‘Outer Range’: Season 2 of Josh Brolin’s Time-Traveling Western Keeps Its Most Pressing Mystery in a Hole

The science fiction of “Outer Range” was set on almost mute when the series debuted in 2022, but it leaked like uranium under the soil. Season two continues this quiet Western. The veteran cast wear intrigue in their holsters, and only draw when the safety is off. Wyoming ranch family patriarch, Royal Abbott, played with assured ambivalence by Josh Brolin, and his far-from-blushing bride, Cecilia Abbott, barely tamed into a character by Lili Taylor, are ferocious, vulnerable, and a bottomless hole of mystery. Much like the geographical anomaly on the Abbott Ranch. 

The first season’s culprits, territorial disputes with rival ranching patriarch Wayne Tillerson (Will Patton), and accidental killings all obscured the gaping eternal emptiness at the ranch until the cliff-jumping conclusion. This allows the Amazon series to come out the other side for season two, like the stampeding buffalo herds wreaking havoc on the surrounding territory. The Western world, much less the Wild West, may never be the same. If it ever was. Characters come and go so freely on this series. Eight-year-old Amy Abbott (Olive Abercrombie) disappears in plain sight with her mother, Rebecca, a veteran of pioneering vanishing women. Deputy Sheriff Joy Hawk (Tamara Podemski) gets unexpectedly reassigned to 1882. The prime suspect she’s been chasing is not even ten.

Autumn (Imogen Poots) is a phantom even when she makes appearances. “Time doesn’t have a beginning or an end,” she says. “It just is.” Time is fluid in “Outer Range,” it ebbs and flows, but the characters maintain a firm grounding in the land as it stands, and what it stands for. The inquisitive scientist Dr. Nia Bintu (Yrsa Daley-Ward) is more interested in what west pasture sits on. Binto is the only character unabashedly looking for a quantifiable scientific explanation for one aspect of the multiple anomalies, and has an exact count of questions prepared for the least proper moments. 

The branches of their Wyoming family trees are equally and confoundingly entangled, as it takes a while to identify individuals and counterparts in shifting time periods. The multiple timelines make it hard to get emotionally invested in characters. They pop into the proceedings more as footnotes and placeholders than flesh, blood, and traceable DNA. One subversive mid-season excursion, however, finds Sheriff Joy providing anachronistic harmony in 1886. The Shoshone timepiece offers a brutal examination of racism, and the economic laws designed to take advantage of First Nation loopholes, which arrows always seem to miss. 

Picking up directly after season one’s dramatic finale, “Outer Range” is in no hurry. The story highlights commonplace dramas, like hospital visits, foreclosures, bank loans, and generational loyalty, while downplaying the odd reality at the center. Yet it cheerfully explores the deeper mysteries of time travel, and the difficulties in revelations. Brolin lets his internalized guilt seep into Royal’s admission of a time-warped past, and in revealing his true identity to Cecilia. He even lovingly hands over his birth records. Taylor maintains her stoic acceptance, even as it is pummeled by revelation about Autumn’s connection with her granddaughter Amy.

While it may look like a bad trip to outsiders, the perpetually confused Luke Tillerson (Shaun Shipos) is truly traumatized by his fall into the hole, finding it a spiritual void and revelatory hallucinogen in freefall form. His takeaway, when forced to care for his wounded brother, Billy (Noah Reid), is to fulfill his father’s wishes. Wayne Tillerson spouts Old Testament vengeance as family pride, and Luke almost acts out his Cain predestination. Shipos is unrestrained in the scene, and a marvel in pulling back. 

Just as every character hides secrets in vulnerable intimacy, “Outer Range” plays everything close to the vest. Something is brewing, slowly enough to savor, but too fast for the rodeo-riding Rhett Abbott (Lewis Pullman) to get out of the gate. In season 2, this series maintains an exquisite ambiguity, and a dangerous hole in its center. 

Outer Range” season 2 begins streaming May 16 on Prime Video.