Lost in the mystery of ‘The Mist’

Unfortunately, the show scatters a growing number of flat, unsympathetic characters across various locations and fails to manage the swath of social issues it attempts to tackle.

click to enlarge Frances Conroy as Nathalie - Photo: Courtesy of Spike TV
Photo: Courtesy of Spike TV
Frances Conroy as Nathalie

Based on the 1980 Stephen King novella and the 2007 film by Frank Darabont, The Mist (10 p.m. Thursdays, Spike) centers on a mysterious heavy fog that descends onto a New England town and brings a host of murderous monsters with it. 

Of course, like in most apocalyptic narratives, The Mist pays more attention to the characters’ reactions to the crisis than the details of the crisis itself. When the rules of everyday life are abandoned and people begin to panic, the killer creepy-crawlies aren’t the only dangerous predators at bay.

Unfortunately, the show goes too far in trying to prove that point, scattering a growing number of flat, unsympathetic characters across various locations and failing to manage the swath of social issues it attempts to tackle. Never mind the remaining questions of what this mist is, where it came from and how it might be defeated.

Most of the action in the book and film occurs within and around the confines of a grocery store. In contrast, the series splits up its time between neighbors stranded in a church, a hospital of horrors, a police station, a mall and more. That piqued my interest at first — the series format allows the story to bounce around instead of feeling stuck in one place. But the sheer amount of characters makes it difficult to dive past surface level and, thus, care about them.

So let’s focus on just one family at the center of this madness: dad Kevin (Morgan Spector), mom Eve (Alyssa Sutherland) and daughter Alex (Gus Birney). Before the mist rolls in, they’re dealing with a host of problems already. Eve has just been ousted from her high school teaching job for offering realistic sex ed. Alex has been sexually assaulted while blacked out at a party. Her best friend Adrian (Russell Posner) identifies the school’s football star, Jay (Luke Cosgrove) — who happens to be the police chief’s son — as her rapist. Neighbors begin to turn on the family, snarling at Eve for daring to include condom use in her curriculum and vandalizing their home after Jay is called in for questioning. Clearly, this town has some troubling opinions on sex.

Thick fog rolls in as Alex and Eve run errands at a shopping center and Kevin files a police report about the harassment at the station, and the story finds its mission: to reunite the family. But seven episodes later I’ve nearly forgotten about that goal, not unlike how the show treats its mixed bag of characters and conflicts — with reckless abandon. 

The show exploits sexual assault for the sake of suspense — Alex is literally trapped in the mall with her accused rapist, while dangling clues pave the way toward the idea that she might be lying about the whole thing. Elsewhere, the writers fumble with topics like bullying, mental illness, religion, LGBTQ characters and relationships.

Oh yeah, and there’s a mysterious cloud of doom filled with smoke monsters, roided-out insects and other psychologically rendered demons enveloping the town. That’s not to say a horror show can’t confront real-world social issues, but this one has proven it can’t do that successfully.

Frances Conroy’s Nathalie is the one real pleasure here for me. Conroy (American Horror StorySix Feet Under) is always a joy and she shines in typical kooky fashion as a woman who embraces this anomaly as a sort of natural rebirthing of earth. She becomes an eco-philosopher when others (she’s with a group in a church after the mist kills her husband) turn to religion to explain the event. 

There’s an interesting Nature vs. God debate that erupts with the church’s priest challenging Nathalie to walk into the mist with him. If one survives, their theory is right. Spoiler Alert: The literal Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse show up and brutally snatch the priest away. Nathalie, naked and eyes closed, is spared. (It plays out just as ridiculously as it sounds.) 

Perhaps in The Mist, whatever you believe comes to fruition, making each person’s experience different. That’s the closest I’ll come to theorizing about a show with such poor character development and feeble attempts at “edgy” storylines. 

Beware The Mist: It’ll suck you in, but you may get lost in the fray.


CONTACT JAC KERN: @jackern

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