When it comes to The Mist, let’s get one thing straight: This is not the second coming of Under the Dome. Yes, it may be an adaptation of a Stephen King work, and yes, it may center on the population of a small town trapped by some otherworldly obstacle, but that’s about as far as the comparisons go. The series premiere of The Mist treats its characters as fully fleshed-out yet flawed human beings who make perfectly rational decisions, even if those decisions end up working out rather poorly in the end. This grounded and realistic introduction to a relatable cast of characters goes a long way toward getting audiences invested in them, all the better to respond to the horror that’s about to come.
The very title of The Mist tells you the form that this terror takes, though it has embodied many different things over the years. King fans who are familiar with the 1980 novella know that it represented fear of the unknown which incited the fires of religious fanaticism. Frank Darabont‘s excellent and heart-breaking 2007 feature-length adaptation played up this aspect while also fleshing out the Eldritch horrors that lurked within the mist itself. Now, Christian Thorpe‘s TV adaptation looks to extend the metaphor even further, pulling on the taut strings of political, religious, and social radicalization in our modern world and seeing how far he can push his fearful characters before they snap.
The Spike series stars Morgan Spector as Kevin Copeland, husband, father, and all-around good guy. Kevin is the paragon of the modern liberated man, slow to anger, quick to offer second chances, and someone who puts acceptance before judgement. Spector’s performance serves up a fantastic introduction to Kevin that avoids stereotypes of extremes; he’s no action hero, but neither is he a shrinking violet. You could call him a snowflake, or you could, not ironically, call him a social justice warrior, depending on which end of the spectrum you find yourself on; the folks in the valley of the small, lakeside town of Bridgeville, Maine have similar opinions of Kevin and his family.
That family includes his wife Eve (Alyssa Sutherland), a teacher at the local high school who finds herself in hot water when her progressive beliefs regarding sex education do not line up with those of the local school board. Her reputation in the small town doesn’t do her any favors, and neither does it help her 16-year-old daughter, Alex (Gus Birney). Alex comes with the trappings of your typical TV teenager, but also has the added complexity of finding herself caught between her mom and dad, whose differing parenting styles lead to family friction. She’s also the emotional heart of the early story since she faces some very difficult decisions. Luckily, she has her best friend Adrian (Russell Posner) to turn to.
Adrian is a curious character. With a penchant for wearing makeup and staring at the high school football players’ backsides, audiences might think he plays Alex’s gay best friend. He’s more complicated than that, saying, “I don’t fall in love with gender, I fall in love with personality.” Regardless of his own progressive inclinations and his found acceptance among the Copelands, Adrian faces discrimination and bullying around just about every corner in Bridgeville, even from within his own family.
The town looks warm and friendly on the surface–folks go to the local high school football game like in an episode of Friday Night Lights, the Copeland’s neighbors the Ravens are a friendly garden-tending couple in the twilight of their lives who believe in green-living and trips to the local library, and everyone shops at the same central mall–but there is ugliness simmering just beneath the false smiles and socially ceremonial handshakes. While the premiere chose to focus on ideas of privilege and superiority when it comes to discrimination against sexuality in various forms–perceived promiscuity, sexual assault, subjective taboos, and non-traditional gender roles–there’s a lot of room to explore other biases throughout the season.
Of course, the dark sides of human nature are about to be revealed by the arrival of the mist. It’s a clever inversion indeed that the mist–a thick, white fog that invades the valley and approaches slowly, like an immense glacier made vaporous–is a concealing but also revealing entity. And if it wasn’t creepy enough on sight, a character’s observation that it’s “moving against the wind” should send a chill up your spine.
The Mist, having established its characters in the early going, sets the groundwork for a good dose of jump scares and horrific moments that incorporate graphic violence and fantastic effects work. These moments come out of nowhere but are always tied into the arrival of the mist, whether it’s the (presumed) U.S. Army soldier Bryan Hunt (Okezie Morro) who we see fleeing from the nightmarish vapor early on or the hapless townsfolk who ignore his warnings and venture out into the mist itself before coming to a violent end by whatever is waiting within. Make no mistake, the mist may not be a solid entity, but it might as well be an impenetrable wall since death itself meets anyone careless or unfortunate enough to be surrounded by it.
By the premiere’s end, the characters we’ve met find themselves out of their comfort zones, trapped by the mist. But Thorpe has managed to not only trap them physically–be it in the mall, the church, or that perennial place of imprisonment, the police station itself–but socially, emotionally, and mentally as well. Imagine being stuck in proximity with the people who got you fired, or the person you just accused of sexual assault, with no way to escape. With that in mind, pay close attention to the deep relationship dynamics on display in the premiere, because they threaten to be paths more torturous than anything waiting outside in the mist.
The only knock against The Mist‘s first episode is that very little time is taken to establish Bridgeville as anything other than Smalltown, America with the stereotypes we’ve come to associate with it over the years. Some of these stereotypes are very well deserved, and there is an effort made to both portray and then twist them. But The Mist could have benefitted from a bit more time showing the surface beauty of Bridgeville to better feel the impact when the ugliness beneath it is revealed.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good — Damn fine television
The Mist premieres on Spike Thursday, June 22nd at 10pm.