songs, be it the sign in Cecilia’s office that says, “Oh, Lord reveal yourself to us,” yes, they are Easter eggs for both character journeys and plot points. I’m excited for people to take those in.
How important was it for you that the Abbotts are modest ranchers? You’re going to get a lot of “Yellowstone” comparisons obviously and they are not the Duttons. They do not have an empire. Why was that so important to you?
I think they’ve chosen to not have an empire by the way. They’ve made very specific decisions to not use up or use the land in the way the Tillersons have.
That part of Wyoming is like God’s country. The soil is so rich. The topography is so beautiful. It’s one of the most miraculous, wondrous places on earth. And I think the reason it was important to keep them as a traditional ranching family that was really humble was to really explore characters that stand on values, that stand on principles that really embody what it means to not care about money, but to rather care about people and land and animals and things like that. I think over the course of the season, we also see how those principles are thrown into question and they’re challenged and they’re faced with the unknown in a certain way that it really helps each character look at the very ground that they’re standing on and what it means to them in the midst of an inexplicable world.
Do we know the names of the Abbotts’ dogs?
Do you know what? From showrunner fogville, I could probably pull something out by the end of this interview. There are three. Gremlin is one. I’m going to forget the other one, but yeah, we have names for them.
We appreciate that the dogs are mutts too. The Abbotts are big #adoptdontshop, which I appreciate.
Absolutely. Those dogs are great too. We loved working with them.
What is Royal hearing out on the plains and where was he? Because you introduced this idea of missing time, which is obviously a very key component to a lot of abduction theory.
The show really operates in a place or the sci-fi operates in a place where time is compressed, and if you were to imagine time crunching as a dimension where the past and the presence and the future are combining into one space, we like to explore that territory as he falls through the void and we see what he sees in episode two. There’s a collision course of the past and the present and the future all at once. And what he hears is the friction of that, I’d say. And how that operates for him is of course, as we learn in the episode operates in a very personal way where right after he finds the hole, we see this news of they’re stopping the search for Rebecca and that those are invariably linked in this eerie episode that Royal is having.
Does interacting with the void make you thirsty?
I hope to God that’s a question that audiences are asking after episode one because I think it goes back to the physical and the psychic not being separate in this show. Right? The sci-fi in the show is not extraterrestrial. It’s terrestrial. It’s always like biological of the earth. That’s what I’ll say to that question.
Amy draws a potentially prophetic illustration. Do you feel like Amy is a character who is a little bit like Cecilia, who is maybe more in tune with the kind of cosmic vibrations?
Yes. I think there’s something we wanted to render in her character that really explored when you have the innocence of childhood in your life, the whole world is filled with wonder. Magic is very much real. That was a leg up or a way in for us with that character to look at what’s the experience of the world like from a nine-year old? And how does that really play into our notions of the sci-fi for the show? I think one aspect of that is that a guidepost for the sci-fi was always like, “If it’s not emotional, it’s not meaningful.” In a way, everyone’s experience with the unknown in this is always directly related to a personal event. To something deeply personal or relational with them.
And when she meets Autumn in episode two and she starts to question what’s happening with this hippie woman on their land, she comes back and says, “I met this hippie woman. I had this great experience,” and Royal’s of course so pissed off about that. It just was a nice contrast for us with someone that is open and seeking and sees the wonder of the world as a positive thing, and then Royal Abbott who sees is as a secret to be kept, as a thing to tamp down, as a thing to hide.
This is a broader conversation topic, but will we learn more about Wayne should the cosmic forces align and we get season 2 of “Outer Range?” Do you know more about Wayne than we get to see in these initial eight episodes?
Yes, but I can’t tell you what that is.
I’ll give you a little behind the scenes story that always really spoke to me about Will Patton and Wayne as a character. Will Patton’s one of the great actors out there. I mean, he has such a storied career, but he was just such a joy to work with and understood the world of “Outer Range” on a molecular level that I think really comes across on screen. And towards the end of shooting, he pulled me aside and he goes, “Brian, Brian.” In like this perfect Will Patton charming whisper and he said, “I think I finally figured out what this show is about.” And he said, “It’s about desperate efforts at transcendence.” And I said, “You are exactly right.” And I was like, “I will remember that forever,” because then he just walked off like some ghost just leaving the room. I was like that was just an incredible little encounter we had. I think the Wayne character really taps into to the peculiar corners of “Outer Range” in a fun way.
When the void appears, is that the first appearance of the void to most of these characters? Is it a return of the void? Is it in a new spot?
That’s another one I’ll save for our next conversation. I will add that it’s absolutely unexpected and the sort of meeting of fate that occurs. There’s a line in the second episode where Perry, played by Tom Pelphrey says, “Do you believe in fate?” And I think that’s really an internal question that Royal is digging through himself. Is this fate? Why did I let that woman camp on our land? Because all of these questions coming into play for him start to wonder if there is some design behind all of this.
Are there rules for the void? He puts his hand in this episode and sees 45 minutes into the future or something, but seeing the buffalo, there’s an implication that it can travel backwards as well. Do you have that stuff worked out or is the void more of a philosophical void that can change depending on who it’s interacting with it?
