A priest, a cop, and a heroin addict walk into The Mist...
Last night we watched the sixth episode of Spike Television's horror serial The Mist, and though we weren't going to weigh in on the show, we got frustrated enough to bang out this write-up labeling it what it is—a disappointment. Which is too bad, because the Stephen King novella sourced for the series might be the best thing he ever wrote. It's hard to know where to begin discussing the show, so we'll start not with that, but with its medium. Television has changed. Where the real talent once gravitated toward cinema, today some of the best conceptualizing and writing is on television, as top creatives are driven to the small screen because movie studios are almost wholly focused on puerile superhero movies and juvenile comedies. Television is where The Wire, Game of Thrones, and Fargo made indelible marks on American culture. Hell, we can even go back to The Sopranos for an early example. The point is you have to bring your A-game.
But the creator of The Mist, Danish writer-director Christian Torpe, took one of Stephen King's best works, adapted it to a medium that is incredibly receptive to serialized horror, and blew it. King is credited as a writer on all ten episodes, but that's only a nod to him as the originator of the source material. He wasn't involved in the new teleplays, and they're spectacularly botched, put together by the worst kind of horror writers—those who force the characters to serve the convolutions of the plot rather than their own need for self preservation.
We'll give you an example. When a priest and a ’60s flower child disagree on whether the mist is sent by God or is a manifestation of Nature-with-a-capital-N, they decide to both walk into it to see which of them is spared. This is a mist filled with creatures that have caused the most painful deaths imaginable, but ho hum, they have a spiritual pissing match they need to settle, so into it they go, and a group of bystanders allows this lunacy to occur without raising an objection. Maybe next time they're at the zoo they can leap into the lion enclosure to see whether razor sharp claws and fangs are God or Nature.
In another example of the same terrible writing, a group stuck in a mall comes up with a set of rules to ration food and keep order. That's fine. The punishment for breaking any of the rules is expulsion from the mall. That's not fine. That's a sentence of death for even minor infractions, and this has been agreed upon by characters isolated for only a day or two, far too little time to go full Lord of the Flies. Under those circumstances virtually any normal person would say, “No, we don't agree that expulsion from the mall is a fair punishment, and if you get anywhere near us we're going to use a three wood from Dick's Sporting Goods on your cranium.” Those disinclined toward violence would perhaps say, “You know what—this mall is massive, so you have your crazy old testament punishment zone here, and we'll just hang out in the Cinnabon at the far end.”
Another issue with The Mist is that the characters are diverse in unrealistic and manipulative ways. See if this sounds like the beginning of a joke to you: there's a priest, a cop, a heroin addict, a jock, a hippie, and a bully. In the best television shows the characters are very much the same when you meet them, but their differences manifest over time because of who they are inside—not due to the uniforms they wear. In The Mist the cop wears a uniform and the priest wears a different uniform and the solider wears a still different uniform, but no less obvious are the uniforms worn by the flower child (sun dress and pants), the gay kid (eyeliner), the heroin addict (sweat), and the good girl (virginal white skin). Even many of the minor characters are written as clichés. Compare that to a show like The Walking Dead. In season one what is the difference between the two major characters Rick Grimes and Shane Walsh? There is none, except one is duplicitous and one is honorable. What is the main difference between Rick and Carol? It's not their sex. It's that she's more easily capable of cruelty for what she feels is right. What is the difference between Carol and Morgan? It isn't their skin. It's that he abhors lethal violence and has to come to grips with its necessity. Their differences are internal, and watching them revealed is one of the joys of the show. But in The Mist the uniforms—literal and figurative—are there to do the work the writers were too lazy to manage.
Basically, there are no genuine surprises in the way The Mist's characters develop. The cop becomes an authoritarian but later seems to climb down from total assholery. The priest at first seems reasonable but eventually decides he must impose his faith on others. The heroin addict clings to worldly pursuits like money and being high, but later decides she needs to kick. She does this, by the way, in a sequence bracketed by a standoff and fight elsewhere in the building. She'd said the process of medically assisted detox would take five or six hours. As two characters elsewhere in the building argue, she's tied to a bed, where she sweats and screams, and is later untied, presumably five or six hours later. Then we cut back to the argument, which shortly turns into a fight. Did those two argue for five hours? It's the type of egregious timelime weirdness you see only in badly made shows, and it's symptomatic of the lack of deep thought behind The Mist. We stuck with it for more than half its ten episode run, but now we're giving up. It's clear the writers aren't going to overcome any of the show's problems in the next four episodes.