Like a high school misfit in eyeliner undergoing a particularly aggressive baptism, The Mist seems to be having an identity crisis. Where the pilot was a slow-burning allegorical horror tale, and last week’s “Withdrawal” was a Lost-like pile-up of mysteries and monsters, “Show and Tell” lands awkwardly in the middle, with all the grace of a corpse crashing into a shopping cart. It’s an absurd hour of television that also really, really wants to be taken seriously. It’s an examination of the humiliating stigma that comes with sexual assault that also features a man’s moth tattoo violently sprouting its own wings; a realistic meditation on losing a loved one in which everyone speaks in either extended monologue or Bible verse; a look at the powerlessness in the face of drug addiction that also has a character say, with a straight face, “We’re going to have to check everyone for dog tags,” as if a dog tag isn’t something you can’t just take off your body.

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Truth be told, The Mist would be better off embracing its cheesy B-movie side going forward, because it’s the only side that seems to be working. Three episodes in, and the most solid selling point keeping me aboard this series is an Under The Dome-esque experiment to see if the campiness, stilted dialogue, or decision to create an entire cast of characters without a single logical decision between them is purposeful, or just the result of a series that can’t decide on a tone.

Case in point: the evolving question of who actually raped Alex the night of the football game after-party. This is not to say that any genre show—horror or otherwise—isn’t allowed to inject real-world issues into its storytelling; on the contrary, it’s often the human horrors that leave more long-lasting impressions than anything that comes from outer space or beyond the grave. But here, the writers handle this issue with neither subtlety nor care; the blacked-out sexual assault of a girl is being treated with the same whodunit intrigue as a mysterious mist that rips people’s jaws off.

Clearly, we’re being led to believe Adrien is the true culprit, either as a misguided protest of jock culture as a whole or a desperate attempt to prove he is not, as he tells Father Romanov, “a faggot.” He’s certainly interested in the idea of no-questions-asked forgiveness, testing the waters with Kevin before moving on to God himself. But this is only in comparison to Jay’s actions, which change by the scene, seemingly dictated only by how we’re supposed to feel about him right then and there. One moment (okay, most moments) actor Luke Cosgrove is staring wistfully off into the middle distance like a man falsely accused, the next he is creeping into darkened rooms to say things to Alex like “I’ll let you go as soon as you let me talk” and “let me touch you,” both statements you should keep to yourself when trying to convince someone you are not a rapist.

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The biggest issue? Alex herself is given nearly nothing to say on the matter, leaving everyone around her—Jay, her mother, random mall-goers, etc—to decide how she should feel.

Frances Conroy, bless her, is undoubtedly the glue keeping this hodgepodge together. As Nathalie Raven, Conroy comes off as unnervingly detached from reality while remaining rooted in real-world pain. The lack of emotion as she points out her husband’s corpse through the window—“that gray shape out there”—is the most chilling beat of the show so far. But that tired, soulless quality her voice works just as well when it comes to the macabre; her delivery of “It’s okay, I don’t want to die anymore. I’m happy. I’ve seen God,” is almost funny in how matter-of-fact it sounds.

Really, Conroy is balancing on a tightrope between the bizarre and the somber that The Mist as a whole keeps toppling off of. When this show gets weird, it’s borderline great; the image of two dead bodies being carted through a shopping mall is that perfect blend of mundane and unnerving that serves Twin Peaks so well. But when these characters get down to discuss the capital-letter Important Issues, there’s no energy behind it, and everything becomes as weightless as those balloons Alex releases at the end of “Show And Tell,” drifting off into gray nothingness.

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Stray observations

  • Bryan and Mia are probably the most intriguing characters on this show, and yet have spent a solid 95 percent of the first three episodes either chained to a pole or locked behind a door.
  • The dialogue in “Show And Tell,” from writer Peter Biegen, is the roughest so far. An especially egregious example was Mia’s out-of-nowhere “what, you’re gay as well?” But this week’s Most Forced Line was Jay describing the mall as a “democracy,” just so Eve could follow it up with the equally ridiculous “I always was an anarchist.”
  • The physicality on this show just seems so… off? Last week, Adrien toppled down the police station steps like his name was Bran Stark. This episode, Kevin lunges at Connor Heisel and is immediately knocked to the ground with what I can only describe as a half-hearted hip bump.
  • In Bridgeville, the legend of The Black Spring is a “version of Santa,” because getting coal in your stocking and being torn to shreds by horrific nature monsters is just about the same thing.
  • Are we to believe Adrien’s request for a baptism—which seemed, at least on some level, legitimate—was a ploy to steal the church keys the entire time? Because that would require an extraordinary amount of things working in his favor perfectly.

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