Stephen King is a master of the page whose stories have terrified millions, in part because he's so prolific and can churn out tales of horror by the bucketload. How does he do it? Well, the truth is that there's a bit of a formula that goes into a King story, a formula that is also found in the adaptations of his works.
Spike's new series The Mist adapts King's short story about a killer cloud that terrorizes a — you guessed it — small town in the Northeast. After one episode, it's hard to tell what we can expect in terms of quality — it wasn't a good start for the series — but we at least have an idea of what's coming. Why? Because The Mist falls victim to the many Stephen King tropes out there, made achingly apparent in the translation from book to television, where broader strokes make do over more analytical prose. Them's the breaks with TV adaptations.
Let's look at all the Stephen King tropes from the first episode of The Mist.
1. It takes place in Maine
King is a proud Mainean, featuring America's pointy nose in pretty much every single one of his stories. The Mist is set in the town of Bridgeville, Maine, likely based on the real town of Bridgton, Maine, which was also the inspiration for Under the Dome's Chester's Mill. If only there was a dome to keep all this mist in one place, right?
2. There's a supernatural mystery that threatens to kill everyone but doesn't have a discernible origin and may never get one
For King, the terror doesn't always lie in the monsters of the book, but how humans react to the horrifying sentient machine/haunted hotel/undead pets. And frequently, it doesn't even matter what the explanation for that thing is. I am the internet's premiere Under the Dome expert and I still don't know what the dome was or how it got there. That's pretty much true for the titular poofy death fog of The Mist. All you have to know is that if you go into the mist, you're gonna get dead. If you want more answers, you'll have to make them up on your own.
3. The main character is an author
Kevin Copeland (Morgan Spector) is a former journalist and current children's book author. They say write what you know, right? Well, King knows that he's an author living in Maine. See also: The Shining, Misery, Bag of Bones, Salem's Lot and many other of King's works.
4. There's an actor involved who is too good for the adaptation
Remember when Dean Norris went from an Emmy-worthy performance in Breaking Bad to thinking he was speaking to a holy membrane in Under the Dome and we all called Dean to make sure he was alright? Hope you have Frances Conroy in your address book. The former Six Feet Under actress and multiple Emmy nominee plays a
hippie nature lover who hangs out with frogs and finds out that there's precedent for the killer cloud. She deserves better.
5. Someone is in trouble with the law, but is more than meets the eye!
King loves to instill a sense of danger in characters and then peel back the layers to show that they're actually totally cool. In The Mist, we meet Mia Lambert (Danica Curcic) as she's getting roughed up by some farmer and then on the run from cops. In Under the Dome, you'll recall — you better recall — that we first met Barbie (Mike Vogel) when he was burying a body, so we assumed he was up to no good. Soon after, he became the hero of the series because we found he wasn't bad at all! He was just burying Julia's husband so the love story between Julia and Barbie could open up. A million bucks says something similar happens with Mia and she becomes the hero.
6. Real, colossal a-holes
King loves his ensembles, and just outside of the sizable main cast are the real bad guys. People with no real worth other than to make everyone else look good by comparison and to stir up drama. Even the Stranger Things creators noted this in King's books and used it as a basis for a new character in Season 2. Here in The Mist, the bad guys are mostly the Bridgeville cops, who go out of their way to rough up Bryan Hunt (Okezie Morro) for no good reason other than their grade-A jerks. These kinds of characters give King someone to kill off easily, too, so don't expect The Mist to keep them out of the mist for long.
7. Rebel kids with drama
King's kids (hello Naomi, Joe, Owen!) must have been real rapscallions, because King loves to include problem children with very normal parents in his books, and they become even worse in television adaptations. Remember how dumb Junior and Norrie were in Under the Dome? The Mist does a better job with throwing drama at its primary youngster in Alex Copeland (Gus Birney), who is sexually assaulted in the premiere. How that will tie in with a killer cloud is uncertain, but King loves the interplay of relatively normal drama with that of the supernatural variety. Gus also has a "weird kid" friend, of course, and for sure one of those football players is going to turn into a real monster.
And that's just from one premise-setting episode! Don't be surprised if King makes a cameo as a supermarket stock boy or something.
The Mist airs Thursday nights at 10/9c on Spike.