‘The Mist’ Season 1, Episodes 2-4: Paranoia, the Destroyer

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After a surprisingly effective premiere that favored character over critters, “The Mist” settled into a more predictable groove over the course of the next three episodes, as we got to know some of the rest of the town of Bridgeville’s denizens and everyone started to feel the claustrophobia of being caught in the same place for much too long with mostly strangers, all the while trying to figure out just what the hell what up with that spooky mist outside- and how dangerous it really was.

Interestingly, and perhaps inevitably, the mist here is slightly less dangerous than the one in the novella and the movie, as, on more than a few occasions, people have successfully ventured into it and emerged unscathed. Of course, you’ve got to have the occasional death of the odd random to keep things interesting, and we do get that, but overall, all hell has decidedly not broken loose- as of yet, at least.

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This is a TV show after all, and if you want to sustain things, you have to pace things out- the question is, will the show pace things out too much, a la “Under the Dome” and risk losing viewers by straining credibility, to say nothing of stretching out the plot too much? We shall see, but it occurred to me that, if the show wanted to go radical with things, they could always wipe out the entire town, with the next season revolving around an all new town altogether, with a new cast of characters, perhaps with a few choice stragglers from this season.

After all, there was a nod to another town in the pilot, and it would make perfect sense for the mist to continue to infiltrate its way across the area of the US it has already taken over, amassing more territory as it goes. Another interesting wrinkle the show has added to the mix: this version of the mist seems to be somewhat sentient, by which I mean it seems a bit more calculating and measured.

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Granted, this could well be the sort of thing I was just referencing- the show playing for time- but I don’t think so, or it’s not ALL that’s going on here, at least. For example, you had the scene in which Mia (Danica Curcic) thought she saw someone from her past- notably also from a nearby town- which seemed to be luring her into the mist, only to discover that fellow survivor Bryan (Okezie Morro) had seen, not to mention heard her, too, and was even able to reference what she said to prove it to Mia. That’s a new wrinkle to the story established by King.

In addition, there was the scene in which Alex (Gus Birney) and that little girl were in the bookstore and a shadowy creature attacked them… except it didn’t entirely. Instead, it sort of sized both of them up and considered them somehow, before opting to let Alex go and kill the little girl! Sure, you could chalk that up to the show not wanting to kill off one of its main leads as of yet, but I think there was more going on there than the mere shock value of killing a little girl, as surprising as that was.

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For instance, the obvious gambit would have been for the monster to let one of them go because they were “innocent”- except that’s not what happened here at all. Instead, the innocent one was killed outright, while the more flawed one was set free. It obviously confused Alex herself, who initially (understandably) lied about it, before coming clean, even though it ostracized her- and by extension, her mother- from the mother of the child in question. I’m not sure what was being implied there, but it was another new wrinkle in King’s original story, so it bears a closer look as such.

Both of these developments are fascinating, and cause for thinking the show might be up to something more than one might have originally thought going in. Naturally, if the show has any hope of sustaining itself, it would need to develop a mythos of sorts, and that’s exactly what I think we’re seeing the seeds of here. In addition, there’s the whole Arrowhead thing, which is indeed from the King novella, and is obviously present in this version, courtesy of all the military presence in the town, which becomes more readily apparent as the show progresses.

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Also, as established in the pilot, there’s some reasonably solid characterization going on here, to ensure that not all of the people are just “mist bait,” as it were. (Or, if you prefer, “redshirts.”) Yes, some of it is better than others, and some of the characters’ behavior is a bit perplexing- looking at Alex’s ongoing “relationship” with her accused rapist Jay (Luke Cosgrove), for instance- but creator and showrunner Christian Torpe is at least trying to do something different here than just line up victims for the slaughter.

The main problem is within the consistency of said characters. Granted, each of the episodes thus far has had different writers, but, one assumes, as the showrunner, Torpe signs off on all the final drafts of the show’s scripts, so he has to shoulder the blame for some of it. Circling back to Alex and Jay- on the one hand, by virtue of their not showing the rape itself and Alex not having any memory of it, some wiggle room was allowed for the fact that Jay might actually be innocent. At the very least, he doesn’t necessarily “act” like a rapist- but that may be a fake-out on the part of the writers as well.

