SPOILER ALERT: Do not read until you have watched the full season of “Outer Range,” now streaming on Prime Video.
In the end, it was Vanessa Williams circa 1991 whose lyrics best encapsulated Prime Video’s wild sci-fi western “Outer Range:” “Isn’t this world a crazy place?”
After a season of surreal musical moments, Noah Reid hit a high note with Williams’ classic “Save the Best for Last” in this week’s finale, when Billy Tillerson euphorically serenaded aspiring cult leader Autumn (Imogen Poots) in the lobby of a bank and vowed to protect her from her rival, gruff rancher Royal (Josh Brolin).
“They kicked around a lot of songs for that moment in the bank,” Reid told Variety. “But that Vanessa Williams song is so perfect for a song that would be probably playing in the bank and also explains exactly to [Billy] where he is and who he is in the moment with her, belonging to her. ‘Isn’t this world a crazy place?’ It kind of sums it all up perfectly.”
For a series that traffics in the unexplained, Billy may have been the biggest enigma of all — an unsettling and unapologetically musical oddity that never kept his baffling behavior hidden. The role marks quite a departure from Reid’s award-winning work as the lovable and buttoned-up Patrick on CBC/Pop’s Emmys sensation “Schitt’s Creek.”
As Billy, Reid couldn’t help walking through the world inexplicably singing his emotions to the rafters, starting with his underwear-clad mirror performance of Whitney Houston in Episode 2 and culminating in his bank-bound profession to Autumn.
In front of a few bewildered bank tellers, Billy pledged his life to Autumn in the fateful climactic scene, and he would pay for it in a blaze of bullets by the end of the episode.
After luring a mad-as-hell Royal into a gunfight down a Wyoming highway, Billy, with Autumn in the passenger seat, took a bullet to the neck. Careening off the road, the youngest Tillerson son was last seen bloody and breathless in the upside-down wreckage of his truck.
But this is a show about a time portal on a Wyoming farm after all, one that just released a stampede of centuries-old buffalo into the modern day. With nothing apparently off the table, could Billy survive to take his place at Autumn’s side?
“I wish I knew the answer,” Reid said. “Like with the rest of it, I will just have to see where it all goes and lay back on the current that is ‘Outer Range’ and trust it will do exactly what it needs to do.”
If this is where Billy’s story ends, Reid said he served a great purpose for Autumn, who was, in the season’s final twist, revealed to be Royal’s own granddaughter Amy from the future. Having already confirmed Autumn is poised to grow her fellowship, as evidenced by Royal’s trip to the other side of the time portal in Episode 2 (a haunting scene in which Billy was conspicuously absent), Reid said it means something that Billy will always be her first follower.
“Anybody that has an intense belief about themselves and where they are headed needs to have somebody else reflect that and confirm that,” Reid said. “That is what Billy can offer Autumn. Every messiah needs a disciple, and I hope the gift that I can give Imogen going forward in her work as Autumn is that there is now a strong foundation there and something to fight for.”
Looking back, Billy fit right into the mind-bending world creator Brian Watkins built in “Outer Range.” The Western thriller, which is equal parts “Yellowstone” and “Twin Peaks,” revels in creating almost dreamlike moments that were only occasionally explained — and even the explanations drew more questions. The time portal, the murder investigation, the vanishing Teton Mountains. The mysteries only deepened on the range.
While trying to wrangle an understanding of his character, Reid said Watkins sent him a text that he never forgot: ”Billy is a conspiracy of meaning.”
“I had to pretend to understand what that meant, but it is that kind of unfathomable, unknowable quality that makes him so fun to play,” Reid said, admitting he still isn’t quite sure what to make of Watkins’ take on the character.
“I had a feeling of Billy before I had an understanding of him. I like to think he is the soul of the Tillerson family.”
It’s that soulfulness that set him apart from his brothers, and made him more susceptible to Autumn’s persuasion. Once she showed him the hole in time on Royal’s land, Reid said Billy’s head-in-the-clouds philosophy finally made sense.
