By Jessica Ritchey
Beauty and the Beast
Season 1, Episodes 3 and 4: “Siege” and “No Way Down”
Original airdates: Oct. 9, 1987 and Oct. 16, 1987
When looking at an older TV series it’s always important to take it on the terms of what it actually was instead of what you wished it could have been. This pair of episodes offers intriguing attempts to open the show up, and yet, the show is its title, whatever else happens it by design comes back to the relationship between Vincent and Catherine.
That relationship is tested in “Siege” when Catherine finds her self falling for yuppie developer Elliot Burch (played by Edward Albert). Molded on Trump when he had, well, maybe respectability is the wrong word, let’s say credibility in the late eighties. (And before we shake our heads at the follies of the Reagan decade, let’s remember that not more than a year ago this ridiculous man with several Brillo pads apparently mating angrily on his scalp was being taken seriously as a potential presidential candidate.) Burch is charming, and used to getting his own way, and Catherine tries to convince herself she can have both men, up to the point of rather unbelievably ignoring Vincent’s obvious distress.
Albert’s performance helps in gliding over that. Rakishly charming, their initial meeting a gallery opening, where Burch is giving away a valuable private collection, is a believable match up between two of the city’s VIP list. Showing that Catherine is part of this world demonstrates that there might have been merit in doing more stories set among her friends and family. Drawing parallels between the two worlds, we see how Father can barely hide his relief that Vincent’s relationship with an outsider might be coming to and end. It’s also the first major struggle in defining just what Catherine and Vincent’s relationship is, perhaps inevitably mirroring the off-screen battles about it. It’s clear by the end of the episode she wants to leave Burch but is unsure if she should walk away from something certain for the great unknown of Vincent, who is always too eager to send her away for the life he thinks she deserves. A life that is more about protecting himself from hurt than actually listening to what she wants unfortunately.
However, Burch’s business practices step in to end things for her. Upon learning that Burch’s right hand man has been using thugs to intimidate a group of old folks out of their building to leave it in Burch’s hands to turn into condos, she leaves him in disgust. Mediating over the affair on her balcony, she finds Vincent has left her a copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets, with the inscription “Shakespeare knew everything”, and a rose marking Sonnet 29. The episode ends with a lovely coda of Perlman’s reading of the poem playing over the NYC skyline at night, an extra bittersweet tinge added now in seeing the WTC still standing.
After dealing with the treachery of the human heart, the threat in “No Way Down” is the slightly more prosaic street gang. But not the stock 1908s TV favorite of multicultural youths in denim vests and bandannas. Rather this group is called The Silks, dressed in suits, and led by one Jeffrey Combs, the Re-Animator himself. After a rather easy to foresee as a bad idea meeting with a potential informant (played by a visibly ailing Merritt Butrick) ends with an explosion, the informant dead, and a blinded Vincent, separated from Catherine, falls into the gang’s clutches. Catherine turns to her self-defense instructor Isaac for help in finding him.
Isaac is yet another tantalizing road not taken. Delroy Lindo is a wonderful, consistently underused actor and Isaac could have been a valuable character. Part of the world Catherine’s D.A. office activities are supposed to protect, a necessary check against her privileged idealism, and rebuke to Father’s bitterness over the world that pushed him into exile having no righteous men left in it. At the end of the episode as Isaac hasn’t seen everything, but seen enough to know something remarkable is going on with the man Catherine has been desperate to find, she tells him to ask no questions. He agrees, but there’s a sense that he may be brought into to be keep the secret one day, and it’s a pity the writers never did.
On the whole a very satisfying pair of episodes. Albert keeps Burch from being a one dimensional villain, and Combs in his inimitable style shows that just plain evil doesn’t have to be boring. Next week we go trick or treating and get the reminder that home is the place that when you knock on the door they have to let you in…
- I wonder if it’s a union rule that every “Lenny from Mice and Men” type gang member have some small toy to underline their ultimate innocence and eventual willingness to help the protagonist. (Ours has a snow-globe.)
- The Silks are another one of those film/TV gangs that don’t seem to do anything that would justify their feared reputation or bring in income for their suits and cars. But I like the concept, because I’d like to imaging the writer was a huge Crime Story fan and couldn’t resist fashioning a gang that appeared to be post apocalyptic survivors whose only source of information and culture on the past where VHS tapes of the show found in some bunker.
- Aw, little baby Mayim Bialik as a tunnel kid.