Spoilers ahead for season one of The Mist.
On August 24, The Mist’s season-one finale aired on Spike. On the 25th, Netflix released the series for streaming in select countries outside the United States. (A Netflix spokesman said the company doesn’t provide “comprehensive lists of which shows are available in which countries,” so viewers outside the U.S. will have to check their local account to see if it’s there.) The television series adapts Stephen King’s 1980 novella very differently than Frank Darabont’s 2007 film adaptation. All three versions follow the same premise: a mysterious mist descends on a town for no clear reason, and people who enter it tend to die messily. The TV adaptation nixes King’s giant mist-monsters, kills off the big bad Mrs. Carmody in episode 1, and for many episodes, seemingly heads down a different path, where spiritual beliefs reign supreme, and nature is apparently a vengeful god. But the finale turns the spiritual and naturalistic theories on their heads. In the finale, The Mist returns to its earliest sentiments from episode 1, and the theme King wrote about in the original version — human cruelty, and how easily people can be manipulated.
It’s a satisfying finale to a gory, slow season, where characters spin their wheels with long discussions about their lives, or who might actually save them. The scripts devote plenty of time to character development, but it’s never been the show’s strength, because most of these characters act in mean and vicious ways, controlled by fear and selfishness. In The Mist, it’s rare for anyone to act out of kindness or courage. The characters are largely id-driven animals, struggling to survive, and betraying each other in the process.
The meaningful part of The Mist comes from the ways people falsely perceive each other, and hurt themselves in the process. Football star Jay gets hurt throughout the story because everyone thinks he raped young protagonist Alex Cunningham. It seems like karma is acting against him, until his innocence is revealed. From that point, every act of human cruelty against him just seems like excessive violence. There’s a ridiculous, trope-defying twist around the rape scenario, and the writers seem to be using it to say that it’s impossible to really know people, and that easy assumptions get people hurt.
Throughout the first season, the show holds up two causes as to why the mist struck this particular town. For King readers and newcomers alike, there’s been no clear way to tell which one the show supported, until the finale. One theory blames the soldiers from the mysterious Arrowhead project. But spiritual Mrs. Raven, who keeps surviving the deadly mist, suggests an alternative — that nature is enacting Alex’s vengeance, and killing the rapist will set the town free.
The genius of The Mist, which will be lost on viewers who don’t slough through some of the season’s more tedious episodes, is how easily it seduces its audience with outsized fantasy theories. When the military, the police, and all forms of help are gone for this small town, everyone takes comfort in wild solutions, including killing Alex herself, or killing her suspected rapist. With morality suspended and murder suddenly acceptable, the townspeople resort to groupthink and a dangerous mob mentality.
The Mist addresses these surges of irrationality with an embedded meta commentary, luring the audience into thinking Mrs. Raven just could be the townspeople’s messiah, and that perhaps Alex’s rape gives her mist-immunity. By making the theories convincing — or at least omitting any ideas that would contradict them — the writers implicate the viewers in the characters’ self-absorbed groupthink, and ask “Would you do any better in this scenario?” The show heads far afield, but it ultimately honors Stephen King’s original ideas about mobs and fear, even as it omits his giant insects and tentacle-beasts.
Knowing the series ultimately finds its way back to the source material’s strengths makes the rest of The Mist easier to stomach. Even though the journey through the first season is tedious, at least by the finale, the show has brought together the characters who matter, and taken them past their most navel-gazing reactions. Rather than dwelling on their own personal dramas, they’re ready to address the true cause of the mist. But then the screen fades to black, and season one is over. Although The Mist’s finale just barely redeems its first season, the story ends on an exciting note. If the show is renewed — and its abrupt dump to Netflix certainly might help it find the audience it needs — a second season has the potential to elevate The Mist from its current status as a mediocre TV drama to a story worth following.