Following two seasons of treasure hunting and ongoing conflicts between the Pogues and Kooks in the OBX, Netflix’s premier teen drama Outer Banks has returned with a new season, promising the biggest adventure of the series yet. Outer Banks Season 3 follows the Pogues as they work to survive on a desert island they call “Poguelandia,” and set their sights on a new treasure with an even greater reward at the end. With these higher stakes and larger scale, Outer Banks Season 3 is an admirable effort that will appease hardcore fans, but the show’s formula is certainly starting to wear thin.
The greatest strength of Outer Banks Season 3, and arguably its biggest focus, is the relationship between series lead John B. (Chase Stokes) and his father Big John (Charles Halford), who was revealed to be alive at the conclusion of the second season after being presumed dead following an encounter with Ward Cameron (Charles Esten). The two have their big reunion very early and spend nearly the entire season side-by-side, which is often a detriment to John B.’s storylines with the rest of the OBX gang.
Luckily, this father-son relationship is a profoundly interesting one to follow, due to how much the two have changed over the course of their time apart. We see an older John B., no longer buying into everything his father puts in front of him, willing to bite back. Likewise, Big John has to balance supporting his son and his commitment to finding treasure, which leads to major choices between the two endeavors. This core dynamic in Outer Banks Season 3 manages to avoid cliché territory, serving as strong development for John B. that brings new layers to the role and some emotionally powerful moments into the back half of the season.
Unfortunately, with the focus being mainly placed on John B’s relationship with his father, other major characters are sidelined in Outer Banks Season 3. JJ (Rudy Pankow) and Kiara (Madison Bailey) are essentially given filler arcs that do little to progress the overarching story while Big John essentially takes on a nearly co-lead status in the show. In addition, the Cameron family, primarily Rafe (Drew Starkey) and Ward, are especially pushed to the wayside due to the spotlight on a new antagonist. This is quite disappointing since Starkey and Esten are easily some of the strongest among the cast, continuously acting circles around their co-stars. Although the inclusion of Sofia (Fiona Palomo), a Pogue who secretly wants to be a Kook, makes for interesting interactions with Rafe and Ward, their minimal revenge plot in Outer Banks Season 3 leaves a lot to be desired.
The central foe in Outer Banks Season 3 is the ruthless Caribbean don Carlos Singh (Andy McQueen). While McQueen does an admirable job, Singh is a severe downgrade from the threat of the Cameron family in the previous two seasons. He’s too much of a cartoonishly evil villain for the teens, lacking the personal connections and nuances present within Ward and Rafe that made them interesting characters on their own as well as being great rivals for the Pogues. Singh is simply a greedy businessman who seeks the same prize as our main youthful group of best friends, and by the end, you’ll be ready to move on from the basic conflict as soon as possible.
The biggest problem with Outer Banks Season 3 is the fact that the show’s schtick is evidently running dry. After so many instances of seeing John B. and Sarah Cameron (Madelyn Cline) break up their romance or seeing the Pogues almost get treasure midway through the season but fail, this Netflix original series is starting to grow stale. Plotlines feel recycled, and the show often refuses to twist its own formula in what seems to be a concern for its audience and their connection to the series. Actors like Madelyn Cline, who’s already shown her strengths in the first two seasons and in her recent turnout in Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, are now relegated to supporting roles at best. In Sarah’s case, specifically, her purpose in Outer Banks Season 3 is basically a repeat of past seasons.
On the bright side, Outer Banks continues to shine when it allows its chemistry-filled cast to play off one another. New relationships between characters like Pope (Jonathan Daviss) and Cleo (Carlacia Grant) are highlights this season. Longstanding “ships” among the Outer Banks fandom, like with JJ and Kiara, are further expanded upon, although it can sometimes take away from their own personal storylines. Furthermore, the predictable treasure hunt of Outer Banks Season 3 is counteracted, at least somewhat, by its much bigger scale. The series never really drags thanks to its action-packed plot. Each episode is bigger than the last, culminating in an 80-minute finale that matches the length of what Netflix subscribers saw in Stranger Things Season 4.
The larger scale of Outer Banks Season 3 works in its favor. Impressive and thrilling action set pieces make the show’s more formulaic elements feel slightly more interesting and less noticeable. Major arcs from the second season, such as Carla Limbrey (Elizabeth Mitchell) and her hunt for a healing cloth, are tossed to the side immediately. They’re replaced in favor of new threads, like Carlos Singh’s top security officer and enforcer Ryan (Lou Ferrigno Jr.) hunting the gang. Again, this just retreads what fans have already seen from this Netflix original. Creators/executive producers Jonas Pate, Josh Pate, and Shannon Burke, while still proving themselves to be capable showrunners, seem hesitant to allow Outer Banks to truly change and evolve, likely out of the fear of alienating the dedicated fan base they’ve cultivated. This only results in the latest season doing little to set itself aside from the previous two.
When taking a look at Outer Banks Season 3, though safe enough to satisfy die-hard fans, it has become increasingly obvious that this Netflix original series can no longer sustain itself if it keeps going in this direction. With Outer Banks Season 4 already announced, we can only hope that the show’s creative trio has some kind of endgame in mind. They’ve already revealed that they envision Outer Banks as “a four-season, maybe five-season show,” per Entertainment Weekly. Outer Banks seriously needs fresher elements if it wants to give these characters the grand finale they deserve. Nonetheless, Outer Banks continues to impress in many ways in its third season, particularly with its epic scope. Despite losing some of its core magic, Netflix’s prized teen drama manages to remain enjoyable throughout – for now.