By Jessica Ritchey
Beauty and the Beast
Season 1, Episodes 17 and 18: “Down to a Sunless Sea” and “Fever”
Original airdates: Feb. 19 and Feb. 26, 1988
Today’s two episodes serve as a good example of Beauty and the Beast‘s persistent structural problem. It very rarely followed the A plot/B plot form, or the A, B, and C plot form, and it could have stood to benefit from doing so. Part of it is simply that the show was always going to be about Vincent and Catherine, so the producers and writers might understandably have thought not to bother ever spending any serious time with anyone else. But it hurt because when the main story was weak, well, that’s all there is—better luck next time.
“Down To A Sunless Sea” is just tiresome. It’s the “love from someone’s past” episode. Yet instead of mining something fresh, they cop out by having the former flame of Catherine’s turn out to be a psycho. No, really. And just like the psychotic professor in “Dark Spirit”, the guy portraying the menace (in this case, Jim Metzler) is not much of an actor. So it’s grating watching Catherine not pick up on how the schmuck might as well be carrying a sign saying “I’m going to try to kill you and possibly smell your hair while you sleep.” Plus it doesn’t ring true that she ignores warnings from Vincent, who (in an expansion of his hinted-at preternatural abilities) has been having unsettling dreams warning of danger.
But ignore them she does, and finds herself tied to a chair at the dinner table. So Vincent has to take the long way to rescue her from the Country Place of Unstable Yuppies and nearly kills Steven, the ex, in the process. She stops him in time and sends him to hide while she calls the police. We unfortunately don’t get the scene of the story she spun for the cops. We end on her balcony once more, with an understandably embarrassed Catherine apologizing.
“Fever” is not so much weak as obvious. The problem with saying you’re virtuous is that you may start to believe that. The denizens of Below get a good lesson in how much so when they discover the ruins of a galleon in the rock—and it’s full of treasure. (And I would say that’s a stretch, but then this happened.) The tunnel folk have big plans for the find, but it’s not too long before greed starts to set them against each other.
Here is where having a B plot really would have helped. As nice as it is spending so much time Below, we know how this story is going to end; contrasting with a story Above could be a nice change of pace to see city folks behaving nicely and with a generous spirit toward each other. After all, it’s not where you live but what you do that matters. But the episode lumbers along; an eee-vil antiques dealer is brought in to be the actual villain, and he falls to his death at the climax in one of the hilariously bad special effects the show was mercifully sparse about using.
Next week mends family ties and has a boss villain lair.
- The ex in “Sunless Sea” has a terrible name, too: Steven Bass. Somebody was really phoning it in that week.
- Again I can see why they gave Catherine an extra-horrible day at work, as it’s about the only plausible reason for her to be in such distress that she’d follow a guy who just about has “Every Breath You Take” blasting out of his pores.
- It was interesting having a tunnel resident hurl “killer” as an invective at Vincent. Granted, they try to play it off as just the greed talking, but it would have been nice to see that some folks Below are quite uneasy around Vincent. It’s a reminder that their dependency on him to guard them gnaws at them, and that they don’t consider him one of them.
- And something new: I’m a YouTube junkie, and given the amount of stage experience (and skeletons in the closet) the BatB cast has, I think it might be fun to dig up a prize in the cereal box. Here’s John McMartin (who plays Charles Chandler) taking part in one of my favorite Sondheim songs.