is back on form with this tale of Hollywood, paparazzi, financial shenanigans and stalkers. Great lines, compelling plot, lots of deft little touches (if you ignore the anvillicious metaphor), a fair helping of gore and some moral ambiguity — the only thing missing was gratuitous shirtlessness. Why do I always get the fully clad episodes?

You should put that up on your spoiler page.

Mick may be back to his vampy self, but he’s decided to give up on brooding in the shadows by taking Tierney Taylor as a client. Tierney is a camera-bait starlet who feels the paparazzi are getting a bit too close. This entails high-speed chases and digital pics splashed all over reputable websites like TMZ and Buzzwire, where Mick is proclaimed Tierney’s new boytoy. Is someone tipping off the camera hounds?

That becomes secondary when Tierney dies at a party to celebrate the filming of her new movie, "Lusitania." Most folks assume she got drunk and fell overboard, but Mick’s vamp senses catch a whiff of blood on an anchor in her stateroom. It was murder!

There are plenty of suspects — the boyfriend she argued with (and who has an album to promote), the photographer who was stalking and/or blackmailing her, the business manager who seemed to be skimming money off her… Where to start?

Mick discovers the "boyfriend’s only crime is being in an emo band," and while that is grounds for flogging in some areas, it isn’t actually a criminal offense. Boyfriend Scott only fought with Tierney because he found out she was paying off paparazzo Dean Foster, and he thought Foster caught a snap of Tierney cheating with her hunky new bodyguard.

Then there’s the business manager, who is cagey about why he was writing himself a $20,000 check every month. Turns out Tierney had a hard-knock life — her mom killed Tierney’s abusive father and went to prison. Tierney set mom up in a house and hired people to help her when she got out, and she didn’t want her mom exposed to the bloodsucking fiends — sorry, the metaphorical bloodsucking fiends — of the paparazzi. That’s why the business manager made all the payments through his accounts. But somehow, Foster found out about it, and he turned to blackmail.

That leaves Foster, who is definitely guilty of being creepy as hell. Foster’s got a habit of fixating on a star and then stalking them until they move off the continent. With Tierney dead, he’s decided to fixate on Mick. (Apparently he caught the flagrantly shirtless scenes last week, so who could blame him?) Unfortunately, this means Foster is taking pictures when Mick gets hit  by a speeding car — and then walks away from the horrific accident without a scratch. Doh!

More financial sleuthing reveals that Jason Abbott, the producer of Lusitania, is flat broke and up to his eyeballs in debt to some scary investors. He needed to collect insurance for shutting down the picture in order to pay the moneymen back, but Tierney wouldn’t drop out of the film — she even started paying for costumes and swimming lessons out of her own pocket. Abbott decided the only way to close the film was to kill Tierney. He tried to kill Mick and Beth with the speeding car, but, well, that just pissed Mick off. Mick catches him and turns him in.

That just leaves Foster and his incriminating pics. He sends them to Beth, and threatens to reveal all if she doesn’t use him as her exclusive photographer for Buzzwire. That, combined with the fact that the new boss wants to make Buzzwire a schlock tabloid site that doesn’t give a damn about accuracy, convinces Beth to quit. She tells Josef about Foster — maybe he can pay the pap off? Josef is willing, but he’s sure it won’t work — as is Beth, and she knows exactly what she’s asking Josef to do. Josef sets a couple of baby paparazzi who just happen to be vampires (Oh! The symbolism!) on Foster, and they chow down. It’s surprisingly gory for this show. I like it.

Hollywood highlights:

  • Abbott proclaims that "Lusitania" is going to be a "billion-dollar franchise." I’m assuming the second film would be an Esther-Williams-type water ballet flick.
  • Mick talks about his experience on a troop ship in 1942, which was hit by a 70-odd-foot tidal wave. "Some guy wrote a book about it. He called it the Poseidon Adventure. Exaggerated things bit, but I like to think the Gene Hackman character was based on me." Hey, at least it wasn’t the Shelley Winters character.
  • The business manager on Tierney: "Everyone thought she was one of those vapid little girls who runs around without underwear, gets married to guys they meet in gas station bathrooms. Tierney wasn’t like that." Gee, who do you think he could be talking about?
  • Josef got to drop a few hints about his adventure in Hollywood during the Golden Age. He went out with Jean Harlow (actually, they mostly "stayed in," he says), and apparently there was a particular night at Garbo’s that he wouldn’t want publicized. "Don’t tell me — you’re the reason she wanted to be alone?" asks Beth. Josef refuses to elaborate.

More thoughts and odds and ends:

  • I love the fallout from Josef turning Mick last week. Mick calls him "dad," which Josef hates. He didn’t turn Mick, he says: "I returned you. Re-turned." "You’re kind of my stepsire, though." Mick cracks. Hee!
  • Mick asks Beth out on a date, and admits he’s out of practice — he hasn’t been with a human since he was turned the first time. Beth goggles. "It’s not like you slept with a vampire!" Mick says. "Maybe once in college, but I was really drunk," says Beth. But didn’t we all?
  • Mick disses emo, and Beth demands to know what’s wrong with the genre: "Nothing, when they were influenced by Hüsker Dü, but now they all just copy Jimmy Eat World, and, well, that explains Dashboard Confessional, doesn’t it." And I thought I couldn’t love Mick any more…
  • The paparazzi/vampire  comparison was groan-inducingly obvious, but at least the writers and actors had the grace to be embarrassed about it.
  • One major development: Assistant D.A. Talbot (Josh’s replacement) seems to be following Beth’s career closely, and he doesn’t like Mick much. We discover at the end that Talbot has a file open on Mick, and Foster’s car-crash photos are in it. Hmmm. I have a hard time getting involved in the Talbot storyline, but that’s at least in part because I cover Brothers & Sisters, and I’d love for Eric Winter to come back on that show. The longer he’s a lawyer on Moonlight, the longer we’re denied the Jason/Kevin hotness.
Posted by:Sarah Jersild