Several times throughout, we’ve briefly run across a utility man named Rafferty. As he’s out checking connections, he finds himself face-to-face with the coyote. Soon after, Little Bear follows the animal tracks to Rafferty’s truck where the man is lacing up his boots. Their conversation is terse, their looks are wary, but Rafferty doesn’t make a move as Little Bear keeps following the tracks off.
The volunteer firemen get to return home, including Bob who kisses his wife Samantha as Michael leaves with Sara. Passing Ginnie’s house, Michael sees her staring out the window and they share a wave.
Leaving Gates in the oven of the back seat, Brenner once again heads into the Atomic Bar & Grille. Finding it empty, he asks to use the phone, and Luis’s face appears at the kitchen door and nods him to it. What Brenner doesn’t see is that, in the kitchen, Luis’s face is at the end of a long stalk as his Thing body writhes on the floor in a state of transformation. Brenner also doesn’t see Shiner suddenly standing behind him. Out in the car, Gates gets tired of the long wait, fishes an empty soda can from under the front seat, and starts working on his restraints.
At the base, Webber’s autopsy results leave everyone baffled. There’s genetic strains they’ve never seen before, and the creature who appears to be several fused human corpses actually has rat blood in its veins. Reestablishing contact with Lukanov, Avery routes his plane directly to the base and tells him that, despite protests of a potential international incident, the scientist is being granted provisional asylum as long as he cooperates. Lukanov agrees and starts telling Avery and Blackburn that they need to burn all samples, anything that’s had contact with the creature, and maintain an absolute quarantine as they’re up against a Thing which can imitate humans. None of them are aware that, in the morgue where the remains were stashed, the bodybag has sprouted four spider legs which quietly wheel its gurney up behind a guard.
As the sun starts to set, Little Bear finally catches up with the coyote at a hastily assembled electric perimeter fence. It locks eyes with him, dodges a bullet, and leaps the fence, only to hook a foot on the top wire. As electricity pumps into it, the coyote goes from flailing to suddenly ripping open as the Thing within seems to loose control, melting and tearing through rapid transformations, even briefly regressing to the man on the plane. Before Little Bear can do anything, a blackhawk swoops in and orders him to stand down. As soldiers take him away, Little Bear sees a hole in the fence where the creature was.
In his truck on the outskirts of town, Rafferty stares and sweats and starts drumming his hands. Hey, remember how Michael doesn’t approve of Sara’s boyfriend Dale? Well, she’s all gussied up because Dale’s coming over for dinner. And who’s that at her door? Rafferty. DALE Rafferty.
Little Bear is frisked and relieved of his rifle by the soldiers, who escort him back to town as they brush off his story of a “werewolf”. Avery and his forces are focused on the landing strip of their base, where Lukanov’s plane finally touches down and he hands himself over to their custody.
At the Atomic Bar & Grille, Gates finishes unscrewing the plate anchoring his chains and kicks his way out of the back window. As he starts punching through the front door to get at the shotgun, Brenner suddenly bursts out of the diner and, shirtless and smeared with blood, races toward him. Gates gets hold of the gun and blasts the marshal, but a Thing starts writing to life from within the wound. Gates works at hotwiring another car as Brenner rises and spills tentacles from his gut, and Luis and Shiner step out of the diner to join him, but a well aimed blast of the shotgun ignites the marshal’s car and Gates peels out.
Dale is oddly reserved and quiet as he helps Michael and Sarah get the diner going. When the two decide to have a talk with Michael about their intent to marry, Michael doesn’t take it well and locks himself in his room. Dale follows, trying to coax him out so they can talk man-to-man and says that he has something special he wants to show the boy. Dale gives up, but Michael quietly follows and watches from the banister as Sara comforts Dale and he shows her the special thing: a wedding ring. As he slips it on her, the finger itself turns into a barb and spears him. Sarah’s jaw distends and she start swallowing Dale whole. When Michael wets himself, the Thing catches the scent and chases the boy upstairs to where he’s again locked the bedroom door. When an eye on a stalk slides under his door, he smashes it with a bat and leaps out the window. As Sara’s voice gently tells him it’s safe to come back inside, Michael runs away.
Sheriff Hayes and Bob arrive at the Atomic Bar & Grille where a crowd of people are gaping at the smoldering remains of Brenner and his car, while Luis and Shiner are treated by medics as they spin a story about Gates’s violent escape. Bob is shocked to see a grimy and exhausted Michael hobbling up the street, nursing a broken arm and telling about how his mom attacked him and killed Dale. Bob is incredulous at the idea of his sister-in-law being violent, so he brings the boy home to Samatha. As she and Bob argue about what to do, Michael sees Sara standing outside the window and starts building a barricade, telling the others to not let her in. Bob brushes it aside, lets Sara in, and starts tearing her a new one as he asks her what’s going on. She says Michael just caught her and Dale having sex and got scared.
