The Mosquito Coast season 1, episode 1 recap – “Light Out” a change of location

April 30, 2021
Jonathon Wilson 0
Apple TV+, TV Recaps
3

Summary

“Light Out” is frustratingly enigmatic about important aspects of its characters, but it works as a pacey introduction to this new adaptation.

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3

Summary

“Light Out” is frustratingly enigmatic about important aspects of its characters, but it works as a pacey introduction to this new adaptation.

This recap of The Mosquito Coast season 1, episode 1, “Light Out”, contains spoilers. Check out our spoiler-free season review by clicking these words.


How do you make ice from fire? That’s the question that opens Apple TV+’s The Mosquito Coast, an adaptation of the 1981 novel starring the author’s nephew, and it’s one with a simple answer — fire, water, and a decent vacuum seal, apparently — but wide-ranging implications. The fact that the question is asked in darkness, and that the first images glimpsed on-screen in “Light Out” are of snaking tubes and chemical processes, implies a fascination for the underlying mechanics of things only emphasized by opening credits that slowly take in the neatly-ordered sprawl where the man asking the question, Allie Fox (Justin Theroux), works for a pittance and angrily glares at all the plastic filling up his boss’s office bin.

The Mosquito Coast episode 1 wastes little time in establishing a few things about Allie, a kind of self-styled MacGuyver living off the grid in a sustainable home that nonetheless has a mailbox filling with foreclosure notices. His wife, Margot (Melissa George), has the most cluttered desk I’ve ever seen. His kids, daughter Dina (Logan Polish) and son Charlie (Gabriel Bateman), are either terrified of him or utterly sick of his nonsense or some combination of the two — when they see him driving towards the property, they sprint around to hide their phones and pretend to be doing homework. Dina has a boyfriend, Josh, who she’s planning to follow to college, and you can’t exactly blame her. Allie is tremendously unlikeable from the get-go, scarily close to being an outright abuser, so consumed is he by his noble self-sufficient way of doing things.

Those “things”, which include pilfering used cooking oil from the back of chicken shops so that he can turn it into fuel, earn the attention of the local police, in part because he takes Charlie with him when he should be in school. Allie and Margot home school their children, obviously, and he’s mightily smug about it, his disdain for authority coming through clearly. His disdain, though, seems to extend to everything. It might not be the worst advice to consider the cops like dogs who shouldn’t be petted until you’re absolutely sure they won’t bite you, but there’s a reason that Margot secretively calls her mother from a payphone like a hostage taking a fleeting opportunity to alert their government. (She’s probably sick of that desk.)

The vibe of a family in the thrall of a madman comes across strongly in “Light Out”, but Allie’s way of looking at and doing things, his facility for tinkering and invention, are undeniably compelling; the show burns his madcap energy for fuel. He’s so deeply unlikeable that it’s impossible to feel sorry for him when he gets some paperwork telling him the house is about to be wrenched from beneath them. In a conversation between Allie and a clearly fed-up Margot, it becomes clear that the family is on the run: “It’s been nine years and six identities.” What they’re on the run for, though, is left unclear. What is clear is that Margot and Allie have very different ways of looking at their predicament. She wants to turn to her parents for cash and support (she lies about having contacted them already), and he doesn’t; he reckons if they get displaced they’ll just start again somewhere else. For a guy who believes so strongly in sustainable energy, he’s surprisingly unbothered about sustainable living arrangements.

Again, though, there’s something compelling about Allie, for the audience and indeed for Margot, who becomes suddenly excited at the prospect of living on a trawler. But to move they’re going to need some cash, and nobody wants to buy Allie’s ice-making machine, for obvious reasons. Their timeline is then accelerated in The Mosquito Coast episode 1 when they’re pursued by the cops, and a mad scramble to flee gets underway, which is complicated by Dina, who, obviously craving a normal teenage life and not this nomadic fugitive existence, flees before everyone can leave. (She has a poster of Boudicca on her bedroom door, which should have been a clue that she was unruly.)

It occurred to me in this string of scenes, during which Allie leads the cops on a chase and lays spike strips in ambush, that The Mosquito Coast is a lovely-looking show. The expansive Californian outdoors, the mountainous backdrop — it’s pretty, and it’s clear there wasn’t any expense spared. It also makes for a nice juxtaposition with the lit-up, nighttime urban landscape that Allie later roams while searching for Dina, who sent an SOS to her grandmother using a public payphone. Allie is able to redial and figure out what she’s up to, and he heads her off at the train station. By that point, deep into an escape attempt she wasn’t entirely committed to and on the precipice of being alone for the foreseeable future, she’s almost pleased to see him.

When Dina asks Allie why he’s doing this to them, he’s frustratingly enigmatic. He tries to sell what they’re doing as an adventure, which is either dangerous manipulation or proof that he’s a bit bonkers — at this point, it’s difficult to say either way. But he’s clearly determined to keep his family together any way he can, up to and including taking a tasing and getting himself arrested to buy Dina enough time to flee in his truck. “F*ck him,” she mutters as she drives away, but moments later she plows his truck into the patrol car he’s being driven away in. The driver gets a ballpoint pen lodged in his face, a weirdly unnecessary bit of gore that suggests The Mosquito Coast has some more up its sleeve. As Dina races away, Allie looks at her with a mixture of surprise and terror. Maybe the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree.

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