So by the end of the premiere episode of Spike's The Mist, Kevin Copeland (Morgan Spector), Adrian Garff (Russell Posner), Mia Lambert (Danica Curcic) and Bryan Hunt (Okezie Morro) have decided to work together to make their way to the mall.
Eve Copeland (Alyssa Sutherland) and her daughter Alex Copeland (Gus Birney) are locked in the mall…with Alex's alleged rapist Jay Heisel (Luke Cosgrove). Nathalie Raven (Frances Conroy) saw her husband killed before her eyes and finds herself seeking sanctuary at the local church. And through it all, the mist continues to grow…
After a solid premiere last week (reviewed here), how did The Mist fair with its second episode, Withdrawal? Umm…let me put it this way: not well. And with a title like Withdrawal, it was really tough for me to not want to play on that to express how disappointing this episode was…but I managed. Barely.
But first, a quick heads-up: I'm a huge fan of both Stephen King's work and the 2007 Thomas Jane movie, but since this is a "based on…", I'll be reviewing the television series based on its own merits instead of through comparisons. Some details are going to get spoiled, so please keep that in mind as you read this. I'll try to put up some kind of "subtle reminder" when the spoilage is about to start.
As always, my ratings system is based on a highly scientific 1-9 (with half-increments) "John Cusack" scale, with a 10 "Golden Cusack" score reserved only for incredibly rare and special circumstances. Why "John Cusack"? Because he's my pop-culture spirit animal. And he made High Fidelity. And Grosse Pointe Blank. And Better Off Dead. And One Crazy Summer. There's more, if you're interested, but maybe we should move on.
So now, as promised:
THIS IS THE POINT WHERE YOU'RE PROBABLY GOING TO FIND SOME SPOILAGE!
So here's what Spike had to say about Withdrawal:
"The Mist has settled over town as Eve, Alex, and other mallgoers try to manage the rising panic. Meanwhile, Kevin, Adrian, Mia, and Jonah venture out into the mist to get to Kevin's family."
I'm really not sure what the point of this episode was in the first place — probably not the best initial reaction to have as the main takeaway when reviewing an episode. Withdrawal was only slightly longer than 38 minutes (including opening and closing credits) and felt even shorter than that…and not in a good way. It felt like a collection of situational cliches that I would've been fine with in the first episode, but not when I'm expecting there to be some quality forward momentum starting with the characters and their storylines. Perhaps that's my biggest problem with Withdrawal: the material is too weak to sustain being its own episode, and would've been better edited into the pilot as a 90-minute premiere.
The Good: Not that the episode didn't have some bright spots…
● Mall manager Gus Redman (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) didn't go the usual cliche route of sending a bunch more people outside to die before he realizes the truth. He asks Eve what happened, she tells him, and then he orders all the doors to be locked and for everyone to stay inside until the authorities arrive.
● Making their way to the church for safety after a car accident caused by Mia's withdrawal, she encounters an elderly woman in the mist who knows her…someone who died years before. I like the implication that what's out in the mist might somehow be directly tied to the thoughts and memories of those within it. The theory increased its coolness factor by +5 when Bryan revealed that he saw the woman Mia saw, too.
● "Arrowhead" / "Shadow-4-1": interesting addition of a "bigger picture" conspiracy theory separate from whatever military involvement in the mist that Bryan might've been a part of before the series began.
● To no one's surprise, the amazing Conroy's performance as Raven shines in every scene that she's a part of (her speech at the church in honor of her late husband is worth repeat viewing). Conroy makes us feel for this woman and share the pain of her loss, making it an even tougher blow to the audience emotionally when we see how such tragically unexpected situations can change even the most decent of people. A performance that showed some serious long-term potential in this episode was Steven Yaffee's Mikhail, faithful assistant to Father Romanov (Dan Butler) at the church who is very committed to his faith…maybe a little too committed. Definitely one to watch.
