Mosquito Coast slows to a satisfying simmer [Apple TV+ review]

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The Mosquito Coast review: Justin Theroux's manic performance gives The Mosquito Coast an edge.
Justin Theroux's manic performance gives The Mosquito Coast an edge.
Photo: Apple TV+

This week on The Mosquito Coast, the Foxes are on the run and the heat is hot on their tail — in every way possible.

The third episode of Apple TV+’s paranoid new drama can’t do much but crawl. But it covers some important ground. And strong acting and clever writing again combine to keep you hooked.

The Mosquito Coast review: Episode 3

In this week’s episode, titled “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” we go deeper into this familiar but smartly refreshed story about a family on the run.

Father Allie Fox (played by Justin Theroux), his family and their guide Chuy Padilla (Scotty Tovar) are trapped between a rock and a hard place. Their semi-carefully plotted escape has blown up in their faces.

When Chuy gets mad at patriarch Allie for having orchestrated a situation wherein his best friend was murdered by border patrol, he says, “Your whole family is gonna die!”

Allie quickly rebuffs him: “No one’s gonna die.”

The mere fact that he must assure them makes him look desperate and clueless. And when Allie looks at the map and suggests they walk through an explosives testing site, his wife Margot (Melissa George) and son Charlie (Gabriel Bateman) go along with it. However, daughter Dina (Logan Polish) looks at Allie like he’s crazy — and not for the first time.

They spend the whole episode traversing the scorching desert, mentally taking stock of their lives and every decision that led them here.

Just skin and bone

The Mosquito Coast Apple TV+ review: Things got hot (and dangerous) this week.
Things got dangerously hot this week.
Photo: Apple TV+

This episode of The Mosquito Coast can’t help but feel like a major drop off from the two Rupert Wyatt-directed initial entries in the series. Canadian TV veteran Jeremy Podeswa steps in to direct. However, he lacks Wyatt’s mastery of thriller mechanics. So while this episode is meant to quite literally be a kind of arid stopover in desert country, it doesn’t move nearly as quickly or as excitingly as it needs to.

There are breaks in the monotony involving a helicopter chase and a rival caravan, but this just doesn’t quite sing like The Mosquito Coast’s opening salvo. Theroux and the rest of the cast prove able to sustain their characters’ moods, and indeed keep the show fascinating even during silent longueurs, but there’s precious little to get excited about visually.

The writing and performances carry the episode, though. The family are all more or less committed by now to their mission to defect from the United States by any means necessary (thanks to the firm establishment of their loyalties and/or relative hopelessness). So that makes Chuy the one wild card. He doesn’t like Allie’s bone-deep pragmatism, and thinks of him as both disrespectful and dangerous.

Chuy is not, however, without sympathy for the family. When they have to be quiet to keep the other caravan off their scent and a rattlesnake sneaks up on Charlie, Chuy takes the bullet for him. He grabs the snake and gets bit for his trouble.

When you walk among the trees

The snakebite gives the episode its hook. Chuy’s now reliant on the Foxes for his survival. And though they’ve already buried one of their guides, they seem in no hurry to do it again. Thinking of the whole arc, I suspect this show’s cumulative effect will be in the staggering amount of damage the Foxes leave in their wake. And this seems like the start of both their downfall as would-be explorers, and a crucial moment in the chronicle of their humanity.

Allie thinks nothing of stealing from the dead (much to Chuy’s chagrin), but he also won’t just abandon his guide. These things contribute to a picture of Allie’s worldview, and it’s ironclad from a writer’s perspective.

What I love about Allie in Theroux and the writing staff’s hands (as distinct from the man in the books and Harrison Ford’s incredible performance of the character in the 1988 movie) is that he has a lie ready for every situation and a justification for every bit of selfish behavior. However, he also isn’t someone who wants to do the wrong thing. It just happens to line up with his worldview and his immediate needs as a fugitive. Seeing him spring into action to help Chuy, who detests him, complicates things nicely.

Theroux’s a much more hyperactive screen presence (or anyway, he’s at his best when he is) than his reputation suggests. It’s very satisfying watching him make hay out of a character this boundless. Every situation brings out something new in him — some new strategy, some new pack of lies.

The family has yet to do much more than react to his madness, but they’re all very good at that, so there’s nothing yet to worry about. All in all, a weaker episode of this show is still quite strong.

The Mosquito Coast on Apple TV+

New episodes of The Mosquito Coast arrive on Apple TV+ on Fridays.

Rated: TV-MA

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.