Moonlight: “Arrested Development”

Vampire Fu

By Sarah Stegall 

Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Stegall


Fridays on CBS, 9pm ET/PT

“Arrested Development”

Written by Chip Johannessen

Directed by Michael Fields

Somewhere between last week’s episode and this one, all the men in Moonlight underwent a remarkable transformation. No, not into vampires—into girls. I have never seen such a collection of wimps. When Beth is called away from a party to a breaking case, her boyfriend Josh (who’s been with her a year, and by now ought to know that this tends to happen to reporters), whines and sulks in a classic passive-aggressive hissy fit. “I cooked a chicken for you! All our friends are here!” This is Ozzie and Harriet—and he’s got Harriet’s lines! When Mick tracks down a 200-year-old vampire who is trapped in the body of a 16-year-old boy, he gets his ass handed to him. Mick has a whole foot and fifty pounds on this lad, but he barely escapes with his life. The tag for this show during premiere week was “When the sun sets, a hero will rise.” I’m still looking for that hero, because so far Mick St. John is turning out to be a delicate flower indeed. At least Beth didn’t have to save his life this week.

When she saved his life last week, she did it by giving her own blood to save Mick’s life. It played like a loss of virginity scene—for Mick—and it continues to play out this week with Mick evincing all the shyness of a young girl confused by her first brush with sex. He avoids Beth, does not return her phone calls, and fidgets and stammers when he finally runs into her. When she asks him about vampire/human sex, he avoids a direct answer, and puts up a maidenly reserve. Beth takes the initiative in everything this week—she reconnects with Mick, she insists that they work the case together, she insists that they talk about the coincidences that bring them together, she brings up sex directly and finally initiates their first kiss. There’s nothing wrong with “role reversal,” and the whole discussion of male/female cultural gendered roles would take up another page or ten, but this whole thing is so one-sided it’s unpleasant. It’s not about sex, it’s about equality, and so far Mick is coming across as definitely unequal to Beth.

The feminization of the men continues with their wardrobes. Josh gets decked out in a tight blue sweater that shows off his pecs—the masculine equivalent of a Fifties’ sweater girl. Mick favors serious décolletage—excuse me, make that “tight T-shirts with a low neckline” and sexy black leather. He wears long coats that flare behind him like a cape when he moves. He’s practically a fetish object. Not that I’m complaining—these guys have plenty to show off and I appreciate it. But it takes this show just one step further into soap opera territory.

Let us consider, for a moment, Mick’s case: he’s searching for a missing girl. When he finds her, she’s a vampire’s prey. This doesn’t stop Mick, whose mission is to return the girl to her parents. Which he does. But then he lies in wait for nightfall, when he confronts Teen Vamp (Wes Robinson, Scrubs). Mick ends up fighting and killing him. Is Mick going to make it a mission to pursue every vampire he comes across who is killing humans? Because he’d better start with his good buddy Josef, and work his way down the A-list of Hollywood vampires. Obviously Mick is not suicidal, so this is not his agenda. But then, why exactly is he tracking down Teen Vamp? Once the girl is returned to her parents, why bother with the Teen Vamp? Is Vamp Junior endangering the whole vampire community? If so, Josef, the self-anointed keeper of all things secret and vampire, doesn’t seem very concerned about him. No, this is strictly Mick’s mission, and it is inconsistent to have him pursuing the “boy.” It smacks more of personal vendetta than justice, and that takes a bit of the shine off our hero.

