SPOILERS: Through the series so far.
Mick St. John is a vampire private detective with a heart of tarnished, battered gold and a past that he would rather pretend isn’t there. (And, no, he’s not the brooding private detective that you’re thinking of.) Coraline is a temptress who has been playing an extended head game with Mick since the night that she turned him. (And, no, she’s also not the temptress that you’re thinking of in regards to that other brooding private detective-for one thing, she’s a brunette.) They seem set up as the perfect mutual antagonists, destined to spend eternity hating and warring against each other for what Coraline did to Mick over fifty years ago.
Save for one detail. Mick and Coraline were, once upon a time (and some might say even still) in love with one another. In fact, they were so in love that Mick married her before he knew what she was, and Coraline set aside her predatory ways long enough to accept. She did so with designs upon forcibly turning Mick into a vampire like herself so that they could continue to love each other throughout eternity, but I do not think that the import of this willing sort of domestication on Coraline’s part can be underestimated.
However, that is getting ahead of ourselves. Before we can discuss why Mick and Coraline make such arresting characters in relation to each other, we have to know who they are. Mick St. John is a vampire private detective who resembles that other vampire private detective who has dominated so much of pop culture in many ways: he has a dark past that he’s ashamed of, he tries to use his powers as a vampire in order to make up for it now, and he has an obsession with a petite blonde woman. He’s different, however, in a fundamental way. In the mythology of Moonlight, people don’t lose their souls upon being turned into vampires. They are still the people that they were as humans, and whatever good or bad that they do stems from that. When a vampire becomes violent and evil, they do so most often because human laws cannot possibly hold them any longer; they can’t cope with that kind of power when there are no consequences large enough to hold it. (The show makes whispers towards a vampire nation and has introduced a fairly spectacular character known as The Cleaner to deal with vampiric excesses, but this still does not stop most vampires from batting humans around like playthings.) Mick, as it turns out, had some serious issues with his own internal darkness well before he was turned. He served in World War II as a medic and in 1952 was struggling to make his way as a musician when he met Coraline, who toyed with him, married him, and then turned him. The next thirty-odd years were a violent mess of dysfunction in which he and Coraline would split apart from one another only to find their way back so that the cycle could begin again. Mick hated and hates being a vampire and found it much easier to blame his own violence upon Coraline for turning him rather than confronting the fact that he was a very violent person long before he was turned. Coraline doesn’t care about human rules or morality to even the marginal extent that Mick is alluded to have cared before he had a major epiphany decades after his turning, and it was her smug assertion that no matter what Mick did, no matter how far he ran, he would always come back to her eventually. They could have gone on through eternity at loggerheads like that, if Coraline had not finally decided that she would bring back Mick and tie him at her side once and for all by giving him the thing that he craved and that a union of two vampires could not produce: a family.
Enter Beth Turner, the show’s primary female protagonist and Mick’s major love interest in the present day. She was six at the time that Coraline targeted her. Coraline took her from her home and to a lair decorated to look like a little girl’s room, where she intended to turn Beth, at the very least, and thus set up the kind of happy family that Mick was craving. (Coraline apparently never read Interview with the Vampire, or she would have known what the odds were that that little plan of hers was going to work out.) By chance, Mick was contacted to take the case by Beth’s distraught mother, and it was partly seeing the very real pain that was being caused by Beth’s disappearance that triggered a change in him. Vampires don’t want to know all that much about their victims. Because they aren’t demons or intrinsic monsters, it tends to mess up that whole predator/prey dichotomy that they depend on. Mick agrees to take the case and, when he follows the clues, finds no one else holding the child hostage but his estranged wife. He has no choice but to put a stake through his wife’s heart (though even that is half-hearted and the way that she jumps up soon afterwards suggests that he missed) and leave her to burn to death if he wants to save the child. It’s a much more sober Mick who goes forward from that moment, and he starts taking his first steps towards becoming the antihero who dominates the show in its present timeframe.
