In the summer of 1987 I read about 2 shows coming on in the fall that sounded absolutely ridiculous. The first show was Alf and it was ridiculous–but in a good way. The series about a hairy orange puppet from Melmac was very funny as voiced by Paul Fusco. The family Alf lived with were boring as hell and that may have made Alf seem all the more funny. The second show that was coming on also featured hair and also sounded silly…an assistant DA solves crimes with the help of a hairy man beast who lives in the sewers. The show was Beauty And The Beast and it changed my life forever.
Vincent: “This is where the wealthy and the powerful rule. It is her world, a world apart from my own. Her name is Catherine. And from the moment I met her she captured my heart with her beauty, her warmth and her courage. I knew then as I know now she would change my life forever.”
Catherine: “He comes from a secret place, hiding his face from strangers, safe from hate and harm. He brought me there to save my life….and now, wherever I go, he is with me, in spirit. For we have a bond stronger than friendship or love. And although we cannot be together, we will never, ever be apart.”
Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman played the titular couple with Roy Dotrice as Father, the paternal figure leading a society of homeless people living beneath the subways of New York. Jay Acovone was Joe Maxwell, Catherine Chandler’s boss at the DA’s office. In the pilot episode “Once Upon A Time In The City Of New York”, thugs mistake socialite Catherine Chandler for a prostitute who was about to snitch to the DA. Catherine is thrown into the back of a van and the men slice up her face pretty badly and then dump her in Central Park. A cloaked figure witnesses her body being tossed out and rescues her and takes her down below to Father who was formerly a doctor. Father patches up her face and stops the bleeding and bandages her head including her eyes. She’s taken to a chamber to recuperate. Her rescuer, Vincent, brings her food and reads classic literature to her. One day Catherine takes the bandages off just as Vincent enters her chamber. She screams and recoils from him.
Later when he returns, Catherine asks questions like where is she? She can hear banging on pipes and an elevated train. Vincent tells her “We’re below the city, below the subways. There’s a whole world of tunnels and chambers that most people don’t even know exists. There are no maps to where we are. It’s a forgotten place. But it’s warm, and it’s safe, and we have all the room we need. So we live here and we try to live as well as we can. And we try to take care of each other. It’s our city down here.”
When she asks him what happened to him he states: “I have my guesses. What I know is I was born. And I survived.” Vincent was found by a woman named Anna Pater who found him abandoned in front of St. Vincent’s Church. She named him Vincent. Ultimately, it’s time for Catherine to return to her world. She tells Vincent his secret is safe with her. Vincent tells her he “knows”…that there is a bond between them. Vincent returns Catherine to the basement of her apartment where a hole in the wall leads to underneath.
8 months pass. Catherine undergoes plastic surgery to restore her face…leaving a single small scar to remind her.
Below, Vincent is tortured. He longs for Catherine. Father tries to get Vincent to forget.
Father: “She can only bring you unhappiness.”
Vincent: “Then I’ll be unhappy. But I cannot forget her. We are still connected.”
Father: “Vincent, your senses, your empathic powers, are quite extraordinary. It’s your gift. And these powers have been heightened by the concern, by the love that you feel, but don’t let your act of kindness destroy you.”
Vincent: “Maybe I have no choice.”
Later, when Catherine’s life is endangered, Vincent senses it and runs to her. An oft used shot shows Vincent riding atop a subway car. He mauls Catherine’s assailants then, when the men are dead he shirks back in embarrassment that Catherine should see him in this state. But Catherine has only comforting words…about how much has happened in her life and how much she has missed him. This bond, this empathic connection plays a key role in the series.
For the most part, Beauty And The Beast was an episodic show. But it was really much more than that. Every episode built upon a larger narrative. We get to see the relationship between Catherine and Vincent grow into something much deeper than any love story I had ever seen. From the beginning with Father’s disapproval to the tunnel community welcoming Catherine into it…to see Catherine resting her head on Vincent’s chest while sitting below the sewers and listening to a concerto being played in Central Park was to gaze upon the absolute serenity between the two. Hamilton and Perlman, who would both later go on to be major bad asses in future films, had such an uncanny chemistry between them. The show also never fell into the cliche ridden traps you would expect.
Episode 103: Siege
Elderly people are being terrorized by thugs to scare them out of the building they live in so it can be demolished for a real estate project. Vincent witnesses an incendiary device thrown into the window of one apartment where an old man is playing the piano (Albert Hague of Fame) and breaks in to save the man. Concealed by his cloak, Vincent listens to the man’s story of what’s been going on and feeling for the people in the building he goes to Catherine to report the crime. Later, at a swanky fund raiser Catherine meets Elliott Burch who himself is a big time real estate developer. Elliott becomes smitten by Catherine and falls in love with her. And she starts to notice some feelings inside for him. Down Below, Vincent is aware of her feelings. Later on he encourages Catherine to be with Elliott and to live another dream. A more giving, caring man there couldn’t be. Vincent understands the reality of his situation and wants Catherine to have all that life has to offer…even if it’s a life without him. Elliott begins to pursue Catherine very aggressively to the point of bringing in a full course banquet to her place of work which causes Catherine to push back.
