Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tremors: The Series - Flora or Fauna?

Mixmaster brings a new threat to Perfection Valley.

The sixth episode of the Tremors series, Ghost Dance, had ended on a chilling note, with eccentric former biochemist Cletus Poffenbarger (Christopher Lloyd) informing the residents of the isolated desert town of Perfection, Nevada that a gene-splicing compound called Mixmaster was loose in their valley and would soon be creating hybrid creatures throughout the area.

With the ninth episode, Tremors co-creators S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock follow up on that storyline, with their teleplay being brought to the screen by director Chuck Bowman, who had previously directed episode five, Project 4-12, which introduced the Poffenbarger character.

This Mixmaster-based story also enables Bowman to introduced more characters into the series; an annoying hyper, enthusiastic sci-fi fanboy named Larry Norvel (who is played by J.D. Walsh and appeared in the Project 4-12 wraparound segments that had to be filmed after the fact due to the SciFi Channel airing episodes out of order), and Doctor Casey Matthews (Sarah Rafferty), a geneticist leading a research team sent to Perfection to study the effects of Mixmaster on the ecosystem.

Matthews' people get more than they bargained for when they come face-to-face with the first living hybrid that Mixmaster has created in the wild. More accurately, they come face-to-acid-spray with it, getting blasted with a substance that melts them down into bloody skeletons within seconds.

Poffenbarger returns to help Matthews and the locals get to the bottom of what's going on, and they soon realize that they're dealing with a creature that is both plant and animal. It's something that contains elements of squash or gourds and the Venus flytrap, with reptilian nerve and circulatory systems, and its acid is a much stronger version of the digestive sap of the Amazonian pitcher plant... things they had in the botanical division of the long abandoned underground laboratory out in the desert where Poffenbarger used to work. The reptile/plant thing has a root system that spreads out through a large section of the valley. As Poffenbarger puts it, it's the "pumpkin patch from Hell".

It's an intriguing problem that Wilson, Maddock, and Bowman have presented the characters with, having them try to figure out how to destroy this plant, and the creature is a very interesting mixture of different lifeforms. Of course, the fact that they're simply dealing with a plant means that this episode doesn't offer much in the way of thrilling action sequences. No matter how tough the thing is, this is ultimately just a sci-fi/horror take on going after a batch of weeds. What the episode does deliver is a pervasive sense of dread - especially when it's revealed that, once they're exposed to a certain temperature level, of the plant's seed pods will spew millions of spore into the air. Soon this acid-blasting plant is going to be all over the place, and that's not good news. Dealing with such a threat might not provide a grand adventure, but this is definitely something the characters have to eradicate before it's too late.

Doctor Casey Matthews is a fine addition to the cast, a character who will clearly come in handy any time the people of Perfection have to deal with a Mixmaster creation. Although such a character would risk being redundant if they kept bringing Cletus Poffenbarger back as well, she serves an additional purpose by being a potential love interest for Tyler Reed, despite being way smarter than him.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I find Larry Norvel to be extremely annoying and would have preferred if he had never been able to take this trip of tourism to Perfection. Unfortunately, this episode is not the last we'll see of him, either.

Even though Larry grates on me nerves, he doesn't ruin Flora or Fauna?, which is a very solid entry in Tremors: The Series' one season run.

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