A Delicate Flower
By Sarah Stegall
Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Stegall
Fridays on CBS, 9pm ET/PT
Written by Jill Blotevogel
Directed by Frederick E.O. Toye
I don’t know if it’s a sign of decadence or maturity that we’ve turned the vampire from a blood-drinking demon into the very avatar of sensuality. Is it the association with blood? With superhuman strength? With night? Whatever it is, the vampires on Moonlight are about as far from the half-decayed corpses of early Gothic novels as it is possible to get. These are the prettiest vampires on the planet, excepting only Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If Buffy ever got a glimpse of Mick St. John in the buff, she’d toss her own wooden stake into the nearest bonfire.
Beth’s boyfriend Josh (Jordan Belfi, Close to Home), a deputy DA, has stashed an important witness in a murder trial in a safe house. Arms dealer Amir Fayed (Navid Negahban, NCIS) is accused of murdering his own henchman, Jack. He sends an assassin (Mickey Maxwell, Strong Medicine) to take out the witness, his daughter’s nanny. Leni Hayes (Vanessa Lengies,Monarch Cove) escapes but the cops guarding her are killed, and Josh suspects a mole among his staff. He asks Mick to find Leni and bring her back to safety, while Josh investigates his own investigators. While he talks, Beth smolders at Mick over the rim of a coffee cup; smoldering right back at her, Mick agrees to take the job. He doesn’t even ask for a retainer.
Josh takes Mick to the safe house, where Mick finally shows off some of the abilities that make him a good PI. His ability to “flash back” briefly tells him there was only one shooter; his vampire senses tell him that the blood on the floor was not Leni’s. When Josh is distracted, Mick floats two stories down to the alley and tracks Leni’s progress through the blood he’s attuned to. It was very satisfying to see the crisply professional Mick at work, confident and sure. Up to now, we’ve mostly seen him bumbling his cases, leaving fingerprints at crime scenes, and so forth. This episode reveals him as a viable detective. I like the respect writer Jill Blotevogel showed for cops; whereas she could have gone the usual route of making the cops look like idiots so that Mick looks good, they didn’t. While Josh is not stupid he is also clearly not a cop; it was quite believable to me that a deputy DA would have less training than a CSI, and of course Mick has a half century of experience over him as well. If the producers had done nothing more than raise Mick’s basic level of professional competence, I’d have been happy with this episode. But they did so, so much more.
Mick and Beth track Leni to the house of the murder victim, Jack, where they discover that Leni was his lover. Mick and Beth spend a little time building team spirit by flirting; she calls him a “delicate flower” because of his allergy to sunlight. Their investigative teamwork is seamless, however; they quickly find out where Leni’s headed (to Victorville) and how she’s getting there (by bus). Mick wastes no time getting to Victorville ahead of Leni. But he’s no negotiator, and she’s scared, so Leni accidentally shoots him. He immediately heals, but he’s weakened, and running around in all this sunlight hasn’t done him much good, either. When he phones Beth to tell her he’s found his quarry, he’s already thirsty and lusting after blood to recuperate. Further conversation with Leni reveals that she’s pregnant with Jack’s child; she eventually agrees to go with Mick. But before they can leave, the assassin arrives disguised as a cop. Mick smells a rat and escapes with Leni in the cop’s car. As they’re driving away, however, he sees a helicopter in the rear view mirror, closing fast. Mick spins the car just enough for the Stinger missile to miss them. He gets both of them out of the car in time to avoid being blown to bits, and then there they are, stranded in the middle of the desert in broad daylight. Back in LA, Josh tells Beth that Leni and Mick are dead; she waits until she gets home to burst into tears.