Catherine continues her investigation of the people trying to drive out the elderly tenants and winds up trapped with them in the building when the goons become more violent. They are saved by Vincent of course, whose identity becomes revealed to the elders. But they accept him as their friend and Vincent literally cuts through the men and ends their assault. Then Catherine learns that the man sitting at the top of this onslaught is none other than Elliott Burch who honestly never knew what was happening but nonetheless never cared to know what was going on. Learning that Elliott Burch wasn’t the man she though, Catherine breaks things off with him. This is the only time the threat of another man ever came between Catherine and Vincent. Elliott Burch would become a recurring character and though he still loved Catherine he knew she did not love him and he respected her choice. At the end of the episode was what would become the most iconic scene in the series. It’s night and Catherine thinks she hears Vincent on the balcony. She goes out but no one is there then she sees a book left on her table. As she opens the book we hear a voice over by Vincent.* (see end of article)
As the series drew out, we were introduced to the rest of the recurring supporting cast. There was Mouse was illiterate but very handy at inventing things for the tunnel people to use but often got into trouble when it was found out he had stolen something from Above. Winslow, a former blacksmith who was gruff but had a heart of gold. Mary, an elderly woman who was a maternal figure opposite Father and who taught and watched over the children Below. Pascal (Armin Shimerman-Deep Space Nine‘s Quark), who was born down in the tunnel world and oversaw the pipes people communicated on. Narcissa was a very old and nearly blind recluse who believed in the old ways of spirits and the Voodoo. Jaime, a spirited young woman with a knack for archery.
John Pater aka Paracelsus became a deadly enemy to the tunnel community. Originally, he and Father discovered the tunnels and founded the tunnel world. But they did not see eye to eye on how things should be done and had an awful falling out after which Paracelsus was banished from the community. It didn’t keep him from coming back again and again seeking vengeance against those he imagined wronged him. He was even a threat to the world Above when he began selling a drug derived from mushrooms which grew Below. This is how Catherine finally met him. After Vincent discovers where Paracelsus is creating the drug he confronts Paracelsus and a fire breaks out which badly scars Paracelsus’ face.
In a season two classic episode “Dead of Winter” we find out Paracelsus has a few tricks we weren’t aware of. A woman is working for him creating life like masks which Paracelsus uses along with a “trick of the throat” which allowed him to mimic anyone’s voice. In the episode, Catherine is invited Below by the tunnel dwellers, who now consider her family, to participate in their special holiday called Winterfest in which the tunnel people make candles to give out to the “Helpers” who are people who live Above but keep their secret and help them by bringing food and supplies and who bring light into their world…hence the candles. Catherine runs into the doctor who brought her into the world and finds out he is a helper too.
After running into Narcissa down in the lower tunnels, Paracelsus sets her on fire and knocks her off the stairs. He then infiltrates the Winterfest ceremony disguised as someone everyone knew and plants a bomb inside of a chess set, Father’s favorite game. When a faint sound is heard on the pipe system Pascal is able to locate Narcissa and they bring her up to the Winterfest chamber so her wounds could be tended. She whispers “The Evil One is here! Beware the poison rose”. Catherine deduces Narcissa is talking of the rose on the outside of the chess case and Paracelsus is revealed but only manages to escape once more.
After the drama has ended, Father gathers everyone together and reminds them “Darkness is merely the absence of light. And all winters end”. I have recalled those words on many occasions when I have gone through dark times.
Beauty And The Beast is something that had never been and something we may never see again with film and television so focused on the “dark and gritty” stories. Beauty And The Beast was a story about hope even in the most desperate times. It brought a deep passion for the classics in both literature and music. Most of the episode titles are references to classic literature.
Episode 107: Masques
In the seventh episode of the first season “Masques”, Vincent’s favorite author is in town. Her name was Brigit O’Donnell and her words helped Vincent through some dark times of his own. He is determined to meet her at a Halloween Masked Ball even though Father argues against it. But Vincent counters that surely this one night he could walk freely among the people Above. Catherine accompanies her father to the masquerade…coincidentally dressed just like Brigit. Brigit is promoting “300 Days”, her autobiographical account of her marriage to a man she deeply loved but, like Romeo And Juliet, she and her husband came from opposite sides of the conflict in Ireland. After only 300 days of marriage, Brigit’s husband was killed. Even as Catherine thinks she keeps seeing glimpses of Vincent at the party, Brigit and Vincent meet and she asks him to borrow his cloak so she can slip out of the party. As Vincent escorts her outside he gets the chance to talk to his favorite author.
Brigit: “The night has a special magic to it, don’t you think? This night, especially”.
