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 17: Switches
P: Gerald Ravens, (Stephen McHattie), a professor turned murderer, sits on death row awaiting his fate. Years earlier, he had been the target of an undercover operation involving Maxwell that led to her sleeping with and possibly falling in love with him. Nonetheless, when the time came, she busted him.
Now these years later, his clock has run out. Before shuffling off this mortal coil though, he enjoys a cigar in such a way that lets the audience know that, yes, he may be an empathy-less homicidal human monster, but he’s still a whole lot cooler than you. Then, he accepts Communion and then heads to the electric chair where the gallery, including Maxwell, witnesses his death by electrocution. All is not as it seems, however, as something in the Communion wafer enables McHattie’s soul to traverse along the electric lines even though his body is gone. The only hint to the gallery is a blue light that emanates off his body and lingers briefly after the switch is thrown.
Totally unexpectedly, Ravens near-death/loss of physical body experience does not lead him to question his homicidal ways and he immediately sets out on a mission of revenge. He manifests as a floating bluish head in the home of the priest—who I think we can probably assume at this point isn’t a real priest—and cracks mildly wise. Although the “priest” aided Ravens, the false man of the cloth does not seem too enthused about this electrical soul kicking around his apartment. So uncomfortable, in fact, that he never questions what science, exactly, accounts for why Ravens only brought his head into the electrical world. Look, I know suspension of disbelief and all that, but why not bring your body along for the ride? Granted, it would deny your audience the hilarious image of Ravens face bopping along the power lines, but… Eh, applying logic to transmogrifying the soul to traveling electricity, am I right?
Anyway, Ravens takes out the judge at his trial (sidenote: why go after the judge? It always happens, but really, it’s the jury that put you on death row, the judge just played referee) using his ill-defined new abilities and boom! on to the credits.
Maxwell is pretty weirded out by her experience watching a man die and glow blue that she stops by Dr. Hawkins, just in time to wake him from a nightmare in which a murderous Mantis (with Stonebrake and bike messenger in tow) gets rough with some carjackers and threatens his wheelchair bound alter ego. After last episode’s emphasis on the new vs. old Miles Hawkins, this is intriguing, but it foreshadows something far less interesting. No matter though because Maxwell’s visit leads to what I am sure is the first of many awkward kisses. Feel the chemistry!
When Maxwell returns home, Ravens gives her even further reason to be weirded out, visiting her via a hair dryer, her makeup mirror (which appears to be battery powered thus begging even more questions about Ravens abilities—questions that will only grow more confusing when later Ravens appears to smoke a digital cigar), and the television. After she points a gun at her TV, he either toys with her or fails miserably in his attempts to harm her, blowing up lamps all wither and dither throughout her apartment. An apartment, by the way, that was clearly decorated by an old woman or the set dressers from The Golden Girls. Which, in light of her ridiculous matching pajama set, makes a kind of sense.
Unable to rein in her fear, especially after seeing Ravens face in a traffic light and reacting TOTALLY NORMALLY to it, she gets taken off active duty.
Anyone who knows anything about cops, you know what that means. Forced therapy! Speaking as a mental health professional, let me just tell you, there’s nothing we like doing more than therapy with people who are being forced to be there. GREAT TIMES!
At least they cast a guy who reeks of the “arrogant therapist” cliché though. That’s good news.
Anyway, Maxwell once more seeks shelter with Hawkins but this time can find no sanctuary. Ravens invades and discovers the M.A.N.T.I.S. suit. Being a being of pure electricity now, he makes like Pazuzu and treats the suit like Regan. Now in possession of this complex exoskeleton, the prof smacks around Hawkins, darts bike messenger, and absconds with Maxwell, bent on making her his electric bride. Sadly, while loving his new M.A.N.T.I.S. suited body, Ravens lacks the control to hold it and most return to blue electric being once more. Although now he has more of his body.
Meanwhile, Hawkins and bike messenger finally catch up, find suit, and engage the professor just before he turns the juice of Maxwell. Ravens, jealous of Hawkins getting to have both the M.A.N.T.I.S. suit and all kind of awkward kissing with Maxwell (as well as probably a heart, a set of lungs, working gentalia, and so on), decides to fry our hero…falling right into Hawkins’ trap. While the ending implies Ravens may escape to terrorize Port Columbia again, I’m just going to ahead and assume he won’t.
O: This one exists and that’s almost all I can motivate myself to say about it. Stealing its plot from SHOCKER (directed by master of horror Wes Craven) and doing it less competently is…unexpected.
McHattie is neither scary enough nor wacky enough to sell the role, his understated creep performance at odds with what the plot needs to make you forget how dumb it is. ____ continues to be problematic as Maxwell through, in my opinion, no fault of her own. I don’t understand how, 17 episodes in, the writers still have no idea who she is and how to write her. It’s almost maddening.
This is, by far, not the worst of the sci-fi era of M.A.N.T.I.S. (that’s that terrible Men in Black episode). But it just isn’t very good either.
W: A magician with daddy issues turns Port Columbia upside down in “The Delusionist.”