By Sarah Stegall
Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Stegall
Fridays on CBS, 9pm ET/PT
“The Mortal Cure”
Written by Chip Johannessen
Directed by Eric Laneauville
“Maybe love can’t exist without mortality.” — Coraline
The search for a “cure” for vampirism is by now a well-honed trope in vampire stories, so it’s no surprise that it is emerging as a driving element in Moonlight. Very little about this series is new or original, so I was not surprised to see this idea introduced early in the series story arc. Nor is it terribly original to have the “cure” turn out to be temporary–after all, the appeal of stories with vampires in them is (duh) the vampires, and if you take the vampire out of the vampire story you are left with, um, a soap opera, more or less. Even the original vampire soap opera, Dark Shadows, involved a search for a cure for vampirism. Moonlight is handling this plot development in a nicely workmanlike manner–nothing startling or groundbreaking, but nothing to throw us completely out of the storyline, either.
“The Mortal Cure” picks up from “Love Lasts Forever”, with Beth and Mick pretty much oblivious to one another. Beth is mired in grief over Josh, spending most of the episode moping, weeping, and staring off into space. It’s completely believable, given the shock and guilt and grief she must be feeling, and Sophia Myles sells it well, but it’s not exactly riveting television. Mick pays hardly any attention to her–he does not seek her out, but runs into her accidentally at the police station where he has gone to give his statement about the murder. Instead, he is focused on finding Coraline, and the cure for vampirism he is convinced she holds. The only thing tying these two together in this episode are their respective reflections on mortality; she contemplates a romance cut short before it had a chance to either blossom or die naturally, and Mick fights fang and nail to hang onto the hope he can be a real boy again.
Early in the story, we get positive reinforcement of one of the signature characteristics of vampirism: a heightened sensuality. Mick is several yards away from his front door when his supernatural sense of smell tells him there’s a very old vampire on his balcony. This turns out to be a tall dark vampire with one completely black eye (cornea, iris and all), who calls himself Lance (David Blue, Ugly Betty). He’s looking for Coraline, and knows all about Mick’s relationship with her–he even has a copy of their marriage license. When Mick turns him away, Lance and his henchman leap gracefully from the twelfth story balcony, leapfrogging their way to the ground as casually as two acrobats. This unnerves Mick enough to send him to Josef for an explanation–Josef hints darkly that Lance is not to be trifled with. Someday I want Josef to tell Mick that some character in the story is a lightweight he doesn’t need to worry about.
The secondary storyline follows Beth as she sleepwalks through her days, collecting Josh’s personal effects, discovering a “date” for that evening in his datebook, and following up on it. It turns out that his “date” was with a jeweler who was resetting an heirloom ring, and Beth learns that Josh had intended to propose to her. This was the weakest part of the episode–one sentimental cliché (Josh’s personal effects, insurance policy) sets us up for another cliché (the unfounded suspicion of the recently departed) which sets us up for another cliché (the aborted proposal of marriage). It’s not that these developments are not justified by the plot, but that they are so by-the-numbers that they rob Beth’s character of any real growth or development in this story. I kept wondering how much more interesting this bourgeois storyline would be if, rather than brooding over Josh’s death, Beth was struggling to reconcile her profound sense of relief that she is free of Josh and all the angst of that failed romance.
Mick tracks Coraline to a secret lab where she is working to develop either more of the vampire cure or a more permanent version of it–the writers don’t make it clear which. Mick arrives at the lab just in time to hear a scientist telling Coraline that a vital ingredient for the cure is an extinct plant, and his efforts at genetic engineering to replicate it have failed. At that moment, Lance arrives, kills the scientist, and attacks Coraline. Mick jumps into the fray, finds himself outmatched by the older vampire, and watches in astonishment as Lance is burned, but immediately regenerates, in contravention of all known vampire physiology. Coraline runs away, leaving Mick to clean up. This opens the door for a repeat appearance by the lovely Cleaner, this time played by Jill Latiano (Heist), who apparently would love to do more with Mick than mop the floor. She tells him that this lab is a “hot spot” lately, with regular calls to pick up newly turned/newly dead vamps who are left out in the alley behind the lab, neatly bagged like last week’s garbage.
