By Sarah Stegall
Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Stegall
Fridays on CBS, 9pm ET/PT
“Out of the Past”
Written by David Greenwalt
Directed by Frederick E. O. Toye
Only two scenes from the second episode of CBS’s vampire-detective series Moonlight stood out: a conversation between Mick St. John and his vampire pal Josef (Alex O’Laughlin and Jason Dohring), and the final scene between Mick and Beth Turner (Sophia Myles). Neither scene had much to do with the plot, and everything to do with character development. Which says something about the state of vampire detective stories nowadays. Are we burned out afterForever Knight, Blade and Angel (produced by tonight’s writer, David Greenwalt) have already explored this genre so thoroughly, and so recently? Or maybe the show just needs better stories. Either way, Moonlight is in serious need of a transfusion–better stories, more energetic writing, and a heck of a lot more clarity.
Mick is unhappy that Lee Jay Spalding (David Fabrizio, Criminal Minds), a murderer he helped put away 25 years ago, is now being released from prison after being “exonerated”. His friend Josef remarks, sensibly enough, that the surest way to make sure Spalding never kills again is for Mick to kill him himself. Mick rejects this idea because he needs closure of some kind. Justice, of any kind, takes a back seat to personal growth. In almost the next breath, Mick castigates himself for not having killed Spalding 25 years ago, when he had the chance–“A woman is dead because of me”. Apparently, drinking blood addles the brain. It certainly confuses the moral sense; after having made a point of telling us in the pilot that Mick virtuously abstains from drinking the blood of the living on moral grounds, he then accepts a glass of red from Josef, whom he knows to have no qualms about killing for blood.
This scene pretty much sums up everything that is wrong with this character and this series. Mick St. John is hardly any kind of vampire at all. When it suits him, he walks around carelessly in daylight, doesn’t even blink at crosses displayed in a funeral service, claims immunity from holy water and likes garlic on his pizza. He has no Achilles’ heel other than a really bad allergic reaction to silver. He claims that he won’t kill women or children, although we see him in a flashback partying with vampire groupies and drinking their blood. He also doesn’t ask Josef, whom he knows holds humans in contempt, where he got his blood. Allowing others to hunt and kill food in ways you reject, and then accepting it without question, certainly does not lift the burden of responsibility; it only makes you a hypocrite. Mick also doesn’t seem to have thought out his career as a vampire detective very well–he maintains friendships over decades despite the virtual certainty that someone will notice that he doesn’t age (which is exactly what happens in this episode), he hides his gun in places so obvious a guy fresh out of prison can find it, he leaves fingerprints everywhere he goes, and his idea of detective work is to use a GPS tracker. An ex-con with the IQ of an apple manages to almost frame him for attempted murder. As a vampire, Mick’s a wuss. As a detective, he’s a washout.
The second scene that held my attention was the final one, where Mick staggers home to his apartment, in full vampire mode, gasping and dying because he’s been shot with silver buckshot. He desperately scrabbles for a plasma bag of blood that will restore him, and is drinking it when Beth Turner, having finally figured out his secret, enters. Mick’s fear and humiliation, his attempts to hide his face and spare her the truth about his nature, were the most touching and revealing moments there have been between these two. In the voice-over at the beginning of the episode, Mick admits that when he held Beth in his arms, “it almost feels as if it could work between us”. Indeed, the moments when he is most a vampire are also those when he is most vulnerable to her, a reversal of the vampire-as-powerful-demon we have come to expect. This love-conquers-power trope is a staple of romance novels, and is about the only thing lifting Moonlight out of sheer mediocrity so far. That one image, of Mick hunching away from Beth, turning away, trembling in weakness and shame, is the only one that will bring me back to this show next week. It encapsulates everything that’s right with this show, and this character.
Maybe the real heart of this show is Mick’s struggle with himself and his own nature, fighting himself to win a mortal love. I hope so, but I don’t know if the writers can make this work, given that they’ve stripped Mick of practically every vestige of vampirism. How can he struggle against a nature he barely appears to have? If the show is going to follow in the footsteps ofBeauty and the Beast, with Mick and Beth as lovers who dare not love, they’re going to have to come up with a barrier between these two. On Beauty and the Beast, the obstacle was Vincent’s bestial appearance–certainly not a problem with the handsome Mick St. John. There are serious problems to be worked out in this format, and I’m hoping the producers can solve them, because despite all its many flaws I still like this show. With every episode, however, it’s getting a little harder to do so.