The Not-So-Good: But around those four highlights? A lot of cliched fluff, heavy-handedness, and questionable decision-making that had me scratching my head and feeling slightly concerned for things moving forward. Here are just a few examples:
● Bryan catches Mia in the police station's evidence room stealing and taking some prescription meds. He takes them away from her, she convinces him that she'll stay clean and then he puts the drugs back on the shelf and walks out of the room ahead of her. Apparently, this was enough of a sign of trust on Bryan's part that he doesn't tell anyone else what just happened and seems perfectly fine with a drug-fiending, was-just-locked-up stranger drive the car. And then even though Mia is pretty much break-dancing her way through withdrawal in the driver's seat, no one seems to notice anything's wrong or even tries to step in before she ultimately flips the car in classic The A-Team style. I found myself spending way too much time trying to make sense out of their actions that it completely took me out of the experience of enjoying the show.
● The show goes a little heavy-handed with trying to get us to question whether or not Jay is guilty. On one hand, every time we see him from a distance he's "The Man of 1000 Evil Glares", and then on the other hand, he's the first one to step-up to defend Muslim mall store owner Raj Al-Fayed (Nabeel El Khafif) from mall security guard Kyle's (Romaine Waite) accusations of terrorism. Did I mention he's also the only one who knows how to operate a drone? That's important because…
● …they use a drone to run reconnaissance on the administrative wing after it's filled with the mist. It's also the only drone left at the only store in the mall that sells drones. There's just something about that whole set-up that just seemed a little "too cute," in that it seemed kinda' forced. It's like, "Let's combine something cool and current (personal drones) with a different filming style ("found footage"-ish) to show we're current with tech…but let's make sure we gave ourselves an out (only one in mall)." Didn't really find any of it scary or tense, even with the whole "what-was-the-dead-person-writing?" inplay. And for the record? I think he was writing, "Arrrrrr!" to finally express his inner-pirate before shuffling-off this mortal coil.
● Remember how I mentioned earlier that I really like the whole "alternative conspiracy theory" storyline that I think they're rolling out? That still stands…but I never bought into Clint (Mishka Thébaud) and his crew for a second. They came across less as "conspiracy agents" and more as the cover models for a very generic brochure on the benefits of American students backpacking through Europe. I was waiting for them to be redeemed (or at least fleshed-out a bit more as characters) when Clint volunteered to accompany Eve into the administrative wing to recover the federal emergency phone from the security office. That's where the "Arrowhead" / "Shadow-4-1" conversation comes into play, and just when things get interesting…nothing. Instead of offering any explanations, Clint becomes "generic government bad guy" who attacks Eve when she tries to escape. Thanks to the tag-team combo of Eve and the mist, we don't have to worry about Clint for too long. Jay discovers by the end of the episode that with Clint gone, his hostel roommates don't see the point in hesitating to meet-up with him in the afterlife. Sadly, this was the only time they were ever collectively interesting during the episode.
● Having an actress of Conroy's caliber on the show is a double-edged sword, because her amazing performances are also highlighting just how underwhelming some of the other performances are early-on. Curcic's Mia comes across as a caricature of a criminal drug addict; Morro's Bryan seemed in more of a daze now then when he first woke-up; and Spector's Kevin comes across as bland with occasional moments of wide-eyed acting. I can usually get past those "growing pains" for a new series, but Conroy's acting really does shine a spotlight on the mediocrity around her. It's why I can't help but think of Under The Dome again, because that show lived and died solely on the back of Dean Norris' performance.
Conclusion: At this point, it feels like I'm beating a dead horse. Not a good week, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that things pick-up with the third episode. But for now?
I give Withdrawal, the second episode of The Mist, a score of 4 Cusacks:
(If they re-edited the first and second episodes into one 90-minute first episode premiere and forget this ever happened, then the new first episode would've gotten its score bumped-up to 7 Cusacks.)
So join me next week as I take a look at The Mist's third episode, Show and Tell:
"At the church, Connor locks up Mia, Jonah, and Kevin in the basement. Back at the mall, Jay confronts Alex to try and convince her he didn't rape her."
And here's what's still to come this season: