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The Mountain opens with a pan across a peaceful, snowy scene, the Rocky Mountains majestic in the background. In seconds, however, trees begin to whip in the wind and the sound of cracking ice breaks the silence. An avalanche roars toward the audience, establishing the motif that nature is both beautiful and untamable, reminding the audience that disaster can strike at any time.
David Carver, Jr. (Oliver Hudson) tells us in voiceover that this avalanche killed his grandfather, owner of the family business, Boundary Mountain Resort (a vacation spot for skiers and snowboarders). “Back home, everyone wondered what would happen to the mountain,” he says. “But all me and my family could think about was what was going to happen to us.” Though he appears to speak for them, at present, David is living apart from his family. The patriarch’s demise draws the family together and causes them to reassess, as they try to find a new family order.
David Carver, Sr. (Chad Everett) apparently intended for his death to bring about a fresh start for his progeny: in his video will, he bequeaths “The Mountain” to David rather than to his brother Will (Anson Mount). The quintessential prodigal son, David left the mountain years ago to “sleep on a couch and ride his bike,” while Will learned the business, became CEO, and stuck by his mother Gennie (Barbara Hershey) and teenage sister Shelley (Tara Thompson). Now that David is irrevocably in charge (if he gifts or sells the business, it will be put up for auction), the boys’ latent jealousies and resentments emerge as they struggle to be head of the family. This is an especially volatile struggle for David, who has the added pressure of proving that he is not like his father (who is mentioned briefly as a “loser” who “walked out on them”).
Like many stories about fatherless boys, The Mountain is largely concerned with the concept of manhood. David and Will represent different, equally unoriginal, approaches to traditional masculinity. David is untamed and thrill-seeking, racing his motocross bike, sleeping around, and refusing to “settle down” (“Big corporation, all that responsibility, that’s not me!”). Will, by contrast, takes on the “man of the house” role (“Hey, I worked, okay? I stayed here and I worked for the family!”). This conflict between desire for freedom and sense of familial duty is mirrored by the show’s setting: David’s “wildness” corresponds with the “natural” mountain, and Will’s “domesticity” represents the business, which attempts to temper and harness the power of the landscape.
Unsurprisingly, women are mostly irrelevant in The Mountain, except as they provide occasions for men to prove their decency or wantonness. David and Will first find common ground when they join forces to rescue Shelley from potential date rape. As Shelley is removed from the scene, David and Will look at each other with something akin to excitement before pummeling her attacker. Though they never bother to talk to their sister about the incident, David and Will’s bruises and abrasions are a source of pride and a symbol of (short-lived) reconciliation.
Women are similarly uninvolved in the business dealings. Perhaps because her father never “saw her,” Gennie is extremely disinvested, expressing no concern about the possibility of her son selling Boundary Mountain Resort to the evil Dowling family (the Dowlings claim to have had an “oral agreement” with David, Sr. that supersedes the clause requiring that David, Jr. does not sell). This, despite the fact that she clearly despises the Dowlings: when Colin Dowling (The X-Files‘s Mitch Pileggi, wasted here), touches her arm, she wipes off his touch on the tablecloth. Though she instantly disbelieves the Dowlings’ claim of an oral agreement, she does not share her suspicions until David asks her directly. Even then, she advises him to talk to his brother, cementing the notion that the most important issue is the boys’ relationship and their ability to lead the family.
Though taking care of their mother and sister unites the brothers, their interactions with women outside the family drive them apart. No story about brothers is complete without “the woman who comes between them.” When David tells his ex-girlfriend Maria (Alana DeLaGarza) “looks great,” she smiles: “Your absence has agreed with me.” Apparently wounded by her dalliance with the bad boy, Maria has moved on to sensible, stable Will. This, of course, leads to fiery jealousy between the brothers: David wants to reclaim Maria as his own, and Will worries that she is secretly still drawn to his raffish brother.
An even more troubling example of female plot contrivance is the redheaded vixen Max (Elizabeth Bogush), who swoops in while David is reeling from Maria’s rejection, and seduces him. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that Max is a Dowling, sent to use sex as a weapon against her foe. This storyline is the show’s soapiest, especially in the moment when her identity is revealed: after David refuses to sell, Max’s brother Stephen (Tommy Dewey) lounges in the doorway and scoffs, “Nice work, sis’.” “Screw you,” she replies, showing her cantankerous true nature. (This plotline is also the show’s most nonsensical: how is having sex with a stranger supposed to make David want to sell his business?)
The Mountain might be understood as a network-friendly version of HBO’s Six Feet Under; their premises are remarkably similar. Two brothers, one “wild” and one “responsible,” must work together to save their ailing family business from corporate takeover, while also taking care of their mild-mannered, widowed mother and spunky little sister. But The Mountain‘s combination of pat dialogue and too-obvious characterization, opposite of Six Feet Under, counteracts any thrill that the extreme sports footage might add. Out of the WB’s three shows about feuding brothers (including Jack & Bobby and One Tree Hill), The Mountain, for all the beauty of its setting, is the most lackluster.