Little Bear is dropped off by the truckful of soldiers who are then ordered to bring the volunteer firemen back in for some fresh questioning. Entering the home of one, the soldiers are as shocked as he is to find his wife being consumed by tentacles on the couch, and hear an alien howl coming from his little girl… Ginnie!
Sounds of machine guns erupt, and neighbor after neighbor spring out their front doors to see what’s going on. The bullets cease, and there’s another alien howl in the air. Which is joined by another howl. And another. Sitting at the kitchen table, Sara howls and Bob, Samatha, and Michael are shocked as she erupts into a new transformation. Bob goes for his shotgun, but is tossed aside, only for Little Bear to burst through the front door, grab the gun, and slow the Thing down by blowing out its legs. Everyone runs into the adjoining shop where they lock themselves in a freezer until it goes away.
Word has yet to reach the base as everyone is struggling to warm to Lukanov, especially Blackburn who’s spent years dealing with virulent weapons he developed for the Soviets. Pritchard is caught entirely off guard by the arrival of someone he knew nothing about, and flies into a rage when Avery also arrives and shifts command of the operation over to Blackburn.
Lukanov reiterates that all the samples they’ve gathered need to be burned to ash, and when he’s asked why, he gathers Avery, Pritchard, Blackburn, Webber, and several other key personal around a boardroom table, and introduces them to the blood test. One after another, including himself, he draws a bit of their blood into petri dishes and sticks them with a hot wire, all backed by guards armed with flamethrowers. Pritchard keeps bristling that this is a waste of time, but he’s shouted down as the test continues. Everyone here is clean, so Lukanov begins telling his story about the storm in Antarctica which kept them from immediately responding to the American base’s calls for help, and their eventual discovery of the saucer buried in ice.
Under Lukanov’s narration, we flash back to where the opening scene left off as Lukanov and his wife Alina lead the team of Russian soldiers into the flying saucer. It’s burned, damaged, and had been sitting there for 100,000 years. Finding several mummified corpses and a barricaded command center, they realized the occupants of the saucer were themselves under attack from something, which is what caused the ancient crash. Finding a frozen pool of what appears to be blood, Lukanov took a sample.
In a lab in Siberia, where even the saucer itself had been shipped piece-by-piece in an attempt to reverse-engineer it, Alina discovered the blood sample they took was still alive as it became active after having thawed. Further testing showed an ability to mimic cells, leading to further and further experimentation as the scientists were ordered by their government to weaponize it. Now that they knew what to look for, further tests showed both Mac and Childs were still human when they died.
They started using the Thing on a series of rats, realizing it carried every preceding generation’s memories as it entered a new form. Their hope was to train it, to use it as an attack dog of sorts, but they underestimated it. During one visit to the lab, a Thing rat squeezed out of its cage and burrowed into Alina’s hazmat suit, activating an alarm and sealing the door. Lukanov was on the other side, trying to get in, but the bulge of the scurrying rat in her suit grew and contorted all around her body, consuming it. As Lukanov watched in horror, a simple rat popped back out of the hole, and Alina rose, looking and saying that she was fine, that she just got scared. When asked a personal question, she answered it perfectly. That’s all the evidence Lukanov needed as he turned a key and activated a furnace torch, incinerating everything in the lab. That was the day he learned just how perfect their imitations were.
He resigned, all his research and the one remaining sample were buried in a lab which fell out of the Soviet Union once it collapsed, and was recently set free when some rebels broke in to steal what they thought was smallpox. Leading us to today.
Pritchard is of course the lone person at the table calling bullshit, with everyone else being fully won over as Lukanov pulls out the one piece of evidence he saved: the tape MacReady recorded on the American base. As Mac’s voice reminds us how the Thing shreds through clothes, in a lab elsewhere on the complex, a technician finds a shredded hazmat suit in a trash can.
Little Bear makes it back to his farm, where he digs out a bow and arrow and night vision goggles, as we see photos from his time as an Army Ranger. He doesn’t make it far before Gates appears and puts a shotgun to his head.
Back on the base, Webber and Blackburn are administering the blood test to everyone, but all samples are coming up clean. They don’t know if this is good news or if the test itself is a crock. Lukanov is going over incident reports and learns of Little Bear’s claim about the skinwalker on the fence. Lukanov instantly alerts Avery, and everyone suddenly realizes the platoon never made it back with the volunteer firefighters. Mobilizing their forces to the town of Christmas, they find it a wasteland of burning, shattered homes and streets littered with bodies. The takeover has begun.
