Beauty and the Beast – Recap: The Morning After
Recap and review of Beauty and the Beast – Season 2 Episode 16 – About Last Night:
“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”
I said in my review for a certain other CW drama that the key to a genuinely great love triangle is to make certain that both romantic pairings within that triangle are distinct in their own right. Beauty and the Beast has taken the love triangle between Cat (Kristin Kreuk), Vincent (Jay Ryan), and Gabe (Sendhil Ramamurthy) and placed it within two separate contexts: the Cat/Gabe relationship is informed less by passion than by pragmatism, as Cat’s primary reasons for choosing him, beyond a simple fondness for the guy, is that he represents the kind of normalcy and peace that Vincent can’t give her; the VinCat relationship, however, is characterized by the sort of passion that she’ll never be able to have with Gabe. For all the danger and all the talk of “going backwards” in her life, Vincent represents something Cat can’t recreate with other people: an instinctual human connection. Basically, a beast gets her better than just about any human ever has. And that’s kind of the point of Beauty and the Beast: not just this show, but any adaptation of that particular story, right down to the Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve fairy tale that started it all. “About Last Night” is an episode about connection, and recognizing that while the past can usually be an omen of the future, people can change.
With this being the last episode of Beauty and the Beast until May (because life is inherently unfair, I guess), and while I don’t think the creative forces behind the series knew this at the time of shooting, the episode still manages to serve as an excellent “finale for the foreseeable future.” This is because not only does the episode wrap up the story of Sam (Tom Everett Scott), it also ends the romantic relationship between Gabe and Cat by reuniting her with Vincent. Those are two long-standing arcs brought to a close, and while it’s hard to imagine that Gabe won’t still be around when the show comes back, I can’t see how the emotional turmoil would be swept under the rug. And that should make for some wonderfully tense television. But the episode also succeeds in structural ways: the story is book-ended by scenes of “the morning after,” but with significant differences. At the start of the episode, Cat realizes what she’s done and is desperate to escape Vincent’s boathouse, believing she’s made a terrible mistake by having “break-up sex” with him. When Vincent awakens, he finds that Cat is gone, and is disappointed that this small measure of happiness has been taken away from him. The episode then ends with the morning after Vincent and Cat have had “reunion sex,” as they’re basking in the after glow — only for detectives to pound on Cat’s door to come arrest Vincent for the murder of Curt Windsor, Tori’s father. This is almost undoubtedly a move by Gabe to keep Vincent and Cat separated, as his last words to her after their break-up was his vow that he wouldn’t let Vincent hurt her. So now Cat is the one having her happiness ripped away from her the morning after, finally feeling something akin to what Vincent felt the day before. Except heavier since, you know, Vincent is being taken to the slammer and all.
The episode’s structure of parallels didn’t end there, however. “About Last Night” basically serves as a rhyme to this same point last season, as we get echoes of what’s come before with Vincent and Cat. Not only do we get flashbacks to kick off the episode (which I loved seeing, even if they were unnecessary. Seriously, is it possible to feel nostalgia for something that only happened a year ago?), we also get a storyline that folds back onto that past, as Vincent and Cat must once again attend the same masquerade ball that they attended last year, and for the same reason: to catch a bad guy. In this case, the bad guy is Sam, whose full plot is revealed: he intends to infiltrate the masquerade ball by posing as a member of the Westbrook firm, a secretive array of power brokers who intended to create an army of beasts, and experimented on children under the guise of clinical research into terminal illnesses.
Sam’s son was one such patient, and the experiment ended up killing him. This was a reveal a long time in coming, since Sam’s motives had remained frustratingly vague for far too long. Sure, we knew he wanted revenge against the men who killed his son, but until now, we’ve been given no indication how they killed him, why they killed him, or how creating beasts would help him punish the men for having killed him. Now we know that it’s poetic justice, as Sam intends to have the Westbrook men murdered by forcing their leader — who sanctioned the creation of Muirfield — to become a beast and murder his fellow associates. The series has spent a long enough time convincing us that Sam is a bad guy that this sudden turn is bother jarring, yet strangely sensible. He’s still not a good guy or anything, but he’s someone who’d been wronged in ways that would have broken any man. You never get over the loss of a child, even six years on, and while it’s hard to condone Sam’s methods of grieving, it’s clear that he’s been misdirected. This is what makes the climax with Vincent so effective…
I’d argue this is Jay Ryan’s best work on the show, owing to a certain subtlety in his characterization of Vincent’s desperation to change. A lot of the episode centers on his intention to prove to Cat that he’s a different guy than he was when he took the law into his own hands with her father. His words say one thing, but his actions end up saying something else entirely, as he keeps trying to force the conversation of what their “break-up sex” meant, and doing so at the most inopportune times. It’s clear that Vincent is trying, but he keeps indirectly proving to Cat that very little has changed at all. Granted, I do think it’s kind of silly for her to get mad at Vincent for helping her out during a fight at the masquerade ball, but I can appreciate at least that Cat doesn’t want to be seen as a damsel-in-distress, since I’ve been pushing for her character to reclaim her independence. Of course, that doesn’t completely happen. She initially resists Vincent’s pleas to get back together because she no longer wants to be defined by Vincent, by having to make excuses for him and to constantly have him bail her out of perilous situations (I don’t know, I think I’d rather not die than wind up getting killed just because I didn’t want a man to save me, but then, that’s just me). By the same token, she resists Gabe’s constant attempts to define their relationship, as she doesn’t really work well when faced with ultimatums.