Arriving home, Mick finds Beth waiting for him, and they exchange storylines. It’s a nice scene between them–Beth subdued, uncertain, but honest about her ambivalent feelings towards Josh, and Mick honestly sympathetic and humble when he finds that Josh had intended to propose. It’s a nice moment, the only one that reaffirms the non-sexual bond between these two, but of course it is interrupted by Coraline. Beth departs, nose in air, and Coraline settles down for some serious info dump. It turns out that the “cure” was developed by an old and noble vampire family dating back to the French Revolution, designed to allow vampires to pass ‘mortality tests’ imposed during the Reign of Terror. Who knew that the Reign of Terror was really all about a vampire pogrom, and that Louis XVI, far from being the bungling would-be reformer of history, was actually a vampire who “sired” several vampire offspring. I love it when TV trivializes the struggle against tyranny as an anti-monster crusade. This is not even an original story point: in Blood Ties, the aforementioned vampire Henry FitzRoy is presented as the bastard son of Henry VII of England. “Royal blood” takes on new meaning in this context.
Claiming to have suffered a change of heart, Coraline offers Mick a sample of the cure, saying “Maybe love can’t exist without mortality.” He eagerly accepts, and promises to help Coraline escape from Lance. As they are walking down an alley, however, she smells Lance’s presence — significantly, Mick does not. Lance appears and claims Coraline as his sister. He beats the hell out of Coraline (in full vamp mode) and Mick (in full mortal-getting-stomped mode); Coraline then agrees to accompany Lance to face vampire justice for all manner of rule-breaking, if Lance will leave Mick alone. Exit Lance, who ironically welcomes Mick to the family–talk about your toxic in-laws! We are then treated to a wonderful few minutes of Mick re-mortalizing–he wakes to pain (gratefully), to sunlight, to warmth, and to a positively orgiastic feast of Chinese take-out. I liked the way the writers re-spun the vampire sensuality we started with (super-enhanced sense of smell) into a mortal appreciation of senses most vamps have lost–taste, sunlight, even pain. Mick revels in his mortality and we revel with him.
The episode ends where it should–at the edge of death. Mick meets Beth at Josh’s funeral, where she exhibits less enthusiasm than I would expect when she learns that he is now mortal. They lock eyes over Josh’s casket, pondering their futures and the possibilities inherent in them, as the preacher reminds us that life is short and we should all take advantage of the time we are given. If this episode has done nothing else, it has certainly changed Mick St. John’s personal time line. Welcome to the light side, Mick, if only for a season.
Alex O’Loughlin shines in this episode, both in his subtler moments and his more dynamic action scenes. In the first brief meeting between Mick and Beth, outside police HQ, he brings a great deal of subtext to the moment with his longing looks, his body language that speaks of both possession and uncertainty, and the voice-overs which, as usual, give us Mick’s inner dialogue. It’s those insights into Mick’s interior life that raise this character above the run of the mill–there have been TV vampires as virile (Kyle Schmid of Blood Ties, David Boreanaz ofAngel) but few as emotionally vulnerable as Mick St. John.
“The Mortal Cure” is the last script to have been filmed before the November 1 beginning of the WGA strike. Until the strike ends, there will be no further episodes. Although never intended as a series finale, it may have to serve as one if the writers do not settle before the end of February; after that date, there will probably not be enough time left to shoot more episodes for this season. It’s not the best episode of the series, but it covers all the bases it needs to. Its strengths are the strengths Moonlight has shown all year–principally the sometimes electric performance of Alex O’Loughlin–and its weaknesses are the weaknesses it has shown all year–sentimentality, a lack of original concepts in the show. It’s sentimental, it’s soap opera-ish, it’s clichéd–and it’s delightful. I await its return with eager anticipation.
Moonlight won its timeslot yet again, with 8.4 million viewers. Not stunning numbers, but good enough for a Friday night death slot. It also came in number one in that over-hyped 18-to-40 year old demographic. I suspect that if the ratings were tracking middle aged females,Moonlight would have the highest ratings on television–that’s a compliment, not a knock. As it is, I am confident that if and when the strike ends, Moonlight will return, one way or another. Mick will return to his former vampire status, Beth will be suitably enamored and ambivalent, and maybe, just maybe, we might get to see Mick do some detecting again. I await their return with impatience.