Part 2: Extreme Amplifications
Translation: “shit gets real”.
In all previous mini-series scripts that I’ve read, each of the separate episodes share the same draft date as they’re usually completed and turned in as a single manuscript. That’s not the case here, and I’m wondering if this was an early sign of some of the problems which led to this series not making it to screen. As I said earlier, the first draft of Part 1 was dated February 11. The date on Part 2 is October 7, just shy of EIGHT MONTHS LATER, yet it’s still labelled as a first draft. Did it really take them over half a year to get the second half of a two-part mini-series together? That’s very striking, and is something I’d love to know more of the story behind. Also, the title of the miniseries had been shorted by this time to just The Thing.
The military resets its staging area, circling off the ghost town of Christmas with their trailers and labs. Lukanov wants them to just pull back and nuke the place, but Avery begrudgingly gives General Wise the okay to send troops in to search for survivors. As the soldiers prowl the streets, they notice most of the bodies are the result of mass hysteria: shootings, beatings, one guy was even stoned. When they get to the courthouse, they find themselves under fire. Knocking the shooter out with a flashbang, it turns out to be Bob, protecting an attic room where Samantha and Michael hide. The soldiers take them in.
At HQ, Avery has had enough of power plays and pissing contests and demands Pritchard’s resignation within the hour. Word has yet to spread to Webber, who shows Pritchard the shredded hazmat suit and finds himself sworn to secrecy. When Pritchard slinks in to hand Avery the letter of resignation, he makes off with the Secretary’s coat. Ducking into a corner, Pritchard starts shredding the coat with a scalpel.
In the cabin, Gates tosses Little Bear a roll of tape to bind himself with, but he just lobs it right back into Gates’s face and they start tearing in and out of the cabin in a They Live style dude brawl. Little Bear ultimately gets the upper hand, roping Gates to a chair. They end up sharing some stories about the strange goings on, but are interrupted by a pounding at the door. It’s Luis, with a bullet hole in his gut. Little Bear doesn’t know who to believe, that Luis is a Thing or that Gates is a violent escapee, but it’s cinched for him when he notices a coyote eye peering out of Luis’s bullet hole.
The Thing erupts and just keeps growing despite Little Bear pumping it full of lead. He drags Gates out the door, chair and all. Untying the convict, they set up a trap which results in the Thing grabbing a can of propane, which Little Bear blows to hell, taking his entire cabin up with it.
In an echo of Carpenter’s movie, a blackhawk chases a coyote across the desert, this time unleashing missiles and machine guns on the animal. As they take it out and bag it up, the Thing coyote watches stoically from the distance.
At the cabin, Gates and Little Bear have forged an uneasy truce (albeit one that still involves the the escaped con in ropes and at gunpoint) as they load up on packs full of gasoline and dynamite, and head to town.
Bob, Samantha, and Michael are brought to the town meeting hall, which is surrounded by razor wire and armed guards, and is being used as a holding camp for the couple of dozen survivors they’ve found. There’s food and cots, but everyone’s exhausted and angry at feeling like prisoners. Blackburn starts a line to collect blood samples, which leads to a war of words between the all-American Bob and the proudly Soviet Lukanov, which ends when it fully sinks in for Bob that he’s on the wrong side of the flamethrowers.
Blackburn promises the scared Michael they’ll stop the Things, and as he heads off with a plate of food, he finds himself sitting next to a figure we’ve seen cryptically wandering among the crowd. Why, it’s none other than Sara’s unfortunate beau: Dale Rafferty. He calmly tells Michael to keep quiet about their little secret, as the boy’s seen what Things are capable of. The boy responds by screaming and burying his fork in Dale’s eye, which quickly fills with tentacles as he goes into a transformation. Before anyone can stop the Thing, it spears a medic and ropes up through the ceiling into the attic. The medic soon drops as a half-transformed zombie and is torched. Blackburn guides the soldiers into gunning apart the entire ceiling, causing the massively transformed Thing to drop back to the ground as they torch it to hell.
At HQ, the leaders regroup. Blackburn is now backing Lukanov’s proposal that they need to get what survivors they can, then nuke the town. Soon. If even just one infected flea or tick or influenza sneeze gets loose, this will wipe out all of humanity. Avery places a call, and the President says he’ll have an answer within the hour.
As the meeting breaks up, Pritchard brings Webber, Blackburn, and Lukanov into a room where he shows them the shredded hazmat suit as well as Avery’s shredded jacket with oh-so-convenient ID badge still in place. The others stew over what this means, because Avery passed the blood test. Have the Things adapted so they can now control that reflex? Regardless, they march back in flanked by flamethrower guards and take the Secretary into custody. He looks right at Pritchard and says, “What have you done?”
