Waking the Dead
By Sarah Stegall
Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Stegall
Fridays on CBS, 9pm ET/PT
Written by Ron Koslow and Trevor Munson
Directed by John Kretchmer
When you have to keep constantly reminding your audience of who the primary romantic pairing in your show is, you’re doing it wrong. In the most recent episode of Moonlight, Mick and Josef are discussing the pitfalls of vampire/human love, and Josef wonders if Mick is going to make his “thing with Beth” work. It’s only the latest in a long series (as in, every single episode) of occasions where characters openly comment on the status of a relationship that neither Mick nor Beth acknowledge. It’s one thing to show these characters in denial about their feelings for one another—once. It’s another thing to hammer it home every week. Let them say what they feel to one another and get it over with so we can all move on. This middle-school angst wears thin.
Josef and his buddy vampires are having a nice quiet game of poker (with vials of blood for chips) when an assassin bursts in, spraying the room with gunfire and lobbing grenades. Josef miraculously escapes the ensuing holocaust, so miraculously in fact that both Mick and Beth are convinced that he’s dead. Coraline, still in intensive care after narrowly escaping death at Beth’s hands, reminisces dreamily about introducing the two friends half a century ago. Have none of these people ever watched TV? Of course Josef isn’t dead, and it was a shock to absolutely no one when Mick and Beth entered his apartment, to find Josef alive, healthy, and complaining about the quality of Mick’s larder. Mick of course goes looking for the assassin, finds him, and questions him.
The true shocker in this episode, the real jaw-dropper I never saw coming, was the scene where Mick beats the crap out of a trained assassin twice his size. Mick has been regularly stomped by adolescents and women, let alone men and vampires his own size. To see him tossing Ralf Martan (Nick Tarabay, The Unit) around like so much wet laundry was as astonishing as it was satisfying. Yet as gratifying as it is to finally see some of the legendary vamp fighting powers, one still gets the feeling that the writers are treating this talent with no respect—Mick is weak or strong by turns as the plot demands, not as his basic character dictates. This is bad storytelling and weak characterization; I thought this writing team was past that.
Another weak characterization I thought had been left in the dust is Beth Turner. After her strong presence as an independent character in “Fleur de Lis,” I was disappointed to see her sink back into the one-dimensional girlfriend-in-waiting mode she played this time. Even with Coraline out of competition for now, in a hospital bed, she doesn’t come across as a strong player for Mick. She had a couple of good scenes with Josef, but in the end, her refusal to go on a date with Mick, even though he practically begs her, is just so silly and contrived a response (and completely unbelievable) that it flattens the character out of all recognition. This is not a real flesh-and-blood woman.
Coraline was necessarily a lesser light than last week, spending the entire episode flat on her back. The few scenes she had, however, she stole outright. There is still more chemistry between Coraline and Mick than there is between Mick and Beth. Since the show is obviously written around Mick and Beth, this is a terrible flaw. Even if the writers are casting Coraline as the Love Obstacle™, she is so much stronger a character that she’s unbalancing the triangle. As a character in her own right, she’s much more intriguing—the hints in the hospital that Coraline’s “vampire cure” might be fading were fascinating. Just as fascinating are the hints that Coraline’s background might be as romantic as Josef’s—just what does that royal fleur-de-lis on her shoulder indicate? Compared to these traits, Beth’s washed-out passivity makes her an unworthy love partner for the suddenly more dynamic Mick.
And what’s up with Mick St. John? As soon as Josef dies, Mick becomes more energetic, more human, stronger in every way. I’m sure the writers did not mean to imply that Mick is in thrall to Josef, but he certainly behaved like a man released from a spell. Kudos to Alex O’Laughlin for so effectively displaying a wide range of emotions—from teary grief over Josef to righteous anger at his would-be assassin, to tender understanding of Josef’s dilemma over his comatose girlfriend, to, finally, a kind of desperate and romantic request for an actual, real date with Beth. Alex O’Laughlin put more emotion into his final longing look at Beth than Sophia Myles had put into her entire performance. Mind you, I’m not blaming Myles so much as the writers, who have given her almost nothing to do.
For an episode that was supposed to reveal many secrets about Josef, we learned only one big one. I will admit to being surprised that his “secret” was a long-lost love—that was a smart move on the part of the writers. Whereas he had been in danger of devolving into the smarmy sidekick who conveniently has millions at his disposal, now he emerges as a character in his own right, with tragedy and failure and remorse informing his cynical worldview. I may not like him any better as a foil to Mick, but I certainly understand him better.
If I’ve gone on at length about the romantic entanglements of what is supposed to be a vampire show, it’s because that’s the direction the producers have been taking us from day one. However, the genre aspects of this show got kicked up a notch—and I’m very grateful. I don’t like reviewing soap operas. This episode introduced two interesting wrinkles on the vampire mythos so far presented: that there is a “cure” for vampirism that might not be permanent, and that not every “Turning” works. If Sarah, Josef’s lost love, can survive for fifty years suspended between life and death, or between human and vampire, and if Coraline can start to lose her humanity and revert to vampirism, we have a new concept: that vampirism, rather than being an all-or-nothing state of being, is a spectrum. There may be degrees of vampirism (which explains political lobbyists) as well as degrees of humanity. Vampires, rather than being some sort of predatory breed apart, may be only one expression of the human genome, or the human soul. Or lack of it. This is the aspect of Moonlight which will keep me watching in January, when the show comes back. Much as I love a pair of good-looking, doomed lovers, they’re a dime a dozen on network TV. Give me a sliding scale of vampirism, and I’m hooked.
Moonlight posted initial ratings of 4.9/9, an improvement from last week’s 4.7/8. Women’s Murder Club was in re-runs, so Moonlight won its timeslot, well ahead of It’s a Wonderful Lifeon NBC. Since this let CBS win the night, I think we can expect to see more of Mick, Beth, Josef, and Coraline if and when the writers’ strike ends. Until after the New Year, then, that’s all for Moonlight. Happy holidays!