By Sarah Stegall
Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Stegall
Fridays on CBS, 9pm ET/PT
Written by Josh Pate
Directed by Chris Fisher
“There’s a good reason I never expected to see Coraline again. I killed her.”—Mick St. John
“Ringer” starts with a fire, both actual and metaphorical. While at the scene of a fire at the Franklin Hotel, a 1920s hotel Mick meets a woman who is the dead-on (ahem) duplicate of his former wife, Coraline (Shannyn Sossamon, Dirt). From the moment he lays eyes on her, he is convinced that “Morgan Vincent,” the freelance photographer working with Beth, is his dead wife—the one who turned him into a vampire against his will on their wedding night, and later kidnapped Beth as a child—come back to life. We know this not only because he constantly tells us that, but because every time she’s in the room, Mick is staring at her. (I swear, he doesn’t even blink. I think this is supposed to be a smoldering, penetrating kind of look, but frankly it’s nothing but a blank stare, like Mick is mentally alphabetizing his Gerry Mulligan LPs.) Morgan coolly rebuffs his startled greeting, and Beth gets annoyed at Mick’s persistent curiosity about her.
While showing Beth her photos from the fire, Morgan claims that a man broke into her apartment, cut her with a letter opener, and stole her cameras while leaving her cash and jewelry untouched. She asks Beth if her friend Mick the PI can help her recover them. As she and Mick review her photos of the fire, they find images of a man strangling a woman in a burning hotel room—an image that disturbs Mick because it reminds him of his last encounter with Coraline. Could the fire have been deliberately set to cover a murder, and the arsonist stole the cameras to conceal it?
Mick, who has been raving to the extremely skeptical Josef about this doppelganger, actually does some investigating. We even get an unintentionally hilarious scene where Mick shows up to lift fingerprints from Morgan’s apartment—yes, the very same Mick who, ten minutes later, will be leaving his own prints all over the apartment of a murder suspect as he illegally searches it. The one thing trained, professional investigator Mick St. John can be absolutely counted on to do in any investigation is to leave his prints at a crime scene. Doesn’t he watch CSI? It’s even on his own network! The prints lead him to a suspect, Hank Mottola (Stephen Jackson) who apparently died three weeks ago. He and Josef toss the “dead man’s” house and find photos of him and the murder victim, along with Morgan’s missing cameras. Mick continues to be puzzled by the fact that Morgan so closely resembles Coraline, but does not smell like a vampire, act like a vampire, or heal like one (hint to Mick: drag that girl out into the noonday sun and see what happens, hey?). He concludes that somehow Coraline has turned back into a human—a tantalizing possibility that drives him half mad. He persuades Josef to meet her—and Josef is creeped out by the resemblance, even as he confirms that Morgan is not a vampire. When they try to trap Morgan into some kind of self-revelation by telling her the thief/murderer has been dead for three weeks, she insists to the nonplussed vampires that Hank must have faked his own death, and demands that they investigate further. We get a lovely denouement in a creepy columbarium, a fight with the (not) dead Hank, and a tussle between Mick and Morgan in a moonlit cemetery, where he demands to know how she turned herself back into a human. She tearfully claims to not know what he’s talking about, and runs away. The bad guy gets away.
Mick is puzzled and confused. He goes home and talks to Beth, and tells her that he killed his wife. She pretty much shrugs this off, while he describes to her what a passionate affair feels like. Strikes me that two people who were wrapped around one another in a wet shower last week should pretty much know by now what an intense affair feels like, but this tell-don’t-show approach is perfectly in character for an episode which has been so relentlessly drained of nearly every emotional spark. This entire episode should have been filmed in black and white; there is no nuance, no color, no life—except when Morgan is onscreen. It’s rather painfully obvious when the writers resort to having Mick and Coraline (in a flashback) re-create the iconic scene in Body Heat, where William Hurt’s Ned Racine throws a lawn chair through a door to get to Kathleen Turner’s Mattie. Alas, O’Laughlin is no William Hurt, and Sossamon will never have the lush, smoldering sensuality of a Kathleen Turner.
Shannyn Sossamon actually had pretty good chemistry with O’Laughlin—as anything but a lover. I got zero sexuality vibes off this pair, but they had a weird kind of dynamic between them. I could almost prefer Coraline to Beth as Mick’s sidekick—she’s sassy, independent, cool, reserved. She’s the Jazz Age to Beth’s American Idol princess. Morgan/Coraline has the potential to be a really good foil for Mick; we’ve needed a good villain for this Gothic little soap opera and Coraline looks like she’ll be a good Angelique to Mick’s Barnabas Collins.*
Meanwhile, Jason Dohring’s Josef had some good lines and a couple of interesting scenes this week. I loved the exchange between him and Mick, as they plot to break into the murder suspect’s house:
Mick: I could use another set of eyes. And teeth.
Josef: (fanged snarl)
And then Josef kvetches the whole time he’s “helping” Mick investigate. Who knew the feral Josef might turn out to be the comic-relief sidekick?
I should also put in a good word about the visuals for “Ringer”; although the film noir look is played out well in every episode, this one has some particularly good images. The fire on the night horizon as Mick does his workout is a beautifully shot study in contrasts. Morgan’s apartment and Coraline’s glass house reflect their owner’s cool, remote personality very well. And when Mick finds the corpse of the murder victim in the embers of the burned hotel, it dissolves into ash at his touch—a stunning effect. The only clunker was the shots of the “murder” in the hotel—they were so obviously fake I thought it was a plot point.
The plot for “Ringer” tries very hard to be clever, and sometimes it is, particularly when we are given the tantalizing little hints that Morgan is Coraline. Is it coincidence? Did the fire actually, miraculously transform a vampire woman back into a human woman? Is this all a deep game Coraline is playing to taunt Mick? This part of the story kept me intrigued, largely because Sossamon’s portrayal of the oblivious, cool, reserved Morgan was so compelling and naturalistic. Even when playing the languid femme fatale Coraline in Mick’s flashbacks, she registered as a more genuine character than O’Laughlin’s Fifties Mick, slicked-back hair notwithstanding. The murder plot was pretty straightforward, but then, none of the murders Mick investigates have ever been terribly difficult to solve—clearly the emphasis in Moonlightis on the love story.
In the last scene, we see “Morgan” sponging her shoulder, wiping away the makeup that concealed the identifying tattoo that we now know proves she really is Coraline. Obviously, she is here to stay, and that’s a good thing. Although the show has steadily improved from week to week, it is still little more than a soap opera. Which is fine, but if we’re going down that road, we need all the pieces in the game—the long-lost lover, the spurned wife, the villainess. It will be fun watching her drive Mick mad with the promise of a return of his lost humanity. Seven episodes into the first season of Moonlight, it looks like the creators are already developing an exit strategy: cure Mick of vampirism.
Earning a 5.1 rating, this Friday’s episode improved its numbers from last week and came in ahead of Friday Night Lights. CBS apparently is satisfied enough with these ratings that there are no rumblings of cancellation in the pipe line, although this may be more due to the writer’s strike leaving networks with no replacements for cancelled shows. It’s actually doing better in the ratings than genre shows Chuck and Bionic Woman, a feat no one would have predicted when the show debuted.
*If these characters are unfamiliar, check out the cult classic vampire soap Dark Shadows on DVD. You will not be sorry.