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 10/11: Thou Shall Not Kill/Revelation
P: (This is a double issue so I’m going to try to go quick here. Apologies for piling my long-winded nature on-top two episodes at once.)
Echoing the pilot movie (and not for the first time issue), Chief Grant (Blu Mankuma) is trying to roll out a specially trained task force of cops. In this iteration, they are being promoted as, mostly, a Mantis hunting task force. Beyond the ridiculous sized gun that the officer who is acting as floor model wields, they look fairly standard issue SWAT. That said, I find myself wondering if that is just because we are now 20 years further into the militarization of our police forces and/or I lived in DC through 9/11 and saw cops with automatic weapons standing sentry on street corners in Georgetown. Maybe by 1994 standards, this officer was over the top.
At the least that is what the show is trying to sell us as a city councilman rises in opposition to the new task force blabbing on and on about civil liberties and trusting the citizenry and so on as we weak on crime lily-livered liberals are wont to do.
Of course, as we know from episode 8 “To Prey in Darkness”, Chief Grant is in Solomon Box’s (this show’s Lex Luthor [TM]) pocket so this task force is a.) a tool to eliminate Box’s rivals and the Mantis and b.) the councilman cannot be allowed to live.
Sure enough, the politician is killed by sonic gun on his morning jog and the scene is set up to look like Mantis darted him and this time it was fatal.
What the Mantis, or rather, Dr. Hawkins, is up to, however, is decidedly not active murdering. Instead, he is mourning the loss of his mobility on the 2nd anniversary of his shooting. He and Stonebrake take a trip to the scene of the crime, now a beautiful park. As Hawkins relives it (and we do to in reused footage from the pilot movie but orange-y), we see that the “continuity” between pilot and movie, in this aspect at least, remains relatively unchanged. We also realize that the spot where he was shot and the park cannot possibly be the same place as the geography of one is impossible to match with the other.
To distract himself/clear his alter ego’s name, Hawkins begins investigating the death of the councilman. Simultaneously, Maxwell finds evidence to suggest things do not lineup—none of the paralysis chemical in the politician’s blood or tissue, one of the darts in evidence missing—and mounts a deeper investigation of her own.
Hawkins eventually traces things back to Box, of course, and utilizes literal bugs to listen in on Box’s conversations. Seriously, they are flies with mics mounted on them. The future/past man, am I right?
Anyway, Box does not offer up anything helpful about the current case but does reveal…he’s the reason Hawkins got shot! Hawkins gets mad and does this:
But eventually calms down. Which is good because Maxwell investigation is leading her close to Box as well. But first, she has to contend with her partner and friend Detective Paul Warren (Jerry Wasserman) who turns out to be in Box’s camp as well and the yielder of the sonic gun. Warren decides to kill her at her home and pin this one on Mantis as well. Mantis arrives in time to save her but not in time to capture Warren. Maxwell spots the Mantis and, with Warren already gone, assumes he was the one attacking her. She empties her clip out on him but he’s able to get away.
Box is displeased with Warren’s proactive stance, but Maxwell’s attack proves the last piece of the puzzle (along with a bought and paid for new city councilman) towards getting the shock troops approved. All threads converge one night near an abandoned parking structure. The Mantis is interrogating Warren, and acquiring the truth, when Box’s right hand man Tony (Clabe Hartley) shows up. He’s there to tie up loose ends and takes the opportunity to incapacitate the Mantis and toss Warren off the building. Part 1 ends with the Mantis on his back, unconscious as the police gather below.
Part 2, “Revelation,” picks up immediately there with Warren dying, but not before confessing Box “owns everything” including the Chief to his superior, Captain Ken Hetrick (Gary Graham) and the Mantis remaining unreachable.
Things go from bad to worse though as the Mantis stands. It turns out the exoskeleton is built with a failsafe that can cause it, essentially, to go on autopilot if Hawkins is unconscious for too long. It is all a bit “Mask in the Armor Man” (comics fans will get that reference. Sorry everyone else) and he talks a lot like “Pursuit” era Spider-Man (comic reference #2) with a lot of third person Mantis this and Mantis that and zero acknowledgement of his human side.
He escapes the roof in this mode, is chased down by choppers (reusing shots and dialogue from the chopper chase in the first film but minus the explosive ending of that one) and ends up in the drink. He’s pulled out by some teens who, essentially, believe in the Mantis as a social justice hero (they call him “a brother” multiple times, referencing not just his skin color but their view that he is a hero to the community as opposed to a tool of The Man like cops are). They, unfortunately, are darted for their trouble because the Mantis is still just machine.
