Moonlight: “Sonata”


By Sarah Stegall 

Copyright © 2008 by Sarah Stegall


Fridays on CBS, 9pm ET/PT


Written by: Ethan Erwin & Kira Snyder

Directed by: Fred Toye

Mick: I got hit in the face with a sacred ass paddle.
Beth: [shrug] Karma.

It’s ironic, and fitting, that the final episode of Moonlight is written by newcomers. I’ve rarely seen a show endure so many fundamental changes, both before and behind the cameras, for so long. That it lasted for sixteen episodes may be nothing short of a miracle; that its last scenes were written by fledglings makes me believe God has a sense of humor.

Sometimes I wonder if Ron Koslow is cursed. He has great vision, but bad luck. His iconic 80s series, Beauty and the Beast, was one of the most lush and visually gorgeous, most romantic shows ever to hit prime time, but lost much of its audience when the leading actress quit in the middle of the show’s run. Roar, a 1997 drama starring a young Heath Ledger as a Bronze Age Irish hero, was equally mythic, beautiful and rare; it died in less than one season. And nowMoonlight gets staked after only sixteen episodes, with Koslow kicked off the show even before its cancellation. One of the head writers, Jill Blotevogel, was given her walking papers before her episode even aired, leaving the finale to be written by two writers with fewer than five produced screenplays between them. Moreover, during the course of the show it went through three showrunners, a complete change of cast (except for Alex O’Loughlin, and according to his blog, he had to struggle to keep his job), a writer’s strike and a Friday night timeslot that is a well known graveyard for new shows. The show was plagued with quarrels over creative direction and money squabbles between Warner Brothers Studio and CBS. All in all, I’m grateful it saw the, er, light of day at all. Unfortunately, we all know what daylight does to vampires.

“Sonata” balances its murder case nicely against the unfolding relationship between Mick and Beth. Like us, the vampire and his lady have grown tired of the obstacles put between them, and they address them head on. Typically, they tackle things backward. Having discussed babies in the last episode, they discuss marriage in this one, discuss previous partners, go on a date, and finally end with a declaration of love. If this had been a longer episode, Mick might have introduced himself to Beth at the end of it. As it is, the tension between them this episode is less sexual than it was, but profoundly more emotional.

Beth: Do you realize this is our fourth official date?
Mick: Define “official”.
Beth: Any outing that doesn’t involve dead bodies.
Mick: You’re such a romantic.

We open with a scene where Josef is honored for his contribution to a college basketball stadium, which allows us to see grownup men in tuxes and women in Valentino gowns dancing in a high school prom venue, complete with cheerleaders. Mick and Beth share a dance and a little flirtation, as he tries to explain to her that Josef’s date Simone (Abigail Spencer, Bones) is a “freshie”, i.e., a human who willingly serves as a walking blood bank for a vampire. Beth is torn between astonishment and moral outrage, when their conversation is interrupted by a murder. Isn’t that always the problem for these two? NBA star and college alum Dominick has been found naked and dead in a locker room, with Simone standing over him. She’s arrested, and Beth manages a few words with her. Rather than discuss the case, however, they spend their time gossiping about their vampire men and their need for secrecy. Simone raises disturbing questions in Beth’s mind–is Mick toying with her? Why doesn’t he drink her blood? Does he want to Turn her?

Simone: We should go.
Josef: But this is so awkward. I love awkward.

These questions erupt when Beth later walks in on Josef and Mick taking turns sampling Simone’s B negative from the source, nor is she impressed with Mick’s excuse that it’s all part of his investigation. They smolder at one another all the way to a frat house, where they hope to interview a witness to Dominick’s death. At the frat house, a confrontational frat boy gives Mick a welcome opportunity to kick some WASP ass and relieve his tensions, but Beth is still simmering. Why did Mick want to drink her blood in the desert in episode four, but is now refusing it? Not that she wants to be a “freshie”, but the very fact that he won’t drink from her implies that a “freshie” is more or less exactly what she thought it was. Nasty little whispers from Mick’s past are one thing, but confronting the reality of vampire culture is another.

Mick: You’ve obviously blocked out all memories of what human women are like.
Guillermo: Yeah, well I need all available brain power to figure out vampire women.

Things turn much darker when the frat boy witness fingers Emma (Heather Stephens, Saved), half the husband-and-wife team of vampires who were Dominick’s managers (and blessedly, there were no jokes about bloodsucking managers in this show). In an early interview, Emma had fondly recalled to Beth her original meeting in 19th century New York with her husband Jackson (Jonathan LaPaglia, NCIS), and how for the last 150 years their marriage has been as solid and loving as it was the day they met. Mick interviews a sexy vampire cheerleader, Lisa (Erika Schaefer, The Unit) who has been attending college for more than 40 years.

