By Jessica Ritchey
Beauty and the Beast
Season 2, Episodes 5 and 6: “God Bless the Child” and “Sticks and Stones”
Original airdates: Dec. 16, 1988 and Jan. 6, 1989
It isn’t until the tunnel children start singing “A Midnight Clear” at the very end that it hits you that this is Beauty and the Beast‘s Christmas episode, which is why it’s one of my favorite Christmas episodes. Bypassing the exhausted territory of the designated Grinch being taught the True Meaning of Christmas™, it actually is a lovely 48-minute parable on that subject. Even a nonbeliever like me can consign what it says about Grace, second chances, and building on “Dead of Winter’s” promise that “all winters end.”
Catherine has decided to volunteer at a suicide crisis hotline, and being Catherine she immediately goes against policy and meets one of her most distressed callers in person. Her name is Lena, she’s a prostitute and not old enough to drink yet. She’s also about to have a baby. Bypassing Below’s rules about admitting new residents, she’s able to talk Vincent into talking Father into letting Lena stay. Lena is curious about this benefactor she’s never met, and the glances and vague answers she gets about her questions only serve to pique her curiosity further. They finally meet by the rather nice matte painting of waterfalls Below, and the fear or revulsion Vincent was expecting is replaced by awe and fascination on Lena’s part.
Lena goes into labor and Vincent is there in the infirmary chamber helping her deliver her child. And as only can be expected after sharing such a profound experience with someone, Lena finds herself falling in love. And it’s honest first-time love, where it scares the hell out of you and you make some big mistakes. And in some of best guest work the series ever did, Katy Boyer as Lena delicately plays the damage the years on the streets have done to her, the wounds that are only starting to heal, still leaving her adrift and unable to separate familial from romantic love. She’s a girl who has had to learn too many hard lessons too early, and when she flees in mortification after Vincent rebuffs her it’s no so much a silly teenager as a frightened child afraid of ruining everything. Even willing to leave her daughter to be raised by people she doesn’t feel worthy to join the company of.
It takes Catherine to gently coax her back, and it’s one of the nicest reflections on her character that there’s not a whiff of jealousy on her part. Just a deep sadness that the life Vincent could’ve had with Lena, he could just as easily have with her, if only he weren’t still so afraid. But there is no sadness in the naming ceremony that closes out the episode, or in Lena grinning big before she tells those gathered that her daughter’s name is Catherine. Redemption and renewal always find ways of sneaking in, even in the coldest days of snow and ice.
A child grown up and gone astray is the lead of “Sticks and Stones.” Laura, last seen in “An Impossible Silence,” is not taking to living Above well. Understandably so, as her supportive community has been replaced by a world often quite hostile to the disabled. She finds solace in her deaf boyfriend, and in striking back against the world through the petty, but growing, crimes of the gang he is part of. In an interesting touch, the gang is all hard of hearing, and Laura’s boyfriend is actually a hearing man working undercover.
And the problem of Below becoming too smug in the moral high ground their hiding place provides them is nicely turned out in a scene where the council gathers to deliver a stern lecture to Laura, only for her to lash back that their lessons that she could do anything are meeting some harsh realities topside, and that it’s very easy to have a code when it has very little chance of ever being tested. She’s also in love, and has to go through the hurt of discovering her boyfriend’s actual identity and breaking ties with the gang once they turn to violence. But she’s stronger for it at the end, and she returns Above surer in her place, and willing to take the chances that are the only path to a fulfilled life.
Catherine knows as much, predicting (in one of her “I’m not really talking about the couple we helped” observations) that Laura will be happier taking a chance on her boyfriend than retreating to the safety she knows. Vincent has no Frost quote to respond to that and only smiles, and they walk off together into the strange golden light of Below, content for another day.
Next week has puppy love and rolls Lawful Good.
- Hey, I like the name Imogen—so there, Vincent.
- I like how the story of Vincent being found outside the hospital on “the coldest night of the year” would become a tradition to be told at Christmas time to the children. It’s also a canny bit of community building on Father’s part as it reinforces why Below is special, and a big reason why they must stay together to keep providing a sanctuary for Vincent.
- The naming ceremony is a lovely bit of world-building, it would interesting to see if children born Below who decide to leave have a ceremony picking a last name, or maybe an older child wanting to shed the life of past abuse Above, picking a new one to go by.
- I like too the handling of disability with Laura and her story arc. She’s not a pasteboard cutout to teach us a lesson about (token) inclusion but an actual person who can be wrong, unkind, or rightly mad.