Friday, October 17, 2014
Tremors: The Series - Ghost Dance
Things are getting (even more) strange in Perfection Valley.
The SciFi Channel aired all thirteen episodes that had been produced for the Tremors television series in the spring and summer of 2003, but the order they aired them in was completely random. Episodes were schedule with total disregard for continuing storylines, when information was discovered, or when characters were introduced. The first episode of the season, Feeding Frenzy, was indeed the first episode to air. But two episodes were shown back-to-back on Tremors' premiere night, and the second episode of the line-up was not the actual second episode, Shriek & Destroy, but Ghost Dance. Episode number six.
Ghost Dance is a direct follow-up to the fifth episode, Project 4-12, in which Perfection, Nevada's resident paranoid survivalist Burt Gummer was informed that a company called the Proudfoot Corporation had an underground laboratory hidden somewhere out in the desert of Perfection Valley, a lab which was shut down in 1973 but was in which all sorts of unscrupulous experiments were done when it was in operation. Now Burt is determined to locate the site of the hidden lab... a story point which was baffling to viewers who saw Ghost Dance the night it aired on the SciFi Channel, since they hadn't yet seen the episode in which it was set up.
Burt was told about the lab by a man who worked as a biochemist there, Cletus Poffenbarger (a guest starring Christopher Lloyd). Introduced in the Project 4-12 episode, Poffenbarger is still hanging around Perfection in Ghost Dance. The characters are familiar with him, but he was a mystery to viewers when the episode first aired.
This episode, which SciFi apparently thought would capture an audience more than Shriek & Destroy would, was written by Tremors co-creators S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock, and brought to the screen with veteran television director (Smallville, Nash Bridges, etc.) Whitney Ransick at the helm.
The story begins with three explorers venturing into a long abandoned mine in Perfection Valley. Only one of them gets out of the mine alive, and does so looking like most of his lifeforce has been drained out of him. His face is pale, wrinkled, and deformed, one of his arms is all shriveled up. The corpses of his companions are left mummified.
As cattle rancher Rosalita Sanchez and her hired hand Harlowe Winnemucca rescue the man from the mine, Rosalita gets a glimpse of the thing that has done this to him. A floating, glowing green mist that moves as if it's alive. The survivor calls this thing a ghost, and Rosalita agrees with him.
Rosalita insists she saw a ghost, hippie single mother Nancy Sterngood theorizes that Perfection may be within a cosmic vortex that causes all the strange occurrences around it, market owner Jodi Chang speculates that it could be a Chinese demon, Harlowe joking suggests that there's a Native American trickster god at play, but Burt believes they must stay rational, there is a down-to-earth explanation for everything. Perfection has seen its fair share of strange things, but they've all been explainable. The Graboids/Shriekers/Ass-Blasters are a prehistoric species. Project 4-12 was the result of a lab experiment. There has to be a reasonable explanation for this deadly green mist, too.
However, Burt does not agree with the official explanation delivered to the citizens of Perfection by local Department of the Interior agent Twitchell, which is that the explorers died of severe dehydration caused by exposure to heated methane gas. What's in that mine can't simply be a cloud of methane.
The mist proves it isn't just methane when Burt, Twitchell, and Graboid Adventure Tour owner Tyler Reed go into the mine to investigate. The mist purposely seeks out sources of moisture and dries them out completely within seconds. The trio barely make it out of the mine alive, but are thrown off their investigation immediately upon their return to town when a two man Environmental Protection Agency emergency task force arrives. They say they're there to take care of the methane leak, but they clearly know much more about what this thing is than they're saying.
By the time the EPA workers arrive at the mine to take on the mist with an anti-bacterial substance while they wear biohazard suits, the green thing has already escaped from the depths of the mine and has begun to make its way across the countryside, growing in size as it consumes more and more moisture.
The substance the task force thought would wipe out the mist has no effect on it. One of the EPA guys loses his life. Burt and Tyler must team up with the survivor and enlist the aid of Cletus Poffenbarger to figure out how to destroy this mist, which does indeed have a scientific explanation, before it continues to spread. Unfortunately, even if the mist can be destroyed, Perfection might also be destroyed in the process...
One of production company Stampede Entertainment's goals when it embarked on making a television series to continue the Tremors film franchise was to pit its characters against their own original takes on classic creatures. Ideas for episodes that were never filmed were posted on the company's website for a while, and one of those story ideas involved a mountain man who was Stampede's version of a vampire. Ghost Dance is their take on ghosts, and their ghost isn't a ghost at all.
What the mist really is, is a method to continue expanding the scope of the series. It's a product of the Mixmaster gene splicing compound that was developed in the hidden lab, and now that it has escaped to the surface, it's shedding cells that contain Mixmaster. Mixmaster has no effect on humans, but it will have a mutating effect on plants, insects, and animals throughout Perfection Valley. Mixmaster will splice the DNA of any creature that comes across it. There will soon be all kinds of hybrid creatures being born in the area. "Grasshoppers with scorpion tails, gila monsters with bat wings", etc. It's not a huge problem, the valley's natural barriers - mountains to the east and west, cliffs to the north - will likely keep Mixmaster from spreading out of Perfection and 99% of the mutations won't survive, but it is a disturbing problem to have. And one which could provide all sorts of mutant monsters for the characters to encounter in future episodes.
Ghost Dance should have aired sixth instead of second, but it is a great episode; intriguing, intense, and a very important step in the run of the Tremors TV show. The threat in it is far removed from the creatures of the Tremors movies, but it further cements the fact that the previous episode (Project 4-12) started to prove: these characters are entertaining and exciting to watch no matter what sort of monster they're going up against, and they can usually deduce a home remedy to any given situation.