Lisa: There’s a constant rotation of frat boys too drunk to know when a hickey isn’t a hickey.
Mick: No one notices the puncture marks on the neck?
Lisa: That’s not the artery I go for.

It turns out that even Lisa knew that Dominick and Emma were sexing it up. So much for vampire fidelity. Frat Boy confesses to ADA Ben Talbot and says he saw Emma snap Dominick’s neck. Beth and Mick meet at Emma’s apartment just as Talbot arrives with cops to arrest her. An enraged Emma starts throwing cops and furniture around, and Mick has to go vamp on her to keep her from outing herself in front of witnesses. Later, in jail, Emma tells Jackson, with Alex listening in on the sub-audible vamp-only frequency, that unless they spring her from jail in 24 hours, she will tell the world about the existence and numbers of vampires.

This threat to the whole community triggers a full-on crisis in Vamp Land, and Mick calls a war council in his apartment. Naturally, Beth turns up just in time to be turned away at the door because she’s not a member of the club. Mick goes back to planning the Mission: Impossible-style rescue of Emma, a rescue involving most of the secondary vampire characters we’ve seen so far: Guillermo the morgue vampire (Jacob Vargas), Logan the basement hacker (David Blue), and the Cleaner crew, headed by the brilliantly cast Claudia Black (Farscape) in a vinyl catsuit number that probably kept the fanboys awake all night.

Logan gets his hero moment when he overturns a police van, and the rest of the extraction goes as planned. But Emma has no cause to celebrate her rescue; she is immediately chained to a chair for execution by blowtorch! Jackson shows up at the last minute to appeal for mercy, the Cleaner icily denies it, and he volunteers to die with her. Josef doesn’t want to watch, but Mick, aware that justice cannot yield to sentiment, forces him to watch its final terrible act.

This episode, obviously enough, is all about betrayal. The vision of vampire wedded bliss embodied in Jackson and Emma is shattered by her adultery. The myth of vampire solidarity is shattered when Emma threatens to expose the entire tribe. Beth feels betrayed by the entire concept of “freshies”, which sounds too much like “mistress” to her, and feels even more betrayed when she walks in on Mick slurping up on Simone. And the final nail in the double-wide freezer is in one of the final scenes, where we learn that some unknown traitor has turned in a list of LA vampires to ADA Ben Talbot (which, amusingly enough, lists “real” vampires like Vlad Tepes, Elizabeth Bathory and Gilles de Rais).

In the midst of all this treason, Mick’s love for Beth is steadfast and unshakable. A series of betrayals like this would be enough to stimulate trust issues in anyone, human or vamp. But Mick, who has been holding Beth at arm’s length for most of the series is now getting past his “commitment issues” in a big way. When Beth finally betrays her final fear to him–that he won’t love her unless he turns her–Mick opens up to her in a way he hasn’t since the second episode, when his “I’m a vampire” broke my heart. Alex O’Loughlin put just enough vulnerability and pathos into Mick’s confession to remind us of that first confession without overwhelming it–a very deft touch indeed. Not to mention, of course, that it gives us the final line of the episode, the series, and the story. After testing Mick’s memory of her wardrobe on the night when they met (again) in the pilot, Beth wonders:

Beth: How can you remember that?
Mick: Because I love you.

Cue music, cue kiss, cue door closing, and fade to black. A nice way to wrap up the show, leaving us with a hint of future angst and trouble but the assurance that Mick and Beth are on a solid foundation. I don’t know if Ethan Erwin and Kira Snyder knew, when they wrote this episode, that it would be the last one, but in any case they did their audience a tremendous favor, and granted us closure on some storylines. This was one of the best written episodes of the series, making good use of established characters, interweaving tragic themes of love and treachery, mixing pathos and triumph. Jackson’s sacrifice redeems Emma’s betrayal, and proves to Mick that it isn’t about being a vampire or a human, but about “how we feel, right here, right now”. Well done, well done, writers.

Good to its last drop, Moonlight did well enough to come in second in its timeslot. It garnered 7.6 million viewers, with a 1.8/6 share among the 18-49 set. The announcement of its cancellation four days before its last broadcast undoubtedly eroded some of its fanbase, but even so, those numbers aren’t far from Ghost Whisperer, which got the return nod. Figuring out network programming decisions will break my brain, however, and I’m not going to try.Moonlight may just have had too many strikes against it to survive

It’s hard to let this one go. Of course the usual passionate fan outcry has begun, and I wish them well, but after Jericho failed to prove out on its second chance I think it will be many years before any other show gets a resurrection. Even the fervid love of eight million viewers will not bring this vampire back from the dead.