Okezie Morro, Danica Curcic, Morgan Spector, Russell Posner (Photo: Spike TV)

After two episodes, the best analogy for The Mist’s highs and lows is the CGI moose that flies through a windshield in the opening moments of “Withdrawal.” Connor Heisel driving through the mist—having essentially left Kevin, Adrian, Mia, and Bryan to die—is the show at its best, his eyes nervously darting from left to right, trying to navigate a world of fog and fire where you can only see two feet in front of you. That uncertainty is the series’s best chance to become more than your average horror story; it’s terrifying but, at the same time, relatable on a deeper level, as all memorable horror is. But then Connor crashes into that moose, and we’re once again in a show where the jump scares are cheap and the effects budget is even cheaper. The scariest thing about a closet’s darkness, the glassy surface of a lake, or a slowing rolling mist is that you can’t tell what lies behind them. Every time The Mist chooses to pull back that curtain, it’s as subtle as a two-ton forest animal colliding with your car.

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It’s no shock, then, that the parts of The Mist worth sticking around for are the ones we can’t explain yet. The name “Anna,” written this week on an office floor in blood and last week engraved on a tombstone. Mia’s long-dead relative materializing in the mist, real enough to say the words “I miss you, babydoll” and solid enough for Bryan to hear it, too. The mysterious trio of unnamed outsiders entrenched with those trapped in the mall, who can spout military-esque codes like “Shadow 41 standing by for report” but end the episode dead; one catching a bullet from mother-turned-murderer Eve, the other two hanging in the bathroom. This growing pile of question marks has the same sense of excitement that hung over early episodes of Lost, where the fun wasn’t in the knowing but in joyously admitting you didn’t know anything at all (If Connor had run over a polar bear on the streets of a small New England town, this would all be a different story).

But the more these characters talk and talk (and talk) through these dilemmas, the more interest starts to wane. Part of that is in the performances. With the notable exception of Alyssa Sutherland—whose time on Vikings honed that steely-eyed look reserved for mothers protecting their kids—The Mist’s cast seem stuck between stiff as a Church pew and inhumanly over-the-top. Case in point: Isiah Whitlock Jr.’s introduction as mall manager Gus Bradley. This actor played an integral part in arguably the greatest series of all time, but here he is putting in one of the sheeeeeeeit-iest performances in recent memory. Much like Russell Posner as Adrian, Whitlock Jr. is delivering his lines less like a human being and more like a walking cue card with exposition written on it. For a town plagued by mist, Bridgeville’s residents sure do sound dry.

Of course, episode writer Peter MacManus isn’t giving them much to say. For the manager of the mall, Gus seems easily confused by the goings on inside that building. Whitlock Jr.’s dialogue is a solid 60-percent whats, huhs, and who the hells, and the rest is stating the obvious; at one point, Gus helpfully states “we found the leak” as the camera centers on an open window. At least he gets to speak. As Jay Heisel, Luke Cosgrove seems destined to spend this series staring at the ground looking guilty but just innocent enough to keep the night of the sexual assault a mystery for now.

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And then there is director David Boyd, whose resume includes more stints as a cinematographer than anything. In “Withdrawal,” his true skill-set shows. He has trouble getting his characters to speak like normal people, but a knack for framing them in unusually beautiful shots.

In the end, the divide in quality on The Mist is unintentionally summed up by two guys standing by the mall window, discussing the woman whose jaw got ripped off in the pilot. “Is it weird I kind of wish I had seen it?” one asks.

“Not weird. Disturbing,” the other replies. Your enjoyment of this show might depend on which of these mindsets you agree with, whether you want to see what happens behind the mist with your own two eyes or keep that idea a disturbing product of your own imagination.

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Stray Observations

  • Two episodes in, do we think the mist is a product of military, the mind, or something in-between? There’s a big divide between seeing an old relative and having half your face ripped from your body, so there’s possibly more than one thing going on around here.
  • I’m also taking alternative guesses to what was spelled on the floor, because it doesn’t look exactly like “Anna,” does it? Maybe “ammo,” maybe “arrr,” maybe just a random splatter of blood that a group of scared people are reading way too far into. All possible!
  • Seriously, though, this episode produced some gorgeously dreary images:
  • Adrian immediately falling down the police station steps was one of the brightest moments of unintentional comedy in years.

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