Moonlight: “What’s Left Behind”

Family Values

By Sarah Stegall 

Copyright © 2008 by Sarah Stegall


Fridays on CBS, 9pm ET/PT

“What’s Left Behind”

Written by  Jill Blotevogel

Directed by Chris Fisher.

One unfailing way to kill the sublimated sexual tension on a TV show is to have the characters discuss it openly. Nothing kills that heady brew of magic and lust faster than taking the mystery out of it. I was very disappointed to see Beth Turner teasing Mick St. John about having a family together, complete with not-so-sly innuendo about whether sex between them would be any good. Note to writers: show, don’t tell. If you want us to know that Mick and Beth would sizzle together, show it. No matter how deftly Mick St. John arches that eyebrow, it won’t come close to that searing kiss he laid on Beth a couple of weeks ago. I hope this backtracking from that moment does not indicate that the writers are getting cold feet.

Young Jacob Fordham is snatched from his bed in the middle of the night, and assistant DA Ben Talbot suspects he may be the latest in a string of child kidnappings that end in murder. Having already sounded Beth out on the subject of a job change, he now offers her a chance to work as a “civilian investigator” for the DA’s office, using her knowledge of the previous cases. Meanwhile, Mick recognizes the grieving father of the snatched toddler as his possible long-lost son.

Say what? Yes, it appears that before he was a vampire, Mick St. John (or as Josef calls him, “G. I. Mick”) had a fling with the widow of his best friend, Ray Fordham. Unfortunately, or fortunately, Ray turned up not dead, merely paralyzed. Ray and his wife welcomed a bouncing baby boy into the world seven months later. Mick can count on his fingers, and has been troubled ever since by the possibility that Robert Fordham (Robin Thomas, Shark) is his son. Which would make young Jacob his grandson, and Mick leaps into action to find him before the kidnapper can kill the boy.

Which begs the question, would Mick care about this case at all if there were no personal angle? That’s always the moral problem when writers insist on an investigator having a personal connection to every case–while the writers think it “humanizes” the character, it alsodehumanizes him, by implying that if it weren’t for that connection, he wouldn’t care about the case. Long term character values get sacrificed for short term plot points, ultimately undermining the integrity of our hero. This was one of the major shortfalls of The X-Files, among other shows, and continues to plague screenwriters who cannot see beyond the next broadcast air date.

The one good thing about Mick and Beth’s cooperation in this investigation is that it’s wonderful  to watch them work together, sparking ideas off of one another, working hand in glove. Of course, it’s easy for them, because the investigating police are so lame that they have not followed up on the most obvious avenues (anyone who ever had access to the house), or conducted a half-decent investigation of the premises of the crime scene itself (having failed to find either the trap door in the ceiling or the coal chute in the basement). The only truly original insight into the case comes when Beth realizes that the ring of stuffed animals surrounding the vanished boy’s bed indicates his fear of being attacked from within his own house. That’s the sort of intuitive leap a “civilian investigator” can act on, unrestrained by the bureaucratic demands of actual police work. I’d like to see this idea expanded on, if only to see if it will work out. Mick is once again granted unprecedented (for a civilian) access to a crime scene, and quickly lays to rest his fear that a vampire was at work.

Increasingly, Mick is focused as much on the burning question of his own relation to Robert and Jacob. We learn a little more vamp lore when he tells Beth that a DNA match is out of the question, since Turning changes a vampire’s DNA (that feature alone would make a living vampire a valuable resource in any lab in the world). He must find some bit of DNA from his pre-vampire days, so he digs out his old GI footlocker. In passing, as he puts it away, we glimpse his Purple Heart–another bit of Mick’s past revealed. As Beth and Mick wait to see if he is, in fact, a father, they tease one another in a heavy handed way about the possibly consequences of sex between them.

Mick: Are you saying you want to have my baby?
Beth: What do you think about “Elliot” for a boy?
Mick: [Eyebrow]

It’s cute, but it takes a lot of the air out of the sexual tension between these two. There’s something so … not breathlessly sexy … about discussing what to name the kids.

I think what the writers had in mind for that scene was a poignant reflection on the fact that Mick cannot father children as a vampire. Josef reinforces the irony of vampire lingo, which designates the one who Turns another as a “sire” even as that physical capability is taken away. Later, having discovered that no, Robert is not Mick’s son, he tells Beth that he never so much missed the idea of having a family as when the possibility was taken away from him. It’s another thing he voluntarily gave up a couple of weeks ago, when he asked Josef to Turn him back into a vampire. As yet, however, we have no clue from Beth as to whether she even wants kids. So far, it seems all she wants is Mick.

The best scenes of the episode had nothing to do with the romance, however. When Mick finally figures out who the kidnapper is (a construction worker with access to all the crime scenes), he stalks him through a network of abandoned, dark cellars. When the bad guy cuts the lights, Mick’s eyes take on the eerie glow of vampirism and he gloats that the darkness is “fine by me”. He fearlessly confronts the kidnapper, withstands several gunshots, and when he finds the boy, rams his fists through a solid brick wall to save him. His violence in these scenes contrasts well with the tenderness he shows the boy, who is near death. Again, Alex O’Loughlin rises above a mediocre episode to add something real and memorable to it. The lighting (or lack of it) and action of those few frantic minutes were the highlight of the episode.

In the final moments, when Mick finds out that Robert is not his son, he adds another moment–pride in his friend, Ray, who fathered a child despite his injuries. That selfless expression of joy for his friend was a wonderful insight into Mick’s inner values. He then drives away, leaving Robert to puzzle over the image of Mick in a group portrait of GIs which includes Ray, his real father. We are left to puzzle over the Mick who, by his own account, spent the last 23 years watching over Beth Turner, to whom he is not related, while utterly neglecting the boy who, until now, he thought may have been his son. He may have initially removed himself from the family for reasons of conscience, but after Ray and Lilah died, what’s to keep Mick from keeping an eye on what may be the only family he has? Maybe it’s just as well that Mick has no “contributions to the human gene pool”, as Josef puts it. He seems a relatively thoughtless father.

Some pundits think the only reason Moonlight is still on the air right now is because CBS has thrown in the towel as far as Friday nights go. While the show won its timeslot and its demographic with a 7.68 million, 1.9/6  showing, these are numbers which would have drawn the axe last year. What may make or break this show is a) the programming decisions of the other networks for Friday nights and b) keeping the cost of the show low enough to ensure a profit despite those low ratings. This week the networks are hosting their upfronts, where they announce next year’s schedules. As of press time, no announcement had been made aboutMoonlight, but by the time the last episode of the season airs on Friday, we’ll know if it was the season finale, or the series’.