By Jessica Ritchey
Beauty and the Beast
Season 2, Episodes 3 and 4 “Ashes, Ashes” and “Dead of Winter”
Original airdates: Dec. 2 and Dec. 9, 1988
That there are no safe spaces, no matter how much we may wish otherwise. That’s the common theme of this pair of episodes. In the first the danger comes from an epidemic, and in the second from vengeance egged on by mistrust. But in both cases they are buffeted by the reminder that there is always a second chance, either in carrying the memory or in forgiveness.
“Ashes, Ashes” is a sad tale that parts Eric and Ellie, the siblings from “A Children’s Story,” for good. Vincent rescues a young man from drowning at the docks, a Russian who was trying to slip into the country to see a lost love. He takes him Below to recuperate, neither aware the man is carrying a deadly virus. It spreads Below, and Catherine has to call in a favor from her family doctor for desperately needed supplies. It stops the sickness, but not without claiming both the Russian man and Ellie.
It’s a showcase for Roy Dotrice this time around. Father is utterly crushed by Ellie’s death, and the show deepens to see Below’s often distant and imperious leader reduced to the human rubble of grief. He’s even able to be approachable by Catherine, who has a nice scene bolstering his spirits. And he’s able to start helping Eric through his grief, with a touching ceremony where the community places messages to his sister on a little fire, the ashes dancing up and up through the cracks into the cold, starry night Above.
“Dead of Winter” was one of writer George R.R. Martin’s favorite episodes, and one that the network was cool rerunning since it was another of his self-described “budget busters”. It’s also one of the best bits of world-building the show would do with its presentation of Winterfest, a Below holiday honoring the Helpers and celebrating the survival of the community for another year.
But what would a party be without someone to try to spoil it? And so Paracelsus tries once again to punish his former community for exiling him. Planting a bomb loaded in a chess box, he mingles among the partygoers in disguise. The tension mounts as tunnel-dwellers turn on each other and Catherine and Vincent try to find the surprise Paracelsus has planned. He’s stopped in time but gets away, rather improbably, honestly—you can almost hear Father promise Vincent, “Don’t worry, he’ll be back… each and every week!”
But it’s a very charming episode in which we get to see so much of Below. In a nice coda, Father invites Catherine to join the circle of hands to close out the evening. And left alone at last, Catherine and Vincent don’t take the lack of musicians as reason not to dance. And their shadows flickering over the wall play out over a music box version of the show’s intro theme.
- The Russian man, Adrian Paul, would go on to have much better longevity as Duncan MacLeod on the Highlander TV series.
- We actually do get a follower of the “Evil One” in Paracelsus’s witchy mask-maker; alas, she is not to be seen again.
- Winterfest episodes would have been a nice tradition, as well, especially to explore the idea of the breadth and variety of people who are Helpers, and why they keep the secret from their families or take the chance to invite them in to it.