Moonlighting: "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice"

Moonlighting, a mixture of romantic comedy, sincere drama, and intriguing mystery, has become one of my favorite TV shows. I haven't been able to see the last two seasons yet (curse you, high DVD prices!), but the first three seasons are indelible, with season 2's "The Dream Sequence Rings Twice" proving to be especially brilliant and unforgettable. But first, a quick primer on Moonlighting...

Created by Glenn Gordon Caron, the show is about former model Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd),  who has to take over the Blue Moon Detective Agency when her accountant swindles her. Blue Moon's top detective is wisecracking David Addison (Bruce Willis), whose views and ideas completely oppose Maddie's. Basically, if you enjoy screwball comedies, you'd like Moonlighting. The dialogue is fast and furious, the situations are usually nutty, and the hesitant romance between Maddie and David is exquisite. For a more in-depth look at the show in general, check out a previous post I wrote here.

One of the things I admire most about this show is its love for old movies. Not an episode goes by that there isn't some kind of reference or homage. This is most apparent in "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice," which finds David and Maddie playing characters in the 1940s. Glenn Gordon Caron called the episode "a valentine to a style of filmmaking that really had gone out of vogue," and what a perfect valentine it is. Writers Carl Sautter and Debra Frank came up with the episode's basic idea and shopped it around to various TV shows, but they found themselves laughed out of every meeting and told that they didn't know how TV works. When the duo presented the idea to Caron, they were amazed at how thoroughly he understood it.

All Sautter and Frank needed to do was tailor their script to fit Moonlighting. Since the show often illustrated David and Maddie at odds over something, the writers and Caron decided to do two dream sequences that demonstrated the characters' different viewpoints. In addition to the contrasting perspectives, the sequences would have distinctive styles. To accomplish this, Caron had Sautter and Frank watch Mildred Pierce for Maddie's dream to get the feel of a sleek women's picture and a grittier Warner Bros. film noir for David's dream.

The '40s sequences were shot on actual black-and-white film stock, with each dream put on different stock so they would look like they were from the period. ABC, of course, hated the idea of doing a black-and-white episode. They proposed the show be filmed in color and then decolorized later to make it cheaper. Suspecting that the network would pull a fast one and air it in color, Caron said no. ABC was also convinced that people would think something was wrong with their TV sets, so to assuage them, Caron asked Orson Welles to do an introduction that told audiences the episode was supposed to be in black-and-white. Caron never thought Welles would actually agree to it, but he did and it's a marvelous scene. Sadly, a week after he filmed it, he passed away. The episode, which aired a few days later, is dedicated to Welles.

Moonlighting had an exceptional director of photography in Gerald Finnerman. The show was consistently beautiful to look at, particularly the gauzy close-ups of Shepherd. (One episode actually poked fun at these infamous close-ups by having Maddie hold up a piece of cheesecloth over her face when she finds herself on live TV.) Part of what made Finnerman so good at his job was that he employed black-and-white lighting techniques to color film. "The Dream Sequence..." was perfect for him, and the compositions and images are just breathtaking. I have rarely seen an episode of TV look so gorgeous. Credit for this must also be given to director Peter Werner, who really captured the mood and the style of film noir without making it too gimmicky or obvious.

At this time, most TV shows had episode costs of about $900,000 -- Moonlighting was doing double that due to long filming periods and high production values. Whereas another TV show would have done an episode in one week for under $1 million, "The Dream Sequence..." was filmed for the princely sum of $2 million in 16 days. Totally worth it, if you ask me!

The episode begins with Maddie and David walking into a dilapidated nightclub and fighting about whether or not they should take on infidelity cases like the one they're currently working. Maddie feels uncomfortable dealing with them, but David argues that they're a steady and reliable source of income. Their fight is put on hold as they meet with their client, Mr. Bigelow (Phil Rubenstein), who is considering buying the building they're in. When he finds out that his wife isn't cheating on him, however, he grumbles that he won't be able to divorce her and thus can't afford the building.

