Hey everybody, I have a theory. I know. That’s exactly what you wanted to hear when you clicked on this article. But just hear me out. Then I promise to get back to making outdated references.
After my past review of Outer Banks episodes 4-6 and the inclusion of a plot point based closely on real-life historical figure Denmark Vesey, I wanted to figure out why this portion of the show felt so out of place.
Of course, incorporating references to the lynching of a former enslaved man who tried to lead a revolt into your steamy, young-adult caper series might not balance out. But that’s not to say that these sorts of television maxi-series can’t handle such material? HBO’s Watchmen recently proved that without a doubt. But that show built the examination of race in America into its foundation, thus avoiding the easy mistake of paying lip service to a multigenerational, multifaceted problem.
At the heart of Outer Banks‘ misstep is that the show forgot what it was. It took me awhile, but I came up with a way to explain what I mean. In the fashion of the TV Tropes website, I’ve named this trope “The One with the Towers.”
In a recent column on Outer Banks, I compared the show’s binary approach to class differences to the episode of Friends where our main characters are divided over finances. Wisely, the show avoids any deeper analysis of wealth inequality and instead focuses on how Joey can’t afford a fancy dinner and Hootie and the Blowfish tickets. In keeping with the format of Friends episode titles, this episode is called “The One with Five Steaks and an Eggplant.”
From this comes my theory on “The One with the Towers,” which describes what happens when a show addresses or otherwise incorporates a sensitive topic well beyond its ability to handle such material.
One thing about Friends that no one will debate is that it is a show heavily based in New York City. Yet, the show never addresses the events of 9/11. We never got an episode titled “The One with the Towers” because the showrunners knew that their program didn’t have the muscle or capability to confront such a complex, horrifying tragedy. So they avoided it completely. Sometimes that’s the way to go. Some shows should never have their “The One with the Towers.”
While I think it is important for shows to fully illuminate the world’s past, present, and future failings, their plots should serve to reveal such systemic faults — rather than these atrocities serving to fuel a plot concerned with lesser things.
So with that in mind, let’s blaze through two episodes real quick.
If you’ll remember, John B was adopted by Sarah’s wealthy father, who also happens to be searching for the lost treasure. The episode begins with John B moving into Sarah’s home because her father is willing to risk his teenage daughter having lots of late-night rendezvous with her new boyfriend if it means he can locate missing gold. A classic dilemma faced by many parents.
Despite John B’s efforts to bring Sarah into the fold, Kiara still hates her for reasons that the show refuses to share with viewers. Kiara raises Pogue loyalty as an issue, but she herself is part of a wealthy and well-connected family. I’m still looking for clarification on this beyond “all women hate each other.”
In an effort to resolve the differences among the womenfolk, John B and the boys strand Kiara and Sarah together on a boat until they reconcile. Sarah is soon stung by a jellyfish and asks Kiara to pee on her. Oddly, this also happened on Friends. Is this show based on Friends? What is happening?
Eventually we learn that Sarah ended her previous friendship with Kiara because Sarah feels trapped when anyone gets too close to her. After one night on a boat together, the two make amends because, you know, the plot needs to continue. Finally, the gang has its fifth member.
With our powers combined, the crew infiltrates an old mansion that sits atop the access point to the lost gold.
JJ references the 1984 film C.H.U.D. for no clear reason. Beside them going underground, there is no other connection to be made. Not unless Outer Banks is about to become the coastal cannibal fever dream I’ve always longed for.
It does not.
While the boys go spelunking under the estate, Kiara and Sarah meet the home’s crazed owner and enter into a cutscene from Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. The episode ends with John B discovering gold as his friends fight an octogenarian. This all feels right.
Episode 7 begins with Sarah’s dad immediately overhearing that they’ve discovered all the gold. I mean literally in the first five seconds John B shouts about the gold and now Sarah’s dad wants to take him fishing in some sort of Godfather: Part 2 (spoilers!) Fredo death scenario.
In the meantime, the gang tries to cash in some of the recovered gold. The pawn shop owner is suspicious and undertakes a series of tests like some latter-day alchemist. I once knew a pawn shop owner who accidentally set himself on fire in his own driveway. That doesn’t have anything to do with this. I just want you to know that I keep interesting company.
Our characters demand full price for their gold, forgetting how Southern pawn shops operate, meaning you should expect a quarter on every dollar it’s worth. Seriously, these children rolled into the local check-cashing place and expected to receive $140,000 for some melted-down gold.
After we are informed that Rafe’s drug dealer also runs the pawn shop (way to diversify), JJ and the team are directed to drive out into the sticks to claim their payment for the gold. En route, said drug dealer pulls them over while brandishing a shotgun and searches the vehicle.
John B quickly outsmarts the dealer, and in a five-on-one attack, the gang overcomes their assailant. This scene had much less tension than you would think. Really, John B just waited in the backseat of the guy’s car and surprised him. Promposals are more elaborate than what we see here.
Anyway, after the drug man is dispatched, JJ takes everybody to the dealer’s home and robs him of his evil drugs money. John B and everyone else has a problem with this, although the entire crux of the plot is stealing money hidden on other people’s property.
Seriously, JJ seems to be the only person who understands that everything these characters have done is illegal. The only exception is that instead of reclaiming gold that belonged to a formerly enslaved revolutionary, he wants to steal from a petty criminal. Way to frame this moral quandary, show.
JJ manages to steal $25,000 from the drug dealer, only to return home and have his father plan to gamble it all away. The two fight, and while JJ comes out on top, he forgets an important strategy in dad-fighting: go for the knees.
Their knees are ruined by the time you have to fight them. Stomp those knees out and then level them with blows to the head. That’s how you counter old-man strength.
Anyway, JJ buys an elaborate jacuzzi with lasers, which is delivered and installed with incredible quickness, everyone cries and hugs in the jet-set phantasma that is JJ’s backyard jacuzzi revelation.
On the family fishing trip, John B balks about his knowledge of the lost treasure, but Sarah’s dad just stares at a long fishing hook and walks out of frame. He’s totally going to threaten John B’s life, but the important thing is that my new trope theory becomes part of the cultural canon. I would sacrifice a dozen John Bs to preserve my legacy. Hey, that’s kind of like Sarah’s dad! How odd that out of all these characters, I would relate most with the desperate, maniacal old man?