Maxwell still does not buy something about the Mantis situation and is doggedly pursuing it. The Captain is initially with her, even standing up to the Chief in front of the department. However, he gets kidnapped by Box’s people who perform involuntary surgery on him, inserting a device into his brain that allows them to control the pain he feels via remote control. Overwhelmed and scared, he breaks and toes the company line almost immediately. Nonetheless, Maxwell will not let go
Meanwhile, Stonebrake and bike messenger are working to get the Mantis back so they can save Hawkins. When he finally returns, however, things do not go down quite like that and he darts them both. The Mantis then decides, no doubt inspired by his vegetative host, to kill Box.
Once more, all plot line merge, this time at Box Industries. Bike messenger eludes the shock troops by telling them the truth about naming the Mantis and having a private line to call him which causes them to think he’s crazy and let him go in an attempt to intercept the Mantis once more. It is kind of like how John Cusack is very open with being a hitman in GROSSE POINT BLANK and therefore everyone thinks he’s kidding. Maxwell is on the scene as well, being ordered to call it in and take him down. Box, of course, lives there, I think.
Box and Tony are buried under piles of boxes and crates and barrels by the robotic Mantis and, possibly, dead just as reserved power finally fails and the Mantis collapses in a heap. Hawkins reawakens and finds Maxwell, gun trained on him, telling him he’s under arrest. He reveals his identity to convince her he’s not the bad guy, bike messenger arrives, and Maxwell betrays her oath, helping them escape.
As the epic ends, we see that Box, too, lives and is on a fishing vessel who knows where. But will this be the last we see of him?
I honestly have no idea. It shouldn't be but this show only lasts a season and was sort of retooled halfway through so....maybe?
O: Well…that’s a lot.
I wish I could remember the promos when these two episodes ran because I wonder if they let people know how big these episodes were going to be. In seeing them now, devoid of context, I found myself surprised by the status quo changing moments (Box revealed as the reason Hawkins got shot, Warren killed, the Chief exposed as corrupt, Box taken off the board for now at least, Maxwell finding out) because the episodes (the first in particular) never felt anything but typical.
I’m of a mixed mind about that. On the one hand, I appreciate that the surprises were thus actually surprising. On the other, I think the writing could’ve done a better job of building suspense and dread.
I’m similarly of a mixed mind about the ways in which this episode connects/steals from the pilot. The helicopter thing is sort of a whatever (budgets are budgets, right?), but the “origin” of Hawkins paralysis is a little more thorny. On the one hand, it makes it clear that the riots did take place which, once again, introduces more of the racial element they so quickly discarded and ignored early on. It also raises Box’s menace stock quite a bit, something I’ve been frustrated with the show’s inability to do thus far.
On the other hand, it eliminates the randomness of the crime, something superhero adaptations seems weirdly obsessed with doing (the Joker as the killer of Bruce Wayne’s parents in Burton’s BATMAN, Sandman as being involved in Uncle Ben’s shooting in SPIDER-MAN 3, Kingpin being the gun who kills Matt Murdock’s dad in DAREDEVIL, the PUNISHER’s family being killed as a hit rather than random accident in the Thomas Jane starring PUNISHER and so on) and something I nearly always dislike.
Also, it removes the racial subtext (even as it nods at it as mentioned above) in that it was not a cop firing recklessly out of fear of black people that led to the shooting but a calculated and paid for targeting of one person.
Oh, and also, the revisiting the shooting kind of makes a lie of Hawkins reason for being the Mantis. If the place where he was shot went from a very run down looking parking lot and convenience store to a beautiful park, the city is/was on the upswing long before the Mantis hit the scene. So is crime really out of control?
I do, however, welcome Maxwell knowing. I hope this leads to her being a more effective, interesting, and well-utilized character. It also would not be the worst to see her wrestle with the idea of leaving Hawkins out of jail as, yes, he's a friend, but if vigilantism was no good yesterday and yet is good today and the only thing that's changed is you have a personal relationship with said vigilante...aren't you corrupt at that point?
I am also interested in how Hawkins literally being taken over by the exoskeleton will play into the themes of power and addiction the show has been playing with.
W: The show goes “Through the Dark Circle” and banks hard into sci-fi territory.