But back to Jay Ryan, as the recursive nature of the plot, in which there are constant echoes of his more palatable season one characterization, reminds us that there is still selflessness behind Vincent’s actions. What Ryan does in the scene in which Vincent talks Sam down from the ledge is exhibit the extent to which Vincent actually has changed. He talks to Sam about how he had once been in the same boat, and used vigilante justice without thought of the consequences. Vincent tells Sam that there is a way to change, and that there is a way to affect change in the world through justice, but there’s a right way to do it. And they need to go through the right channels. It’s a powerful speech that shows Cat just how far Vincent has come, and even though it isn’t enough to sway Sam, it’s enough to sway Cat, particularly after she sees Vincent spring to Sam’s rescue when he decides to jump off the building anyway.
The depth of his despair is the result of his master plan being foiled, as Vincent is able to subdue the Westbrook leader-turned-beast, saving the conglomerate from the harsh justice they likely deserve. And yet, in saving Sam despite what he’s done, Vincent proves that he no longer sees justice as the measure of an eye for an eye, but rather as a principle: if a court of law deems that the Westbrook people deserve death for their crimes, then so be it. But he cannot be judge, jury, and executioner any more. And the same is true for Sam. It would have been easier to just let Sam die, yet Vincent no longer believes that people get to decide how justice is exercised upon them, nor do vigilantes like himself. This is what makes Cat see that Vincent is a very different person this time around, much more like the man with whom she first fell in love. The climactic rooftop kiss in the snow, which echoes their first kiss in season one. It’s an authentically gorgeous moment that seals the journey that’s led Vincent and Catherine back to each other, as both openly recognize that there are risks inherent in their relationship. But this new beginning is characterized by passion, and the openness to acknowledge the past, and the willingness to change, to evolve, and to take that journey together.
The episode has some other terrific little moments that surround the big ones: Tess (Nina Lisandrello) finally confesses her feelings to J.T. (Austin Basis), leading to the hookup that has taken the better part of forever to actually happen. Seriously, such a great pairing, and I like that Tess actually sort of addresses the disparity, acknowledging that it shouldn’t work. And yet they have a chemistry that undoubtedly works nonetheless. And it’s largely thanks to the chemistry between Basis and Lisandrello, who both appear to be having fun with the storyline. The more they embrace its quirky, sweet, silly sensibility, the more endearing it all becomes. It’s basically the inverse of why Vincent and Cat’s relationship works, as that latter pairing becomes all the better the more intense and passionate they become. Also great this week are the performances by Tom Everett Scott and Sendhil Ramamurthy, whose characters serve as well-intentioned mirrors of each other. Sam isn’t exactly wrong to want vengeance for his son, in much the same way Gabe isn’t exactly wrong to distrust Vincent, given his history. But they both go about making their points the wrong way: Sam, by abducting innocent people and turning them into beasts; Gabe, by having Vincent arrested and returning Cat to her former state of misery. Both actors do a great job of conveying a kind of sad, desperate menace that makes their actions all the more understandable, even if we don’t exactly agree with what they’re doing. All in all, this was a spring finale that took an all-hands-on-deck approach to its storytelling, making sure to find room for each member of its ensemble to shine, and giving each character substantial things to do. While the focus was squarely on Vincent and Cat, there was still a lot to like around the margins.
“About Last Night” was a terrific episode that builds what’s to come. Now if only we didn’t have to wait so long to find out what was waiting on the other end of that cliffhanger. Beauty and the Beast is often a show about connection, and the ways in which we find instinctual, meaningful links with others. Sometimes, those bonds are hard to ever truly break, though not for lack of trying. It’s a series that argues, much like that Melville quote up top, that one cannot live solely for oneself. Life is often the story of your connections with other people, those “thousand fibers” that connect us with one another, and the actions and effects that inform those relationships.