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 22: Ghost of the Ice
P: John Stonebrake sits, sad and alone, in a darkened Seapod. He is speaking into a tape recorder, giving voice to what he claims is the last record of the life and times of The Mantis aka Dr. Miles Hawkins.
After the credits, we are back in what is apparently the near-last. The Mantis and Stonebrake are taking the Chrysalid out for a spin, moving through the sky from QUANTUM LEAP. Much like Sam Beckett before them, when something goes awry in said sky and the duo is forced to crash land at the edge of a forest somewhere near Fort Columbia. The craft is destroyed, the long-range radio inoperable, and Stonebrake’s leg is damaged. With lousy weather and cold a possibility, the two stumble their way from the Chrysalid in search of a safe place to hold up overnight.
But they are not alone. There is something or someone stalking them. The Mantis seems to notice it first, an odd distortion in his goggles. Stonebrake confirms he sees it too, a wavy thing that there’s but not there, like heat waves off pavement in the morning. Footprints confirm their glimpses and a POV shot from the forest line confirms it for us to. Something is following them, hunting them. And that something is…
Ok, so this is big. I’m going to need you to sit and get ready for this.
That something is…
Seriously. This is going to turn your head around. I need you prepared. Ok. Here we go.
That something is…
AN INVISIBLE Tyrannosaurus REX!
That’s not a typo. The Mantis and Stonebrake have stumbled upon the king of the Thunder Lizards who, apparently, cannot be seen by the naked eye.
AN INVISIBLE T-REX!
The world is not as you thought it was this morning, is it?
Meanwhile, a very concerned bike messenger, who was on the other side of the radio when the crash occurred, reaches out to Maxwell. Maxwell arrives in full undercover hobo makeup, as one does, but lacking a bindle. This is, of course, yet another sign that the show does not believe her to be an effective officer of the law. Doing hobo undercover without a bindle? Amateur hour. Amateur. Hour.
Anyhoo, as Stonebrake and the Mantis evade a antediluvian killing machine with light reflective skin, Maxwell and bike messenger pile supplies into an SUV and head off in pursuit. Maxwell seems to be hella uncomfortable with the idea of a.) not alerting the authorities to help in the search and b.) the very idea of sleeping outdoors. I get the first one, but the second one seems an odd character choice. Then again, what is Maxwell without odd character choices?
The bike messenger chooses to either completely ignore her fretting or somehow misses it and away they go to the mountains/forest area, packed to the hilt with supplies.
The Mantis and Stonebrake continue on their way, dodging the Dino, until they find a cabin. Ignoring individual property rights, they walk right in and are greeted by a gun wielding mountain man (M.C. Gainey) for their troubles. Evidently, after this experience, he would flee the isolation of his off-the-beaten path cabin for island living and a fat Dharma Initiative paycheck. That’s a LOST reference, in case you were wondering.
The mountain man, it seems, has tangled with the cloaked last dinosaur on Earth not named Denver before and even found where the creature came from. In the deep recesses of one of the caves dotting this landscape (sidenote: Port Columbia might be the only city on television who’s geography approaches THE SIMPSONS’ Springfield in terms of sheer range of ecosystems and improbability), there sits a cracked egg. An egg that sort of kind of resembles a Georgia O’Keefe painting. Not trying to be rude here, just acknowledging that reality.
Apparently, the caves are deep and hidden enough that the ice age marched on there long past the time it fell out of fashion on the more exposed surfaces of the earth. However, the rising temperatures have apparently eroded some of the underground glaciers and, in doing so, exposed the cryogenically frozen Rex egg. Thus M.A.N.T.I.S. is the first show ever to make the argument that we should check ourselves environmentally lest global warming lead to an explosion in the prehistoric predator population. It is a bold if unconventional argument.
The duo and the mountain man bunk down for the night and, come morning, the bike messenger finally manages to raise them on short-range radio. Realizing the danger they may be in, mountain man and the Mantis make plans to hightail it to the bike messenger and Maxwell’s site. Forcing their hand further is the dinosaur attacking the cabin. Stonebrake is elected to stay behind on account of his bad ankle but ends up following soon, either out of fear of a return visit from the short-armed beast or because he preferred to stay with his friend and help in any way he could. In either case, a man with a hobbled ankle easily catches up with a man with extensive lived-in knowledge of the terrain and a man in an expensive state of the art exoskeleton.
