March M.A.N.T.I.S.- Episode 18: The Delusionist

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 18: The Delusionist

P: Randy Ferril (Luca Bercovici) is a magician ahead of his time. He looks kind of like Michael Bolton, postures like Criss Angel, and, oh yeah, shoots red beams out of his eyes like Cyclops.

 The many looks of Randy Ferril.

The many looks of Randy Ferril.

Unlike Cyclops, however, Ferril’s eyebeams make you feel bad about yourself. By tapping into your latent guilts, fears, shames, etc., he is able to twist them around in such a way that makes you his willing follower. We see him early on setting this power upon a group of high school students and it proves so effective no one even reports the fact that part of his magic show involves burning a man alive. Boy, things were simpler when all David Copperfield had to do to grab our attention was make the Statue of Liberty disappear.

Included in that audience is Maxwell’s heretofore unseen and unmentioned sister Deanna Maxwell (Samaria Graham). She’s an overachiever bound for glory who goes to school in the same town as her big sis who apparently raised her(?) but now they no longer live together (judging by last episode). I think I’ve got that straight.

 This is a riot, not a musical. The man in front is not singing. Do not trust what your eyes are telling you.

This is a riot, not a musical. The man in front is not singing. Do not trust what your eyes are telling you.

Anyway, this neurological messing around leads to riots at the local high school. On the one hand, this makes a certain amount of sense, the rage they feel for their shortcomings now turned outward. On the other hand, it does not seem to do much to aid the magician’s plans, whatever they might be. Riots lead to restrictions, restrictions lead to significantly less time to go to a middle aged magician’s basement to be mentally manipulated by him.

 Where's Adrian?

Where's Adrian?

On the third hand, Lieutenant Randall Disher is one of the teen rioters and you can’t beat that with a stick.

On the fourth hand, the Mantis punching his way through a crowd of teens and darting a few alone the way feels a little fascist, even if they are being mind-controlled.

After an interrogation of Deanna reveals she seems to have no memory of what took place, Hawkins goes to work and unearths a connection between the riot and the magician. The bike messenger is dispensed to deal with it, but Ferril anticipates someone coming. Lying in wait, the purveyor of dark magic easily ensnares the bike messenger in the red light of hate and such.

 "The gels are up too high!"

"The gels are up too high!"

Meanwhile, Stonebrake goes undercover as a teacher at the local high school with neither his rock star charisma (from “Progenitor”) nor Vic Racine’s rebellious ways (from MY SO-CALLED LIFE) on display. Making matters worse is the arrival of bike messenger who incites the already under the sway of Ferril students to attack our English scientist.

 "No, no, seriously, guys! I have a band and groupies and EVERYTHING!"

"No, no, seriously, guys! I have a band and groupies and EVERYTHING!"

Suitably motivated by the erratic behaviors of students and bike messenger, the police bust in on Ferril. Unfortunately, this is the mid-90’s and gathering up teens in your basement was not yet an arrest-worthy offense. (Yes, I’m going to that joke again. Because it works!) Ferril knows his time is growing short though so he turns up his eye-ray-y machine, zapping bike messenger and the teens again. Then he makes Deanna nearly service sexually before punishing her for it with more eye rays. He’s…disturbing.

The Mantis pays our mad magician a visit and catches an eye fireball in the face for his troubles. Almost overwhelmed by the hallucinations it causes, Mantis barely escapes with his sanity and/or nearly hurting some mind-controlled but largely innocent teens.

Ferril’s attack, however, proves poor strategy as it enables Hawkins & Co. to begin to understand how he’s doing what he’s doing. Hawkins and Stonebrake seize bike messenger and, using what appears to be the spare parts from the CLOCKWORK ORANGE machine, test their theory. That’s right, they engaged in human testing. Thankfully though, they guessed right and he’s “cured.”

 The consequences of the horrible visions he's been subjected too though? Eh, who cares.

The consequences of the horrible visions he's been subjected too though? Eh, who cares.

Meanwhile, across town, Deanna pulls a gun on her sister and marches her into the den of dark magic where we find the other teens have followed suit. Despite Port Columbia’s gun buyback program (as seen in “Tango Blue) and not all these parents being cops, all of them seem to own rather impressive looking handguns. Which, are, of course, now aimed at them. Can we afford to wait on gun control any longer?!?

 The only thing that can stop a brainwashed teenager with a gun is...wait...am I saying this right?

The only thing that can stop a brainwashed teenager with a gun is...wait...am I saying this right?

The Mantis is close behind though. Armed with his new tech, he cancels out the magician eyeglass based powers and induces a psychotic delusional state in Ferril that leads to him tossing himself off a balcony to his demise. In front of many, many teenagers. I am sure that psychologist from last episode will be a tremendous help to them.

O: I don’t think this understands how unsettling this episode is. I mean, I think they were going for some measure of creepiness, but I don’t think they realize just how much farther past that mark they traveled.

As mentioned above, having Mantis, without any demonstrable concern, toss aside brainwashed teens is disconcerting. Almost torturing bike messenger, even for his own good, is distressing. An entire city’s worth of seniors holding their parents at gunpoint is worrying.

But all of that pales in comparison to the scene in which Ferril forces Deanna to almost have some kind of sex with him only to flip out and brutalize her when she touches him. You could write a feminist theory thesis on those three minutes along. He’s older, she’s younger. He’s white, she’s black. He’s in a position of power, she is in his throes. He demands sexual gratification from her and then shames and assaults her when she acquiesces. And then there’s the whole bit about male gaze being made literal by his actions. Like I said, disturbing.

It does make the episode oddly compelling though, as the show seems to be tapping into darker material than it is really ready to engage. The fact alone that the magician’s name is basically “Feral” tells me that they didn’t quite know what they had their hands on here.

Which is good because there are parts of this that are very not good. Maxwell’s band new sister? Stonebrake’s attempts at being a teacher as comic relief, comic relief that degenerates into what appears to be a savage mass beating? A save mass beating that somehow leaves him unbruised? These are all not very good.

The fact is that the consequences of the actions depicted on-screen should be physically and mentally devastating. Instead everyone seems largely fine the minute after any given event passes by. I’m not asking for weeping and catatonia but it seems to me a little weight probably isn’t inappropriate here.

W: A speedster twisted by tragedy seeks to hit “Fast Forward” and move to world onto the apocalypse.