By Sarah Stegall
Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Stegall
Fridays on CBS, 9pm ET/PT
Written by Erin Maher & Kathryn Reindl
Directed by Scott Lautenan
“For someone who’s finally decided to join the 21st century, you’re going from zero to sixty in about half a second.” —Josef
This is so not last year’s vamp. Whereas Mick St. John started out last fall as a brooding, emo vampire with a chip on his shoulder, angry at having been Turned against his will, starting with this episode Mick is a new, er, man. Confident, sassy, and competent, he’s revving up his career, raising his profile to get more business, carving out a life for himself among the living. Old Mick was all about regretting what he was, and mooning after Beth. New Mick is all about accepting what he is, and openly pursuing Beth. He’s ready to live in both worlds, ready to walk in the sun even if it burns him. This new Mick has gusto, a killer smile, and a FaceBook page. Bring it on.
Mick gets hired by starlet Tierney Taylor (Peyton List, As the World Turns) as a bodyguard/security chief, mainly to protect her from one especially annoying member of the paparazzi, Dean Foster (Alex Sol, Cold Case). We open on an insane car chase, as Tierney tries to evade some photographers in a car. A terrified Mick has to remind himself that he can’t die. Meanwhile, Assistant DA Ben Talbot is interviewing Beth at a restaurant, trying to make sense of last week’s kidnapping and rescue. Naturally, the starlet winds up at the same restaurant, cameras snapping, and Beth and Mick exchange knowing looks and some bouncy, flirty chitchat. They’re actually teasing one another now:
Beth: You’ve known me since I was four.
Mick: Okay, it’s weird when you say it like that.
Supposedly there’s a curse on Tierney’s new movie, Lusitania (
Mick: It’s not like you’ve slept with a vampire.
Beth: Maybe once, in college, but I was really drunk.
The tension that used to weigh down Beth and Mick is gone, replaced by a connection that is much more satisfying. They now behave like partners, if not lovers, openly flirting, easily coordinating their investigations, and sharing a laugh or an insight here and there. This partnership is so, so much more fun than the uneasy adolescent dance they were doing earlier, and allows the investigation story to flow more freely as well.
Tierney winds up floating toes-up next to the ship. Mick has heard her fall, thanks to his super-hearing, and jumps in after her (what’s a ten-story jump in front of witnesses?). Examining her stateroom later (sans gloves, again—maybe vamps don’t have fingerprints?) he smells out the murder weapon and informs Taylor, who then permits both of them to leave the crime scene without being searched—some cop. One thing struck me during Mick’s scoping out—remember in the first episode, when Mick could sense what had happened during the last few seconds? He had almost a kind of time travel ability then. That ability made a quiet exit somewhere a few episodes ago—not that I miss it. It’s another reminder of the many behind-the-scenes creative “readjustments” this show has endured since the pilot.
At least, the writers are no longer shy about stepping up and addressing questions other shows might leave hanging in order to string the fans along. Are Mick and Beth dating? You betcha. Are they going to hook up? It’s only a matter of time. Is Josef now Mick’s “sire”, having Turned him? A conversation in the first five minutes answers that with a definitive no. The pace is quick and the dialogue quicker, which almost makes up for the glacial pace of several earlier episodes.
There’s a lot more much-needed humor in this episode. Mick’s investigations are hampered when the paparazzi, who think he was Tierney’s boyfriend, chase him. In one scene, he’s cornered by two paparazzi—who are junior vampires. They tell him that he’s a celebrity PI now, and blow cigar smoke in his face. Meanwhile, the emotional balance between Mick and Josef gets resolved in an important scene laced with humor and camaraderie we haven’t often seen from Mick. And we get a few insights into Josef’s past: I love it that Josef used to date Hollywood stars himself—Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo.
Mick: You went out with Jean Harlow?
Josef: I mostly stayed in with Jean Harlow.
Beth, ordered to get a juicy story on the movie’s “curse”, interviews producer Jason Abbot (Eddie McClintock, Bones) who laments that without Tierney, the movie is dead because the studio refuses to go ahead with anyone else. Interviews with Tierney’s boy-band boyfriend, reclusive manager, and friends reveal that she was being blackmailed by Foster for having some embarrassingly white-trash kinfolk.
