By Sarah Stegall
Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Stegall
Fridays on CBS, 9pm ET/PT
“Love Lasts Forever”
Written by Josh Pate
Directed by Paul Holahan
It’s nice to see my faith in a series rewarded once in a while. Moonlight‘s January 11 episode was far and away the best yet in this, its freshman year. A surprise like this episode is doubly welcome, coming as it does at what is almost the end of this “season” of Moonlight. After a very shaky start, a complete recasting of the series (except for lead Alex O’Loughlin), and a revolving door of showrunners, the series really found its feet over the last couple of episodes, and pulled out all its stops in the latest one. It still has flaws, but they are the flaws of its genre (soap opera) and are pretty much inherent in the format, as opposed to failures on the part of the creative team. Even if the number of new episodes of scripted shows were not currently dwindling to nothing, this would be a standout episode.
The opening scene shows Mick St. John working out in his apartment under a brooding voice-over. This scene, which looks like mere beefcake, actually ties in with the rest of the episode. Mick’s workout is very old-school—no Pilates, no weight machines, just a lot of Army calisthenics and a classic boxing workout. It’s good to see Mick finally honing those fighting skills he has been so sorely lacking in most of the episodes of this series so far.
Beth Turner’s fiance, Josh (Jordan Belfi) has the case of his career: he is on the point of bringing to trial a notorious and vicious drug dealer named Tejada (Emilio Rivera, Strange Wilderness). Tejada’s thugs catch Josh in a parking lot and warn him that if he pursues the case, Beth will be harmed. Shaken, Josh tells Beth he will recuse himself from the case, but she talks him into continuing with it, assuring him that his quest for justice outweighs her personal safety. Josh takes the opportunity to try to renew their flawed romance, and takes Beth to bed in the most half-hearted love scene I’ve seen in a while. Mick agrees to keep an eye on Beth, who is helping him find someone to analyze the blood sample he took from Coraline last week. His vampire skills come into use immediately, as he foils a sniper attack on Beth.
Things get really personal now. Josh busts Tejada at his daughter’s birthday party and Tejada retaliates by having his goons kidnap Josh out from under the very noses of the protection squad sent to guard Beth. Beth and Mick team up to chase down the kidnappers, and Mick’s workout pays off in a big way—he leaps over cars and throws grown men around like sacks of garbage. Unfortunately, one of the thugs revives long enough to put several rounds through Josh just as Beth is releasing him from the trunk of the car. Despite Mick’s heroic efforts to save him (drawing on his training and experience as a WWII Army medic), Josh lies dying at their feet. Beth begs Mick to save him by “turning” Josh into a vampire; Mick refuses and Josh dies.
Now this is drama. Okay, maybe it’s melodrama, but it’s damn good melodrama. A series that has come dangerously close to becoming a sappy romance has suddenly acquired depth and complexity. Mick learns that Coraline’s blood sample shows nothing out of the ordinary—his search for a “cure” for vampirism is not only stymied, but destroyed as the sniper’s bullet meant for Beth hits the vial of Coraline’s blood. Beth, already ambiguous about her relationship with Josh, suffers terror and grief at his death. Even after Mick avenges Josh in a spectacular bar fight (that reverses the bar fight in “From Dusk Til Dawn”), she is so mired in guilt, grief, and anger that she rejects his efforts to comfort her, and accuses him of hypocrisy.
Alex O’Loughlin really got to show off more than his pecs in this episode. His moody voice-overs are as essential as the credits; how else would we know that Mick has been wrestling with the decision whether to tell Beth how he feels about her? Or that the reason he has not committed suicide to escape the vampirism he loathes, is because he wants to be with her? His expressions when Beth asks Mick a question he won’t let himself answer are as telling as any dialogue. O’Loughlin handles the physical demands of the role very well—not just in the way he leaps over cars but in the small moments, as when Mick, who goes “vamp” just enough to terrorize a reluctant witness into spilling the beans, smiles past his vampire teeth in self-mockery. O’Loughlin is giving more depth to Mick than the role has had to date; he seems to be almost shoehorning in more subtlety than the role calls for. I’m glad of it.
Sophia Myles has likewise grown into her role as Beth very well. She was particularly good in Josh’s death scene, where Beth’s terror and shock came through with every movement. Her tortured rejection of Mick also showed the turmoil of emotions Beth is going through. That Myles does this without going over the top in approved soap opera manner is testament enough that this actress has everything it takes to hold her own against the charismatic O’Loughlin, without relinquishing any of the softness or femininity she brings to the character.
The writing for this episode brought together and emphasized the key elements of the premise of this show. In the pilot, Mick said that in saving Beth (a child) from Coraline, he finally saw a way to save himself from the morass of guilt and self-disgust that vampirism had wakened in him. Beth has become his guiding light, the emblem of everything he wants to be—human, vulnerable, honest. She symbolizes his commitment to putting vampirism behind him, so when she begs him to turn Josh, an unconscious man, he recoils in disgust. Mick St. John, made a vampire against his will, is the last man on earth who will make another person an involuntary vampire. (In fact, I would be surprised if Mick has ever turned anyone.) His continuing quest for redemption is highlighted in his rejection of suicide. Mick St. John may look contemporary, but he comes from a time when words like “damnation” carried real emotional weight.
Similarly, Beth has come to a crossroads in her journey. Ambivalent as she was about Josh, she was not ready to let him go yet, and now survivor guilt over his death (and the fact that she talked him into going back to the Tejada case) may build a wall around her heart not even Mick can breach. Yet even in a crisis of this kind, when teamwork is called for, Mick and Beth work together very well. If Moonlight continues to evolve along these lines, we might actually end up with what the series promised: a vampire procedural.
We have one more episode of Moonlight to go, and then the well runs dry on scripts. Although there has been no official word from CBS as to the fate of the show, my money says that when the writers’ strike ends, Moonlight will be renewed for either the remainder of this season, or for at least the first half of next season. The show easily won its time slot on Friday, with nearly 8.4 million viewers. It also recently won “Best New Drama” in the People’s Choice Awards.Moonlight seems to have sunk its teeth permanently into a good number of viewers; I hope it hangs on.