Moonlight: “Dr. Feelgood”

Vampire Smackdown

By Sarah Stegall 

Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Stegall


Fridays on CBS, 9pm ET/PT

“Dr. Feelgood”

Written by Gabrielle Stanton & Harry Werksman

Directed by Scott Lautenen

Now this is vampire-as-sexual-predator with a vengeance. Moonlight takes the bit in its teeth and runs with it in the latest episode, with vampire Mick St. John tracking down both a new, out-of-control vampire and the older vampire who created him all unawares. This episode has the most nakedly obvious metaphor of vampirism-as-sexual-disease yet; the AIDS metaphors practically jump off the screen into our faces. Our theme is transformation with a capital “T”, masterfully handled by writers Stanton and Werksman–the transformation of a human into a vampire, and the transformation of Mick and Beth’s relationship.

A car hits pedestrian Gerald Stolski (Brad Greenquist, Heroes) and speeds away. A Dr. Pollack (Chris Payne Gilbert, Burn Notice) rushes over to play Good Samaritan and tries to revive the victim–only to discover too late that the victim is a vampire when he coughs blood into Pollack’s mouth, and then feeds on him, leaves him to die and goes on his merry way. (Can we say “one night stand”? Or maybe even “rape”?) When the doctor wakes up, he’s consumed (ahem) by what Mick recalls to Beth as “a need to satisfy a hunger I didn’t understand”. In a wonderfully creepy scene, the new vampire, adrift, confused and ravenous, works his way through a convenience store, sampling all the junk food in a mad effort to satisfy the craving in himself. He rages to a concerned store clerk that nothing “tastes right”, and then discovers that the clerk himself tastes just right. He leaves the ravaged corpse for the city’s finest (and Beth) to find, and a friendly morgue attendant alerts Mick to the possible presence of a new vampire in town.

After last week’s tortured confession to Beth (“I’m a vampire”), Mick is having trouble letting her get close to him again. She’s not sure what to make of his revelation. He starts to explain his involuntary transformation (on his wedding night, courtesy of his new bride), gets caught up in trust issues (duh), and clams up. But later, outside the morgue, her conversation reveals a strength in her we haven’t seen before. Instead of fearing Mick, she calls on him to protect her as she investigates the murder. He explains that “something has gone terribly wrong” with the sire/novice relationship and warns her that a feral or rogue vampire will not stop killing on his own; and since he’s not being careful, doesn’t know the rules, he risks exposure of the entire vampire community. Can we say “AIDS metaphor”?

Mick’s investigation of this new vampire revives memories of his own transformation; his misguided wife’s “wedding gift” made him, in his own words, a “monster”.Mick emphasizes to Beth and others that the “sire” has a responsibility to his novice/victim, that simply because a vampire got carried away in the moment does not excuse his abandonment of his victim, that the vampire community requires that the sire accept responsibility for his actions. Even the amoral Josef agrees that a newly turned vampire has to be controlled or stopped, rather than allowed to jeopardize the whole group.

Which brings us to one of the best new characters on this series, “The Cleaner”, played by Molly Culver (Heist). She heads the local cleanup crew for the vampire community, and is annoyed to have been called to the scene of a “cleanup” by the injured vampire, which turned out to be a false alarm–so she doesn’t get paid. She reveals that Stolski called in the cleanup (so why doesn’t she bill him?), and Mick tracks him down in his lair at … the Jet Propulsion Laboratory? A rocket scientist and a vampire? I love it. I so hope he isn’t doing solar research.

Mick reveals that Dr. Stolski’s latest victim was in fact a “turning”, to the scientist’s amazement, and then insists that Dr. Stolski take responsibility for his actions. Stolski acts like the classic john, washing his hands of any responsibility for this anonymous encounter. “It was just an accident. I was desperate. It’s not my fault.” When Mick learns that the novice vampire is a doctor, he shifts into high gear in his search, knowing that vampire killings at a hospital will definitely make the ten o’clock news. Together, he and Beth go looking for him. They find that Pollack has killed his own wife; Mick confesses to Beth that his own wife is dead, without telling her that said wife was Beth’s own kidnaper years ago–more parallels. Enter Dr. Stolksi, the “sire”, who has suddenly decided to embrace his offspring and paralyzes Mick with a wooden stake to the heart. Beth learns that the stake doesn’t kill a vampire, and she pulls it out, at once saving Mick and re-inforcing the sexual metaphor. This just gets better and better. Together, they track down Dr. Vampire at the hospital, Mick confronts him in a terrific vampire a vampire cage match, and Mick stakes the fledgling. Convinced that the rogue is unsalvageable, he refuses Beth’s help in incinerating him.

Beth and Mick are slowing growing into a heck of a team. Beth is especially up-front in this episode, asking Mick straight out “Why do you think you can’t trust me?” Mick answers one fundamental question of the series–why he doesn’t have that many contacts among the cops–a basic requirement of being a PI. Seems cops tend to notice when other people don’t age. (Too bad he hasn’t yet learned to stop leaving fingerprints at a crime scene.) Mick’s sympathy for what the newly turned vampire is going echoes his memory of his own turning; we can feel his shame and rage when he literally begs his sire/wife to kill him rather than make him drain a young, weeping victim. When he gives in to hunger at last, we hear his searing guilt in the gravel-voiced delivery, the echo of anger fifty years down the road. Beth and Mick’s banter is particularly well-done; they joke about garlic, flying, his advanced age (ninety). Beth is acting like a partner, an equal. She’s certainly earned her status: this is the second week she’s saved Mick’s “life” (can you call a vampire’s existence a “life”?). Balancing the sexual predator theme, we get more trust-building between Mick and Beth. There’s more physical contact: Beth touches Mick’s wound, she pulls a stake out of him. I like her as a strong, equal character.

The background of this show is deepening with every episode. Mick rejects the feral attitude of the rogue vampire, reinforcing the primacy of rules, discipline, responsibility. Who knew vampires could be so bourgeois? The scenes are, finally, dark and moody enough to reinforce the noir theme of the series (enough already with the daywalking). And the sexual tension between Mick and Beth ratchets up another notch, as he opens up in the final scene to tell her one true thing about himself, reveals that he was turned by the woman he loved–but that she’s the first human he’s trusted enough to tell this to. There’s nothing like intimacy to ramp up the heat. If this weren’t a show about a night-walking vampire, I’d expect to see it on daytime TV as a soap opera. As it is, Moonlight is shaping up to be a guilty pleasure of a romance novel; short on horror and long on romance, with some interesting subtext. And that’s a good thing.