Spike premiered the first episode of their based-loosely-on-the-novella-and-later-film adaptation of Stephen King's The Mist last week…so how was it? As first-episodes go, I'd give it a resounding…okay.
The first episodes of new shows always have the impossible task of having to do so much in so little time: introduce characters, establish backstories, introduce the "big bad", and then show how all of that starts to converge. I tend to cut first episodes a little more slack by remembering The Walking Dead: I think that show has some of the best writing and acting on television right now…but that first episode? In fact, the first few episodes? A little more painful to go back and watch now.
So from that standpoint, The Mist's pilot episode held up its end of the bargain decently, but there are some potential cracks showing already.
But first, some ground rules: I'm a huge fan of both King's work and the Thomas Jane movie, but since this is a "based on…", I'll be reviewing it on its own merits instead of playing comparisons. I'm going to end up spoiling details about the episodes, so please keep that in mind as you read this. I'll try to put up some kind of subtle reminder when the "spoiler zone" starts.
My ratings system is based on a 1-9 (with half-increments) "John Cusack" scale, with a 10 "Golden Cusack" score reserved only for incredibly rare and special circumstances — because he's my pop-culture spirit animal.
So as promised…
THIS IS THE POINT WHERE YOU SHOULD STOP READING IF YOU'D RATHER AVOID SPOILERS!
From Spike's own words:
"Based on a story by Stephen King, Spike's "The Mist" centers around a small town family that is torn apart by a brutal crime. As they deal with the fallout an eerie mist rolls in, suddenly cutting them off from the rest of the world, and in some cases, each other. Family, friends and adversaries become strange bedfellows, battling the mysterious mist and its threats, fighting to maintain morality and sanity as the rules of society break down."
So applying the "first episode model" I mentioned earlier, here's how The Mist held up:
Introducing Characters: So, we're introduced to about nine characters in the first episode…and that's where this wave of Under The Dome dread is coming from, because it feels like they fell out of the dramatic cliche tree and hit every branch on the way down — then only barely had their fall cushioned by the leaves from said tree. See if you recognize these character types from any other shows you're currently watching (cliffhanger-ish questions added on purpose for melodramatic effect):
▪Kevin Copeland (Morgan Spector): Husband and father whose desire to be the "cool, understanding dad" to his daughter brings him into direct conflict with his wife, who he views as being over-protective and smothering. Does he have what it takes to make the tough decisions, even if they're not popular?
▪Eve Copeland (Alyssa Sutherland): Wife, mother, and "rebellious" teacher whose desire to protect her daughter and keep her safe ends up distancing her from her daughter and puts her into direct conflict with her husband. Can she start seeing her daughter as a person and not just her child before it's too late?
▪Alex Copeland (Gus Birney): Smart, loving daughter trying to survive her teenage years in a small town and with parents working to keep the family together. She's an individualist who walks her own path and befriends those that society considers "weird" and "different." Can she balance being who she wants to be with what her small-town social circles want from her?
▪Mia Lambert (Danica Curcic): Pill-popper with a past, she won't hesitate for a second to break the law to defend herself and get what's rightfully hers. Even if that means killing in self-defense. But can she be trusted?
▪Bryan Hunt (Okezie Morro): Soldier who wakes up in the woods with no memory and a dog that may or may not be his. He's seen firsthand what the mist can do…but will anyone believe him? And does he know more than even he realizes?
▪Jay Heisel (Luke Cosgrove): "Big man" on the Bridgeville Central H.S. football team and son to the town's sheriff, is he the stereotype everyone thinks he is…or is he hiding a secret? And after a tragic night, can he be trusted enough to tell the truth?
▪Connor Heisel (Darren Pettie): Town sheriff and a man more than willing to cross the line for "justice" even if it takes him beyond the law. He's willing to do anything to protect those that he loves, but will that loyalty blind him to the truth?
▪Adrian Garff (Russell Posner): The "town freak" living his life in defiance of the close-mindedness of the town around him and best friends with Alex, viewing her and her parents as his "second family." Will he be able to find it within him to help save a town that's shunned him repeatedly?
▪Nathalie Raven (Frances Conroy): Neighbor and spiritual naturalist who "tolerates" her neighbors, but seems much more at peace being left along to her flowers and trees. When the mist arrives and she's faced with tragedy, just how far will she go to make sense of the growing madness around her?
See what I mean? Now again, granted, it's only the first episode and we have a ton of time to work with to mix up the dynamics. But I'm worried that it could end up like Under The Dome with a collective group of cliches that the storylines could never rise above the mediocrity. I hope I'm wrong about The Mist, because it feels like it has some serious potential.
Establishing Backstories: One thing about this The Mist? You're surprised these people haven't gone at each other's throats well before the mist started blowing through town. Eve is fighting the school district and other parents to be able to teach sex-ed properly. Kevin and Eve are fighting over how to raise their daughter. Alex is fighting her parents to be seen as a young woman and not a child. Bryan is fighting to get his memories back and be understood. Mia is fighting to stay alive and get her life back. Adrian is fighting to establish his own identity and live his life without fear. And on and on and on and on.
This isn't going to be a matter of a very bad situation breaking very good people: these are people whose issues have had them teetering on the edge for a while, anyway. The mist forces them to confront their inner demons and make some hard choices. I think the series has a great opportunity to delve more into the moral ambiguities that each character will be faced with, moving it away from (hopefully) having just another "good guys vs. bad guys" dynamic.
Introducing The "Big Bad": No complaints here. I think they did an excellent job of keeping the mist mysterious while giving us some horrific examples of what it can do. The fact that our characters are in different parts of the town when the mist descends upon Bridgeville only adds to our appreciation of just how massive this threat is and how worse it's going to get.
I particularly like their practice so far of not showing us a lot and letting the viewers use the sounds and their own imaginations to personalize the horror. One sticking point? The mist seemed to move a helluva lot slower as the episode rolled along compared to how it was shown moving when Bryan was running from it.
Showing How All Of That Starts To Converge: For the most part, I like where they positioned things storyline-wise by the end of the first episode. The first wave of primary characters have been introduced, we've learned their backstories, we know what's coming, and now we get to see how they all connect.
Kevin, Adrian, Mia and Bryan decide to work together to get somewhere safe and back to their loved ones in a scene reminiscent of The Walking Dead; Eve and Alex find themselves trapped at the mall (giving me a slight Dawn of the Dead vibe) with Alex's alleged rapist Jay (more on that in a minute); Nathalie loses her husband tragically and finds herself seeking sanctuary at the local church; and others continue to wander the streets looking for cover.
The Mist adds an additional layer of tension and concern because on one hand, we want these people to find each other (the whole "safety in numbers" concept); but on the other hand, we know that there's a really good chance that the dangers coming from within might end up eclipsing the unknown dangers facing them in the mist.
(On a side note…not sure how I feel about the Alex/Jay rape storyline moving forward. I'm a big believer that no topic should be off-limits when producing art, but it needs to be done with respect and understanding for opinions and experiences of others. I'm giving the writers some time to tell their tale — as we all should — but I really hope that it doesn't end up going the way I think it's going to go. I'll hold off on sharing that theory until after the third episode…promise!)
Conclusion: Even though it has some rough edges to it, it's still early enough in The Mist's run for them to be able to fix a few of the things I mentioned and avoid the kind of roadblocks that have derailed other series in the past. With the understanding that I reserve the right to go back and re-examine my initial review after the season's over, I give the first episode of The Mist a score of 6-1/2 Cusacks:
Join me next when we take a look at the second episode of The Mist, Withdrawal:
Episode Two Summary: 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.