March M.A.N.T.I.S. is taking you one by one through every episode of the ’94-’95 superhero FOX series M.A.N.T.I.S. throughout the month of March (natch). Using the POW (Plot, Opinion, What’s Next?) format, I am watching each installment and sharing with all of my feelings and observations regarding each episode.
So strap on your exoskeleton, settle into your hovercraft, and load up on paralysis darts. But most importantly? Enjoy.
Today’s Episode: Episode 6: Gloves Off
P: Apparently the traveling wrestling show from the first Sam Raimi-helmed SPIDER-MAN film first stopped off in Port Columbia. Except instead of Bonesaw (Macho Man), the headliner is Former Thor! Err…Jack “Jackhammer” Mills (Eric Allan Kramer) who is a less than willing participant.
He has no choice though, as stone cold crime boss Sonya Storm (Sydney Walsh) holds his marker and intends to either collect via his talents in the ring or by ending the lives of he and his wife Terry (Barbara Tyson, who we find out later is pregnant).
Meanwhile, bike messenger has taken it upon himself (in fairness, in part because of a miscommunication with Hawkins) to paper the city with “Call Mantis!” posters. You know, while the Mantis is part of a massive manhunt to bring him to justice. Definitely want to give the cops your phone number when you are Suspect #1. Eventually, Hawkins catching on and the posters get taken down. But not before Lieutenant Maxwell and Terry Mills get copies.
Terry, not yet entirely aware of what’s going on with her husband but knowing it ain’t good, reaches out to Hawkins & Co. and, despite themselves, the crew is unable to resist interceding on her behalf and agree to meet her. Storm and her minions follow her there and nearly kill she and bike messenger but the Mantis shows up and saves them, freezing one of the flunkies. Rather than take the human popsicle with them or just leave him for the cops—and risk him talking—Storm shoots her frozen man dead at point blank range. Like I said, she’s one chilly customer.
Maxwell eventually tries the number too but bike messenger is too smart for her and, using caller ID and an impressive sense of timing, figures her a cop, calls her on it, and hangs up before the police can even start to realize they’re talking to someone on an untraceable phone. Not a good sign for the effectiveness of the Mantis Task Force.
As bike messenger is putting the PCPD in its place, Hawkins and Stonebrake go undercover as a rich Jamaican with money to spend recklessly and his…English friend. It’s not the most convincing of disguises, especially given that super rich black man in a wheelchair is probably a fairly small demographic in Port Columbia, but it works. Maybe it is the sweet shades and the nice thick accent Hawkins brings to bear on the situation. Going to Storm’s (possibly illegal?) casino, they drop enough cash and reckless rich guy vibe to get her attention and her interest. Storm is stony and all about the endgame but even she cannot see past a pair of reflected shades and a broad island accent, it seems.
Not content to put all his eggs in one basket, Hawkins as the the Mantis tries to dissuade Jackhammer more directly, but for some reason Mr. The Hammer is not responsive to a man dressed in a fairly terrifying outfit who comes from the shadows and briefly pummels him. Weird that.
In the end, Storm will not leave it to chance that a man in an exoskeleton might stop forward to ruin her main event and kidnaps Mrs. The Hammer to really motivate Jack. Hopeless and helpless to stop what’s happening, Jack climbs in the ring with the apparently unstoppable (and ludicriously named) Mondo (Nils Allen Stewart).
Bike messenger, now posing as a super-rich concert promoter who knows both Eddie Vedder and Mick Jagger, slips away from the fight to call the police, taking out a gun man to do it. It is impressive, I reluctantly confess.
The Mantis arrives in time to stop Mondo from dispatching Mr. The Hammer and proceeds to beat up on our bald with a ponytail villain. Then it is on to freeze Storm and her henchmen. Mission accomplished, Hawkins & Co. flee just ahead of the police.
As the episode draws to a close, Maxwell tries the Mantis-line again and reaches Hawkins this time. She tries to, I don’t know, harangue him into ending his war on crime and he more or less tells her he’s the law in this town as long as he says he is and she can like it or lump it. After he hangs up though, he goes all Hamlet and whispers “Oh my God” while clutching his helmet/visor-y thing.
O: This episode starts very slowly. So slowly, it takes forever to get where any viewer will guess it is going almost immediately: the wife contacts the Mantis, Hawkins & Co. make like the A-Team risking but evading the police along the way. I mean, it is predictable too, regardless of the pacing, but the slow as molasses rate of speed means the viewer has to sit with the forgone conclusion a lot longer than perhaps one would like.
That said, this episode also introduces what I consider our first legitimately scary villain in Sonya Storm. No she is not as big time as our Lex Luthor-y guy from ep. 1 (who I am convinced is coming back) or as strong as last episode’s VR soldier, but she is infinitely more calculating than either and totally comfortable with shooting paralyzed friends and kidnapping pregnant woman as added inspiration for her fighter. Except her weakness for a certain Kingston-born undercover identity, she is smart, calculating and ruthless. It’s a shame she does not get away in the end.
Also on the competent side, though I’m loathe to say this, is bike messenger. In fact, he might just be the most effective member of the “good guys.” Let’s look, unbiased, at the evidence so far this year. He figures out who the Mantis is (Ep. 1), infiltrates a paramilitary group despite having to swim to an island and having no military training (Ep. 2), demonstrates an eidetic memory (Ep. 2), overcomes the need for what we’re told is a highly addictive drug (Ep. 3), bravely facing down a machine that can’t feel pain, even if he does end up getting pasted (Ep. 5), keeps a woman safe from a gang of gun wielding professional criminals while being wholly unarmed himself (Ep. 6), convincingly plays at being a millionaire with rock star friends (Ep. 6), and successfully takes down one of those gun happy henchmen with just his fists so he can call the police to break up the underground fighting ring in case the Mantis cannot arrive in time (Ep. 6). Also, as noted above, he seems to be a pretty decent artist. I may not like him, but…DAMN!
Neither Mr. or Mrs. Mills are very compelling, sadly, and the “hey, we’re pregnant” is a cheap move that shows the writers did not find their own characters very interesting either. That there “risk” is not something I connected to, it hurts the episode.
On the other hand, while still problematic, Hawkins/The Mantis’s increasing submersion in his “role” of costumed vigilante is intriguing. For instance, there’s his might with Mondo. Look, I know the dude’s bad, but the Mantis is a man in a strength-enhancing exoskeleton with paralytic darts at the ready. Can’t he just freeze him and move on instead of beating the cage fighter until he is bleeding and unconscious? Especially considering the Mantis opts to just paralyze the gun wielding cold blooded murderess shortly after that?
Then, there’s calling himself the Mantis as if the Mantis is a different person and speechifying to everybody about how he’s in control and he makes the decisions and he’s going to whatever he damn well pleases. If this does not go anywhere (as I worry/suspect it won’t) that’s not good. On the other hand, if the show can delve into, whether via a “power corrupts” or a “what would happen when you give a man who’s life was irrevocably changed by violence the chance to lash out at those who do violent things” narrative, it could produce some really interesting moments. The latter, in particular, could prove compelling and unique.
W: The Yakuza comes to Port Columbia, but are they ready to tangle with “The Black Dragon.” Err… the Mantis, rather.