After he storms out, Maddie and David talk to the owner (Jack Bannon), who wishes that someone would restore the old club to its former glory. He ruminates on all of the old acts and famous people who used to come through its doors, including Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland. "And of course there was the famous Flamingo Cove murder," he says, which happened when a singer and a trumpet player killed the singer's husband, each swearing the other did it until the day they died.

It's an intriguing story, so much so that David and Maddie debate during their car ride back to the office who the murderer really was. Maddie believes that the singer was innocent and truly loved her husband, forcing the ruthless trumpet player to kill him. David chides Maddie for immediately assuming it was the boyfriend, arguing that the singer had just as much to gain from her husband's death. Their disagreement devolves into a screaming match with both of them accusing each other of being sexist.

Angry, Maddie goes home and has a drink while listening to a record. As she falls asleep, the camera zooms in on the record and everything turns to black and white. The camera zooms back out to reveal the spectacular interior of Flamingo Cove in its heyday. Playing along to the record is clarinetist Jerry Adams (Bannon); his wife Rita (Shepherd) devotedly listens and snaps her fingers along to the music. Jerry is a gifted and dedicated musician, but he bemoans to Rita that their boss, bandleader Mr. Sloan (Rubenstein), hasn't given him a big break yet. Rita encourages her husband to be patient as they make their way downstairs to rehearsal.

The band begins to practice "Blue Moon" when a loud trumpet suddenly cuts in. We see that the sound is coming from the new trumpet player (Willis), who introduces himself by saying, "Name's Chance. Chance Cash Johnny Brick Lonesome Shane McCoy. But you can call me Zach." Right away the man can't take his eyes off of Rita.

That night, Rita is performing "Blue Moon" and finds herself in a duet with Zach's trumpet. (Side note: Shepherd really did sing in this episode, and she has a lovely voice. Over the years, she has
released many albums, her first one being 1974's Cybill Does It...To Cole Porter.) The new band member is clearly a hit with the audience, and maybe with Rita, too. After the song is over and the curtain closes, Rita scolds Zach for the impromptu way he butted in to her song, commenting that they should have practiced it in rehearsal first. "Why practice? We're perfect together," he replies. Just then, Jerry appears and invites Zach to his and Rita's private rehearsals, believing that the three of them could come up with music arrangements to present to Sloan. Zach enthusiastically accepts, making Rita very uneasy.
The next day, Rita runs into Zach outside of the club and demands that he not rehearse with her and Jerry. When Zach blames this on her growing attraction for him, she quickly denies any feelings. However, as Zach comes closer, Rita gives in and they passionately kiss. Two weeks later, the couple are having a full-blown affair. Rita admits that she has loved and hated these past weeks. Unable to deceive her husband anymore, she decides to end things. As she and Zach argue about it on their way to rehearsal, Rita turns and gets her heel caught in the catwalk, almost falling from a great height. "Hell of a fall from up here," Zach notes, the wheels slowly turning in his head.

After that night's performance, Zach cryptically tells Rita "Tomorrow. It'll be alright, trust me." The next evening, Rita, Jerry, and Zach are rehearsing together. Jerry has felt invigorated by playing alongside Zach, believing that he and Rita have never performed better. It's all very sweet and clueless, which makes the next few moments rather sad. Circling around Jerry, Zach talks about destiny and how some things are just meant to be. Realizing what is about to happen, Rita embraces her husband and tells him she loves him before turning her back as Zach and Jerry's shadows struggle on the wall. Struck on the head with his own clarinet, Jerry dies and is put on the catwalk, where Zach loosens a few

The couple then hurries to the stage for that night's show. The camerawork and editing is flawless here as it cuts between a distraught Rita singing, a smirking Zach, and a pair of stagehands trying to lift a giant Flamingo Cove sign that is caught on the catwalk. When the men finally get the sign free, they tip over the catwalk's loose boards, which sends Jerry's body crashing to the ground to the club's horror.

