March M.A.N.T.I.S.- Episode 19: Fast Forward

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 19: Fast Forward

P: Someone is pulling big time smash and grabs all over Port Columbia and the police are entirely flummoxed. The only clue is the God’s Invisible Hammer graffiti left behind. No stakeout seems to even get a peek of Mr. or Mrs. Hammer. It’s almost like the criminal is invisible.

 I don't know man, that looks a lot more like a fire axe to me. Maybe go by "the invisible fire axe of God"?

I don't know man, that looks a lot more like a fire axe to me. Maybe go by "the invisible fire axe of God"?

He is B.B. Rantzer (Curtis Armstrong) and he’s not invisible, just super fast. Despite a heavy police presence at his latest target, he effortlessly robs the bank, pantses the new chief of police, and takes off, totally unseen.

 Oh dear, what are you wearing?

Oh dear, what are you wearing?

 "I am the face of creeping televised gentrification."

"I am the face of creeping televised gentrification."

(If you’ve been following March M.A.N.T.I.S. at all, you won’t be stunned to find that the former chief, a black man, has been replaced by a patrician white man.)

Meanwhile, at the Seapod, Hawkins & Co. are testing a new high powered air/laser device which I can’t imagine will play into the plot at all. No sir. No chance. Bike messenger expresses doubts about the usefulness of this air cannon thing-y so Stonebrake and Hawkins (all Mantis-ed up) teach him a lesson by testing it on him. Twice in two episodes now, they’ve made the bike messenger their human experiment subject. I’d feel bad, but, you know, bike messenger. Plus, look at the face he makes.

 So air cannon blastable!

So air cannon blastable!

Tell me he doesn’t deserve what he gets.

Anyway, the torture of their young friend is interrupted by Maxwell bringing them in on the case. Why they waited until now I cannot say, but then, Port Columbia doesn’t seem like the best police force.

There’s unusual evidence of molecular breakdown on one of the guns that leads Hawkins to track down an apparent expert in the field of accelerated degeneration. The expert is, of course, Rantzer, who apparently did scholarly work at PCU (no mention of any encounters he might’ve had with Droz or Gutter while there) until an explosion killed his lab partner/wife. Although it is not specifically pointed out at this time, fans of the Flash can surmise that the explosion also gave him his abilities.

Unfortunately, while a weird dude, Rantzer otherwise seems to escape Hawkins suspicions. At first. Hawkins eventually comes back around, realizing his mistake, and investigates as Mantis. A tape of the experiment gone awry and a vicious super speed beating confirms suspicions, but the Mantis is in far too rough shape to take Mr. Hammer down or bring him in.

Rantzer demonstrates how little he gives a damn about being discovered by recording himself exposing his identity and sharing his life story. He concludes by revealing he is a.) dying, his blood turning to accelerant and his molecules slowly shaking themselves apart and b.) plans to hasten human beings destruction of themselves, in Port Columbia at least, by shutting down all the city’s power plants.

 Is he fast? Listen bud, he's got pure accelerant blood. Can he swing overhead? No, that's Spider-Man.

Is he fast? Listen bud, he's got pure accelerant blood. Can he swing overhead? No, that's Spider-Man.

Hawkins, as the Mantis, subjects himself to another beating and an experimental serum that shakes apart the suit in an attempt to figure out how to catch up with or slow down Rantzer. While he can’t really keep up, his serum allows him to briefly engage Sir Invisible Hammer long enough to find that that air cannon seems to be the only weapon that can touch Rantzer when he’s in speed mode.

 Feel the power of obvious foreshadowing!

Feel the power of obvious foreshadowing!

Senor Martillo sees the writing on the wall and breaks from the power plant plan to instead poison the water supply. He should’ve just called that Portland kid to pee in the reservoir, right guys? Boom! Current events!!!

Anywho, Hawkins realizes he can’t catch up (forgive the pun!) with Rantzer’s chemical enhanced swiftness and instead needs to outthink him. Deciding tricking the speed demon is the best approach, the Mantis and Maxwell dose themselves on the theory that when Good Man Transparent sees two people moving at his rate of speed he’ll assume he’s fallen into the “real” world again and easily be overcome.

It almost works, but Rantzer is still a smart guy and easily tests the reality of the situation, exposing Hawkins & Co’s ruse. With no options left, the Mantis seizes the fast terrorist. Risking life and limb, Mantis holds on as hard as he can. Rather than give in, Rantzer continues to fight, eventually shaking himself apart with Hawkins somehow surviving and the water supply remaining unpoisoned.

O: An intriguing premise undone by miscasting and inconsistent “rules” for the ability.

I like Armstrong. I like BETTER OFF DEAD and ONE CRUEL SUMMER and New Girl and so on and such of. However, he lacks the range to nail either Rantzer’s around the bend madness nor his tragic heart. He can’t connect with either side fully and certainly can’t swing between them effectively. The villain should be around the bend and heartbreakingly a victim all at once and neither the show nor Armstrong sells that.

The result is that his plot is all we are left to really invest in and it never quite gels. First, he’s a thief, then he’s a murderer and terrorist. He’s speaking in environmental avenging terms but the only goal seems to be “kill, kill, kill.” Even Ra’s Al Ghul sound comparatively cogent in his arguments for destroying the planet.

The way super speed works here is similarly problematic. The show can’t decide what can and cannot move and the trick of freezing everything when Armstrong goes to super speed fails to sell the ability in a way that makes it interesting, awe-inspiring, or freaky. Maybe it is just Rantzer’s ridiculous costume. I can’t say for sure.

This is also another episode in which the Mantis kills or allows his villain to die. At no point does anyone even attempt to find a cure. The emphasis is always on stopping the speedster, even when it is clear he’s dying. I wish I could’ve seen Hawkins at least agonize over his inability to save the villain but that’s “I would’ve done it differently” criticism, the all-time worst way to review and critique. Sufficed to say, even though the show is quite ok with it, I remain unhappy with the Mantis’s hypocrisy on the issue of human life.

W: There’s a “Spider in the Tower” and it is bringing with it my least favorite villains of the series.