Recap and review of Beauty and the Beast – Season 1 Episode 18 – Heart of Darkness:
Beauty and the Beast has spent more than its share of episodes making women the damsels in distress, subject to the rescue of a hulking hunk like, say, Vincent (Jay Ryan). Yet “Heart of Darkness” inverts the trope by putting Vincent in peril, leaving it to the trio of Cat (Kristin Kreuk), JT (Austin Basis) and Tess (Nina Lisandrello) to bust into Muirfield’s compound to rescue him. It’s a choice that ultimately results in an episode with a lot of narrative momentum, as the plot is dissected into smaller segments that allow the story to always keep moving. From Evan’s goal in protecting Cat comes the necessity of selling Vincent out to Muirfield. From Cat’s larger goal of busting Vincent out of the Muirfield compound comes the smaller objective of destroying the transformer to depower the electric fence surrounding the building. It’s this objective-based approach to the storytelling that allows “Heart of Darkness” to feel as purposeful as it does. An added bonus is that, in the rare moments where the episode does slow down, it’s only to deliver meaningful exposition. Some of it is simply reiterating backstory we already know, like Vincent’s past with Muirfield or the involvement of Cat’s mother in the supersoldier program, but it’s all committed towards the goal of bringing certain character conflicts to the surface. It’s also necessary to restate certain plot points, given the amount of breaks this show takes (it’s been three weeks since our last episode, a byproduct of the midseason, in which shows frequently take brief hiatuses so stretch the season out into May sweeps).
That said, this was hardly a perfect episode, by any means. Much of the plot turns on several people making particularly idiotic decisions. The Muirfield guard who left Evan alone with his access card deserves to be slapped, and Evan isn’t exactly a shining beacon of genius either, given how he failed to see through Muirfield’s obvious duplicity. But at least that latter fault is explained away as Evan having been blinded by his feelings for Catherine. When the show premiered, I was harsh about this show’s lack of attention to detail, yet the show has matured into a series that finds ways to address lapses in judgment by the characters, and it’s something I can appreciate. Really, at the end of the day, “Heart of Darkness” is a uniformly strong episode in a series that I find myself actively looking forward to every week, as I’m not sure there are many other genre shows like Beauty and the Beast on TV, by which I mean that it’s functionally a romance, yet it operates at the level of a supernatural thriller. This allows the show to develop the romance through action, and it’s an approach that serves the show well, particularly in tonight’s episode.
Of course, I’m somewhat burying the lede here, as the biggest development coming out of this episode was the first death of a major cast member on the show. Yes, Evan bit the bullet, bringing his character arc full circle in a storyline that proved unexpectedly poignant. Evan set the plot of the episode into motion this week, as he confronted Cat about his discovery of her involvement with The Vigilante. He essentially bears his soul to her, confessing his feelings and vowing that only he can protect her. Vincent, as Evan argues, is an unstable and dangerous beast, and Cat is putting herself in harm’s way by associating with him. Evan says that, even now, he’s protecting her from Vincent. The “even now” bit gives away that Evan is keeping Cat occupied while Muirfield apprehends Vincent. A whole strike team chases Vincent through the sewers, yet he’s able to use his speed, dexterity, and familiarity with the tunnels to escape. In his anger, Vincent decides to confront Evan, and the two have a man-to-man conversation on a subway train that ranks as one of the most compelling scenes of the episode, since both men actually have a point in their argument. Vincent feels that Evan should have been able to see through Muirfield’s obviously cruel intentions, telling Evan that Muirfield will kill him as soon as they no longer have need of him. Evan, meanwhile, feels that Vincent shouldn’t have involved Cat in this Muirfield business at all, if he really loved her, and while Cat made the decision to be with Vincent herself, he’s still at least somewhat right in his assessment. Whether Vincent wants to admit it or not, Cat is in harm’s way, simply by virtue of being associated with him. However, they had ultimately come to the conclusion that being in danger together was preferable to being safely separated. And this is something that Evan is not allowing himself to see, blinded as he is by his feelings for Cat, and by his ambitions of being her knight in shining armor.
