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‘Outer Banks’ Season 3 Review: The Definition of Bad Storytelling

2 Stars

Production still from Season 3, Episode 2 of "Outer Banks," with Jonathon Daviss as Pope, Rudy Pankow as JJ, Madelyn Cline as Sarah Cameron, and Chase Stokes as John B.
Production still from Season 3, Episode 2 of "Outer Banks," with Jonathon Daviss as Pope, Rudy Pankow as JJ, Madelyn Cline as Sarah Cameron, and Chase Stokes as John B. By Courtesy of Jackson Lee Davis/Netflix

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SEASON 3 OF "OUTER BANKS."

Audiences have known ever since the inception of “Outer Banks'' in 2020 that the draw of the series wasn’t its realistic plot, award-winning acting, or top-notch cinematography, but rather the adolescent hijinks astutely depicted throughout the show. The genius of Netflix’s “Outer Banks” lies in its ability to romanticize adrenaline-inducing teenage treasure hunting. But “Outer Banks” is also lucky — it was released in the middle of a pandemic, when its target demographic was stuck at home, yearning for exciting adventures with friends. The success of the first season cannot be overstated, evidenced by its overall 35.1 million hours viewed to date.

Unfortunately, the third season of the program, which premiered on Feb. 23rd, fails to deliver: Although the writing and acting on the show has never been worthy of an Academy Award, the drop in quality this season is dramatic. The writers even fail to follow through on some of the promising ideas set up throughout the new episodes.

The largest glaring issue of the season is “Big John,” John B’s Dad (Charles Halford). Considering that the disappearance and apparent death of Big John served as the catalyst for the entirety of the plot, the surprise reveal of his survival at the end of Season 2 was a massive shock for viewers. However, the resurrection of this character weakened the plot and structure of the show significantly.

By reviving a character whose death was the very foundation of the plot, the writers instilled distrust in the audience and overstepped the bounds of irrealism. “Outer Banks” has never been a pinnacle of realistic television; however, the audience’s belief in the stakes of the characters’ mortality is essential to the tensions of the series. While these characters have always been somewhat immune to the law, if they are also untouched by mortality, there are little to no remaining consequences for the risks the Pogues take throughout the show.

This act sets a bad precedent for character mortality and consistent characterization within the canon that, while conducive to plot convenience and generating contrived drama, weakens the audience’s ability to buy into the significance of these situations. Plot points that are created through these means do not feel earned, and therefore do not effectively impact the audience.

Even when Ward Cameron (Charles Esten) and Big John actually die in the finale of season 3, their deaths have little meaning considering the audience has already believed both characters to be dead multiple times throughout the run of the series. In fact, there is no dramatic weight in once again mourning characters that viewers don’t particularly like in the first place. Not to mention the fact that even in-world characters have little reason to mourn these horrible father figures — especially in the case of Sarah Cameron (Madelyn Cline), who literally threatens to fatally shoot her father only 20 or so minutes before his actual death.

The first half of the season is occupied by three plot lines: Pogue adventures, nefarious plots, and Big John/John B. father-son time. The foremost is uninteresting, and the contrived obstacles our characters face begin to reach a point of drama for its own sake. The latter is disappointingly executed, despite the potentially interesting dynamic between John B — played by Chase Stokes, who is terribly forgettable as our ostensible main character — and his unlikeable and obsessive father, who is willing to risk anything for treasure hunting. The only compelling moment brought about by this duo is when Big John murders two men in front of John B. and his son proceeds to watch in horror as he disposes of their bodies, driving home the fact that his father will risk anything for their treasure hunt. But intrigue in this vein is short lived.

The second half of the season is focused on the Pogues saving Big John from the clutches of the evil Carlos Singh (Andy McQueen). However, the writers attempt, and fail, to garner audience sympathy and interest in this plot momentum because of the poor writing of these characters. Singh is not only unrelated to the original story of the show, but entirely ordinary and unforgettable as a villain, and Big John’s belligerent nature is a severe disruption to the tone and marketability of the series. Viewers couldn’t care less about what happens to these two.

While the diegesis of Outer Banks has never been particularly easy to follow due to the rapidly paced, action-packed episodes, this is complicated further with the incorporation of several villains, leads, and side characters, all of which have different backgrounds, motivations and storylines. The writers of the third season of “Outer Banks” fail to effectively juggle this large cast of characters, resulting in a flimsy plot and expository writing that make for a confusing viewing.

Despite these structural issues, there are some exciting moments this season. Episodes 3 (“Fathers and Sons”) and 5 (“The Heist”) stand out with typical Pogue tom foolery and are more entertaining than the rest. Episode 9 (“Welcome to Kitty Hawk”) is unique in its storyline about Kiara (Madison Bailey) being sent away to wilderness camp therapy, and it is enjoyable to watch JJ (Rudy Pankow) try to rescue her. The excitement of this sequence can largely be attributed to the slow-burn romance between Kiara and JJ that originated as a fan-ship and built throughout the series. The relationship was officially introduced to the canon in season 2 in an act of fan service and now accounts for a large portion of current viewership despite the diminishing quality of the show.

The final episode of the season sees a return to the traditional treasure hunt appeal of the show: A respite from the eye-rolling gun fights, ridiculous escapes, boring villain through-lines and forced romantic dramas that bog down and hold back these new episodes. The expedition sequence that showcases John B. and Sarah Cameron traversing the treacherous jungle caves that house El Dorado (the main treasure objective of this season) is legitimately entertaining and somehow manages to instill some sense of tension and investment in the audience.

Sequences like these serve as a sad echo of the enthralling energy of the series’ first season. However, “Outer Banks” season 3 is by no means a strong piece of television and reflects a downward trend in quality in the program that began in season 2 — indeed, both seasons pale in comparison to their predecessor. That being said, the show has already been picked up for a fourth season and teased its next treasure hunt in the final scene of season 3. Whether viewers care enough about the Kiara-JJ romance to trudge through another 10 hours of poor storytelling is yet to be determined.

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