‘The Mist’ Season 1: Rise and Fall and Rise Again

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As we pass the halfway mark of the first season of “The Mist,” I thought it was high time for a check-in. After a particularly strong start, the series suffered greatly from subpar writing, iffy acting, and perhaps worst of all, chintzy special effects. As I mentioned in my last summarization of the show, horror fans are used to caricatures and people making dumb decisions- for better or for worse, it’s part and parcel of the genre and just comes with the territory.

Hell, if it weren’t for stupid people making ridiculous decisions, we probably wouldn’t have the horror genre in the first place. But that doesn’t mean horror can’t do better. One need only look at the ones who have, from the classic Universal monster movies, to 70’s favorites like “The Exorcist,” “The Omen” and “Halloween,” to more recent faves like “The Silence of the Lambs” and “The Conjuring” series to see that, if done right, horror can be incredibly effective, and even critically acclaimed. Indeed, both “The Exorcist” and “Lambs” received Oscars for being a cut above the usual horror fare.

Oh, people in them still made stupid choices, to be sure- Clarice certainly didn’t have to go after “Buffalo Bill” alone at the end, for instance- but you forgive things a lot easier if the rest of the movie is well-written, directed and acted. Look no further than episode five of “The Mist,” entitled “The Waiting Room” and episode six, entitled “The Devil You Know,” for an example of how good- and bad- the show can be when firing on all cylinders.

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In the fifth episode, the show thankfully brought back Christian Torpe on the writing front, and what a difference it made. He, of course, wrote the pilot, and though he created and developed the show, Torpe has let others write and direct subsequent episodes, which has led to a precipitous drop in quality since, which is really unfortunate after such a strong start.

I mean, I get it- not everyone can be, say, David Lynch and Mark Frost, writing, and in the case of Lynch, directing an entire season of shows. But the fact of the matter is, something like “Twin Peaks” has a consistency of vision that is readily apparent. It might not be your damn fine cup of coffee, but the quality of the show has been pretty solid, no matter what you might think of the content.

The truth is, most shows don’t operate that way. Most shows have a writing staff, and a show is only as good as its writers, even if there is a showrunner overseeing things, trying to keep everything in line. It’s precisely that reason that, you’ll notice, almost every show with around 10 episodes or more will have peaks and valleys, in terms of consistency. It’s hard to knock the ball out of the park every time, after all. Sooner or later, you’re going to hit a foul ball- or even strike out.

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It was looking like “The Mist” might be headed in the direction of a total strike-out, but thankfully, along came the bottle episode “The Waiting Room.” In addition to being co-written by Torpe, along with longtime TV vet Amanda Segel (“Person of Interest,” “Without a Trace”), the episode took place in a new location, a hospital, and featured some much-needed character-building, as we filled in the blanks more on what makes Kevin Cunningham (Morgan Spector) tick, and what motivates him in general.

The truth is, after making a decent enough impression as the well-meaning, but perhaps naïve and misguided “cool” dad, Kevin has been a bit of a blank slate ever since, and TBH, kind of on the bland side, as “hero” characters go. We just didn’t know enough to care, really. Sure, we felt for him when he went behind his wife’s back and let his daughter go to a high school party, only to find out his daughter had been raped later on- truly every loving father’s worst nightmare- but beyond that, we didn’t get much.

That was rectified considerably in “The Waiting Room,” in which we got a series of glimpses of Kevin’s past, and a sense of what the dynamic between both him and his wife and him and his brother was like- not to mention a subtle sense of what the town’s attitude towards the two was- that better informed what was to come in both this episode and the one that followed.

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Tellingly, not all of that was the writing, either. That sex scene between Kevin and the somewhat ironically-named Eve (Alyssa Sutherland) spoke volumes without saying much of anything beyond, well, “harder.” In a few short scenes, we got a sense of what was really going on beneath the surface of this marriage: Eve, a reformed bad girl whose past was never going to die easy, had finally settled down with one of the “good” guys- but old habits and reputations die hard.

Just as Kevin’s brother Mike (Peter Murnik, “Justified”) threw some shade about Eve’s past in her direction, never letting her forget her “wild child” rep, so did Eve’s actions in the bedroom later on belie her inability to fully change who she was. Eve is a work-in-progress that isn’t quite over her past, and as such, it was never going to be as easy as flipping a switch to make her into a “good girl.”

As we see in the present, even after reconfiguring herself as a mild-mannered schoolteacher, her reputation still precedes her- one parent even tweaks her about assigning “The Scarlet Letter” to her students, as if to say, “Of course she would assign THAT.” And, of course, we had that scene at the mall early on, where OG “Mist” character Mrs. Carmody tried to give Eve some business in front of everyone, only to be dressed down thoroughly by Eve- right before she and her kid were “Mist”-ified to death shortly thereafter, to everyone’s horror.

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Stuff like this deepens a character, and rewards future re-viewings, which is what a show (or movie) needs to be considered a worthy one. It’s by getting to know characters that we come to care for them, and “The Mist” was in dire need of doing that, despite a strong world-building premiere. Keep in mind, as well, that we barely got to know- and in some cases, hadn’t even met- a lot of the town’s denizens before the mist hit the fan.

The show should have been making good use of the quiet moments to do just that, but it instead fell into the trap of “first we go here, then we go there, and stuff happens along the way.” Characters appeared, only to die; others, who seemed like they might be important, fell by the wayside. In between, we got some mist action, but, as I mentioned, it was pretty compromised by some laughable/cheesy CGI-driven FX.