An encounter with a hit-and-run driver has Beth worried for Mick’s safety, and vice versa. Conversations about the history of emo music ensue, along with some delicate dancing around the elephant in the room—sex—when Beth has to spend the night to avoid the paparazzi now after Mick. This was one of the best scenes—Mick and Beth start out talking about the case but wind up talking about normal things normal couples talk about, like emo band music. It’s wonderful to finally see these two enjoying one another’s company without loads of angst. Deliberately misunderstanding Mick’s invitation to spend the night (to avoid the photo hounds outside), Beth teases him that he’s going “from dating to speed dating”, relishes his nervous denial, and then jokes about him sleeping in his freezer. The give-and-take between them as they say good night makes it clear that yeah, the only thing keeping these two from falling into one another’s arms is Mick St. John. Beth’s opinion on the matter is crystal clear.
Mick and Beth figure out that who the murderer is (as has anyone who saw Mel Brooks’ The Producers). Vamp chasing ensues, the bad guy gets caught, and the paparazzi spotlight is off of Mick. Alone at last, he asks Beth out on a real date.
Beth: You are going to get so tired of watching me eat.
Mick: I hope so.
More changes are in store: during dinner, Beth announces that she has quit BuzzWire. The death of her editor has removed any shred of respectability from what everyone around her already knew was the electronic equivalent of an online tabloid. As they discuss her future, Dean Foster snaps away in the shadows—until the junior vampirazzi jump him. Safe to say he won’t be selling any more pictures to the tabs.
Foster’s death is the most interesting scene of this episode because it’s instigated by Beth. When Foster threatens to expose Mick’s vamp abilities (having caught the hit and run on camera), Beth worries that Mick will do what vamps always do—leave town to avoid discovery. She turns to Josef, who offers to buy Foster off. They both know that won’t work, so Josef suggests a more permanent solution. Beth agrees, and a little of the shine fades from her plaster saint image. It’s rare for writers to allow the heroine to develop feet of clay, much less a murderous streak. Why kill Foster, when intimidation might do the job? Why not have Josef kidnap him and dump him in, oh, the suburbs of Baghdad, where he could get some really juicy photos? In other words, why immediately decide that the only way to get rid of an annoying pest is to kill him? Possibly to show that Beth has also changed in the last few weeks. Maybe she’s finally facing the fact that Mick has made some agonizingly painful choices on her behalf, has in effect died for her and given up his own soul. She now gives away a little bit of her own, to save him. We needed a little balance in Beth, and now we have it. If she’s a little dirtier for soliciting murder from Josef, she’s also a lot tougher for having recognized the cruel realities of vampire survival.
This episode had wit, humor, suspense, and panache. The “mystery”, as I said, was not all that complicated for anyone who has seen The Producers, but hey, we’re not here for the investigation anyway. It’s all about the relationship now. All the usual, predictable obstacles to Mick and Beth have been dealt with in rapid fashion: she knows he’s a vamp and accepts him for who he is. Her former lover is dead. He’s made some kind of peace with his former wife, and has accepted himself for who he is. Both of them know they’re in love with the other. There’s nothing stopping this show from evolving into a more intense and focused relationship, a better partnership, and a more adult (in the sense of mature) storyline.
Everything has gotten better on this show since returning from the strike. The wooden acting is gone, and the chemistry between the three main characters sizzles—even between those who don’t have a romantic connection, like Josef and Mick, or Josef and Beth. The writing and directing for the last couple of episodes has been exemplary. Even the music has improved, although I still have to wonder why we don’t hear more music like Mick used to play, back when he was a musician in the Forties. Emo music? How about some Big Band? The basic premise of the show is gone—less brooding, more action, more open romance. Which is good, because I’ve already seen Angel, Forever Knight, and Blood Ties—all programs that tried to wring the last possible dramatic drop out of the “we can’t be together because I’m an emo vampire” shtick. Things may finally have settled down at Silver Productions, and we can look forward to a very exciting future. I just hope that future doesn’t involve more separation between Mick and Beth.
Since the end of the writers’ strike, all networks have been struggling with low ratings. A lot of viewers left during the strike and apparently haven’t come back. So when I see that Moonlightpulled a 2.1/6 in the 18-49 demographic, it is not cause for despair. The other shows in its timeslot fared far worse, not even making it to 2.0. Friday night is still the armpit of weeknight programming, with that overly coveted 18-49 audience out on the town rather than sitting at home watching ghosts, vampires, and math geniuses on CBS. For network execs pondering renewal, the question always has to be whether low ratings on a Friday night are due to viewers shunning a show or viewers not being tuned in at all.
Reuters, at least, thinks the show has a shot at renewal: “Since returning post-strike, Moonlightremains the weakest link in CBS’s Friday night lineup. Yet the vampire drama continues to win its time period. A pickup is all but certain.” I hope their crystal ball is in good working order.