The CW’s Beauty and the Beast is still far from ideal, but “Basic Instinct” represents the show’s biggest success so far. There really isn’t anything in this episode that is overtly bad, and at this point in the series’ run, it needs to build from this basic foundation. Much of the episode works because it’s framed around the subject of doubt, the universality of which helps the case of the week and the characterization of Catherine (Kristin Kreuk), in relation to Vincent (Jay Ryan), to resonate in more substantial ways. There’s a lot to be said for our own fears and how they force us to doubt our gut, our most basic of instincts. Cat does a lot of soul-searching as she’s forced to confront the reality of who Vincent is, and what he’s done in his past, and to what extent these revelations compel her to doubt that he’s the good man her gut is telling her he is. The episode builds to a closing scene that stands as the series’ best thus far, deepening the bond between Cat and Vincent by simply allowing them to talk through their inhibitions. Normally, such on-the-nose dialogue and situations would fall flat on its face, but it works here, due in large part to the fact that the show is relatively guileless as it is, and so the direct approach feels like a more honest choice, in terms of keeping with the tone of the show.
Our case this week introduces Tommy Holt, a young man who’d gained employment at a polo club as part of a rehabilitation program for troubled teens. When Vincent finds Tommy in a dumpster downtown, he resuscitates the boy and drops him off at the hospital. What follows from here is a case that eschews the overused “first person the detectives meet likely did it” trope in favor of a narrative that keeps motive obscured until the eleventh hour, even while the identity of the perpetrator is in evidence minutes beforehand. Beauty and the Beast isn’t attempting to achieve the level of nuance that CSI had in its better years, but there’s a wry sense of self-awareness coloring the proceedings (with Cat even exasperatedly stating that “CSI” is just a show, while the correct acronym for crime scene investigators is actually “CSU”), as we cycle through suspects at a pretty fast clip, from Tommy’s father, to the bad group he’d fallen in with, right through to his high society girlfriend’s even higher society ex-boyfriend, or the girl’s status-obsessed mother.
Tommy’s girlfriend, Clarissa Whitworth, had faith in his ability to change, but succumbed to doubt at the prodding of her mother, Lois Whitworth (Madchen Amick) who bludgeoned Tommy with a polo mallet upon discovering his relationship with her daughter, since the ruin of Clarissa’s relationship with her rich boyfriend cemented the financial downfall of the family estate. As it turns out, Lois’ late husband left her in massive debt, causing Lois to hedge her bets on Clarissa marrying into a rich family to keep them out of the poorhouse. Narratively, the motive works, as does the schism between mother and daughter, an inverse depiction of Cat’s relationship with her own mother. Here, Lois feeds on the youthful naivete of her daughter to get her to doubt that Tommy could ever really change his ways. Once a monster, always a monster, Lois surmises. But Cat, while encouraging Clarissa not to succumb to her mother’s baiting, comes to the same revelation, concerning Vincent, essentially getting the ball rolling towards her inevitable acceptance and trust of the “Beast” of this series.
Cat is abducted by Agent Silverfox (which I’m assuming is a codename, because that’s just ridiculous otherwise) and his men at the top of the episode. While in captivity, Silverfox reveals all the horrific acts of violence for which Vincent is responsible, both abroad and at home, owing to his inability to control his “Beast” form. Silverfox gives Cat three days to consider turning Vincent in. If she agrees, Silverfox will give her information on the project her mother was involved in before her death, the details of which led to her murder. With doubt firmly lodged in Cat’s head, she suddenly grows paranoid about Vincent, fearing that he’s as dangerous as Silverfox claims he is. Vincent is genuinely wounded upon the realization that Cat is afraid of him, and resolves to turn himself in to the agents, leaving behind several vials of his own blood as a trump card, in case Silverfox reneges on whatever deal they might make. J.T. Forbes (Austin Basis) gets several decent scenes as the voice of reason in Vincent’s ear, arguing that they need to flee before Silverfox and his men figure out where they’re hiding. Later, he assures Cat, upon being questioned, that he’s never once feared that Vincent would hurt him, stating that he’s known Vincent all his life. This causes Cat to reassess her doubts about Vincent, leading the duo to fly to Vincent’s rescue by interfering with his surrender.
The surrender scene itself is well-staged, if overchoreographed once the actual fighting starts. There’s an explosion, a disquietingly violent, impromptu hanging, and some really choppy shaky-cam fight sequences. That said, the slightly-obscured, shaky-cam conceit allows Vincent’s “Beast” form to seem mysterious and menacing in the relative daylight, whereas it might have just come off schlocky and ridiculous if the camera hadn’t been in a persistent state of motion. Needless to say, Vincent, Cat, and J.T. dispose of Silverfox and his men, and all seems well, for now; which brings us to the conversation between Vincent and Cat. Vincent knows that he’s no saint, given the acts in his past, while Cat understands that Vincent is a good man with even better intentions. These are all plain, relatively surface-level observations, but the real gem is in Cat’s inherent knowledge that, upon that first meeting ten years earlier, Vincent would never hurt her. It’s among the very few parallels the series has attempted to make with its ostensible source material, since the Beauty and the Beast story is very much one in which surface expectations are set aside in favor of trusting one’s gut, and learning that doubt has no place in an unorthodox relationship such as this (and really, I’m kind of liking the Cat/Vincent pairing better as the friendship it is now. Maybe the romance will feel more natural over time, since Kristin Kreuk and Jay Ryan certainly make for a pretty pair, but I feel like the story is better served by developing the friendship before broaching the topic of “Will they?/Won’t they?”).
“Basic Instinct”, for all its successes, still has some awkward moments, like Tess (Nina Lisandrello) and her constant assertions that maybe what Cat really needs is to just get laid, and her expectation that Cat is probably going to bang British medical examiner Evan (Max Brown), if she’s not banging him already. There’s also a very cliche subplot involving an NYPD vs. FDNY softball game, in which Cat is the worst player, until she learns to let go of her doubts and hits a homerun with two strikes and everyone on base. The CG baseball flying into the outfield is a particularly absurd visual, along with the hokey celebratory dancing straight out of an early 90s sports movie for kids. And I would be remiss if I didn’t give the show grief over Vincent’s constant Edward Cullen-like leaping and landing poses. But these are all small gripes. The episode is a resounding success by Beauty and the Beast’s standards, succeeding by couching so much of its narrative in the internalized struggles of its characters.