In “Room,” that was partially rectified as well by some good, old-fashioned practical effects, as seen in the scene in which Kevin has to operate on his brother and pull out a nasty piece of rebar from his side, right near his liver. Sure, it’s a scene we’ve all seen before- a “civilian” has to perform a surgery that’s out of his or her depth as a doctor “talks them through it” over the phone or whatever. I just saw it fairly recently on “The Good Fight,” for instance.

But, despite the fact that the latter scene took place near a terrorist threat that could have ended up with everyone present, not just the patient, losing their lives, damned if “The Mist” version wasn’t considerably more intense and nail-biting. Don’t get me wrong, “The Good Fight” is an infinitely better show than “The Mist” on a bad day, but for one brief, shining moment, “The Mist” was the David in that particular match-up against the Goliath.

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Part of it was the circumstances, sure- Kevin had to wheel his brother into a part of the hospital where the mist had taken over in order to get the job done with the right tools and such- but it was also driven considerably by what we had found out about the characters themselves. They used to get along- until Eve came between them.

Towards the end, as Mike feared for his life, he admitted the truth: he’d only lashed out at Kevin because he was jealous. Kevin had accomplished what no one else who dated/slept with Eve had, though not for lack of trying- he’d managed to tame the wildest filly in town, as it were. Of course, as Kevin found out during that sex scene, that sort of thing is easier said than done.

As we saw in the premiere, he and Eve are hardly the model couple- they have their problems. Not the least of which is Eve’s overwhelming desire for her daughter not to turn out like her, which has led to her being more than a little overbearing. Kevin is all too aware of this, and attempted to circumnavigate his way around these rough waters by going behind his wife’s back- with decidedly disastrous results.

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Those results continue to inform the present-day events in the mall, as well as the hospital, as Kevin struggles to find his way back to his wife and child, still feeling the pangs of guilt for what happened to daughter Alex (Gus Birney). Meanwhile, in “The Devil You Know,” we still aren’t sure whether we should trust Alex’s accused rapist, Jay (Luke Cosgrove).

Is he innocent, as he claims? Did he, as Alex suggests, actually start that fire in order to rescue Alex and play the hero? (My guess: it was that grieving mother, after seeing Alex and Eve having a little too much fun playing dress up in a department store.)

The thing is, Cosgrove is so cagey in the way he plays the character, it’s really hard to tell. On the one hand, he sure seems innocent, and given what we know now- that bully Tyler (Christopher Grey), who I suspect to be the actual rapist, is a closeted gay teen, and that Alex’s bestie, Adrian (Russell Posner) is very into him and thus, might have covered for him doing the deed- it seems more and more likely that he didn’t. (Option #2: Adrian himself did the deed, as he has been questioning his sexuality, and perhaps wanted to “take advantage” of the situation of Alex being defenseless.)

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And yet…some of his behavior is unusually aggressive for someone trying to “prove” their innocence. The jury’s still out, frankly, on whether all of this is intentional, or if Cosgrove is just making some wonky, confusing acting choices. Who can say at this point? As I mentioned in previous reviews, it’s a little icky using rape as a “mystery” story point, but I’ll say this: I’m honestly not sure one way or another, so I guess they’re achieving what they’re going for, as dubious as it reads on paper.

More wishy-washy is the situation at the church. We never really get a sense as to the “why” of the reason everyone seems to be more inclined to buy into Nathalie’s take- or what that take really is, philosophy-wise, for that matter- than the preacher’s, Father Romanov (Dan Butler). Part of it may be, and probably is, the writing- Torpe wasn’t directly involved in the teleplay of this one- but over half the way into the season, we should have a better sense of what’s up at the church than we do.

On the plus side, I was more forgiving of this particular episode, as it was easier to gloss over such things in light of all the action going on. After confining all the action to the final section of the previous episode- although, it should be said, I had no problem with that, given the overall strength of the episode- this one was almost entirely action, with several fights between disgruntled characters- Nathalie vs. that devout wackadoo, the doctor vs. Kevin and his group, Bryan Hunt vs. um, Bryan Hunt, I guess? – plus some wacked out, hallucinogenic mist action.

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Still, the quality of acting remains wildly all over the place, making everything non-mist-related a bit silly at times, which is a big problem. I really want to like this show. I love the original source material, and the show is pretty good when it’s on point, and I do think Torpe is a solid writer. But all too often, the show is more miss-than-hit.

So far, there’s been two genuinely decent episodes out of six, with the others more problematic and the most recent one not terrible, but definitely lacking in the character development department. That’s not a great track record, especially for a new show. If “The Mist” doesn’t up its game soon, it might end up, well, disappearing into thin air.

Interestingly enough, the show rose in the ratings with the return of Torpe to the writing fold- then promptly sunk again this week to a series’ low. That’s not good, to say the least, as it meant that it would seem that the relatively action-free character-driven episode scared viewers off, while the more action-packed episode that followed may have been too little, too late. Go figure. Maybe fans prefer their horror more brawn than brains, at least in this case.

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What do you think of “The Mist”? Does the good outweigh the bad for you? Or vice versa? What do you make of the cast? Or the characters, for that matter? How about the special effects? Will you keep watching until the bitter end, or are you out already? Sound off on this and more down below, and I’ll check back in next month!