March M.A.N.T.I.S.- Episode 2: Tango Blue

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

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Today’s Episode: Episode 2: Tango Blue

 The ice sculpture as I prefer to remember it. Before all the...unpleasantness.

The ice sculpture as I prefer to remember it. Before all the...unpleasantness.

P: Straight out the Big Book of Tropes, the episode opens on a high society party that is raided by nefarious, camouflage grease painted, gun toting ne’er-do-wells. They make off with jewels, wallets, and watches and with a Dr. Hawkins’ bruised cheek and several shattered ice sculptures the only causalities.

Hawkins, angry, makes like President Shepherd and is all “I’m gonna get the guns.” (That’s an AMERICAN PRESIDENT reference for you and yours. DEEP CUT!!!!!!!!!) To do so, he arranges a massive gun buyback program with his own money which goes wonderfully…until all the guns are stolen.

Even more angry, Hawkins does the M.A.N.T.I.S. suit and stumbles upon something more than a series of robberies. A team of ex-Navy Seals (all dishonorably discharged) under the command of a Kyle Delance (Gregg Henry/the guy that slapped Hawkins in the cold open) are using the stolen goods to buy weapons (I think?) to use to raid a Navy warehouse and steal decommissioned Russian weaponry. Our favorite bike messenger Taylor infiltrates the group, cues Mantis into their island stronghold, and chases ensue. Bike Messenger and Mantis are victorious.

In a postlude, Hawkins and Maxwell apologize to one another and go and get coffee.

O: Angry Hawkins makes a return here but it doesn’t feel the same. In the pilot, Lumbly played him as having deep reservoirs of coiled anger that left him frigid with brief flashes of intensity. Here, it feels much more…surface-y, for lack of a better way to put it. Only when he spits, “I was shot!” and Lt. Maxwell’s suggestion he play the good victim next time someone has a gun on him does it feel like the version of Hawkins we first met. Hawkins feels less like a figure wrestling his tragedy sparked anger and more like a guy who had a bad day and is having a hard time letting it go. That’s a bit dismissive of what is a good performance. I just miss the sense of history Lumbly imbued “Pilot Hawkins” with versus “Series Hawkins” who seems much more just reacting to the recent event, not feeling the tear of old scars and suppressed emotions.

It would perhaps not be as noticeable to me if the supporting cast was richer. Rees’ Stonebrake is charismatic and affable and, only two episodes in, his rhythm with Lumbly has already improved. But Maxwell and the bike messenger remain aggressively ill-defined. The script cannot decide if Maxwell is tough as nails and quick to anger or sweet and flirty. She can be both at once, of course, but the show cannot seem to connect those two aspects of her which makes her relationship with Hawkins a frustrating series of seemingly disconnected meet-cutes and too quickly escalating snit fests.

Worse is Taylor Savage. A goofball who somehow has an eidetic memory, impressive stamina and swimming skill, and a gift for adapting to situations with seemingly no moments of doubt or fear he is a series of things, not a character. Worse, the series has yet to justify why Stonebrake and Hawkins would invite him into their fledgling vigilante operation rather than just deny what he thinks he knows and freeze him out.

Plot-wise the episode does feel a bit more like the pilot in that it links up with what was going on in the U.S. at the time with references to assault weapons bans, defrosted Russian relations, and gun buyback programs. How weird is it that those things feel like historical documents now. Anything related to curtailing guns is seemingly unworkable these days and Russia feels a lot more like 70’s USSR than its 90’s post-Soviet identity.

However, the whole thing is very anti-climactic. Hawkins as Mantis rushes out to the island only to have to rush back to the mainland almost immediately to catch Delance’s crew. Once again, the M.A.N.T.I.S. suit is damaged and rapidly losing power, but there is never a sense of danger. Although Stonebrake warns Hawkins he is down to 11% power, there is no evidence of Mantis’s skills being diminished and we never hear another warning about power loss. Given how often it has already been used, the lack of “oh, no, the suit is freezing up” is something of a relief but then why bother mentioning the 11% at all if nothing is going to be made of it? Mantis never seems to be challenged so, as a viewer, I never feel as though there is anything at stake.

Some other random nitpicks:

                -Only two cops to guard a huge stockpile of recently turned in guns? Really?

 All these guns, looked over by two cops in an unlocked building. Makes perfect sense. Who could've anticipated it going so wrong?

All these guns, looked over by two cops in an unlocked building. Makes perfect sense. Who could've anticipated it going so wrong?

                -Has there ever been a raid at a high society ball? This is nothing against the episode as it is a trope but I am legitimately curious how it became one as I’ve never once heard about that sort of thing happening in real life.

                -If this episode did not precede it by 2 years, I would’ve spent considerable time talking about its debt to the most excellent action film “The Rock.”

                -There’s no way Delance does not realize Hawkins is the Mantis at the end of this episode, right? I mean, Hawkins quotes the remarks Delance said directly to him at the party and makes a show of taking back his watching and putting it again before darting the crook. It’s all a bit obvious, right?

                -I love Stonebrake’s casual disdain for the American justice system’s mechanics, especially considering the English document the Magna Carta is a basis for a lot of what he grouses about.

W: A drugs is making teens smarter…and more violent. Can Mantis dissuade the youths to stop taking the medication before all of Port Columbia’s days become “Days of Rage”?