March M.A.N.T.I.S.- Episode 13: Beyond the Eyes

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 13: The Eyes Beyond

P: While testing a cloaking device on the Chrysalis, something goes awry and rather than mask his presence, the device instead flings the Mantis some 32 years into the future. A future that is, quite literally, a garbage fire of a place.

I was not kidding.

I was not kidding.

Evidently, with the Mantis’s disappearance in the mid-90’s, Port Columbia got bad. First crime went through the roof, then there was an “Asian War,” then the U.S. broke into fiefdoms, and finally an AI that calls itself the City Eye (voiced by Malachi Throne) seized control of Port Columbia. A sort of expanded version of the M.A.N.T.I.S. suit’s neural network, it was, at first, benevolent. Crime was eradicated. But the City Eye lacked humanity and before long, thanks to jack booted human accomplices…total garbage fire. Now Eye rules the city and you either play ball or are eradicated. We witness a librarian prove this theorem when he is caught “stealing” medical books for the resistance.

He may be called City Eye but he looks a lot like a very different body part. (I'm not proud of this joke.)

He may be called City Eye but he looks a lot like a very different body part. (I'm not proud of this joke.)

While Hawkins has not aged a day, his compatriots have lived through every moment of the past 32 years and are certainly worse for the wear.

Actually, bike messenger looks kind of cool.

Actually, bike messenger looks kind of cool.

I mean, Stonebrake, that mustache? Come on now.

Unfortunately, the Mantis’s arrival does not go unnoticed and Eye quickly identifies the time displaced hero and begins to hunt him. When the Mantis proves to be a cagey opponent, Eye changes tactics and announces a public execution. Of bike messenger! Who, by the way, is also Maxwell’s husband. So, yeah…

City Eye has 90's comic book trading cards to keep track of his enemies.

City Eye has 90's comic book trading cards to keep track of his enemies.

Attempting, in time travel story trope way, to both stop the future and save the friends stuck in it, Hawkins mounts a rescue mission to save bike messenger while the Chrysalis receives final repairs so it can hopefully propel him back to his present, their past.

Using stamps, Stonebrake and the Mantis manage to access the Eye’s citadel which, of course, looks like an eye.

Ok. Time to get all your eye jokes out of your system. "Where's Ben Stein?" "Sauron has changed, maaaaaaaaaan!" "Mickey World is just Disney World, right? Man, Morrison is not even trying to be subtle here is he?" "Do you prefer East Egg or West Egg?"

Ok. Time to get all your eye jokes out of your system. "Where's Ben Stein?" "Sauron has changed, maaaaaaaaaan!" "Mickey World is just Disney World, right? Man, Morrison is not even trying to be subtle here is he?" "Do you prefer East Egg or West Egg?"

Everything is going well, despite the Mantis’s rapidly diminishing power supplies, until the stamps “run out” and the Eye’s guards fire upon the duo. Stonebrake is shot and dies, the Mantis gets mad and messes up the troops until, finally, power levels reach critical lows.

Jar brain!

Jar brain!

Unable to move, the Mantis is dragged to the heart of the Eye, a brain in a fish tank. Wishing to grow even more powerful, the Eye orders his soldiers to jack Hawkins brain in as well. The Eye, however, has never dealt with a living, active brain before and Hawkins easily overwhelms it, destroying the whole of the Eye from “within” as it were. The resistance saves bike messenger and they flood the building, eventually finding and picking up Hawkins.

The Chrysalis operational once more, Hawkins uses his last bits of power to make the attempt to fly home…and it works! As he breaks through the time/space barrier, the sweet sounds of Stonebrake’s 90’s voice greets him and tell the Mantis that he disappeared for 32 seconds. Laughing with joy (but sounding super creepy), the hero demands they destroy the cloaking device, thus preventing the rise of the City. Although probably not the “Asian War” or the whole U.S. reduced to warring city states thing.

O: I am a sucker for future imperfect stories so I was onboard from the plot description for this one. It didn’t necessarily live up to my expectations, but it was still significantly less terrible than the previous episode.

For one thing, Throne’s voice work as City Eye as this creepy buttery warmth to it that makes him far more menacing than if he were just eeeeeeeeeeeeeevil. In his first appearance, he also has this great paternalistic tone—he wonders aloud if the reason the man is stealing books is because he believes City Eye is not a good enough protector of the city—that I wish they had kept going more throughout the episode. It just gave him this perfect dichotomy of being utterly inhuman and yet wonderfully able to utilize human “tropes” to off-balance his opponents.

On the other hand, the show’s change of direction—which had to include a loss of budget and new writers, right?—shows all over the place. There is a rapid increase in the cheese factor—lots more badly done digital explosions, the sets look like cardboard, the makeup, especially on Rees, is brutal—and the show just doesn’t seem to be able to meet it with enough good will and humor to make it work. We are supposed to “believe” this world, not notice the stitching, it feels like, and that’s not something that’s possible. Better to run to it than ignore it.

And the lasers...oh, the lasers.

And the lasers...oh, the lasers.

W: Someone is killing off a group of software geniuses one at a time. Someone without a face of his own. How can the Mantis stop a killer who can look like anyone in “Faces in the Mask”?