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 16: Progenitor
P: Dr. Souter (Malcolm Stewart) informs Michael Angelides (all-time creepy actor Vincent Schiavelli) that the degeneration is accelerating. Angelides is less than thrilled with this news and orders to see the other “beta.”
Beta is a synonym for clone, it turns out (sorry, pickup artists if you thought this was an alpha/beta-male thing. Sorry slash fic fans if you thought this was an alpha/beta/omega thing. [Look ‘em up.] [On second thought, don’t. Neither will give you hope for the future.]). And the other beta? Dr. Miles Hawkins’ clone! Somehow, killing Hawkins and replacing him with this double, might save Angelides’ life, so that’s the plan.
Blissfully unaware, Hawkins & Co. are trying out a brand new rocket pack. I found myself wondering if the people involved in the episode were aware of THE ROCKETEER and wouldn’t you know it, the show has multiple references to it. Which is sweet, if odd, as the movie was three years old and a flop when this episode aired. Now it is somewhat well-regarded as fun, if not good, but that shift in opinion had not yet occurred.
Anyway, the test flight goes…ok. The Mantis gets some hangtime but ends up in the back of a truck filled with garbage driven by bike messenger. So let’s call it a partial success.
Speaking of partial successes, beta-test Hawkins gets the science aspects of the life he is to assume but struggles with the details of things like using a wheelchair. Souter warns Angelides that more time is needed so Angelides does the natural thing and puts a bullet in Souter’s brain.
Hawkins attends to his real life, meeting with some business types and is snagged and shoved into the back of the truck afterwards. He ends up at Angelides lab where he meets his be-suited beta who is everything Hawkins is except a.) he does not quite have a feel for “emotions” and b.) he can walk. Hawkins recognizes Angelides from a previous scientific endeavor involving cloning and is fairly horrified that Angelides did not abandon the project when Hawkins did and used the intervening years to clone Hawkins himself.
However, it turns out not to be so simple. Angelides is actually beta-test Angelides, the “real” Angelides being dispensed with by his clone when the clone realized that there could only be so many creepy doctors in the world at any given time. B-T Angelides demands Hawkins notes on cloning, Hawkins says he has none, B-T Hawkins is sent into the world to find the files at Hawkins’ company.
Things go poorly for B-T Hawkins right away. He’s too brusque with Stonebrake, he cannot remember his password, and he moves his legs in front of bike messenger. Turns out Souter, the expert on training betas, might’ve actually known what he was talking about. Oh well, too late for that.
B-T Angelides is similarly being stymied. Hawkins will not break no matter how the beta of his former work partner dresses. B-T Angelides threatens to kill him, again, but does not, again. He attempts, instead, to freeze the truth out of Hawkins in an industrial packing freezer but the doctor insists he is telling the truth about there being no files. B-T Angelides shrugs, creepily, and abandons Hawkins to frozen death.
Bike messenger, meanwhile, finally gets to Stonebrake who is rocking out at a dirty bar somewhere. Which is fine. It perfectly fits with my belief that all English actors of a certain age actually wanted to be punk musicians and ended up in acting because the music thing didn’t work out (see also, Anthony Stewart Head). After Stonebrake finishes his set and being mobbed by groupies (this I am less fine with as I’ve seen independent bands in bars and never have I seen any of them being mobbed by half a dozen lovely ladies. Roger Rees is handsome, sure, but he’s not THAT handsome.) They put together the pieces and realize CLONES!!!!!!
Thankfully they put it together just in time for Hawkins who, after finding the original Angelides popsicle-d, is inspired to escape from the freezer down what looks like a pretty fun slide and calls them for help. Bike messenger and Maxwell rush over while Stonebrakes goes to find beta-test to keep him (it?) distracted. Beta-test is wise to the scene though and lays quite the smack upon our English friend’s face.
With Hawkins free but Stonebrake seized, B-T Angelides proposes a swap, the best friend for the files. The files really, truly don’t exist so Hawkins gets suited up in the old exoskeleton and mask (pilot movie FLASHBACK!!!!!!) and heads off via jetpack (CALLBACK!!!!!!!!!!) to save the day.
As is often the case in these, B-T Hawkins finds his humanity and throws in with his alpha (but not until Hawkins works him over pretty good), killing B-T Angelides and staying behind to die in an explosion to ensure that the science of cloning is eradicated. As the bomb goes off Hawkins “hears” his beta become human and speak a last moment prayer before his death.
O: Ok, I’m going to propose something wild and meta here. Give me some space.
This is a meta tale of the current Mantis killing the old Mantis.
Still with me? Good, good. Let me lay it down for you.
The first look we get at real Hawkins this episode, he is the Mantis but he is laughing and joking around with Stonebrake and bike messenger, a reminder of how loose and comfortable Lumbly is playing the character now, especially in comparison to where the performance started in the pilot movie, and how the ensemble has similarly evolved.
Meanwhile, beta test is cold to the point of brittle, not unlike Lumbly played “conservative intellectual talk show guest” Hawkins in the pilot movie. It is a bit more, granted, but it certainly recalls the start of that character. He is bossy, dismissive, and more profit oriented as well, much as the “real” Hawkins often was early on, a fact that is alluded to when Hawkins “proves” himself to bike messenger by recalling his refusal to tip the messenger in their first encounter.
There’s also the matter of attired. Beta test wears a suit, when not Mantis-upped and it reminded me we have not seen Hawkins rock a suit in a bit, after that initially being his “uniform” both as the Mantis (he wore a full dress suit with overcoat over the exoskeleton in the pilot) and as Hawkins. Now, as demonstrated in the Hawkins meets Beta image above, he tends to be more casual and relaxed.
To further the “clothes make the man” argument, Hawkins is forced to don the original mask after Beta steals the upgraded version. I had to look back, but the mask used is, in fact, the mask from the pilot which became fuller and more silver (as opposed to grey) in the series. At the end of the episode, the old mask is left to burn with the Beta as Hawkins re-dons the new, series version of it.
Taken together, this episode, especially in the context of the recent retooling to be an even for sci-fi-y show, can be a signaling that the Hawkins of early, especially the Hawkins of the pilot movie, is dead, dead, dead. So dead, in fact, they blew him and the original Mantis mask up to ensure it will never return.
That is not to say the show now has a bold new sense of inner continuity as this episode also has Hawkins claiming he values all life an episode after he threw a fish-woman hybrid into a tank and watched her die painfully and roughly 15 minutes before he watching his clone murder a man by tossing and then let said clone blow up with very little effort to stop him from doing either of those things. So, you know, watching the details enough to go seriously meta but not enough to catch that Hawkins is wildly hypocritical on this fundamental issue.
Also, even though it really does not fit anywhere, I want to take a moment to note the scene in which the Beta discovers the Sea Pod for the first time. When it comes off the elevator, he's walking (because he can) but he is still pushing his wheelchair, almost absentmindedly. I don't know if it was intended to "mean" anything per se, but there was something very arresting and interesting about the image for me. It was as though, even as he was struggling with it, the Beta was assuming more and more of Hawkins' traits. Hawkins, obviously, does not go anywhere without his wheelchair (excepting Mantis-ing of course) so neither does his beta, even if he is just pushing it because, for him, it is vestigial, an object with no purpose.
W: A death inmate goes digital in "Switches." Not at all like that movie SHOCKER.