Though it may not appear so at first, The Mist is one of the darkest shows to hit TV screens in recent years. Literally. Aside from the pilot and one odd, anomalous flashback episode, nothing in this eagerly anticipated Stephen King adaptation takes place in sunlight. Almost every scene is set at night, and the scenes that do occur during the daytime are cast in a thick grey fog. On account of the Mist (which, it should be noted, also knocked out all the power to the town in which this is set) most shots are illuminated only by flashlights, headlights, or something randomly exploding.
This didn’t really sink in for me until the ninth episode of the 10-episode first season, when I found myself wondering why I was dreading watching each episode. And it wasn’t entirely because The Mist is a bad show (which it is). I also dreaded having to spend an hour each week in near-total darkness, often struggling to make out who was fighting or shooting who.
But The Mist is also dark in that it’s relentlessly bleak, mean, and downright sadistic at nearly every turn. You’re basically spending 47 minutes each week watching people and monsters brutally killing each other in darkness. Does that sound like fun to you? I’ll let you think about it.
If your answer is no, then you’re in agreement with a lot of the viewers who gave the show a shot early on, but dropped off at the end . Here’s a rundown of how the final episodes of Season 1 (but hopefully forever) wrapped up.
Nathalie (who at this point fancies herself a sort of Mother Nature capable of communicating with the Mist) and Sheriff Connor Heisel make it from the church to the mall by using an underground sewer system that conveniently connects the church to the mall. At the mall, Sheriff Heisel finds and effectively kills his own son (Jay, who we now know definitely did not rape Alex) by sacrificing him to the Mist. The reason he does this is because Nathalie successfully convinced him, for reasons I’ll never understand, that killing his rapist son (who, again, the viewer knows never raped anybody) will make the Mist vanish. Jay dies, the Mist doesn’t go away. At this point, Sheriff Heisel starts to piece together that the completely unhinged and sociopathic Nathalie might be full of shit.
Meanwhile, Adrien (who we now know is not a good guy, in the sense that he’s actually a psychopathic, homicidal rapist who did rape Alex) also makes it back to the mall to let Alex and her mother Eve know that Alex’s dad, Kevin (Eve’s husband) is dead. Except Kevin isn’t really dead and he also makes it back to the mall to beat the hell out of Adrien for raping his daughter. The rest of the people in the mall, who are in full-blown Lord of the Flies mode after spending five days trapped in a mall together, decide to banish Kevin, Eve, and Alex. So they get the hell out of the mall but not before Kevin rams his jeep into the mall entrance, unleashing the Mist on everyone inside and basically killing everybody, including Nathalie. Oh also at some point during all of this, Eve reveals—in front of the entire mall—that Alex’s biological father is actually Chief Heisel. You’ll recall that Jay Heisel (Cheif Heisel’s son) has spent a big chunk of the first season making out with Alex, which means Alex has been sucking face with her half brother this entire time. Again, this is something Eve thinks the entire mall needs to know.
And then comes the big revelatory twist at the end of final episode, which manages to not be big, revelatory, or a twist at all. On their way out of town, Kevin and his family witness a train pull into the station while military-looking men toss out a bunch of helpless prisoners into the Mist. Kevin deduces this must be the government feeding people to the Mist. Sure.
If all of this sounds ridiculous that’s because The Mist is a ridiculous show. In fact, it’s less of a television show and more of a collection of awful people doing awful stuff to each other strung together in a way that makes some sense, sometimes. And it’s the kind of show where anyone who endeavors to watch it is guaranteed to find their own personal breaking point—a particular scene or shot that transforms The Mist from merely a bad TV show into a irreparably ugly and reprehensible one.
My personal breaking point came in The Mist’s penultimate episode. I’ll set the scene for you: After Nathalie and Sheriff Heisel find the underground tunnel that connects the church to the mall (again, this is absolutely ludicrous but whatever) they bring the last two remaining people in the church congregation—a husband and wife—along with them on their mission to get to the mall where they can all kill Sheriff Heisel’s son together. Not far into the tunnel, the husband—whose only dialogue in this entire series has been to announce to the group that he’s deathly afraid of rats (remember that)—falls down a big hole and badly breaks his leg (as in, it’s a gruesome compound fracture that The Mist shows us up close.) Nathalie declares it’s probably best to just leave him since he can’t really walk now anyway. The man’s wife, naturally, isn’t wild about this idea. Then after some bickering, Sheriff Heisel ends the argument by stabbing the woman in the gut and tossing her into the hole with her husband. She survives the fall but is basically paralyzed. It is then that we watch the husband and wife let loose blood-curdling screams as they are overwhelmed and literally eaten alive by a bunch of rats. Eaten alive. By rats. We hear their screams as Nathalie and Sheriff Heisel continue on their merry way.
After watching this—a couple get eaten alive by rats—I turned off The Mist and went for a long walk. I thought about a lot of things. Why did this happen? Why does The Mist want me to hear and imagine two perfectly innocent people be torn apart by rats? How does this advance the plot or reveal anything that we didn’t already know? Obviously these two people were minor characters and bound to be dispatched with, as all of the minor characters of this show are. But this could’ve happened any number of ways that could’ve been 95 percent less gruesome while still being plenty disturbing. Maybe it was to demonstrate just how cruel and crazy Nathalie is, but we already knew that. The Mist reminded us of that fact over and over for the preceding eight episodes with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Maybe it was to show just how deeply embedded Sheriff Heisel had become in the palm of Nathalie’s hand, but we already knew that too because we just watched him burn a church full of people alive at Nathalie’s behest. And they’re already on a trip to go kill Sheriff Heisel’s only son because Nathalie told him that was also a good idea, and Sheriff Heisel for whatever reason, agreed to this. He agreed that he should kill his only son. That’s literally what they’re going to the mall to do.
No, the only reason this happened was because it’s just another terrible, disgusting thing to happen in a show full of terrible, disgusting things happening. That’s the only way to describe The Mist—things just happen, often for no real reason. I now have the image of a husband and wife being eaten alive by rats because someone making this show decided that was simply another thing that had to happen.
A strange mist rolls into town and within 24 hours everyone devolves into bloodthirsty homicidal maniacs, because nobody wants to watch a show where civilized, normal adults work together like human beings to wait it out and stay alive.
Everyone in town quickly assumes the Mist is a harbinger of End Times, because nobody wants to watch a show where everyone concludes it’s a chemical leak with some hallucinogenic agent, which is something all reasonable people would quickly assume.
The Mist gruesomely kills a bunch of unnamed, forgettable characters while allowing our heroes to dart around back and forth in it whenever they please and remain mostly unscathed, because everyone knows these characters need to return next season.
Kevin, in a fit of petty rage, backs his jeep into the mall’s glass entrance and kills dozens of people inside because the writers thought this might be something viewers would kinda like to see. (I didn’t, by the way. I didn’t like seeing a bunch of people die just because they pissed Kevin off.)
And the only thing that could’ve maybe hooked a few people into sticking around for Season 2 (if it happens, which it shouldn’t) would have been some kind of final revelation deepening the mystery and origin of the Mist. But instead viewers got an awkward and darkly-lit plot device that serves only to introduce a few new characters draped in moral ambiguity.
The Mist asked a lot of its viewers during its 10-episode run, until it finally went way too far. But in a world of endless Saw sequels and torture porn, I’m guessing there’s still a sizable chunk of people who plan on sticking around to see what happens next. So thank you for everything, The Mist. You were more fun that being eaten alive by rats, but just barely.