Things start going to hell pretty quickly for Mick. He’s already dehydrated, thirsting, recovering from being shot. The sun is merciless, and while the producers have tweaked the vampire myth enough so that Mick is not bursting into flame, he’s fading fast. Stumbling through the desert, he worries that his need will force him to attack Leni; he’s sure he won’t be able to stop himself. A glimpse here and there of the fangs emerging, of Mick staring in fascination at Leni’s neck—it’s subtle but effective work. The pair stumble into a conveniently remote motel, and find a room. While Leni fetches ice, Mick climbs almost fully clothed into a tub of cold water. At this point, some viewers were probably needing a cold bath, since this was the second time this episode where Alex O’Laughlin appeared shirtless. He begs her to get away from him, terrified that he’s going to attack her as his fever and thirst rise. Leni calls Beth, who arrives quickly, overjoyed to find Mick alive but afraid he’s dying. In a noble spirit of self-sacrifice, she overcomes his objections and lets him feed on her in order to restore his strength.
That scene made the episode for me. I usually hate vampire-groupie stories of surrender to the vampire’s allure, it’s all so cliched and obvious and fan-boy. But this scene played out differently—Mick struggles against his fever and begs Beth to leave. In the end, it is Mick who surrenders to Beth. The chemistry between them burst from a low burn to a hot flame, and suddenly this show was interesting again. It was also brilliant strategy on the part of the show’s producers; having stripped Mick the vampire of most of the vulnerabilities traditional to vampires—holy water, crucifixes, garlic, even sunlight to an extent—they have made him vulnerable to his own conscience and heart. Beth is strong, intelligent, and brave; Mick is sensitive and vulnerable and moody. Like Mulder and Scully, these characters have to some degree reversed the usual masculine/feminine stereotype and made it work. Mick could be a complete wimp, if played wrong—this is, after all the third episode in a row where Beth has saved Mick’s life. Beth could be played as the scared female sidekick, all fluttery and angry by turns, but she’s coming into her own as a fearless and practical partner. As Beth says, they make a good team.
As vampires go, the only really new thing in this show is Mick’s vulnerability to Beth, or more properly, to love. Vampire lovers are usually played as a watered down version of S&M, with lots of blood games and dominance elements. It’s all about power worship, about transgression against social norms. Moonlight plays the vampire as a lover, rather than a seducer—the difference between romance and rape. I like the story unfolding here, of the forbidden romance, the vampire rejecting his own amorality, Mick’s struggle for redemption.
Production values were outstanding in this episode—realistic car explosions, the burning desert, the dusty, twilit motel all added a strong sense of place to the show. Director Toye never let the tempo flag, and brought out the finest performances yet by O’Laughlin and Myles. The writing was top notch, with lines like “Vamps will always be jealous of the living, like renters versus owners.” It had never before occurred to me that of course, vampires can’t make their own blood. Beth tries to worm his strategy out of Josh, who fends her off by teasing that maybe he’s cheating on her. She spreads her arms and says, “Who would cheat on this?” Nice to see that modesty is not overrated in the Turner household. Mick gets a few zingers in: spotting the armed helicopter chasing him and Leni, he says, “You had to piss off an arms dealer, didn’t you?” with just the right touch of irony. I continue to like Mick’s voice-over; it lends a bit of Philip Marlowe to his character. Call it romance noir.
A couple of nitpicks: Mick says a blood pool at the crime scene comes from a man because “there’s no estrogen.” But men have estrogen in the blood, too, just less of it. The sequence of events seems to be off in the climax—the mole in Josh’s office calls to let the assassin know where Leni is after the assassin finds her. Also, I understand that the editors use visual flashbacks to show us Mick’s vampire senses at work, but it can also be confusing—I kept expecting Mick to recognize the assassin when he showed up. And Mick’s casual use of “vamps” sounded silly.
It’s too bad this is the fourth episode. Coming in second in the ratings, behind the debut ofWomen’s Murder Club but ahead of Friday Night Lights, Moonlight raked in 7.3 million viewers. It’s still falling every week. If this episode had aired earlier, it might have stopped that erosion. Here’s hoping word of mouth will bring back some fleeing viewers, and that the producers follow “Fever” with an equally hot episode. Then we may see this delicate flower finally bloom.