Coraline, for her part, has about two centuries on Mick’s thirty years at the point of his turning. She was a courtesan in the French royal court just before the Revolution-that would be the one in which heads were cut off with impunity and it wasn’t altogether wise for a girl to go around making jokes about cake. While Beth made snappish (and frankly, childish) comments about hookers, as a courtesan Coraline’s primary job would have been to keep the royal family entertained. While that could have included sexual favors, it also would have meant that she was a professional personality. Her job would have been to always seem happy, witty, beautiful, regardless of what she might have been thinking privately. The royal family of the most excessive court in Europe would not have been interested in Coraline’s interior life; she would have been expected to perform as a flawless and lovely surface at all times. Because of this, the Coraline who met Mick in 1952 was an expert in the twin arts of seduction and manipulation and, because she had lived her formative years around such a sense of entitlement, she had a capricious and hair-trigger temper. What Coraline wanted, Coraline got, and in 1952 she wanted Mick. Furthermore, Coraline lived through one of the bloodiest revolutions in European history. She’s far more antsy about the future of the vampire race than Mick, who has lived a fairly cushy existence, can imagine. The show takes a rather liberal view of history in that, in this universe, the French Revolution was fought in part to root out the vampires that had infiltrated the court. In the probable season finale, we learn that the king himself was a vampire, and that Coraline is descended from that bloodline. The full meaning of “bloodline” is not made entirely clear; at the end of the episode, it could be that Coraline was actually, physically descended from the same family as the king (which, if she was from a lesser branch, still would not have prevented her from serving at court), or it could be that she was turned into a vampire by a member of that bloodline. In any case, she’s a powerful woman with a great deal to lose.
Which makes the revelation that she was specifically disobeying her family in marrying and turning Mick all the more intriguing.
Most marriages would be over the second that one partner tried to kill the other; we would be right in calling the ones that didn’t wildly dysfunctional and rooting for their swift dissolution in the real world. On television, however, dysfunction is entertaining. Mick spends roughly twenty years convinced that he murdered his ex-wife and unable to make himself believe that killing her was justified (even as she was threatening to murder a little girl right in front of him), stalks said little girl as she grows up into a very pretty woman, and exists in a state of emotional stagnation that only becomes more clear as the series wears on. Mick’s obsession with Coraline is not healthy, as the single person who is allowed to get close to Mick points out again and again, and yet he can’t release himself from it. He feels guilty over his forever-running obsession with Coraline as much as he does for killing Coraline.
It’s a real mindfuck for the poor guy when Coraline comes back. She’s calling herself Morgan by that point and is assuming the identity of a photographer doing freelance work for the same web magazine that employs Beth. Mick sees “Morgan” and is immediately flooded with all of the same obsessive impulses that he battled against while he and Coraline were married, magnified by the fact that this woman who looks so much like Coraline also looks and smells entirely human. Mick cannot accept this even as he admits that he can also not explain it and proceeds to stalk her, convinced that she arranged a crime scene (killing an innocent woman in the process) to look exactly like the way in which Mick supposedly killed Coraline two decades before. It’s not until he reveals his vampire nature to a terrified “Morgan”, pursues her across a cemetery, and strips her shirt halfway off in a highly violent and sexualized scene that he notices that she does not have the fleur de lis tattoo that marked Coraline as a courtesan when she was still human. Shaken, Mick lets her go as he realizes the full depths that his obsession was taking him. The audience themselves realizes at the end of the episode that “Morgan” is in fact Coraline and was only covering her telltale tattoo with makeup while she played an extensive mind game with Mick solely because she could, but that wasn’t the point. The merest suggestion of Coraline, even when every rational thought that he had told him that it was not possible, brought out all over again the violent and erratic man that Mick had spent the previous twenty years trying to leave behind.
We find out a few episodes later in the aptly named Fleur de Lis that Mick was not imagining things when he and his friend, Josef, smelled humanity on her. She has found a way to attain what Mick has been seeking ever since she turned him: a cure for vampirism, at least temporarily. We don’t learn this until the end of the episode, however. Prior to that, “Morgan” accepts Mick’s apology for the unconscionable way that he treated her and lets his excuse that she looks identical to his ex-wife slide, as he’s has come to her bearing a particularly lucrative job. He’s offering her ten thousand dollars to help him tail and photograph the wife of a wealthy businessman who has hired Mick, believing that she is cheating on him. This entails a lot of time spent between “Morgan” and Mick in close quarters and filming steamy sexual scenes, all the while the natural chemistry between Alex O’Loughlin and Shannyn Sossamon (check spelling) does its work. Coraline as Morgan is still not letting Mick leave her behind without a fight, and she takes the opportunity of filming the businessman’s wife and her lover (the businessman’s own son) to yell several excited sexual innuendos, knowing that Mick is trying to conduct a conversation with Beth on his cellular phone at the same time and that her rival for his attention is sure to overhear. It has to be said: Coraline might be evil, but she’s fun.
