Using flashbacks in your story is a lot like doing drugs. Use them the wrong way and the entire trip gets muddled and confusing (Lost, for example); use them too much for all the wrong reasons and it leads to an abrupt, nauseating ending (like How I Met Your Mother). But utilized correctly (and responsibly, kids) a good flashback is an illuminating tool, a unique way to shed light on current day characters and stories by opening doors that were long closed. Think Mad Men’s “Waldorf Stories” or The Simpsons’ “The Way We Was.” On the other hand, The Mist’s fifth episode, “The Waiting Room,” is a rare, Heisenberg-strength strain of storytelling in which writers Amanda Segel and Christian Torpe used flashbacks to make everything in its modern day timeline make even less sense than it already did.
The main issue here is that the time we spend in the past has no discernible bearing on what is happening in the present. We watch Eve and Kevin’s earliest days in Bridgeville—building bookshelves, having honeymoon stage sex, decorating Alex’s room in the style of Pennywise the Clown—while alternating between a story that focuses solely on Kevin. I even see the intention, to paint Kevin as a person who feels the need to play savior in every situation; it’s why he couldn’t shoot Clay Greyson last week, why he insists on rushing his wounded brother, Mike, through a hospital hallway full of mist, and even a large part of why he married Eve in the first place. But the episode jumbles its own thesis in the closing moments. “I would do anything for you. You know that right?” Kevin tells Eve in the past, before we watch him mercy-kill his brother to save him from a pile of mist-induced leeches. Then back to the past, where Kevin concludes decisively, “anything.”
And again, you can see the conclusions that Segel and Torpe wanted to come to. Mike says “you have to get to Eve” and Kevin kills him in response, realizing the decision is between his brother and his wife. Let’s ignore the fact that this line is a strange thing to say while being devoured by monster leeches for the moment. The road to get to that moment is so cluttered and convenient—Kevin not only happens upon his brother in that hospital, but successfully performs surgery with the help of what appears to be an Xbox headset—that it feels more like time wasted than a lesson learned.
Kevin’s oddly structured arc was the episode’s most backward decision, but not its strangest. That distinction goes to an earlier scene, in Mike’s hospital room, in which Kevin brings up a childhood memory to calm his brother’s suicidal wishes:
“Remember that guy, the weird guy in the woods with the knife? He wanted to be blood brothers. When you told him we already were he took the knife and he cut his own arm. Remember? He kept saying, ‘it’s just blood, it’s just blood.’”
Why, in such a conversation-heavy episode—an episode that was already utilizing flashbacks—was this chilling anecdote breathlessly rushed through and then thrown aside, instead of shown? Or, at least, hinted at prior to this scene? It’s such a peculiar moment that I went back through prior episodes, assuming I missed something. Telling but not showing is already a problem on The Mist when it comes to character building, but to have someone literally sit in a chair and describe something that happened in the past is another level of lethargic filmmaking. Maybe they blew the budget for that flashback on the moose from “Withdrawal.” I do not know.
That shoulder-shrug approach to storytelling is indicative of the overall problem that is keeping The Mist as yet another failed King adaptation. It is filled with characters who are so sure of the hopelessness of the situation—people in the mall are turning against each other while some at the hospital are already committing suicide—but there doesn’t seem to be any actual rules, does there? The mist is impenetrable, but Kevin runs through it unharmed all the time. The mist will get in if you open a door, except all the times it doesn’t. The mist will either kill you with bugs, drive you insane, make you see past loved ones, or just say screw it and transform itself into a sentient shadow demon. And even then, it either sucks the life from your body or takes one look at you and leaves.
If The Mist plans to serve as a catch-all for horror, it should look to the failings of its own character, Kevin Copeland. Because when you try to take on everything, you usually succeed at nothing.
- The revelation that Kevin is not Alex’s biological father was handled with such a lack of lead-up I think it landed with an actual, audible thud. Even worse, this show is dangling dangerously close to portraying Eve as the “bad guy” in this scenario for having a promiscuous past, angling Kevin as “the hero” for taking her on.
- Something has to be done to make Adrian a consistent character. The bully jock who is secretly gay is a tale as old as time, but Adrian becoming The Terminator to draw that confession out of him was such a blunt, out-of-the-blue way to go about it.
- The most common theory I’ve, both in the comments and on social media, is that Adrian is the perpetrator in Alex’s sexual assault. But this episode hints that he was busy the night of the party, no?
- Between the red balloons and the blood-brother rituals, I have a sneaking suspicion The Mist’s creative team would rather just be making an IT series.