Brigit: “In the Old Religion they call it Samhain. It’s a night when the walls between the worlds grow thin, and spirits of the Underworld walk the Earth. A night of masks and balefires, when anything is possible and nothing is quite as it seems. Your city has its own magic as well”.
Vincent asks her about her short marriage and was it worth all the pain.
Brigit: “Oh it hurts… it hurts… but… it is such a sweet pain”. She then surprises Vincent with her own question.
Brigit: “Will you be tellin’ me of her, then?”
Brigit: “Your lady, the one who’s breaking your heart… Ah, you didn’t come to me just to say you like me books. Something about Ian and me struck close to home.”
Vincent: “She brings me… such joy… and such pain. As I have never known. I have no place in her world, she has none in mine. Our bond endangers… everything. People I love, secrets I am sworn to keep, beliefs that I have lived by.”
Brigit: “I’m sick to death of safety! Oh, I look at the city and…I want to touch it, to walk its streets, meet its people, and listen to its music. I want to see all of the things my father told me of, and I can’t. Can you imagine how that feels?”
Brigit: “Sometimes, Vincent, we must leave our safe places and walk empty-handed among our enemies.”
That last line there. That’s another powerful one for me. In times when I just want to avoid everything, when I’m afraid to do something…those words definitely come into play.
Episode 122: A Happy Life
My favorite episode of the series (not an easy task to pick!) was the first season finale “A Happy Life”. It’s a very integral part of the series and doesn’t feature any life or death moments or Vincent shredding anyone apart. On the anniversary of her mother’s death, Catherine experiences a deep depression. She doesn’t know if her life is working out for her Everything seems so impossible. She wonders if her mother would be proud of her. She goes and sees a psychiatrist who can’t help her much because of her secrets. She accompanies her father to a Grieg concerto in Central Park. Her emotions well up inside her. In tears she goes to Vincent who is already awaiting her at the tunnel opening in Central Park. She tells Vincent how she is feeling. Vincent feels it. And he knows he is the cause of the turmoil Catherine is facing. It’s because of him…because of their relationship which she has sacrificed so much for that she is in so much pain. It is his pain too.
Vincent: “Catherine, your mother’s memory reminds you of your aloneness. Of the family you lost when she died. Of all the friends you left behind when our paths crossed. Because that secret you carry now, our secret, sets you apart-from your path, your friends, even from the family you are yet to have, the children waiting to be born. Catherine, the burden you bear with that secret is your aloneness…Know that our bond, our dream, exists at the cost of all your other dreams. Know that, Catherine.” Vincent tells Catherine that they must end.
Vincent: “To see you in such pain, because you dare to love…knowing that I’m the reason, the cause of that pain, is more than I can bear to live with! It mocks our dream. So it must end…Catherine, you have a life, waiting to be lived. Let the memory of what we are, of what we shared, remind you that love, in its deepest and purest form, exists…Use that memory to give you the the courage to love someone else.”
Later that night Catherine goes upstate to visit with her friend Nancy. She spends a few days with her old friends. Then one night she is awakened by a terrible dream which ended with her watching Vincent walk away. Nancy hears her and comes in to check on her. Catherine pours out her feelings. She tells Nancy that there has been a man in her life. She can’t explain more But she can’t live in his world and he can’t live in hers.
Catherine: “I guess the anniversary of my mom’s death reminded me of all those choices. Forced me to look at myself and wonder what she would think of me, would she be proud? Does my life honor her memory? All these things, I don’t know.”
Nancy: “Cathy, of all of us, you’re the one that’s come the greatest distance and gone the farthest. I mean, when you were in law school we used to joke about you majoring in “Fashion Law!” You’ve overcome a terrible accident, you’ve changed your life. Now giving to others. You have this extraordinary relationship. You should be so proud of yourself. We’re all so proud. When all is said and done, you’ve got to follow your heart. It’s the only thing you can ever really count on.”
Catherine: “That’s what Vincent always says.”
With renewed hope, Catherine decides she must leave right away, in the middle of the night, and go to Vincent. This is where the music starts a slow build while the camera cuts between Catherine and Vincent who feels something. The music symphony continues to grow, like an orchestra building on this epiphany of hope and the knowledge that your life suddenly makes sense. Louder and louder the music gets as Vincent runs from the lower tunnels and Catherine drives back home, to Central Park, where she jumps out of the car and runs to the tunnel opening just as Vincent arrives and the two of them clash in the most beautiful and loving of embraces!
Catherine tells Vincent “Forgive me. Forgive me for doubting. What we have is all that matters. It’s worth everything!” Vincent looks at Catherine wide eyed and says “Everything?” And the two lovers pull into each other. The audience’s adrenaline is rushing as Vincent and Catherine move in to the kiss we all waited so long for. And the shot of Vincent and Catherine freezes while behind them we see their silhouettes complete the kiss. The questions, the doubts, everything brought up by their relationship is gone now. They are in love. The dream is theirs. Once Upon A Time Is Now.
When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee—and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
Beauty And The Beast (1987): Once Upon A Time Is Now
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