Well, I’d say to that, there’s a yes and answer to that. I’ll answer the latter part of your question first, which is to say that over the course of the series, what we begin to experience is that the external void in the earth begins to reveal the inner voids within Royal, within Cecilia, within Perry, within Rhett, and everyone that is interacting on that land. And in that way, it’s about how the land shapes us, how exteriors inform interiors. And as to how it works, one of the main rules was that it takes you where you need to go and almost operates like psychedelic drugs operate, which is to say that they operate on a very personal level for each person and it changes you as you interact with it, if that makes sense.
Those two rules were guideposts for us. It takes you where you need to go or shows you what you need to see in order to help you on your odyssey, and then two, it operates like any psychedelic does, which is to say it uses the molecular makeup of your own experiences to show you something new or to show you something impossible that is now made possible.
Did the first episode always end with her pushing him in the pit?
Yeah. I remember writing that and feeling like this would be the most fun thing at the end of this first episode and I hope that audiences take that away too.
Was Cecilia always in on it?
Yes, I think it’s the start of her moral quandary as a character that if it’s family first, at what cost is it family first? And that is the question that she is thrust into in that first scene in the second episode.
Let’s talk about the buffalo a little bit more. Obviously there’s the symbolism of a land gone by, but the buffalo is also an important character in the season.
We set out in the writer’s room to really try to make a full character arc for that buffalo to really say like, “We want the buffalo to have a full story.” And through backs and forth, some production challenges, whatever else we had to pivot and there were certain things that we couldn’t do like having it chased by coyotes and running through a river and stuff and all of very highly aspirational stuff we wanted the buffalo story to entail, but ultimately I think he’s a companion to Royal. He’s really like this wanderer in a familiar land. And in that way, we hope that people see him as a companion to Royal’s journey and as a companion to Royal’s emotional arc.
People interact with the Buffalo. Is there a logic and importance to the people that have contact with the buffalo?
Why is Royal so confident that the body is gone after interacting with the pit for seemingly such a small amount of time?
Well, you throw something into a metaphysical void, you think it better be gone. I think it’s the quickest way for that body to get fully gotten rid of.
It’s so offhand that I think a lot of people are going to miss it, but he remarks that Luke shot him, which we will see at the end of the episode. How important is setting up the reveal of the end of Episode 2?
It was incredibly difficult. And and it was really a challenge in the edit room. It was really figuring out how do we hit these points to really draw people to a place of also pulling that thread backwards to say, “Oh right, this and this and this and this.” There’s a few of those throughout the episode. What does the color yellow mean to you? Luke shot me. These things that we have to interact with time in a sort of retrospective way and in a forward-looking way. It was incredibly difficult, but our editors did a great job in helping us guide that story.
Let’s talk about the crochet, “Oh Lord reveal yourself to us.” What do you think that means to Cecilia? What did that mean to you putting it in the script?
Yeah, it’s funny. There’s two stories behind that. I actually have here a crocheted hoop with a similar saying that I bought for fifty cents at a thrift store in Dubois, Wyoming, just before we were writing the show. This is my writing spot and it sat like right there for so long, but the saying of, “Oh, Lord, reveal yourself to us,” is actually something that I saw at a church in Washington State. It was a silhouette of a cowboy next to this saying, “Oh Lord, reveal yourself to us.” It was a saying that exemplifies the grand yearning of spiritual people, of people of faith that I think we don’t tap enough into, narratively speaking in our TV shows and films and stuff. I’m looking at a poster of “The Tree of Life.” Is that the Malick film poster behind you?
Yes it is!
I mean, similar to that film, there’s a sincere yearning to have a revelation of what is holy and sacred. “Tree of Life,” it’s the mix between nature and grace that’s set out at the beginning of that film and it’s expressed with such… I mean, it’s so beautiful. Malick does it better than anyone else, but I think having this daily reminder in one’s workplace, in one’s office that Cecilia has, it’s just an expression of the everyday yearning that’s within her. And I think at the end of the day, this show is really about these people with deep, deep longings for something higher. Like Will Patton says, it’s desperate efforts at transcendence. I think it paired to that.
What is a honey f–ker?
Yeah. The term is actually honeyfuggler, F-U-G-G-L-E-R. A honeyfuggler is someone that messes with the truth. That is a sort of snake oil salesman. That’s why Todd Barney brings that up and calls the Tillersons honeyfugglers.
There is a story about Wayne recounted in this moment and the bull. So do you feel like that is something that actually happened? Is it a tall tale that drifted over to the Abbott ranch? And what does that, to you, say about the character Wayne?
I mean, to me, it tells us about how ruthless he is. I think it’s one of those things that often happens out West. Those tales become taller and taller as the years go by. I think there’s definitely some truth to it because Wayne is such a ruthless person and the West is the West. It’s a place where violence happens in a flash. When it does occur it is, it is tragic and shocking. I think it speaks to both of those that these are men that have been shaped by a very violent land or a very violent way of life.
Why Clamato? Was there any wrangling with the Clamato people too, to clear this?