As hot as watching Coraline get Mick all wound up is, and how powerful a testament to the sexual chemistry between them, the best scene of the show actually comes later. Mick and “Morgan” are traveling to the businessman’s place of employment in order to decide whether they ought to give him the footage (Mick thinks that he might use it as an excuse to harm his wife, while Coraline, as blunt as ever, doesn’t think that it’s any of their concern now that the job has been completed). They are startled upon entering an elevator by the very people that they have been tailing, obliging Mick to turn around quickly so that the businessman’s wife does not recognize him from a near-miss earlier that day. In the crowded elevator, Coraline and Mick don’t have room to put a polite level of personal distance between themselves; all that they can do is stare at each other, “Morgan’s” face nearly crushed against Mick’s chest, as they wait for the doors to open again.
I won’t lie to you: it’s one of the single hottest scenes of the series thus far.
As it turns out, the businessman never intended to kill his wife. His wife and her lover, his son, were going to kill him so that the two of them could have all of her erotic attention and a pile of money besides without interruption. Mick and “Morgan” successfully foil this plan, only for Mick to let a disheveled and disoriented “Morgan” into his apartment so that she can clean up. While she’s in the shower, the same obsession that always seems to trigger within Mick whenever Coraline is in the near vicinity starts up again, and he goes to her there. Upon opening the door, Mick discovers that the tattoo is readily visible: it’s been Coraline all along. Rather than being frightened or outraged that he has interrupted her nude, Coraline is delighted: she thought that she was just going to have to give up the game and announce herself altogether, as long as it was taking Mick to put the pieces together. They share a kiss that’s nearly as steamy (check) as the extended stare-down in the elevator.
Unfortunately, Beth has been doing some investigating of her own throughout the course of the episode, and has traced Coraline back to the house in Hollywood where she met Mick and where she was holding Beth before taking her to be presented to Mick. She has obtained evidence that Coraline and Morgan are one and the same, and that furthermore Coraline has been spying on her with Mick for weeks. It is in a righteous fury (that the show unfortunately missteps and plays as mere jealousy) that she storms over to Mick’s apartment with a stake in hand. (In Moonlight mythology, a stake to the heart does not kill a vampire outright, but instead paralyzes them so that they can be dispatched through either fire or beheading.) She’s horrified to see that Coraline is already at Mick’s apartment, wearing a borrowed robe and nothing else, and is not in the mood to listen to Mick’s explanations. She stabs Coraline through the heart, and the episode ends on Mick frantically telling Beth that Coraline is human now.
The next one begins with Mick and Beth rushing Coraline into the hospital, and while it quickly splits away, there is one detail worth noting before Coraline puts her inevitable escape into effect. While he expresses a great deal of concern over her well-being, Mick also takes the time to circle back around and steal blood from a barely-conscious Coraline after he fails in his attempts to make her simply tell him how she’s emulating humanity so well. Y’all. I cannot squee enough about the levels of awesome scary that they bring out in each other.
Of course, Coraline does escape, and of course, it does turn out that she’s only able to emulate humanity temporarily rather than actually regain it, but that hardly matters at this point. What matters is that Mick, thinking that she was human again and thus one of the people that he was supposed to be protecting, was still willing to violate her in a fundamental way by taking her blood like that. It should not be nearly the kind of compelling television that it actually is, and made all the worse by the fact that Mick has transformed himself into an essentially decent guy in the decades since saving Beth and attempting to leave Coraline behind.