Some time later, Rita is at her home being comforted by Myrna (Allyce Beasley, who played Blue Moon's endearingly odd receptionist Agnes). A knock at the door reveals Lt. Matthews (Frank McCarthy). He reports that they believe Jerry's death was an accident -- he was clearly walking on the catwalk to get to the bandstand when he lost his balance from the sign and fell. It appears that the detective is still suspicious of Rita, though, when he asks about Jerry's $20,000 life insurance policy. He is also curious as to how the clarinet became dented when it wasn't involved in the fall.

Lt. Matthews visits Rita again a few days later in her dressing room. In a great piece of staging, Matthews stands in the doorway and as he announces that he is there to arrest her, we see a large puff of smoke appear, the result of someone smoking offscreen. That someone is Zach, who steps into the doorway and says "I had to tell them." A devastated Rita is taken through the rain to a police car, where Zach kisses her off with "Sorry, dollface," before shutting the car door, leaving Rita to her doom.

At this point, Maddie wakes up and calls a sleeping David to yell "I told you he did it!" before hanging up. Slightly dazed, David goes back to bed and we return to Flamingo Cove. Right away we can tell the differences between David and Maddie's dream, our first clue being David's, or rather Zach's, voiceover narration. While still a smooth-talking trumpet player, this Zach is more goofy than coldblooded. Upon entering the club, he becomes mesmerized by Rita. This Rita, of course, is different than Maddie's -- she has all the makings of a femme fatale, or as Zach says, "She's the kind of dame that makes a man grateful he's a man."

Differentiating the women even more is their performance style. Whereas Maddie's Rita stayed stationary and crooned, David's Rita wiggles her hips, dances around with Sloan, and flirts with her audience while singing "I Told Ya I Loved Ya (Now Get Out)." (Fun fact: since Maddie and David worked at Blue Moon Detective Agency, Caron wanted Shepherd to sing Rodgers and Hart's "Blue Moon." She agreed to do it, but only if she was also able to sing "I Told Ya I Loved Ya" in the second sequence.)

It is also clear with this Rita that the writers were influenced by Gilda -- as if her name wasn't obvious enough, she also wears a
black dress and gloves and does Hayworth's iconic hair flip. Anyway, backstage, Zach overhears Jerry being rude to Rita, marking another change from the previous sequence. When Zach comforts her, things take a turn for the romantic: "That night was the beginning. We would see more of each other, then all of each other. But this is television, so we won't get into that."

As you can tell, David's dream is sillier than Maddie's, which is a reflection of the characters' own personalities. Maddie tends to take things more seriously while David likes to have fun and can be crude. This is on full display in the next scene. Wearing a tank top
while playing the trumpet late at night, the narration gives us this gem: "I always play my horn with my shirt off. Late at night. By an open window, next to a flashing neon light. I know I look good that way." But then Rita walks in and the two share some incredibly steamy kisses. The people at Moonlighting knew what they were doing here. Since the beginning, fans had been dying for David and Maddie to get together, but everyone also knew that what made the show so special was the tension between them. With this episode, Shepherd and Willis could do love scenes without making Maddie and David consummate their relationship.

But back to the story. While sitting in bed together, Zach asks Rita why she even married Jerry. She reveals that she wanted to leave her small town, so when traveling musician Jerry popped up at her father's diner one day, she knew she found her way out. Zach then asks why she doesn't just leave him, causing Rita to explain that it's hard for a woman to get a divorce. However, that doesn't mean they couldn't get rid of Jerry by some other means, wink wink hint hint.

Zach isn't thrilled with this turn of events, so he is relieved when the next two weeks go by without any more talk about it. During one particularly hot day, though, the lovers are shacked up in Zach's apartment when Rita once again brings up the murderous idea. She even tries to sweeten the deal by mentioning Jerry's $20,000 insurance policy, but Zach refuses to do it, causing Rita to break things off.

