By Cory Barker, Kerensa Cadenas and Les Chappell
Season 2, Episode 2: “The Lady in the Iron Mask”
Original airdate: October 1, 1985
Kerensa: As we get down to the end of our Detective roundtable, I wasn’t sure if we’d watch another show that I thoroughly enjoyed as much as I did Remington Steele. I was wrong.
At a friend’s holiday party last night, I mentioned that I was watching Moonlighting for a website I write for. My friend let out a squeal and turned around into her bookshelf and put her Moonlighting DVDs into my hands. Clearly, there is not a lack of love for this show.
Starring Cybill Shepherd and a young Bruce Willis, Moonlighting ran five seasons from 1985-1989. Focused around an ex-model Maddie Hayes and a detective David Addison, the two work together at the Blue Moon Detective Agency. I was sold during the opening credits—I can’t resist a good montage.
The episode we watched, “Lady in the Iron Mask,” opens with lingering shots of a woman in various states of soaping herself in the shower set to menacing music. Male gaze much? Then it turns around to a woman whose face is completely veiled. WHAT!?
The first interaction between Maddie and David is automatically filled with sexually charged banter as they debate what to do with their economically deprived office. I was totally digging Maddie’s business woman realness ensemble and David could totally get it. In the midst of this banter, the veiled woman shows up! Her name is Barbara and we learn that a former lover, Frank, threw acid in her face and she was badly scarred. Despite being married, Barbara is still in love with the man who threw acid in her face and she wants to find him since he was released on parole. The first thing I thought when I heard this plot line was that this sounds extremely familiar. Turns out, in 1952, a very similar case occurred between a New York lawyer and his young mistress, which was later chronicled in a documentary Crazy Love.
Maybe I’m a masochist, but I can’t turn down a good love-gone-wrong plotline even if it involves acid throwing, and coupled with a Body Heat-esque 80s noir vibe there was no way that this episode of Moonlighting could disappoint me, despite its occasionally dated 80s feel and hokey jokes.
The chemistry between Willis and Shepherd is undeniable—from their swoon-worthy banter to the more serious conversations they have whether or not to continue their partnership. And in the last scene of the episode, she gives him the most intense sex eyes ever witnessed in television history (yes, which might be an exaggeration but watch and give me a better example).
One thing we’ve experienced in the duration of our roundtables is that we’ve almost seen it all in terms of detective plot twists and turns and in many cases some of us have guessed those obvious twists. But this plot kept me guessing from the time we learn that Frank was dead to the plot twist that made me gasp. Maybe it was a little hokey, but I’ll let Les or Cory spoil it for you.
But oddly enough, it was at times emotionally compelling. When Maddie and David are driving back from finding Frank, they debate whether or not they should tell Barbara that they found him. They share former relationship tales, the ones full of scars, wounds and burning desires. At one point Maddie questions Barbara: “Why is she so desperate to be in touch with a man who caused her so much pain?” David responds, “You heard her, it’s love.” Preach.
Cory: You folks know that I’ve been in and out of the roundtable, but while I’ve enjoyed the previous episodes I watched and discussed here, I have to be honest with you: I only signed up to do this for Moonlighting. I’ve only seen a few episodes of the show, yet those episodes stuck with me for quite a while; any excuse I can have to watch a little more, is one I’m going to take.
The random episodes I’ve seen are from much later in the show’s run so I was pretty jazzed to see David and Maddie’s relationship at much different, nascent point. And as Kerensa mentioned, what makes this offering so great is that it manages to throw a whole lot of snappy, sarcastic dialogue at us, but then mixes in a dash of real emotion and honesty without allowing either part of their relationship to usurp the other. Even eight episodes in, there’s depth and complexity to their relationship, which is fundamentally like so many pairings we’ve seen before and after this mid-80s time period. It’s a testament to Shepherd, Willis, and the writing staff (primarily showrunner Glenn Gordon Caron who, although not credited for this episode, probably re-wrote it 12 times before it was shot anyway) that Maddie and David work so well together, but also serve as the best possible example of the Unresolved Sexual Tension couple. While Remington Steele did a pretty solid job in that regard and Hart to Hart didn’t have any tension to resolve, neither can truly touch Moonlighting. The chemistry between Sheppard and Willis is unbelievable and their individual work makes the dialogue zip instead of hang up in the air, drenched in cheese like those other two shows. Frankly, I’m not sure there’s a better example of this kind of couple in television history. There’s certainly no duo on the air right now that can measures up (sorry Castle and
Lady Castle Beckett).