The rest of the season rolls on. Mick and Beth continue to spend a great deal of time together, complete with inappropriate sexual tension, as Beth’s boyfriend is killed and she’s thrown into grief for him. Meanwhile, Coraline makes her triumphant return, once again as a vampire, and informs Mick that she was only able to imitate humanity because she was taking regular doses of a compound designed to make a vampire appear human. It was developed in order to help the upperclass vampire echelons escape persecution during the French Revolution, as under the influence of the compound they would still respond to a light burn as a human rather than a vampire. Coraline is struggling to find a way to make the change back to human permanent in order to atone to Mick for turning him against his will. Before she can do more than administer the temporary version, however, her “brother” (we still don’t know whether he is her biological brother or another man who was turned at the same time as she) catches up to her, furious that she has taken the compound and fled to Los Angeles in order to try it out on a commoner such as Mick in the first place. The newly human Mick cannot defend either himself or her against a vampiric attack, and it is Coraline who makes the rare sacrifice, promising to go along quietly if Mick is spared, that saves Mick’s life. She even endures a stake to the heart in order to do it.
And thus, minus a few Mick/Beth moments, the season ends.
The history between Mick and Coraline is obviously long and complex. What is clear from watching them interact with one another for any length of time for each other, however, is that they are wildly unhealthy for one another. Coraline, the ultimate in all femme fatales, goes from toying with Mick’s head during their courtship just because she can to marrying him to going domestic for him some thirty years later. Meanwhile, the very act of breathing the same air that Coraline does brings out a side of Mick that he still hasn’t learned to deal with more than fifty years later, as he responds to Coraline standing him up while he was still human by throwing a lawn chair through her window, entering her home, and seizing her up by force. What would be an intensely disturbing scene if they were both human instead becomes strangely erotic, as the audience (by which I mean me) is confronted with the fact that Coraline is the vampire here, the stronger of the pair, and could break Mick in half any time that she decides she wants to get away. By all rational standards, they’re wrong for each other. Their relationship is based upon a mutual lack of respect, they do nothing but hurt one another, and one gets the feeling from watching them that it vampirism had not gotten in the way they would have ended with killing one another and being done with it. It’s wildly unhealthy. It’s downright sick.
It’s intensely hot. No, there is no stretching of the imagination which can write Mick and Coraline as ever being in a healthy relationship, or even one where they manage to go an extended stretch of time without attempting to kill each other. That’s a big part of why they’re interesting. Coraline has since her turning been fiercely confident and independent, a femme fatale who gets what she wants when she wants it, and for no other reason than because she wants it. (And she did most of this during time periods in which a woman’s destiny was irrevocably tied both to her own chastity and the destiny of the most dominant man in her life.) Yet for Mick she’s willing to get married and start a family, however twisted it might be, so that she can keep him. Mick, for his part, desperately needs to believe that his own inner darkness arises out of being turned into a vampire; he cannot confront the fact that he’s scary and violent at times purely because scariness and violence is in his nature. Yet, even before he was turned, we saw him hurling lawn furniture through Coraline’s windows because she stood him up, and he was stripping the shirt off of and terrifying a woman that he was not even rationally sure was Coraline in the present day. They make each other crazy; they make each other do things that would disgust themselves if they were in their right minds. That’s where the appeal comes in: the stars that burn the brightest are also the ones that burn the shortest. The relationship between Mick and Coraline is doomed to failure from the start, even after Coraline displayed perhaps her first tendency towards genuine self-sacrifice in two hundred years for him, but watching them get there is fascinating.
Moonlight as a fandom has been slow in getting off the ground. As much as I love the show now, I will freely admit that they made one of the worst pilots that I’ve ever seen, and that turned a lot of people off of the show before it found its stride. As far as I can tell, Mick/Josef and Mick/Beth are the two big ‘ships to rise out of the show; Mick/Coraline is running a fairly distant third. There aren’t any comms devoted solely to Mick and Coraline, but moonlight_fics is a good place to find Moonlight fic in general. In addition, two individual fics capture to a brilliant degree what Mick and Coraline are really about. The first isFive Ways that Mick Didn’t Leave Coraline by miriam_heddy, which shows just how dysfunctional they are, and Everybody Wants to Rule the World by thornsmoke (Parts One-A and One-B, Two, and Three) is mostly gen, but features a great cameo by the lady herself. Write more Mick/Coraline, fandom!