“I think within the construct of the Tillerson family, his orbit sits a little further outside the rest of them,” Reid said. “Finding a calling and having these visions, it would be exciting for anyone — and Billy is all in.”
On “Schitt’s Creek,” Reid captured hearts as Patrick, the sweet and grounded foil to co-creator and star Dan Levy’s high-maintenance David. Their budding relationship and eventual marriage in the series finale humanized the Rose family at the show’s center, and quickly cemented David and Patrick as one of the internet’s favorite couples. In the process, Reid also scored a hit song with his stripped-down version of Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best” — the couple’s theme song.
While he wasn’t necessarily looking to play the antithesis of Patrick, Reid was happy to subvert the charming image he built on “Schitt’s Creek” by dabbling in the strange of “Outer Range.”
“I don’t know if it was important that it was different, I just wanted it to be really great,” he said. “I was kind of interested in something a bit darker maybe, just so there could be that chance to show a different side. But really, it all comes down to the storytelling and the script. Reading this, I just wanted to be a part of it in any possible way.”
Sharing a pair of physical scenes with the formidable Brolin was an added bonus. In the show’s seventh episode, Billy takes Royal at gunpoint to a rundown roller rink to beg for forgiveness for trying to kill Autumn. The wait to film his eventual showdowns with Royal in the final two episodes proved exciting.
“To know I’d get to go toe-to-toe with a legend like that, you don’t get to do it every day,” he said.
It was his other climactic scene partner, Poots, who Reid said helped him understand Billy better than perhaps anyone. As the increasingly unhinged Autumn, her desperation to simultaneously get closer to and undermine Royal served up some deliriously bizarre moments in the back half of the season, including her branding Billy’s chest with a knife.
“Imogen and I laughed a lot about what the hell we were up to,” Reid said. “She is just spitting mad in the early part of that bank scene and the bravery and commitment and the absolute fuck-it nature of Imogen Poots’ performance in this, I really knew where I fit in with her and I could see why Billy wanted to follow her.”
But before Autumn started calling the shots in Billy’s life, it was the music that drove him and Reid, for that matter, to “Outer Range” — perhaps the only link between the ethereal cowboy and “Schitt’s Creek’s” acoustically gifted Patrick.
Reid, who will release his third album “Adjustments” on June 24 and just made his Broadway debut in Tracy Letts’ play “The Minutes” (running now through July 24), auditioned for Billy with Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” which pops up in Episode 7 as a spoken monologue.
While he doesn’t always seek out roles tied to music, Reid was intrigued to find a character that breaks into song randomly on the range — having inherited a musical gene that runs in the Tillerson family, led by Will Patton as the equally disconcerting patriarch, Wayne.
“As we continued to shoot, and I got to work with Will more, Billy and Wayne shared a connection that maybe the other Tillerson brothers don’t have,” Reid said. “Wayne sings a little bit, it’s kind of this electrical current that runs between them a little bit. It’s like a mineral in the earth. That’s where music lives in the Tillersons. It is a vein in there somewhere. You either mine it or it bubbles up.”
Billy’s 1980s and early 1990s soundtrack was curated by Watkins and executive producer and writer Zev Borow, also pulling in Hall & Oates and Peter Gabriel.
“It’s an incredible era for music,” Reid said. “It’s an expressive time, and it feels a little bit electric. Drums and synths are a part of it, and the range of his musical tastes were pretty spectacular.”
It’s in the music that Billy will live on with Reid should this be his swan song. He’s put some digital mileage on a playlist of all the songs he sang in Season 1 and a few that didn’t make the cut. However, he stopped short of revealing the deep cuts in the hopes he can one day revive Billy Tillerson – for one night only.
“Zev and I were talking about doing a Billy Tillerson concert for the crew, and unfortunately, because of COVID, we couldn’t make it happen,” Reid said. “But you know, one of these days I will get to wear his cowboy get up from Trevor’s funeral and bring Bobby the Bear on stage and sing with a little synthesizer all of his songs and the ones that I wish had made it into Season 1.”
The first season of “Outer Range” is now streaming on Prime Video.