Season 2, Episode 2: “The Lady in the Iron Mask”
Original airdate: October 1, 1985
Kerensa: As we approach the conclusion of our Detective roundtable, I wasn’t certain we’d encounter another show I’d enjoy as much as Remington Steele. I stand corrected.
At a friend’s holiday party last night, I mentioned my current viewing of Moonlighting for a website I contribute to.
My friend couldn’t contain her excitement and promptly retrieved her Moonlighting DVDs from the bookshelf, placing them in my hands. Clearly, this show has a devoted following.
Moonlighting, starring Cybill Shepherd and a young Bruce Willis, aired for five seasons from 1985 to 1989.
It revolves around the partnership of ex-model Maddie Hayes and detective David Addison, who collaborate at the Blue Moon Detective Agency.
I was won over right from the opening credits—I’m a sucker for a well-crafted montage.
The episode we watched, “Lady in the Iron Mask,” commences with lingering shots of a woman sensually showering, accompanied by ominous music.
A notable male gaze moment. Then, it takes an unexpected twist with a veiled woman’s appearance. What a revelation!
The initial interaction between Maddie and David crackles with sexually charged banter as they discuss how to address their financially struggling office.
I was totally vibing with Maddie’s sophisticated business attire, and David had undeniable appeal.
Amidst this banter, the veiled woman makes her entrance.
She introduces herself as Barbara, and we discover that a former lover, Frank, disfigured her face with acid.
Despite being married, Barbara remains in love with the man who disfigured her and seeks to locate him since he’s been released on parole.
When I heard this storyline, it struck me as strangely familiar.
It turns out a very similar case unfolded in 1952, involving a New York lawyer and his young mistress, a story later documented in the film “Crazy Love.”
Call me a glutton for twisted love stories, but I can’t resist a compelling tale of love gone awry, even when it involves acid attacks.
Paired with a ‘Body Heat ‘-inspired 80s noir ambiance, there was no way this episode of Moonlighting could disappoint me, despite its occasional 80s clichés and cheesy humor.
The undeniable chemistry between Willis and Shepherd shines through, evident in their swoon-worthy banter and the more profound discussions they engage in regarding the future of their partnership.
In the final scene of the episode, she gives him the most intensely seductive look ever witnessed on television (well, that might be a slight exaggeration, but watch and try to prove me wrong).
Throughout our roundtables, we’ve encountered almost every conceivable detective plot twist, and, in many instances, some of us have accurately predicted those obvious twists. However, this plot had me guessing, from the moment we learned of Frank’s death to the surprising twist that left me stunned. It may have had a touch of melodrama, but I’ll let Les or Cory reveal it to you.
Interestingly, it also had moments of emotional depth.
As Maddie and David return from locating Frank, they discuss whether they should inform Barbara of their discovery.
During this journey, they share tales of past relationships, those filled with scars, wounds, and unquenchable desires.
At one point, Maddie questions Barbara: “Why is she so desperate to reconnect with a man who caused her so much pain?”
David’s response: “You heard her, it’s love.” Preach.
Cory: You all know that I’ve been in and out of the roundtable, but I must admit something to you.
While I’ve enjoyed the previous episodes I’ve watched and discussed here, I signed up for this specifically to discuss Moonlighting.
Even though I’ve only seen a few episodes of the show, those episodes left a lasting impression on me.
Any opportunity to watch more is one I won’t pass up.
“The Lady in the Iron Mask,” Moonlighting, starring Cybill Shepherd as Maddie Hayes and Bruce Willis as Dave Addison.
The random episodes I’ve seen are from much later in the show’s run, so I was quite excited to witness the early stages of David and Maddie’s relationship.
As Kerensa mentioned, what makes this show stand out is its ability to deliver sharp, sarcastic dialogue while infusing genuine emotion and honesty, without allowing one aspect of their relationship to overshadow the other.
Even eight episodes in, their relationship exhibits depth and complexity, similar to many pairings before and after this mid-80s era.
It’s a testament to Shepherd, Willis, and the writing team, particularly showrunner Glenn Gordon Caron (who, though uncredited for this episode, likely revised it multiple times before shooting).
Maddie and David complement each other brilliantly and exemplify the quintessential Unresolved Sexual Tension couple. While Remington Steele did a commendable job in that regard and Hart to Hart lacked any tension to resolve, neither can truly compete with Moonlighting.
