The Outer Banks Finale Got Too Big for Its Britches

TV Features Outer Banks
The Outer Banks Finale Got Too Big for Its Britches

Let’s just dive right in, shall we? If you haven’t watched Outer Banks, or have just seen a few episodes, the discussion below won’t mean much to you—you can read the spoiler-free review here . If you have seen it all, well, I have some bones to pick!

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Outer Banks had a choice when it came to the end of Episode 7, after we saw a crazy-eyed Ward climbing the boat ladder with a fish hook and coming after John B. It could have resolved this thread, and used the remaining episodes to see that Big John’s dastardly killer was brought to justice, while refocusing on the kids trying to get the gold. Or, it could go totally off the rails and spend three episodes with John B running all over the island while everyone screams unintelligibly over one another. It chose the second approach.

Honestly, Ward taking the gold to the Bahamas was enough on its own to propel a possible Season 2, if the show wanted to continue the treasure hunt—which frankly, now seems like an albatross around its neck. Instead, it decided to complicate things by having Ward more or less kidnap Sarah, have Rafe shoot and kill the sheriff, and leave Ward to (rather obviously) implicate John B, leading to the aforementioned running and yelling.

Even though Outer Banks started off with a treasure hunt and a murder mystery, it was always at its best when it was focused on smaller moments. Yes, the tense stand-offs and running away from bad guys had their place, but JJ’s relationship with his dad, Pope’s yearning for his scholarship, John B and Sarah’s Romeo and Juliet romance, Rafe being a constant disappointment, and Kiara’s … whatever Kiara’s purpose was (more on that in a moment), was what grounded the series as a more believable teen drama—one with real emotional stakes.

After carefully building up an interconnected world of various social orders, the last three Outer Banks episodes sidelined its major characters who weren’t named John B or Sarah, and introduced a host of new issues that were never resolved. Suddenly, there was a magical plan to all run away to Mexico, everyone’s parents showed up at the end when they had been MIA all season (including Ward’s new wife), and the Pogues didn’t have anything to do except scream and wonder where their friend was. (Also, what happened to Topper after the police apprehended him? And can someone send Rafe and his drug dealing friend out to sea please?)

In some ways, Outer Banks felt like the similarly coastal-set drama Bloodline. And like Bloodline, it seems like it has made the wrong choice going into a (presumed) Season 2. The story needs to get smaller, not bigger, but Outer Banks has now set incredibly high stakes (multiple murders including the death of a cop, the involvement of the FBI, $400 million in gold bars in the Bahamas) that it would almost be impossible to pull back from, focusing on regular teen drama again. I mean, honestly, how do you go back to school with all of that happening, and walk the halls like your classmate didn’t supposedly die with his girlfriend in a storm at sea via stolen boat while escaping the coast guard because they killed someone for treasure?

What that also means is that the Pogues, as a group, never had time to develop beyond their early adventures. JJ had the best potential with his story arc regarding his dad, and the finale provided an interesting twist with that (although you know his dad will probably literally kill him after his boat sank so … I say just blame it on John B, why not!) Pope’s conflict with his dad deserved more time, as did the possibility for a second chance with his scholarship. Kie suffered the most, having some potential early on but being quickly relegated to the “wet blanket” role. The pairing of her with Pope actually made some sense, and there was groundwork there … but that long “this will never happen” speech (and her John B obsession) did not work in the way it was supposed to in terms of pushing them apart before immediately having her kiss him. I get that they’re teens, but it went from subtle and sweet to messy and unearned in one episode. And, Kiara’s role and acceptance in the group is never really explained (besides “no one knows!”); something that should have easily come into play narratively with her personal story, but never does.

Am I holding Outer Banks up to a higher standard than it deserves? Maybe, but after a shaky pilot the show really came together in unexpected ways, seemingly setting itself up as a great new teen drama. And yet, instead of using the murder mystery and the treasure hunt as a way to better explore the characters’ lives and the island’s dynamics, those action elements became the raison d’être of the series, which is a shame. Even if this Ward nonsense had remained (the fact that he never relented and his love for Sarah didn’t even change him … what is his purpose? Just the gold? For Wheezie I guess, his last hope!) spending three episodes dragging it out and then leaving the season on a cliffhanger felt like a cheat. And if there is no Season 2, well, all the worse. (Update: The show has been renewed!)

Though its final episodes threatened to spoil the otherwise unfettered joy of its sun-soaked teen dream of an opening season, Outer Banks still has the potential to realign itself back into a more character-based YA story rather than Fast and Furious: Waterfront Teens. For the love of swimsuits as casual wear, may its compass lead it there.

Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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