07 July 2010

Moonlight S1 E4 "Fever"

Spoilers Ahead

Even if I weren't a vampire fan, I would like Moonlight. The writers obviously not only know and understand their characters, but they have a pretty good grasp on relationships and--dare I say it?--the nature of love. Yeah, I know--deep stuff for TV. Maybe that's why the show suffered an early cancellation; deep and subtle doesn't quite capture the ratings as well as shallow and over-the-top.

Not that Moonlight never indulges in a bit of excess; I mean this episode does feature a chase scene involving a helicopter and missiles. But more on that in a bit.

"Fever" starts with Mick in an ice-filled bathtub, looking wretched. Then, in a voiceover, he starts telling us how he got there (it seems the road to hell really is paved with good intentions). It's an intriguing start to the episode. I also have to give props for the excellent camera work; not only does it look good, but it reflects Mick's state rather nicely, I think.

The tale of how Mick ended up in a trashy motel's ice-filled bathtub starts two days beforehand. After the star witness in the murder trial of a known arms dealer ends up running for her life thanks to a leak in the police department, Mick hears from Beth for the first time since he told her the traumatic story of how he was turned (more here). But instead of getting some alone time with her, it turns out Beth was calling because her boyfriend, Deputy DA Josh, wants to hire Mick to help find said witness and bring her back safely in order to testify. Wacky fun ensues.

The scene involving the witness's safe house (and police guards) getting shot up is fairly impressive. It's brutal and frightening and surprising. I haven't seen a hitman that effective probably since Leon. Or maybe The Bride. Not bad for a minor television character with limited screen time.

Mick also makes an interesting point, which for some reason never occurred to me, and which I don't think I've seen brought up in other vampire venues, either. He claims that blood is life to both humans and vampires, but that vampires are jealous of humans because we can make our own. To me, his comment sheds new light on what a vampire is (at least in Moonlight's mythology), making them more tragic than monstrous. I find this take on vampires rather appealing.

The real story doesn't begin, however, until Mick and the witness (Leni) try to outrun the hitman who, thanks to the leak, has caught up with them outside LA, arriving in the guise of a local police officer. As Mick and Leni take off in the police car stolen by the hitman, a helicopter suddenly appears behind them. And then it starts firing off missiles. When I first saw this scene I had to roll my eyes. It just seemed so excessive and out of place in this show. But after thinking about it I decided it was fine. Hey, if the producers have the means to include a missile-firing helicopter in their show, why the hell shouldn't they go for it? In fact, every show should include such a thing at some point. Come on--wouldn't that make your television-viewing experience infinitely more fun? You know it would. And as Mick points out, Leni did piss off an arms dealer.

Anyway, after some quick thinking Mick gets himself and Leni out of harm's way while making the bad guys think they succeeded in killing them. The only problem is they're out of cellphone signal range, and the only way to get somewhere safe is by walking through the desert. The very sunny, very hot desert. As Mick puts it, he spent six weeks living in a trench in winter during the Battle of the Bulge and he'd thought that was hell. He was wrong.

When Beth finds out that Mick is "dead," her reaction is telling. Tears and recriminations don't usually follow the death of a mere friend, or someone you haven't known very long. But she's clearly shattered at the news. And when Leni finally gets a signal and calls Beth at Mick's behest, Beth can't get to the motel they've holed themselves up in fast enough. She's also unreservedly willing to let Mick feed on her once she realizes how badly he needs the blood. The average acquaintance probably wouldn't be so willing to risk their life to help someone capable of killing them without a second thought. But even after Mick argues against it and then, finally giving in, tells Beth that at some point she'll have to stop him, she isn't dissuaded. The scene of Mick feeding from Beth's wrist is kind of beautiful. The way they're holding on to each other, and the pained look in Beth's eyes (which doesn't seem to be stemming from physical pain) really is touching. And this, my friends, is why women swoon over vampires.

I also noticed that when Mick was arguing with Beth over taking her blood, his comment was "Not yours--not like this." Which instantly made me think "like how, then?" Did Mick have a vision in his mind of how he might one day get intimately acquainted with Beth? Despite his protests that they're not meant to be together, it seems some part of him still believes they are. Fantasy is the refuge of the unrequited lover. Only, in this case, there's definitely some requiting involved.

After the bad guy is dispatched (in a Shining-esque moment) and the day is saved, Beth returns to life with Josh. And while things seem fine on the surface, Beth is clearly conflicted, which is confirmed when she heads over to Mick's place. He either senses or hears that she's there and approaches the door. As she knocks, he watches her on the video monitor. Then, as they each rest against opposite sides of the door, Mick's voiceover lets us know that he's decided she can't be near him anymore because it puts her in danger. I so wanted him to open that door, but instead Beth turns and walks away and then he follows suit.

The more I think about it, the more I think this might be the best human-vampire relationship ever portrayed. There seems to be real emotion between them, but also valid reluctance. There's also none of those creepy 'centuries-old vampire obsessed with teenaged girl' overtones (hey, I love Buffy, but I can't help being a little grossed out by the Slayer's relationship with Angel). I love the tension between Mick and Beth, and the slow pacing of the way it's being played out. This is why I'd be into this show even if Mick was as human as anyone.

I have no idea where the next episode is going to take us, but I can't wait to find out. Here's to subtlety, with just enough excess thrown in to make it fun.

Fang Files

Appearance: Human until the vampire emerges, then ghostly white eyes and elegant fangs. A sun-sickened vampire's eyes will turn yellow (the whites, not the irises).

Strengths: Heightened sense of smell and hearing. Ability to easily jump from heights. Super strength. Fast healing.

Weaknesses: Sunlight: the longer a vampire is in the sun, the sicker he gets. Eventually, if there's a source of blood nearby, survival instincts kick in and the vampire won't be able to stop himself from feeding.

Sound Bites

Mick: What would you do if the one thing you need to save your life is the one thing that would make life unbearable?

Mick: Some couples just aren't meant to be together. Take me and Beth; she has a very real boyfriend and, well, after Coraline I understandably have trust issues. Still, when I see it's Beth calling I always pick up.

Beth: So, how long can you stay outside? Like how much sun is too much?
Mick: Any is too much.
Beth: You're a delicate flower, Mick St. John.

Moonlight, Season 1 Episode 4 "Fever." Written by Jill Blotevogel. Directed by Fred Toye. From CBS/The CW.

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