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Forgoing the problematic implications of rape being used as a plot device, least of all on a “bro”-friendly network like Spike, the fact remains that some of this doesn’t play particularly well. Perhaps some of it lies at the feet of the actors in question, but, as their performances are actually not bad, all things considered, I’m thinking it has more to do with the writing. For one thing, if it ISN’T Jay- and that seems progressively more likely as the show has continued- then chances are, it’s almost certainly one of his friends, and the most obvious culprit from the pilot isn’t around.

It would seem to me, then, that the show missed a golden opportunity to have the main suspect in the crime at hand also trapped in the mall along with everyone else, thus raising the stakes for Alex’s character, in terms of her not knowing who did it for sure. That’s just sloppy writing, if that’s the case. On the other hand, it occurred to me that the show might just go an even more radical route if it was so inclined, as risky as it might be, and that’s in making the actual culprit someone less obvious- like Adrian (Russell Posner).

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Think about it. The show made a fairly big to-do about the character being bisexual in the pilot- or, at the very least, sexually confused about what he was in the first place- then seemingly doubled-down on his being outright gay moving forward. Was that just sloppy writing as well, or was something else going on there? On the one hand, a rape definitely occurred, that’s not in doubt- they even had a scene a doctor confirming it, so it couldn’t just be Adrian lying about it because he didn’t “like” Jay, who, as he himself pointed out, stood up for Adrian when those guys were bullying him.

At the same time, it was Jay’s party, Jay was in the vicinity, and everyone saw that he was sweet on Alex, so pinning him for the crime wasn’t exactly hard to do. What if Adrian was the one with a thing for Alex and took advantage of her drunken state to “experiment” with his sexuality? To be sure, that plot development would no doubt raise some SJW eyebrows out there, but it would also be pretty daring as well.

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Remember also that Adrian “confessed” his being gay to the priest, Father Romanov (Dan Butler) and insisted on being baptized. Yes, it was ostensibly to put himself in the position to steal the keys to the basement, in order to free the others in his group, but what if something else was going on there, too? What if Adrian, suddenly faced with the immediate repercussions of his actions, in light of the pseudo-apocalyptic goings-on in the town, had a crisis of faith, in that he felt unbearably guilty at what he’d done, which, at the very least, involved lying about what really went down (though it could simply be what he thought went down instead).

Factor in the fact that among the people he’s stuck with is Alex’s father- who in turn blames himself for what happened to Alex after telling her she could go to the party that resulted in her rape, against his wife’s wishes- as well as Jay’s father, who clearly resents him; and his guilt for the part he played in everything could be off the charts. This could explain why he seemed so insistent and genuine in his request to be baptized. Or maybe he’s just that good of a faker.

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For his part, and to his credit, actor Posner played things in such a way that it could be seen as a completely artificial fake-out to get the keys OR a meaningful attempt to set things straight (or get himself “pardoned” by God for his actions)- or possibly even both. We just don’t know yet, and I dig that aspect of the show, even if it is a bit questionable to use something like this set-up as a plot device, as aforementioned. But, as the saying goes, sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.

The thing about all this, though, is that it assumes that the show is working on a higher plane of intelligence than it might actually be. Like I said, it could be something much more straightforward, like Jay’s friend saw him leave and went in afterwards to take advantage of Alex, and it just looked to Adrian as if Jay was the one who did it. If so, that’s fine, but I’m hoping that the show goes for something a bit more radical, if only to shake things up a bit, least of all on a horror genre-based show.

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After all, though many look down their noses at the horror genre, there’s no denying it can be quite effective- and even pretty respectable- if done right. For instance, few would argue that films like “The Exorcist,” “The Silence of the Lambs” and even previous King adaptations like DePalma’s version of “Carrie” or Kubrick’s version of “The Shining” (though King might argue against that one) aren’t great cinema, even if they are horror. On the other hand, there’s also a lot of crap horror movies out there as well. The question is: which are we dealing with here?

The jury’s still out on things as of yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that there’s more going on here, intelligence-wise, than meets the eye. If not, then at least the show has been reasonably entertaining so far, though some critics and viewers might beg to differ, given the mixed reactions to it. Of course, the show isn’t perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, there are more than a few glaring flaws to address.

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First of all, as I mention in my review of the pilot, the effects are pretty CGI-heavy and sometimes- okay, often- are pretty ludicrous. For instance, the scene in which that one guy that was standing up for the somewhat loony Nathalie (Frances Conroy, in fine form) and ended up getting killed for his troubles could have been pretty effective, but instead, the cheapness of the special effects made it kind of silly, frankly. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: CGI effects can be solid and enhance what’s going on, but only if used sparingly and in the right way. But one wrong move, and it just looks like crap, and so far, a lot of the FX has been just terrible here, which doesn’t bode well for the future.