One of the things I’m continuing to like in this show is the voice-overs. Besides the sexy bedroom voice of Alex O’Laughlin, it lets us get into Mick’s head in a way the dialogue usually can’t. It’s a good way to invoke the classic “film noir” atmosphere of Chandler or Hammett, which we need since we’re in sunny Los Angeles. To balance all that sunlight, we need the brooding, the melancholy, the cynicism of Mick’s voiceovers. I liked seeing Mick take a typical PI case—finding a runaway. I didn’t like it that he botched the identification of the victim, bringing his clients to identify the wrong corpse, but his doggedness and commitment to his clients was good to see. I really loved seeing Josef meet Beth; when she walked into the room he turned from a laid-back venture capitalist with charm to a barely-restrained predator—and not in a sexy way. I’ll say this for Josef: at no point did he turn into a wimp. I even found his very non-PC moment of shared nostalgia with Alex for old-school cathouses a little amusing. I think Alex had better be open with Beth about Josef, however, for her own safety. And Mick had better make it clear to Josef that Beth is off limits, or Beth had better start wearing a silver collar.

I can also appreciate the attempt to inject a little more into this story than just vampires and hormones. Throughout the episode, we hear words like “fate” and “destiny.” Mick has a nice line at the beginning: “There’s what we want, and then there are the million coincidences we have no control over—the events that put us in a certain place at a certain time, and change our lives forever.” Beth’s friend Marissa tells Beth that “the universe sends a signal” right before Mick calls her, and then toasts Beth’s first “anniversary” with Josh by decreeing their meeting to have been “fate.” Beth wonders if the “coincidences” of their two cases merging is more than it appears to be. The trouble is, I get it already. I got it before the first commercial break. I got it by the fifth time they hammered it home. “Heavy-handed” does not begin to describe the constant harping on that theme. And for crying out loud, they’re not even consistent with it. If Mick is really hung up on this whole “destiny” thing, why is he chasing Teen Vamp all over the Santa Monica pier telling him “It doesn’t have to be this way,” and “You have choices”? If something is “fated,” you have no free will, right? To muddle things further, Mick concludes the episode with this soliloquy: “Maybe it’s the choices we make, the actions we take after all,” meaning that we have free will after all. What? So all that stuff about destiny and fate was so much chaff? What might have been a thoughtful subtext about kismet and free will turns out to be nothing more than fuzzy-headed New Age clichés thrown into the script more or less at random. I like it that they want Mick to be a thoughtful guy; now they have to put some thoughtinto the thoughtful. So far all we have is brain static.

I will say that I am very happy with the pace of the romance. I was resigned to the usual two-steps-forward-one-step-back pacing of a romantic pairing, with lots of second-guessing and fake obstacles strewn in the path of True Love so that we, the audience, would be strung along forever. How refreshing, then, to see the heat between Mick and Beth building every week. I thought it would be weeks or months before we got a kiss between the vampire and his partner; now I’m starting to hope we’ll be spared the usual dance and get to cut right to the chase soon. I would rather see Mick and Beth as lovers and partners trying to deal with all the problems attendant on those relationships, in addition to the burden of Mick’s condition/secret. I suspect the writers are spinning us along so fast because the future of the show is uncertain; if so, a full season renewal might see a bunch of sudden obstacles popping up for Mick and Beth. For now, I’m enjoying the speed of this courtship. The sizzle between Beth and Mick is the selling point for this show and I’m glad the writers have not lost sight of it. Almost everything wrong with this episode was balanced by the last scene in the parking lot between Beth and Mick. Her simplicity, her honesty in her approach to Mick, his openness to her, all culminating in a kiss that was more about comfort and revelation than passion, were wonderful. And his shy surprise, finishing the episode with a glimpse of a delirious smile, capped it all. These two will make a great pair, once they quit dancing around one another. This is, after all, a romance, not a detective series. It’s not really about the case, or Beth’s relationship with her boyfriend, or whether Josef will wipe out his rivals in the stock market. It’s about a vampire finding a soul and a soulmate, and I’m glad the writers are keeping that in mind.

Friday night’s numbers were better than the previous week, gaining almost one million viewers, and winning its time slot in the coveted 18-49 adult demographic. CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler said recently that while she’s glad the show is winning its timeslot, though the numbers are still lower than she would like. She said she wants it to build out to a broader audience. Signing Mick St. John up for some boxing lessons might be a good first step.