The Vampire’s Kiss
By Sarah Stegall
Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Stegall
Fridays on CBS, 9pm ET/PT
“Fated to Pretend”
Written by Gabrielle Stanton & Harry Werksman
Directed by David M. Barrett
“Oh, it is so on!” — Josef
I called it, totally. Back in my review of the pilot for this series, I said, ” I think it will rock. Mightily.” Friday night’s episode, the first after the WGA-strike induced hiatus, bears me out. It’s hard to think of any episode that could have topped this one. If I didn’t know better, I’d wonder if it had been written by fans — and that’s not a knock on the professionalism of the writers. It’s just that the fans seemed more passionate about the show than its own producers, and some of their writing has been as good or better. But if a convocation of fanfic writers had been called, they could not have come up with any script more satisfying than this one.
Picking up from where “Love Lasts Forever” left off, we see Mick St. John, human again, wandering around his apartment in nothing but pajama bottoms, savoring the pleasures of mortal life again–coffee, orange juice, and a toothbrush. The voice-over serves not only to catch us up on the developments in the show, but reveal a lot of Mick’s humor and happiness at being mortal once more. He revels in sunshine like a flower finding the source of life–driving in a convertible with the top down, walking along the beach at high noon to a rendezvous with Beth Turner. Never has Alex O’Loughlin caught the grace and sleekness of a vampire better than when he plays one who is now human again.
In a few scant seconds of dialogue on a picnic blanket in front of the waves, the premises of the past ten or twelve episodes are quickly disposed of: Beth admits that she would never have married Josh, that she doesn’t hold a grudge against Mick for not Turning Josh to save him, and finally, that “there’s someone else” in her life, as she looks meaningfully at Mick. Neither he nor we can fail to grasp what she’s saying, as she challenges him to figure out what he wants and what he wants to do about it. And in the next few seconds, one of the series regulars, Beth’s boss Maureen (Tami Roman), is killed off. Her corpse is on its way to the coroner when a new character, Assistant District Attorney Ben Talbot (Eric Winter, Brothers & Sisters), is introduced. In one fell swoop, we got closure on Josh’s murder, re-established the ground of the Mick/Beth relationship, got a discussion of mortality versus vampire life, a speculation on how long Mick will remain human and whether/when he will revert, and a declaration of love. All this is the first four minutes. Fasten your seatbelts, this show is moving at vampire speed.
The pace of the action is well matched by the dialogue, which sparkled even in scenes that might have fallen under the weight of cliché. As Beth and Mick investigate Maureen’s death, they must choose between three different stories she was working on, one of which involves Josef. In a witty scene, Josef meets their accusations with charm, sympathy and poise. Even minor characters are well used–Mick has moments of delightful repartee with Guillermo, the morgue attendant who used to sell him blood, with Logan, the basement vampire geek who helps decode Maureen’s files, and of course with Beth. Their interaction has never been closer, warmer, more partner-like. In a scene where Beth and Mick search Maureen’s apartment, their banter stands in marked contrast to the veiled hostility and challenge they exhibited in the series pilot, where they also searched a room together. By now they don’t even need words: when Beth notices liposuction surgical marks on the body of a dead diet spokesmodel, all Mick has to do is arch an eyebrow to sting a response out of Beth: “I have friends!” Mick jokes about sending blood as an apology-gift to Josef, and Beth laughs with him. She teases Mick about his squeamishness when searching for a clue in a box of tampons. In contrast to so many angsty earlier episodes, this one showed a real and growing bond between Mick and Beth. There’s more chemistry here than in a research lab: when Mick finally asks Beth out on a date (dinner at his apartment), she gives a private little squee we can all feel.
Nor is it all just about Mick and Beth. Josef showed fire, flair and passion, along with dignity and grace. There was more character development in Josef this episode than any other five. And the relations between the two male leads deepened as well: Josef and Mick tease one another in a comradely way that points up their long relationship. I loved it when Mick needled Josef about never being able to lunch on the beach in full sunlight. Their relationship showed more depth than in any episode except “Sleeping Beauty”. In one poignant and brotherly scene, Mick admits to Josef that he’s in love with Beth, and Josef tells him that it’s only his fears that are keeping him apart from Beth. And of course there’s the Turning scene, about which more later. All in all, the emotional substrata of this entire series got a refreshing shot in the arm in this 43 minutes.
And while all this emotional landscape is being covered, we get no fewer than three separate investigations tied up–Josef is cleared of a charge of scamming a charity, a politician’s lie about his wife’s death is uncovered, and a plastic surgeon, Dr. Anders (Edoardo Ballerini,Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), is outed as a blood-selling vampire in a shocking scene I never saw coming. There’s plenty of challenge for the viewer on the intellectual plane, just guessing which of these lines will lead us to Maureen’s killer.