In addition, though most of the main cast is solid, there is definitely some ham-fisted, over-the-top scenery-chewing going on here, which is often lol funny. For instance, I laughed when that one military guy, upon seeing his fellow people rolled outside in shopping carts to be offered as what amounted to bait to whatever was in the mist, exclaimed: “But they’re soldiers!” Or something to that effect. It certainly wasn’t meant to be funny, but the actor’s delivery made it that way.

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But if you’re a die-hard fellow horror fan like I am, you get used to such things as iffy acting, especially in slasher movies and creature features like this one. And make no mistake, despite all the nifty character flourishes, this is still both a glorified slasher movie (characters doing oft-stupid things, getting picked off one by one by a mysterious, unknown assailant) and creature feature (nature gone amuck, getting its revenge on humanity). Which is fine, as I love both subgenres.

But “The Mist” is obviously aiming higher here, so when stuff happens that is silly, whether intentional or not, it definitely takes away from the proceedings, which is unfortunate, because the show has some pretty cool ideas otherwise, and might just be smarter than we think, depending on the revelations to come. It just doesn’t help when I find myself occasionally giggling at certain things from time to time that aren’t meant to be funny, you know?

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However, it’s still early on in the show’s run, and enough interesting and cool things are happening that I’m still willing to give “The Mist” the benefit of the doubt, even though I’ve been burned by shows like this before. As die-hard horror fans also know, the genre can be awfully hit-or-miss and though the end results can be mixed, if you’re a fan, it’s kind of like bad sex or lukewarm pizza- it’s still worth having if you’re craving it. Or is that just me? Somehow, I doubt it.

Thus far, the ratings for the premiere clocked in around 0.684, then dropped down to 0.496 for the second episode and 0.428 for the third. Obviously, those aren’t great numbers, but not terrible for a cable-based show with already limited appeal. By way of contrast, the last King-based TV series, “Under the Dome,” managed in the neighborhood of around 4 million viewers at its worst, and it was cancelled- though it also had the benefit of a major network behind it in CBS.

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If we look at a basic cable equivalent, the King-inspired “Haven,” loosely based on his novel “The Colorado Kid,” even at its lowest rated, it managed around 0.528 viewers- and that was for the fifth season finale. The fact that the premiere of “The Mist” barely managed to top that, and subsequent episodes have actually gone below that isn’t good, especially for a show only in its first season, and with the name-brand recognition of a Stephen King behind it.

I suppose the real test of things will be the impending premiere of the “Mr. Mercedes” TV series on the Audience Network. That channel has around the same sort of visibility as Spike, which is to say, it’s not exactly a household name, even if its source material- or the writer behind it, at least- is. As such, it will be interesting to see how it fares compared to this show.

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Of course, it has a few more things going for it than “The Mist”- a more high-profile, recognizable cast (Mary-Louise Parker of “Weeds,” Brendan Gleeson of the “Harry Potter” films, Harry Treadaway, of “Penny Dreadful,” in a role that originally went to the late, great Anton Yelchin) and production team, including David E. Kelley, hot off “Big Little Lies” and director Jack Bender, of “Lost,” “The Sopranos” and “Game of Thrones” fame.

It also has considerably more source material to draw upon, as there are three books to date in the series, as compared to the short novella this show is based upon. Still, it should be an interesting litmus test to see how “Mr. Mercedes” fares vs. “The Mist,” in terms of ratings- or quality, for that matter. Given that the former debuts August 9th, at which point “The Mist” will be just over halfway through the first season, we’ll get to see the results sooner than later. I will certainly keep you posted!

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Until then, “The Mist” has just enough going for it to keep this reviewer interested, even if I don’t entirely have a choice in the matter, having voluntarily signed on to cover the entire season. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining- I’d likely watch it even if I didn’t have to review it. Remember what I said about horror fans? Yeah, we apparently like to suffer, even if we should know better sometimes. As of now, “The Mist” certainly isn’t insufferable- but it could still go either way.

What do you think of “The Mist” so far? Is it a must-see or a must-avoid for you? If you have read the novella or seen the movie, how do you think it compares so far? Is it about as good? Better? Or is it an embarrassment to the source material? What do you think of the cast and the acting in general? How about the special effects? Will you keep watching because you want to- or because there’s not much else on right about now?

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Sound off down below, and join me in a few weeks for an update on how the show is going!