The case was weird, but predictable, though the weirdness made up for the predictability. I thought the script treated Frank’s conflicted feelings over his action with surprising depth and class, which again, contrasted nicely with the more ridiculous events to come. The final set-piece, with all four people running around in dresses and masks, was a sight to behold. And Kerensa is totally right about that final look that Maddie gives David. Sheppard oogled Willis in a way that I don’t think a million women could. Otherworldly chemistry. Can we just start from the beginning and review all these episodes? Please?
Les: Up until this point, the only thing I knew about Moonlighting was the fabled “Moonlighting Curse” that states shows are doomed once their Unresolved Sexual Tension is taken out of the picture. And now that I’ve seen it, it’s been added to the list of our roundtable subjects that I now want to watch every episode of as soon as possible. After three installments that I didn’t think were bad but certainly struck me as more sedate mysteries, Moonlighting brought back all the the sense of fun and excitement that made Remington Steele and even Hart to Hart delightful to watch. (Fun fact to further connect our roundtable topics together: it turns out that not only did Pierce Brosnan actually make a cameo appearance on Moonlighting as Remington Steele, but Lionel Stander appeared as the Hart’s assistant Max in an It’s A Wonderful Life homage episode that showed what would happen if the Harts had purchased Blue Moon instead.)
I think that a large part of that energy comes from the fact that this is a show with a very clear focus. Columbo, Murder, She Wrote and Miss Marple were all stories that were focused on setting the scene and spending time with various investigators and suspects—doing it very well in several instances—but the action in Moonlighting is never far away from David and Maddie. Every scene is the two of them, either trying to get information, discussing what to do with that information or arguing over whether or not they can work together. Both Cory and Kerensa have stressed that chemistry enough that I won’t repeat it, other than to say after so many years of Bruce Willis firmly rooted in the aged tough guy it’s startling to see him in his younger years, a fast-talking wiseguy who can turn any conversation into a punchline. He’s terrific here, and I can entirely see why this launched his career.
But setting it even further apart? This show is funny. You have the previously mentioned tenser moments regarding our duo’s relationship scars and the monologues where “Barbara” and Frank discuss the acid incident—as well as the way the episode is scored in many ways, giving it a much more epic feel than the slickness of a Remington Steele—but there’s a definite sense of broader comedy interwoven into it in the crosstalk nature of so many of David and Maddie’s conversations, with one of my personal favorites being their debate over their respective choices of newspaper for hiding behind. In the third act, the episode essentially turns into slapstick, with David, Maddie and the Wylies all sporting the same outfit (and David complaining how everyone looks better in it than he does) and chasing each other through the hotel. The moment where they show the “Caution: Wet Floor” sign could essentially be replaced with a neon sign flashing “Hilarity about to ensue” for all the foreshadowing it does. All of our various mysteries have had lighter moments, and Moonlighting seems to have the most conscious effort to incorporate them and stymie award nominating boards. (A move that clearly worked in their favor.)
And from what I’ve seen, this is one of the saner episodes of the show. Reading an episode guide of Moonlighting as five seasons appear rife with experimentation from breaking the fourth wall to fantasy sequences to black-and-white episodes. It’s an entirely safe bet that Joss Whedon and Dan Harmon, amongst many other showrunners, have looked at this show and realized just how much they could get away with as long as they were creative about it. (Cory, if you want someone to watch this with, I’ll happily pitch in on some DVDs.) This particular episode might not have been one pushing the envelope—weirdness of the main case aside—but in terms of the mysteries we’ve watched so far, there’s no disputing this has been one of the most creative ones to date, and one that was an absolute pleasure to watch.
Next week, the detective roundtable draws to a close, with one final case to solve. And for our last show, we’ve chosen none other than crowd favorite and This Was Television Hall of Fame member The X-Files. Exact episode still to come, but we’ll be sure to let you know our choice before the discussion on December 20.
Also a notice that after next week we’ll be taking off for a couple of weeks, so everyone can enjoy the company of their families/catch up on their Netflix queue while hiding from their families. We’ll have an announcement of the next roundtable schedule after the New Year, and if you have any suggestions for our next theme, send us an email and we’ll add them to the list.