And of course, it wouldn’t be a real vampire flick without plenty of snarling and biting, no? There’s enough action in this for three episodes. We get Mick learning the hard way that he no longer has vampire reflexes–an exhausting chase after a fleeing witness, a dangerous rescue on a rooftop edge, and a fight with Anders that leaves him unconscious for hours. Teeth clenching while Guilllermo sews up his wounds, he realizes that being human “sucks”–interesting turn of phrase for a former blood-sucker.
The mood turns dark after Anders kidnaps Talbot and Beth. As Mick is arming for a vampire confrontation, Josef appears to warn him against this folly, and backs up his word by slamming Mick around like a rag doll. Convinced that he can’t save Beth as a human, he asks Josef to Turn him back into a vampire. When Josef expresses shock and reluctance, Mick begs him with a heart-rending, “He has Beth. My Beth.” Those two words say all we need to know about the depth of Mick’s commitment to her. Josef grudgingly Turns Mick, in a scene with so many homoerotic undertones Anne Rice herself would sit up and take notice. See? Even the slash fanfic fans got their wish.
There’s a few nitpicks I could dwell on. The hero-rescues-kidnapped-heroine plot line goes back to caveman days. Why does Dr. Anders attack Talbot, when he’s clearly winning the argument over doctor/patient privilege? He exposes his hand too easily. And once again, Mick and Beth search a victim’s apartment moments ahead of the police and their crime scene technicians, without using gloves. Are they trying to make themselves suspects? Would it be so hard to have two trained professionals carry latex gloves with them all the time?
But I haven’t the heart to tear apart an episode in which Mick St. John literally dies for love. His single tear as he felt himself re-vamping, losing everything he had prayed for, had more pathos than any speech could have conveyed. Like any classic hero, he sucks it up (heh) and moves on, rescuing Beth and Talbot (fortunately blindfolded) in a satisfyingly apocalyptic vamp-on-vamp fight scene that disposes of a lot of stunt glass. Having ably wrapped up the murder investigation, rescued two blondes in one day, and gone from living to undead, Mick still manages to rustle up a candlelit dinner for two on his balcony. Challenged once again by Beth to face his fear and decide what he wants, he plants a searing kiss on her as she leaves. There’s more heat in the future of these two, that’s for sure. And that’s good to see, because that’s where the strength of this show lies. It looks as though CBS may be re-packaging this show a bit, aiming for a demographic looking more for a new version of Angel than a remake of ‘Salem’s Lot.
I hope that means a few changes in the characters, too. Mick, having deliberately chosen to become a vampire again for love of Beth, can hardly whine any longer about being an unwilling blood-sucker. He’s crossed a line he can’t re-cross, and I hope the series acknowledges that. Beth has moved past Josh and now seems committed to Mick; I hope we don’t get any more artificially induced obstacles between this pair, because when they work together they truly rock. It’s more fun to see them working a case together than moping in opposite corners. Mick, having once again tasted mortal life, may find himself even more conflicted about taking it.
The production values of this show were an order of magnitude better than anything we’ve seen on the show thus far. Shirtless Mick, sun-drenched Beth, tailored Josef, and the elegantly aloof Talbot were all well served by the art department. Director Barrett’s action direction for Alex-as-human (running in real time, hand-held camera, panting, freeze-frame) contrasted well with his direction for Alex-as-vamp (practically flying, tossing full grown vamps through windows) to show us what Alex has gained and lost in this one episode. And I must mention the music, which usually strikes me as intrusive, but Bif Naked’s “Lucky” and Shannon Noll’s “Shine” added a whole new dimension to the beach scene and the rooftop kiss. They added a nice sense of closure in an episode that took us from full sunlight to moonlit darkness–but left me with a sense of hope.
CBS won both its Friday night timeslot and the demo wars, which was doubly fortunate because technically Friday was the first night of the May sweeps (don’t ask me to explain that–it’s on a par with the arcane voting rules of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). Moonlight pulled nearly 8 million viewers, and a 2.1/6 share among the overly prized 18-to-49 group. Considering that Friday night at 9 PM is the most challenging timeslot for that demographic, Moonlight’s numbers show a higher level of interest than the mere numbers would seem to show.
CBS may actually renew this show. A recent interview with Jason Dohring, who plays Josef, quoted Dohring: “[Executive Producer] Joel [Silver] just pulled me aside on the carpet and said things were looking up and not to book any jobs for after the hiatus. That’s gotta be good, when the producer tells you things are looking up on whether or not you’ll still have a job next season.” Good news indeed, for him and for us fans.
Personally, this episode is one of those I’ll be rewatching many times. It just does not get any better than this.