The chemistry between Shepherd and Willis is unparalleled, and their individual performances give the dialogue a brisk, non-cheesy quality that sets them apart from the other two shows.
Frankly, I’m not sure there’s a better example of this kind of couple in television history.
Currently, there’s no on-screen duo that can measure up (apologies to Castle and Lady Castle Beckett).
The case was peculiar, albeit expected, yet the oddity compensated for the predictability.
I found the script’s treatment of Frank’s inner turmoil surprisingly profound and tasteful, creating a compelling contrast with the more absurd occurrences that followed.
The concluding set-piece, featuring all four individuals dashing about in dresses and masks, was truly a spectacle.
Kerensa is spot on about Maddie’s final glance at David.
Sheppard gazed at Willis in a manner that few women could replicate.
Their chemistry is otherworldly. Can we consider revisiting all these episodes from the start? Pretty please?
Les: Before this, the only thing I knew about Moonlighting was the legendary “Moonlighting Curse,” which suggests that shows are jinxed once their Unresolved Sexual Tension is resolved.
Now that I’ve seen it, Moonlighting has joined the list of roundtable topics that I’m eager to binge-watch at the earliest opportunity.
After three episodes that I didn’t find bad but seemed more like subdued mysteries, Moonlighting recaptured the sense of enjoyment and thrill that made Remington Steele and even Hart to Hart such delightful viewing experiences.
(Here’s an interesting tidbit connecting our roundtable topics: it turns out that Pierce Brosnan actually made a cameo appearance on Moonlighting as Remington Steele, and Lionel Stander appeared as the Harts’ assistant Max in an It’s A Wonderful Life homage episode that explored what would have happened if the Harts had purchased Blue Moon.)
I believe a significant source of that energy stems from the show’s clear focus.
While Columbo, Murder, She Wrote, and Miss Marple were all successful in their own right, they often revolved around establishing the setting and spending time with various investigators and suspects.
In contrast, Moonlighting consistently keeps the action centered on David and Maddie.
Every scene features the two of them, whether they’re seeking information, deliberating what to do with that information, or engaged in heated debates about their collaboration.
Both Cory and Kerensa have emphasized their chemistry enough, so I won’t dwell on it, except to highlight that, after many years of Bruce Willis being firmly associated with the tough guy persona, it’s quite startling to witness him in his younger years—a fast-talking wisecracker who can turn any conversation into a humorous punchline.
He’s exceptional in this role, and it’s easy to see why this show catapulted his career.
But what truly sets it apart? This show is genuinely funny.
Alongside the aforementioned tense moments that delve into our duo’s relationship scars and the monologues featuring “Barbara” and Frank discussing the acid incident, the episode’s scoring adds an epic touch that distinguishes it from the sleekness of Remington Steele.
However, what truly stands out is the unmistakable presence of broader comedy, woven into the banter-filled nature of many of David and Maddie’s conversations.
One of my personal favorites is their lively debate over their choices of newspapers to hide behind.
In the third act, the episode takes on a slapstick quality, with David, Maddie, and the Wylies all donning identical outfits (and David complaining that everyone looks better in them than he does), engaging in a wild chase through the hotel.
The moment when they reveal the “Caution: Wet Floor” sign could practically be replaced with a neon sign flashing “Prepare for Hilarity” given the amount of foreshadowing.
While all our previous mysteries had their lighter moments, Moonlighting appears to make a conscious effort to incorporate them, and it succeeds in keeping award-nominating boards on their toes. (A strategy that clearly paid off.)
From what I’ve observed, this is one of the more grounded episodes of the series.
When perusing an episode guide for Moonlighting, it’s clear that its five seasons are brimming with experimentation, including breaking the fourth wall, fantasy sequences, and black-and-white episodes.
It’s a safe bet that showrunners like Joss Whedon and Dan Harmon, among many others, have drawn inspiration from this show, realizing the creative possibilities it offers. (Cory, if you’re looking for a viewing companion, I’d be happy to contribute to some DVD sessions.)
While this specific episode may not have pushed the boundaries as far as some others, setting aside the oddity of the main case, it stands out as one of the most inventive mysteries we’ve seen so far.
Watching it was an absolute delight.
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