Beauty and the Beast – Midseason Finale – Recap: I Don’t Love You But I Always Will
Recap and review of Beauty and the Beast – Season 2 Episode 8 – Midseason Finale – Man or Beast?:
At what point is Vincent (Jay Ryan) beyond salvaging? “Man or Beast?” is a midseason finale that ranks with the best episodes the show has ever delivered, not only from a purely visceral perspective, but from a character standpoint. Beauty and the Beast is long past the point of trying to present Vincent as a strictly romantic lead, instead shading him with hints of a darker nature that is only now coming to the surface. This change in his personality seems to have little to do with the presence of Tori (Amber Skye Noyes), the loss of his memories, or the the procedures done to him by Reynolds (Ted Whittall) after being abducted at the end of last season. For better or for worse, the choices here are all Vincent’s. So the question becomes not whether Vincent can still be saved, but whether he’s actually worth the trouble of saving? “Man or Beast?” suggests that Vincent may be too far gone, and that Cat (Kristin Kreuk) would be better served cutting bait. Of course, since the show is called Beauty and the Beast, it’s virtually impossible for things to ever truly be over between our two leads. But it’ll be an awfully hard sell to convince Beauty and the Beast audiences that this current iteration of Vincent deserves another chance.
The reason I say this is because “Man or Beast?” frames the central issue as a matter of choice: Gabe (Sendhil Ramamurthy) has a plan that will bring Reynolds to justice without compromising Vincent’s humanity, but it’s up to Vincent to actually have enough trust in his friends to be able to execute the plan. And from the very start, Vincent has trouble keeping the faith, as he’s all but convinced that Reynolds will inevitably escape justice. Vincent feels it’s his duty to kill Reynolds, as it will be the only way to ensure he doesn’t return to haunt them all later. But Cat says she could never be with someone who would make such a ruthless choice. She recognizes that Reynolds is Vincent’s handler, and has manipulated him, warping him into a killer and attempting to dispose of him when he no longer had any use, but Cat feels that mercy is the only thing that separates them from people like Reynolds. And so Vincent is in a bit of a moral dilemma, with Cat as the angel on one shoulder telling him that they can still work things out if he can keep his thirst for revenge in check, and Tori on the other shoulder, egging him on to seek vengeance.
Tori’s role as the chaotic influence on Vincent’s life brings much of the story to light. Vincent is both alarmed and exhilarated by how much Tori’s presence heightens his powers, as they wouldn’t have been able to escape the trap Reynolds set for them last week without syncing up their abilities right before the penthouse exploded. The pairing is one of the more interesting aspects of the episode: while I have absolutely no desire to see these two as a couple, their mentor-student relationship is kind of fascinating in the sense that she has as much an effect on him as he has on her. Gabe’s plan requires capturing Reynolds’s accomplice alive in order to convince him that they have someone willing to sell him out to the authorities, and so Vincent goes about teaching Tori how to “track,” honing her beast skills to obtain a clear picture of the Bombmaker and how to find him. Returning to the blown out penthouse, Vincent helps Tori to focus, and it’s a remarkably effective scene considering that it’s just two people standing in a room with their eyes closed.
The show doesn’t really get too deep into the specifics of how tracking is possible, and I definitely prefer a less explicit approach to the mechanics of the beast powers, as it’s a concept that could easily break under the weight of its own silliness. All we need to know is that Tori puts together a clear picture of her attacker, and it isn’t long before they’re off to his secret compound. But before they go, Tori continues to work her angle with Vincent. She thanks him for opening her eyes and showing her the freedom that her beastly form allows, adding that they need to stick together and take out Reynolds before his forces have the chance to take them out first. And so, against his better judgment, Vincent allows Tori to be the one to take down the Bombmaker once they track him to his compound. Tori, still new to the whole “beast” thing, can’t contain herself once she has the Bombmaker in her hands. She grabs him by the throat and crushes his throat, killing him instantly. Vincent is furious and mortified in equal measure: they needed the Bombmaker alive in order for Gabe’s plan to work. Now they’ll likely have no other choice but to kill Reynolds in order to stop him. In itself, it’s a bit of a predictable development, yet it becomes infinitely more interesting when the show subtly suggests that perhaps Tori killed the Bombmaker on purpose to force Vincent to embrace his darker nature. Evidence for this comes not only in Tori’s unrepentant attitude for his impulsive actions, but also from her claim that Cat’s plan was stupid anyway, and never would have worked. She believes that men like Reynolds need a harsher brand of justice, and Cat is disgusted when Vincent doesn’t disagree with Tori. Granted, he doesn’t endorse her opinion either, but the fact that he’s conflicted at all casts serious doubt in Cat’s mind about whether Vincent really can be saved at all.