I tried my hardest to get a full Clamato product placement. No, I just thought it was such a fun, peculiar thing for him to love. It’s one of those drinks that it takes a very specific person to love a Clamato and then once you love it, you never turn back. But it stuck me as something that Wayne would just continually be into.
Speaking of things Wayne is into, the erotic art speech, where did that come from? What was your search history like after?
I wrote that speech when we were in pre-production. I was like, “I got this Wayne speech for the scene Royal and Wayne meet,” and I said, “I think it might be too far, but I also feel like it wants something that describes the whole thematic arc of the show.” And I always tell people like, “If you want to know this thematic arc of ‘Outer Range,’ you could actually just read that monologue. You listen to that monologue and you get at everything that you need.”
But yeah, I also love the idea of this greedy capitalistic rancher that also knows a lot about the underground art world or a very specific art scene that’s in New York or London or something. And in the ’80s, was immersed in that because he had the amount of wealth to be immersed in it. Getting a George Condo reference in there was a great victory, I think.
Are we supposed to assume that Wayne made his money on the land?
I think it’s safe to say you can assume you made it from the land. I think they’re pretty solid ranching operation.
This week we see Autumn’s necklace, her continued obsession with the symbol, inside her tent, where there are geodes and books on metaphysics. How important are these things to her character and to the plot moving forward?
I think just to tease a little with the future episodes that she’s a collector of totems for a reason. She’s a character that’s in the search of herself. When she finds one of these totems that speaks to her, even on a substrate level, I think she uses it as a clue to where she should go. And in that way, all of those items that you just brought up are little clues for her for a person that’s on this spiritual quest. I think you’re right to look in that tent for both her worldview and what she’s exploring and all things Autumn. We had a good time designing the interior of that tent and looking at what books she has and stuff. And she’s reading Simone Vey and she’s reading quantum mechanics and they collide.
Let’s talk about Royal’s prayer.
In a way, I mean, watching Josh, oh, I think we did so many takes of it just on that single push and watching him do that 16, 20 times was just such a joy because he was nailing it every time. And just seeing this eruption for a man that was tortured from the inside was like a dream come true and that’s what that prayer was always meant to be. This man that has been simmering finally bubbles over. And I think one thing that we don’t talk enough about is our anger at the court-created order of things. That there is a great frustration with a disorienting world that can oftentimes feel order-less.
And that is grief, of course, but that is also a sort of cosmic rage that I think he really lets loose at that time. And I think it’s also something that people of faith have an experience and we don’t talk about enough that there is this anger with God and that that’s okay, but I think for him and his family, his family’s starting to see, “Oh, my, this is a man before a threshold. This is a man that is about to go down a deeper, darker path than we’ve ever seen him go.”
The interrogation comes before the future sequence. Was that always the case in the script?
No. There was a long time where that future whole sequence was actually the end of the first episode where she pushes him. We see that fully in linear fashion and we know that he comes back having that secret. When we decided to put it at the end of two, it unlocked all these other things for us that allowed us a retrospective look into what this guy’s going through. But yeah, the barn was really inspired by a lot of… My background is as a playwright from the theater. It was inspired by these Harold Pinter plays like “The Caretaker,” like “The Birthday Party,” where there’s these amazing tense taught interrogation scenes and Imogen and Josh actually in preparation, we were in rehearsals and stuff and they actually even read one of these scenes together, a Pinter scene together to get into the mode of the tension that we were trying to evoke.
BY9 feels like a very Weyland-Yutani from “Alien,” like an evil shadowy organization. But you’re referencing Pinter plays now. I feel like my references are going to be too low brow here.
Not at all because my inspiration for that future whole scene was “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The end scene in “Close Encounters” is one of the most formative things of my childhood. It was like seeing that film, even though it had come out 20 years or 10 years before I was born or something, to see this like, “Holy shit. This is a real…” It made you feel so many things simultaneously. The future whole owes to debt of gratitude to “Close Encounters” for sure.
Cecilia tells him he died, but she also tells him to run. What would cause Cecilia to break from her family? Would anything?
It’s a great question. I think short of a true encounter with God, I think she would always stick with her tribe because that’s the kind of woman that she is. And that’s what’s, I think, so compelling about her is she really, truly stands up for her family in ways that go to operatically tragic proportions.
Episode 2 ends with The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” I imagine it helps to have Amazon in your corner, but were those songs always in the script?
They were very supportive of the music that we wanted to use. To answer your question about what Billy sings that yes, I’d written in the Hall and Oates for Episode 1, written in the Whitney Houston for Episode 2, the Peter Gabriel for Episode 4, those were all a part of those scenes in very specific ways and they are the lyrics themselves. Like I was saying, they add to the Easter egg quality to things. And I’d always wanted to end Episode 1 with “Idiot Wind” by Bob Dylan. I mean, the power of that song just starting from the beginning, it’s always been such a haunting piece to me. I was really happy that we could use that. And then, I mean, “Paint It Black,” you can’t get better than that as far as songs go. It was great. We had great support on that front.
The first two episodes of “Outer Range” are now streaming on Prime Video, with two new episodes releasing every Friday.