Pritchard admits to the others that Avery fired him, but holds it up as further proof that the glaring Secretary in an isolation lab is fake: they’re too good of friends for Pritchard to be axed in a situation like this. They draw another sample from Avery, but it tests clean, and as they’ve yet to hit a positive blood test from any of their personnel or civilians they’ve brought in, the entire test is up in the air and they worry they have no way of knowing who is and isn’t a Thing.
When the President finally calls them back, they share this information with him, with Blackburn and Lukanov especially stressing that nobody can be trusted, not even them on this call, until a new and certain test is discovered. The President agrees, and approves the launch of a nuclear warhead on the town of Christmas. They have 10 hours to find a new test. If they don’t, they all die to save the world. Pritchard wasn’t there for the first call with the President, so this is all news to him. The reality of how thoroughly he’s fucked up hits him like a bus full of bricks. General Wise sets a rule that everyone has to travel in pairs. Pritchard, now restored as mission commander, is paired with Dobson, a Green Beret.
At the meeting hall, all the civilians are still locked in as they continue trying to process the attack they just witnessed. Tensions are running high, and when a man shoves Michael away from his child, Bob is right up in his face until others throw back questions of why he was so adamant about not being tested, and how the boy could still be human after so many encounters with Things.
In the desert, Little Bear and Gates were spotted by thermal satellite sweeps and a chopper rushes out to intercept, only to lose them through use of a camo blanket. They once again pick up the trail of coyote tracks.
The thermal sweep has also spotted a large mass in an electronics store. A platoon of troops heads out, but finds the store empty. Not just of life, but every single piece of electronics – even the lights – have been stripped away. An electrical chord is suddenly yanked, ripping a junction box from the wall. The soldiers follows as the box is dragged into another room where it disappears into a wide hole in the floor. As the soldiers await orders, screams suddenly erupt and the lead soldier turns to find the rest of the troops have all vanished into more holes in the floor. Turning again, he finds himself face to face with Sara who slashes his camera to static. At HQ, everyone reels from this loss, but are also confused because that building isn’t listed as having a basement, and they don’t know why thermal hits keep disappearing. Pritchard stares at the ticking clock as he orders everyone to figure it out.
Pritchard tries to chum up with Blackburn and get her to accept that Avery may not be a Thing after all, that it’s just a setup and the blood test still works, but he fails to the point where Blackburn straight up kicks him out of the lab. Who she does buddy up to is Lukanov, who shows her a picture of his smiling little grandson and says the boy is the reason he shot Petrovsky, even though he knew it meant he’d never see the child again. All of their deaths will have meaning, as regardless of the action they take, the world will be saved if they can just manage to hold the perimeter. Pritchard gives things a go with Dobson, learning the soldier has a wife and kids. Pritchard casually drops that there’s a nuke that’s about to wipe the entire base out. That gets Dobson’s attention.
In the meeting hall, things continue to deteriorate as the whole group of townspeople are turning against Bob, Samantha, and Michael.
In the desert, Little Bear and Gates bottleneck the coyote in a canyon full of caves and petroglyphs from Little Bear’s ancestors. He opens up about his peoples’ legends, of how skinwakers seek to tip the balance of nature away from humanity, and how it’s up to a hero to restore that balance. He finally takes the coyote out with an exploding arrow… unfortunately, there was an entire pack of coyotes in the canyon, all of whom have been turned. Gates almost takes off and there’s another tense standoff between the two, but they ultimately share in the exploding of Thing coyotes with dynamite arrows and molotov cocktails.
But then the blackhawk helicopter shows up again, and opens fire when they refuse to lay down their arms. One remaining coyote bolts into a cave and Little Bear and Gates follow. Only to come across a thick steel wall with a hole ripped through it.
In Christmas, another platoon responds to yet another large thermal hit, and find Thing civilians scurrying away into holes as every car on the street has been stripped of parts down to their frames. Among the Things is little Ginnie, lugging a massive car engine all by her lonesome. The platoon opens fire and welcomes their arriving backup, only for the backup to be revealed as the soldiers attacked and replaced in the electronics store. The Things are now armed and take the soldiers down. When the real backup arrives, they find that even the military vehicles have been stripped clean.
Back at the base, General Wise realizes the Things are launching raids for parts, and fumes over a lack of info on where all of these underground tunnels lead. When an attempt to check with the pentagon runs into a “CLASSIFIED – ACCESS DENIED”, he puts in a call to the President.
Stills in this article are from The Andromeda Strain (2008), Assault on Precinct 13 (1975), Helix (2014-15), The Mist (2008), Starman (1984), and The Thing (1982).
Noel Thingvall and his various blogs and podcasts can be found at The Noel Network.