“The Waking Dream” was the most entertaining episode of The Mist’s first season, which, at this point, is a bit like saying a root canal is your favorite invasive surgery because it requires the least amount of stitches. It’s not the “best” episode; it lacks the optimism of the pilot, and the storytelling is still all over the map. But since there are only so many ways to write the phrase “this makes no sense,” let’s focus on the positive right up front. Namely, that this episode made me want to spend more time with Kevin. I never want to spend more time with Kevin. Kevin is one of the most aimless characters on a show that got its map kicked into the river a long time ago, constantly saying with a straight face how badly he wants to get to his family while repeatedly stopping the car on the way to a mall that seriously can’t be more than a few stop lights away.
But this episode (written by Amanda Segel and directed by Nick Murphy) did two very simple things that elevated the character momentarily. For one, Kevin’s plotline seemed to be the first time The Mist was truly about the mist. The eery fog wasn’t just the thing hovering outside the window while those inside murdered each other over Hostess cakes, and it wasn’t a spooky set-dressing for the main characters to walk through any time they want. It felt like an actual obstacle, littered with horror imagery more terrifying because there isn’t a rational explanation for it. How did a woman find herself impaled to a tree with a nine iron? There’s no time to explain, because for once there’s a sense of urgency to Kevin, and he has to will himself past these unexplainable terrors without stopping to rationalize them. It’s simple tension building: Deep breath, outside, back inside, repeat.
That’s the other thing: The Mist finally gave one of its characters a goal, an actual goal, beyond staring out a keyhole and monologuing about their pre-mist past. There was no pit stops, no planning here; Kevin was a man on a mission, desperate to reunite with his family no matter what Vic—who hopped out of the car off-screen because he saw an antenna, but whatever, we’re being positive—or the mist had to say. “The Waking Dream” cleverly puts this idea to film. Kevin has been standing in his own way for nine episodes, so naturally he has to beat in the brains of a mist-created doppelganger to finally set out on a straight path.
And wouldn’t you know it, that formula—motivation + obstacles—resulted in me rooting for a character on this show to do something other than die or leave the scene. I hate to keep using this word, but it’s such a simple idea—a father fighting against the supernatural to reunite with his family— but it works, no random flashback episodes or horribly handled rape plots required. Here, I wanted Kevin to succeed, to get back to his family, to traverse the mist, and make it the mall before Adrien does. Remember, Adrien is crazy now. A real monster.
Sorry, we’re being positive.
Unfortunately, positivity usually fades away when we return to the happenings inside the mall, which are still an absolute mess of inconsistent storytelling and shoddy performances. The survivors are rabid, calling for blood because a teenager allegedly bludgeoned a full-grown woman to death. I’m not even sure Alex could reach the top of Shelley’s head, but the shaky, clearly false testimony of Gus is enough for a full-blown hunting party to assemble. The result is a lot of empty noise. Gunshots and shouting. Characters who I am relatively sure have never been proper names running after a young girl and her mother underneath a shopping center.
It’s not even bad, really. There are moments so awkwardly overblown that they round back to being funny, like Gus weakly whacking Eve in the stomach with a baseball bat for insinuating he was lying. But there’s just nothing to any of it. It’s just loud, barren space where emotion should be. With just one episode left, The Mist is still as weightless as its namesake.
Take, for example, what occurs in the sewers, which Connor Heisel knows like the back of his hand because he’s been down there “once or twice.” Trevor falls down a service ladder, gruesomely fracturing his leg. His wife, Ursula, petitions to carry him, and Connor disagrees. So enraptured by Nathalie’s teachings is he that Connor stabs Ursula and pushes down the ladder, where she and her husband or horrifically devoured by rats. And I feel…nothing. Who are these people, besides the two rubes who let Nathalie burn a church full of people alive last week? Their murder is just dead air. It’s white noise. Remember Fear Factor? Getting through the deaths of Trevor and Ursula is like watching contestants eat bull testicles on Fear Factor; I register that something nauseating is happening, but it means nothing to me the second the camera cuts away.
- Make no mistake, the romance between Bryan and Mia is as unearned as unearned gets. But the scene between them in the sporting goods store was oddly sweet; well-acted by both Danica Curcic and Okezie Morro, so that this was the first time you bought these two as survivors coming together in the wake of a tragedy, not just characters being mashed together for plot purposes.
- The final note of the episode, with Wes revealing that Bryan is his commanding officer, is intriguing headed into the season finale. But it also rang a bit hollow, because Wes was not acting at all like a person who knew the man sitting across from him until, of course, the moment the twist needed to happen. That’s an issue The Mist struggles with often. It knows the jolt it wants to elicit, and doesn’t give a damn how it gets there.
- No complaints about Kevin nonsensically surviving a grenade blast. At this point, the more ridiculously over-the-top a Mist scene is, the better.
- If you must go back and watch this episode, please pay attention to the bag of food that Eve throws to Jay. That thing bounces upright so perfectly it looks like CGI. Even Jay looks at it like he’s amazed.