Evan tries to escape to a separate train car, and Vincent gives chase, leading him right into Muirfield’s trap. A tranquilizer dart takes him down, and Vincent is hauled away. As is Evan, who begins to recognize that Vincent is actually right about Muirfield’s malicious intentions. Across town, JT tracks Vincent’s movements using a burner phone, and realizes that his friend has been taken captive, and like that, we have our plot: Evan and Vincent trying to break out, while Cat and co. try to break in. Evan’s journey through the Muirfield compound clues him in to what the agency wants, as he comes across redacted files about Cat’s mother, along with the cadavers of failed experiments to create a refined version of the supersoldier/cross-species formula. Yet it isn’t until Evan overhears a Muirfield agent taunting Vincent in his cell, telling him that they’re going to jack him up with adrenaline so he’ll feel every cut while they vivisect him, that Evan finally resolves to rescue his former romantic rival. Evan gets into a fight with the Muirfield agent while Cat busts into the compound and wrestles with a laboratory scientist over control of the button to release Vincent from his cell.
While Cat is able to release Vincent from his cell, with Vincent saving Cat from the lab scientist, things don’t go as well for Evan. After Evan refuses to tell the Muirfield agent the identity of the person who’s breached security (an answer which Evan, ironically, doesn’t actually know, since he and Cat haven’t been in contact since their argument), the agent coldly shoots Evan in the abdomen and leaves to go find the intruders. Cat and Vincent come across Evan and though it doesn’t look good, there’s still a chance they might be able to get him to a hospital in time. Unfortunately, the trio comes across a steel door that prevents their escape. Vincent hulks out and tries to breach the door while Evan sends a mysterious email through his phone, in preparation for the end. Cat tries to keep his spirits high, but Evan confesses to Cat that he was wrong to trust Muirfield, that his feelings blinded him to what they intended to do. He tells her that he only ever wanted to protect her, and that now is his chance to finally do just that, since they can’t all escape the compound. Cat refuses to hear this, but Evan insists, saying that giving his life for hers will be the best thing he’s ever done. Just as Cat seems ready to rejoice at Vincent finally getting the door open, she turns to see that Evan is offering himself to the fast-approaching Muirfield strike force. She can only watch in horror as they riddle him with bullets, Tony Montana style, before turning to run for her life so that his sacrifice won’t be in vain.
All of this is far more powerful than I’m making it sound, obviously. And this is all the more surprising to me since I don’t think there was ever any point in the series where I liked Evan. He just seemed like such a non-entity that I could never really engage with him as a character, yet his sacrifice proved to be one of the more resonant moments of the series so far, mostly because it’s so permanent. Evan isn’t coming back at all, and though I’m not sure I’ll miss him, I can appreciate the sentiment behind why he was killed off, in addition to the effect it has on the characters in the aftermath. Cat blames herself, yet Vincent insists that Evan made his own choices, and they have to respect them, for better or worse. He then cheers her up a bit with his story about how all he wanted in life was to meet her, and how he more or less fell to pieces when she came to his warehouse loft, despite his best attempts to push her away. It’s a sweet moment, yet I don’t feel it effectively reflects the gravitas of Evan’s death. That said, the scene still helps to further entrench Vincent and Cat’s status as an unshakeable couple, since it would have been really easy for the show to double-back on the relationship, in the wake of Evan’s death and Cat’s subsequent guilt.
However, Evan’s death has other implications. The mysterious email he sent on his phone? It was a confession to Gabe (Sendhil Ramamurthy), outing himself as the mole in his task force. He takes the blame for Cat by saying he was the one who protected The Vigilante, since he was a symbol of justice in a system cluttered by red tape. Gabe thinks that Evan has skipped town, and it’s just as well, though I suppose it’s something of a shame that Evan won’t get the proper burial to which he’s entitled. That said, the scene is also significant in that it adds to the mystery of Gabe, as he’s revealed to have severe tremors in his hands, which require him to take medication. Perhaps fuel for the theory that he, too, was a victim of Muirfield’s experiments, and he’s searching for Vincent as a means of learning how to control/reverse his affliction? Gabe remains the one character on the show whose mysterious aura best serves the narrative, and I’m sticking to my theory about who/what he is, even if it means I go down with the proverbial ship.
“Heart of Darkness” is as strong an episode as we could have asked for upon return from the three-week break, signalling massive shifts in the plot (Evan’s death) and considerable deepening in the relationship between Cat and Vincent, while also upping the ante on the ever-present threat of Muirfield. As we get closer to the finale, the show has serious potential to knock this out of the ballpark. Consider my fingers crossed.