Yet Cat still tries to save him anyway, and goes along with a modified version of Gabe’s plan. Sure, the Bombmaker is dead, but they still have his cell phone, which can be used to convince Reynolds that he’s about to turn him in. Tess (Nina Lisandrello) and JT (Austin Basis) procure the body of Zachary Hayes (Vincent’s former squadmate from Afghanistan) to serve as the evidence with which to blackmail Reynolds, while Gabe and Cat meet with Reynolds to plant the idea in his head that the accomplice of Vincent’s handler could be going rogue. It’s a pretty smooth plan, and it actually works out pretty well thanks to Gabe rubbing a solution on Cat’s hands that allows her to cry on cue once she touches her face, which gets Reynolds to believe that Vincent truly is dead. Unfortunately, the plan works a bit too well, as a spooked Reynolds books a flight out of the country, cutting the amount of time they have to spring into action. And so they move forward with the big reveal: Gabe meets with Reynolds and reveals himself to be the blackmailer, coaxing the FBI Agent to confess to the killings of all the beasts while Cat captures the entire conversation from a safe distance. Reynolds calls Gabe’s bluff, but he coolly sticks to the story. It’s a fantastic scene for Ramamurthy, who’s all steely-eyed swagger in the face of a situation that could easily go badly…and nearly does. Reynolds trades cars, taking Zachary’s body while Gabe takes the car that has the blackmail money (although Gabe smartly intuits there’s a bomb inside, and decides not to get in, in a clever subversion of a pretty standard trope). As Reynolds makes his getaway, Cat intercepts him and places him under arrest.
From here, the midseason finale speeds by at a breakneck pace, and it works to the episode’s advantage, as everything feels so immensely urgent and climactic. Vincent intercepts Cat’s car, landing on the hood and attempting to bust through to get at Reynolds. This causes the car to crash, leaving Cat unconscious as Vincent brutalizes Reynolds with his bare hands. Pinning the FBI Agent against a column, Vincent intends to finish the job. But Cat is there with her gun in hand, pleading with him not to kill Reynolds and cross over into a point beyond salvaging. For a moment, it looks as if Vincent is about to see reason, as he eases up his grip on Reynolds. But in a flash, Vincent loosens his claws, at which point Cat instinctively fires, putting a bullet in Vincent’s gut. Vincent flees, leaving a devastated Cat to take her biological father into custody.
Reynolds openly admits his wrongdoing, and says he plans to confess to all his crimes if it means Cat will no longer have to worry about any of this coming back to haunt her. If Cat never wants to speak with him again, that’s fine, but Reynolds claims it was all worth it if it means Vincent is finally out of her life. And it isn’t until after Reynolds makes that claim that Cat realizes he’s right: Vincent is out of her life, he was a beast beyond controlling. With that crushing realization, Cat completely breaks down in Gabe’s arms, while Vincent tends to his wounds, finding Tori at his door as he stitches himself up. Ultimately, the episode ends with Cat returning to the rooftop where she and Vincent shared their first kiss, looking out on the city all alone, despairing of the ruin her life has become (as the closing strains of the aptly titled “Poison and Wine” by The Civil Wars plays, with its pained incantation, “I don’t love you / But I always will”). It’s a completely gutting end to the midseason.
Now, for some odds and ends: for me, this was Kristin Kreuk’s best episode. It was a total showcase for her from start-to-finish, from the moment she realizes Vincent survived the blast, to her fake crying for Reynolds, even the moments where she tries to keep her hatred for Reynolds in check during the last meeting at the cafe before their relationship irrevocably changes. Kreuk is outstanding here, and I found myself far more engaged in her side of the story than in Vincent’s. I’m not entirely certain how the show gets around the problem Vincent has become. I don’t think he’s beyond redemption or anything, but the series made a clear case that he made a decision not to be with Cat, since it was a fairly binary choice: let Reynolds go and keep Cat’s love and respect, or give in to bloodlust and lose her forever. I don’t see how the narrative gets them back together without making Cat seem like a glutton for punishment. Vincent has to change first. And that could be a long process, as he needs to first recognize that there’s a problem, and then take measures to correct it. Tori is one of the biggest issues in play, as she feeds his beast side with reassurances of the rightness of his anger. She plays into his exceptionalism about beasts, as if to convince him they’re some sort of master race above the law, and above judgment by regular humans. I don’t think Tori is necessarily a bad person (yet), but it’s clear she’s having a corrupting influence on Vincent, and it’ll be hard to get him back to being the Vincent of season one (if that’s even possible) if she’s still in the picture.
So the question then is, can Vincent really be saved? “Man or Beast?” seems to suggest that the Vincent we all grew to love in season one is basically gone, irretrievably lost in the face of the choices he’s made, and the actions he’s taken. For better or worse, this will be a changed show, as the dynamics have fundamentally altered. This isn’t to say that it won’t still be a good show, but Beauty and the Beast is much bleaker, and much darker than it ever has been before. While I kind of like the more serious, moody approach, I imagine it could alienate a lot of viewers. What do you guys think? Is the narrative’s direction harmful to the sustainability of the series? Or is the show as good as it ever was? I fall down on the latter side of the argument. I still love the show, but I can’t pretend that our leads haven’t changed in substantial fashion from season one. But then, in many ways, that’s the point of a narrative: to depict the evolution of characters over time, through the action of a story. The show could never remain the same way forever, because that would require nothing ever happening. And what’s happening now is far more compelling than the average genre series that keeps to the safe lane. I’ll be interested to see how the show handles its change upon its return. As for “Man or Beast?”, there are few episodes that could serve as a better midseason capper for Beauty and the Beast than this.
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