Last night's "The Living and the Dead" picked up after the cliffhanger, in which Artie unleashed the "sweating sickness" from the magic orchid, only to be stabbed with a fancy dagger by Claudia. This triggers two parallel missions for our heroes:
1) Save the world, which involves finding a ring that belonged to a famous historical figure — and it turns out the world expert on the Count of Saint Germain is actually the Count himself, who's been kept eternally young due to some kind of alchemist whizbangery. Cue a home invasion, followed by some Indiana Jones-ing in the Paris Catacombs.
2) Save Artie, which involves the old tried-and-true "going inside someone's head, into a landscape that looks just like Deep Space Nine Warehouse 13" trick. We've seen that storyline a billion times before, including the real-life people turning up as aspects of the person's psyche.
But just when you start writing off "The Living and the Dead" as one of the show's occasional by-the-numbers episodes, it sort of sneaks up on you. Largely because of a couple of major highlights.
First, plot #1 is massively improved by the casting of Marsters as the Count — Marsters is basically doing a variation on his Captain John character from Torchwood, and milks the "decadent immortal" thing for every ounce of comedy and silliness. And Eddie McClintock and Joanne Kelly rise to the occasion — the running gag where the Count keeps making jokes about Pete's forehead is only made funnier by Pete looking upwards, as if trying to see his own massive forehead. Until at last, the Count says that if Pete furrows his brow, people will mistake it for sheet music, to which Pete responds that he swiped the Count's nuts on the flight to Paris. And then Pete realizes his clever comeback had another possible meaning.
Oh, and Marsters gets in a great line where he pokes fun at vampires as being only for gothic romance novels or teenage girls. Rock on, Spike.
The Count isn't quite in the league of H.G. Wells in terms of "wacky pseudo-historical guest stars," but he's still a very welcome addition and a nice sign of how much mileage this show gets out of playing fast and loose with history. His rivalry with Charlotte (Polly Walker), who turns out not surprisingly to be another immortal from history and his ex-wife, is also a neat touch — and it would appear we'll be seeing the two of them spar again, probably soon.
Meanwhile, the "B" plot is completely old hat — except that Claudia's determination to save Artie, in the face of all obstacles, is rather touching, and you get nice moments like Steve Jinks, who's just been reminded that he actually died recently, speaking for Leena and himself in saying that there are things worth dying for.
And instead of your standard "guy in a coma" thing, we eventually come to realize that Artie is hiding out in a safe place in his head, so he won't have to face the guilt of having killed Leena. The scenes between Claudia and Artie, where she's forcing him to confront the horrible reality and tormenting him with the reality of his own actions, are well-played, with both Allison Scagliotti and Saul Rubinek bringing the full weight of theircharacters' history together to bear. "What makes you so sure you know what is right?" Artie demands, to which Claudia replies that she knows him.
The whole thing is massively elevated over its "quest"-style storytelling by the amount of growth these characters and their relationships have gotten over the years — and nothing is left tidy at the end, with Artie still almost catatonic with grief and guilt, until Mrs. Frederic comes and whacks some sense into him, in a scene that reminds us all why C.C.H. Pounder is a national treasure.
All in all, the episode wasn't particularly clever or original — but for people who've been following these characters all along, it turns into a pretty strong hour of television by the end, as we finally get to the center of Artie's grief and the Count's vanity. It's these personal quests, to get to the bottom of people, that are usually more rewarding than another artifact hunt, anyway.