The trio arrives just moments too late to prevent the messenger and Maxwell’s first dino-encounter. Bike messenger gets tossed and, maybe?, takes a claw to the chest. Again, the dinosaur is invisible so it’s hard to say.
The Mantis ain’t having it though so he delivers a devastating flying kick.
Honestly, I was bit distracted by my laughter at this point so I missed some of the fight that followed. Regardless, the result is our humans are further battered but safe and the dinosaur chased away. Hawkins & Co. bids adieu to mountain man, grab a powercell from the craft as their secret weapon, and head towards their getaway vehicle, the SUV Maxwell and messenger left behind.
But the dino is not through with them yet.
It catches up with them mere feet from the car, which seems to be way outside its hunting area, but what do I know, and quickly makes ragdolls of the bunch of them. Desperate, scared, and running out of options (at least them insist they are) Maxwell and Hawkins (as he is now sans mask) sacrifice themselves to blow up the dinosaur and save bike messenger and Stonebrake.
That’s right. The hero and the female lead, the only two black people (except the corrupt chief/commish and that one mayor that appeared in one episode) on a show that was originally significantly more populated by people of color die. The protagonist you’ve been following for 22 episodes and a TV movie? Dead by sacrificial suicide in the closing minutes of the last episode of the show. A sacrifice necessitated by an extinct creature who can’t be seen by the naked eye for some reason. There’s your ending. And you thought current TV dramas invented the idea of killing off the main character.
Oh, and mountain man returns just in time to give this look at the exploding car. Classic.
O: Where to begin? With the dinosaur. Oh, ok, yeah, that makes sense.
So the scuttle on the internet is the dinosaur was invisible because it was too expensive to render otherwise and I buy that scuttle. What I don’t buy is the need to still use the creature when you find out, “oh, yeah, actually, we can’t let you use that effect.” Why are you not immediately writing a different, more cost effective ending to the series? What about the dinosaur seemed like such a great plot point that it had to be onto instead of rewritten to find a creature perhaps more realizable under current budget restraints? Who was the guy who first suggested that they just make the dinosaur invisible? And who were the people who replied, “Yes! Brilliant!”
Character-wise, Maxwell goes out as she came in, problematically written with an easily altered personality. This time, for almost no reason, she is ultra fussy and way opposed to sleeping under the stars. These “choices” have no prior history within the show or from even the character’s past.
The bike messenger is sidelined yet again, going from the show’s most reliable and consistent operator to less lines that MC Gainey. I like MC Gainey but he wasn’t a full cast member. I may not be a big fan of bike messenger and/or how he was used throughout the show, but come on. A final episode should mean every big player gets a final send-off and this did not feel like one. Rees’ Stonebrake gets more screentime but he too is sadly underserved by the ending that let’s us see him talking about the death of his friend but allows us no other way to see the emotions it must have caused him.
The final moments of Hawkins and Maxwell felt utterly false as well. In addition to my feeling like there must have been several ways to kill the T. Rex without killing themselves, especially as one is a cop and the other a scientific genius with an exoskeleton, they end up professing their love to one another. This show has never, NEVER gotten around to truly depicting them as either companionate lovers or new lovers or mutually crushing but unable to go for it lovers. Instead, we got a chaste kiss here, a date request there and little else.
You know how shows with gay characters in the late 90’s and early aughts seemed scared to let their characters have same sex kisses/physical relationships? That’s how it felt for Miles and Leonia—like the writers or whoever was scared they ostracize the audience if they showed these two leads actually developing a relationship. So their final words of mutual love to one another don’t mean anything. They never seemed really in love so why should we even buy that they were?
It’s a rough note to end on, especially in a back half of the season that were mostly rough notes all around.
W: The icy embrace of death? Maybe a M.A.N.T.I.S. comic written by yours truly? Hmm, people who own the license on him? What do you think? No? Just death then? Ok.