Outer Range Season 2 Deepens Its Time-Travel Mysteries — But at a Cost

This is still one of the best sci-fi shows on TV. But is the novelty of the genre mash-up fading?

Josh Brolin in 'Outer Range' Season 2.
Prime Video
Inverse Reviews

If you didn’t watch Outer Range in 2022, you missed one of the strangest, most haunting, and original series of this decade. Neither a western nor fully a sci-fi time travel drama, Outer Range’s first season excelled partly because it defined genre expectations. For those focused on the mystery box aspects of the series — of which there are myriad — the show was slow to provide answers, which was part of its charm. Outer Range was determined to mosey on up to reveal its time travel paradoxes when it was good and ready.

Now, two years later, Outer Range is very much the same show, but somehow... changed. While Season 1 had the careful, understated pacing of a stage play, Season 2 is 100 percent a twisty science fiction time travel show, which just happens to be wrapped up in a western genre. Part of this subtle shift can probably be chalked-up to a different showrunner — Brian Watkins has been replaced in this season by Charles Murray. The former has a background as a playwright, and the latter is best known for his work on Luke Cage. This doesn’t mean Murray completely changed the show, but the shift is noticeable. For those who worried the sci-fi elements were too slow-going — or not explained well enough in Season 1 — Season 2 is more on-the-nose. If Season 1 was No Country for Old Men with an eerie spacetime void in the middle, Season 2 is very much Yellowstone meets Doctor Who. Does it work? The answer is a cautious yes, but you’re gonna need to do your homework first.

Recommending Season 2 of Outer Range is almost impossible without spoiling elements of Season 1. Indeed, a cursory Googling of the show, and Josh Brolin’s character in particular — rancher Royal Abbott — will ruin much of the mystery of Season 1. And so, it’s tempting to wonder whether or not Season 2 tops Season 1 in terms of delivering big, reality-defying twists.

As with Season 1, Outer Range focused on rancher Royal Abbott and his secret knowledge of a time portal that exists in a disputed part of what was once his land, but is also claimed by a rival family, the Tillersons. Season 2 doubles down on the family-drama aspect of the series, which includes a few non-linear aspects of both families, thanks to the existence of said time portal. So is Season 2 better than Season 1? Probably not, but we are getting more time with everybody, more instances of time travel, and thus, more twists than last time out. One twist of which is the dual identity ofImogen Poots’s Autumn.

Outer Range Season 2 hits the ground running with the Season 1 question of “Who is Autumn” and whether she really is a version of a much younger character, who has been unstuck in time. It’s a familiar sci-fi trope, but Outer Range thankfully breathes new life into what begin as very simple questions.

Imogen Poots as Autumn in Outer Range Season 2. Or is she playing someone else entirely?

Prime Video

The cast of the series is just as wonderful as they were in Season 1, with specific shout-outs to Josh Brolin as Royal, who directs the penultimate episode of the season. Poots is great, again, as the enigmatic Autumn, who, in a sense, carries this season as much Brolin does. As Joy Hawk, Tamara Podemski’s time-traveling adventures — teased at the end of last season — are epic, and perhaps some of the best aspects of the show. And, through Joy’s story, Outer Range reveals what makes Season 2 more clearly science fiction than the previous outing — more characters are time travelers.

However (as with many second seasons of shows), the essential novelty of Season 1 is absent in Season 2, which is nobody’s fault at all. It’s simply what happens when you tell more of a story. We’re no longer in awe of the uniqueness of the setting or aesthetic, we’re now mostly invested in the nitty-gritty of what’s going to happen next and what it all means. Analogously, Season 1 of Outer Range is like the first act of a James Bond movie, where everybody is dressed nicely, and we’re taking in beautiful scenery, with a hint of danger. Season 2 is like the the point where it’s all going down, and Bond is having to slug it out in a warehouse or hidden compound somewhere — you knew it was heading to this, but it feels oddly incongruent divorced from its beginning. This is a roundabout way of saying Outer Range Season 2 isn’t a piece of work that stands on its own; it's more stuff that happens in the world of Outer Range.

Outer Range’s mysteries only get stranger in Season 2.

Prime Video

All-in-all, Outer Range Season 2 is much more interested in making sure the audience is asking the right questions, rather than letting you figure it out on your own. While Season 1 seemed to make it subtly clear that Autumn was, indeed and in fact, another name for a different character, Season 2 hits the ground running with everyone asking the same question: is that really true? This approach works, mostly, but it will send you back to the last few episodes of Season 1 fairly quickly, just to make sure you didn’t miss anything.

Perhaps the biggest letdown for Season 2 of Outer Range is that this dense and layered show is dropping all of its seven new episodes at the same time. In 2022, Prime Video dropped two episodes each week, allowing the complexity and artistry of the series to sink in over time. Outer Range is still a great show two years later, but it’s not exactly suited to the binge model. This is a show you’ll want to step away from after a few episodes, and then come back to and savor. If you do it all in a binge, you’re head might be spinning.

It’s still one of the best sci-fi shows on TV, but during this visit to Outer Range, you’re gonna need to make sure you’ve rewatched a bit of Season 1, or risk getting confused midway through. It will all work out in the end. Mostly.

Outer Range Season 2 drops all seven new episodes on Prime Video on May 16.

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