By Jessica Ritchey
Beauty and the Beast
Season 1, episodes 5 and 6: “Masques” and “The Beast Within”
Original airdates: Oct. 30 and Nov. 6, 1987
It does seem at times as though the stars were aligned against this show. Doing a big Halloween episode was going to be a tradition, but the 1988 writers’ strike scuttled the second season’s attempt, and Hamilton’s departure the third. Which is a pity, as “Masques” is a breath of fresh air against the sometimes stifling romanticism of the show’s interiors. And watching Vincent and Catherine wander around above ground and mostly content is a rare treat.
“Masques” does have an awkwardly grafted-on subplot about The Troubles—which, amazingly, was insisted on by the producers, as credited co-writer George R.R. Martin was content to leave doom and gloom at home and just have an evening of the two wandering the city having various adventures. It’s not too much of a strain at least, with Caitlin O’Heaney (Tales of the Gold Money and The Charmings) making an appealing heroine as a Northern Irish peace activist who finds herself at the center of a would be assassination plot. Vincent and Catherine come to her rescue and reunite her with her ailing father in the bargain. Taking to heart her words to make the the most of the time they have, Catherine and Vincent wander through a montage of NYC at night and greet the sunrise at a bench overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. We get our first “they’re about to start making out like teenagers, but…” moment when they are interrupted by a startled jogger and Vincent decides to make his goodbyes instead. Catherine watches him go with a wistful expression and we get one of thew few episodes that feels fully fleshed out in the terms of the richness of both the glittering city high life and the smoke and mystery Below.
“The Beast Within,” unfortunately, feels like a script that desperately needed a subplot, or at least a few more rewrites. An intriguing notion of a prodigal attempting a return, and a glimpse at Vincent’s childhood, are buried under a bog of standard mobbed-up thugs that wouldn’t have been out of place giving David Banner a hard time on The Incredible Hulk.
Catherine is investigating a series of professional-style hits among the city’s dockworkers and starts to pull together a case against a single man, Mitch Denton. Unfortunately, he happens to be the son of an elderly Helper we see Vincent bringing food and medicine to, and more than that, it turns out he grew up with Vincent for a good sized portion of his childhood. And it’s his resentment at believing he was sent away to Below by his father, and his sense of entitlement that he should be allowed safe shelter to hide out from the authorities, that fuel the conflict of the episode. Or would, if the writing and casting had been sharper.
Mitch is just too one-dimensional. Having him project one side to Vincent and another to Catherine would have done wonders for making “The Beast Within” not feel so tedious. But Mitch is hateful and nasty from the word go, and not even interestingly hateful and nasty. It’s simply a matter of waiting for him to finally get felled by his own greed—and Vincent’s claws—and as he sobs, broken, on the catwalk of an old steel mill there’s not even the worry that he’ll tell about Below. Not because he has no reason to be that petty, or to be on the road to redemption—just that we won’t have a show if he does.
That he is even alive stretches credulity. The story climaxes with him shooting Catherine, and after bundling her to a hospital, Vincent follows him to the mill he’s been using as a hideout. Making quick work of Mitch’s henchmen, he’s about to deliver the killing blow when Catherine awakens from surgery and softly mummers his name. Their bond alerting him that she still lives, Vincent is able to quell his beastly rage for the moment and retreat back into the shadows and end up in Catherine’s hospital room for a tender coda. But one that leaves the problem of Mitch still out there, and more aching for revenge than ever. And it raises the problem of just what messy, possibly unforgivable things you might do to protect your home and those you love—one of those thorny questions the show was always shy about answering.
Next week we look at career opportunities and how past is present.
- If you guess that Catherine will make a complete recovery and the shooting will never be discussed again, you’ve watched a TV show before.
- TV Halloween episodes are always my favorite, including “supposedly average people wearing professionally made costumes.” The show does a pretty god job of being realistic on that front, as obviously Gotham’s upper set could afford their finery. I’d be curious to know what they would have dressed the main cast up as next season had the fates allowed.
- I honestly don’t believe they ever used old steel mills for anything besides action TV/movie standoffs anymore.