“I claim thee Poguelandia!” Netflix’s third season of “Outer Banks” picks up from the cliffhanger of the previous season, which ended with the Pogues stranded on a desert island. Self-sufficient and nature-loving, the Pogues don’t miss a beat in adjusting in the time-lapse of a month. If anything, they seem to be thriving more on the island than in their own family homes, happy and carefree, at the mercy of nature.
Season three of “Outer Banks” raises the stakes of the Pogues’ treasure hunt and journey of revenge, with the return of Big John (Charles Halford) and the promise of a city of gold, El Dorado. Even with its third season, it becomes clear that the novelty of a treasure hunt and mystic codes has not worn off. With the introduction of El Dorado, the story tactfully adds more depth, using the previous two seasons to craft a fulfilling endgame to the imaginative plot.
At its core, “Outer Banks” has always succeeded as a show filled with drama, adventure and mystery. What keeps viewers interested is solving the mystery of the gold and achieving justice for the Pogues. However, with the way in which the flow of the story has evolved into its culmination in El Dorado, “Outer Banks” risks overstaying its welcome — the recently announced fourth season seems to gamble with choosing fan pleasing and financial rewards over fidelity to a story that season three naturally ends.
Given that the Pogues’ friendships and loyalty are a central tenet of the show, it is a questionable decision for the writers to drive a wedge between John B. (Chase Stokes) and the rest of the group with his father’s comeback. As a consequence, much of the beloved inside jokes, off-handed humor and bromances are lost in this season, rendering nearly two separate universes: John B.’s world, and Big John’s desperation to find El Dorado, occasionally with Sarah Cameron (Madelyn Cline) and the rest of the Pogues scrambling to follow him with little to no guidance. The burning loyalty in this season, which has been a defining trait of previous seasons, becomes difficult to believe.
However, where “Outer Banks” fails to add new depth to its protagonist entourage, it succeeds in having some of the best character development and acting for its antagonists to make this season’s story convincing.
Drew Starkey’s portrayal of Rafe Cameron is chillingly spectacular this season. The transition from desperation for his father’s love to bloodthirsty vengeance and finally to seeking independence and ownership in this season is no easy feat, yet Starkey meets the challenge head-on. With eyes that portray cold death, seemingly unfeeling to the world around him, the script challenges Rafe’s character to confront the meaning of family and confront previous foes. Ultimately, he’s led to determine how to meet his goals without losing himself. Starkey skillfully relays this internal strife with both nuanced changes in facial features and nervous tics and pacing, yet always keeps the audience unable to fully read him, leaving viewers on the edge of their seats.
Just as exhilarating is Ward Cameron’s (Charles Esten) development in this season. Pulling back from the cusp of death in season two, Ward is on an oath of repentance, a path that consumes him. The multidimensionality and skill Esten brings to the table with making the audience nearly believe in his transformation from greedy and vengeful to a desperate father searching for his daughter speaks to Esten’s emotional range. Ultimately, his act of martyrdom becomes a defining moment and satisfying completion of his character arc.
“Outer Banks” creates complexities in the villains of the story, ultimately giving them vindication, and although audiences may not initially want their success, inevitably their character development wins over all.
By contrast, the Pogues continue to face the same drama with seemingly frivolous rebellions against their parents. The protagonists’ situations and personalities remained unchanged from the show’s beginning, and at the end of the day John B. is still treasure hungry, Pope (Jonathan Daviss) still wants vindication for his ancestors, J.J. (Rudy Pankow) still falls to his delinquent mannerisms, Kiara (Madison Bailey) still hates her family and Sarah Cameron still feels lost.
Where focus on the rather stagnant protagonists falls short in “Outer Banks,” the real gold in this show is with the villains.