For days, she ignores him. Zach admits to the audience that he misses her, "but I wasn't interested in killing Jerry, and that was that." Or it would have been if Rita hadn't shown up to rehearsal
one day with a black eye. When she implies that it came from her husband, Zach changes his mind and the two start to make their plans.

On the fateful night, Zach asks Jerry if he can join his and Rita's private rehearsal. Then, when Jerry's back is turned, Rita hands a nervous Zach the clarinet and he hesitantly hits Jerry on the head. Zach is horrified, especially when he looks at Rita and finds her smiling. (Out of the Past reference!) The couple drag Jerry to the catwalk and Rita places the clarinet next to his body.

The editing jars us as we quickly cut to an extreme close-up of Rita happily performing. If you somehow didn't think she was unscrupulous before, this shot proves it. Again, there is cross-cutting between Rita, Zach, and the stagehands as the immobile sign exposes Jerry, only this time Zach is visibly sweating. When the body eventually falls, there is a cool rhyme with Maddie's dream as Zach plays a high, sustained note, mirroring Rita's screams in the earlier sequence.

Freaked out by Jerry's murder, Zach becomes restless. As he walks around with giant neon signs passing by him, he wonders "How long was I supposed to walk the streets? How much guilt was I supposed to be feeling? How long would those signs float over my head?" The answer? Not long, because he is quickly arrested after Rita sells him out. His last hope is a pardon from the governor, but when that doesn't come, he is led to the electric chair... with Rita as the one pulling the lever. It's understandable when David wakes up screaming.

That morning, David and Maddie arrive at the office, both of them pretending that they hadn't given the Flamingo Cove murder a second thought. Outwardly, the two of them smile and act polite, but as we hear from their thoughts in voiceover, neither has changed their mind about who the real culprit was.

During its second season, Moonlighting was nominated for 16 Emmys; two of those were for the remarkable cinematography and editing in "The Dream Sequence..." Amazingly, the show lost in every category except Best Editing. Caron has said that this episode and season 3's "Atomic Shakespeare" are the Moonlighting episodes he is asked about the most. They're certainly the two most ambitious, artistically creative episodes the show ever did -- I would even venture to say that they are two of the best episodes of television out there. Luckily, you can find some episodes of Moonlighting on YouTube, including "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice!" Just click here and you'll spend the next 50 minutes in total bliss.



This is my entry to the Favorite TV Show Episode Blogathon, hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts. Check out the other fabulous entries here!


  1. Truly television perfection. I love the details you provided about the production. You captured the pleasure we got out of watching the series, and how beautifully it holds up today.

    1. Thanks! I love this series so much, and I can't get enough of this episode. They really don't make 'em like they used to anymore.

  2. I never watched this show when it was on. The thing is, going to a website that I depend on to give TV schedules for each night on a specific day, and browsing over the run, I guess I didn't watch TV at all on the nights it was on because I'm pretty sure I didn't watch any of the other shows either. But I may have been watching cable. I was, and still am, a movie freak so maybe I watched some movie on HBO or Showtime when it was on. I have seen a handful of the episodes since then, but not this particular one.

    1. It can be hard keeping up with TV, especially now that there are hundreds of shows. I think you'd like this episode. It feels like an honest-to-goodness film noir.

  3. I watched Moonlighting regularly and I remember this episode very well. It is definitely one of my favourites! Moonlighting was always great for its pop culture references, not to mention the fact that it was often rather surreal.

    Thank you for taking part in the blogathon!

    1. Thanks for having me! "Surreal" is a great description of Moonlighting. I always think of it as the crazier cousin of Remington Steele. While I love both shows, I think Moonlighting's willingness to be different is why I appreciate it more. I mean, who else would do an entire episode in iambic pentameter?

  4. I LOVE Moonlighting! This episode is very, very nice, and pay attention, because there are others in the two later seasons that make references to classic movies - and one has dream sequences as well!
    The Orson Welles story and how the two writers finally had their pitch accepted is amazing.

    1. Thanks! I can't wait to see the final two seasons. I wish they weren't so expensive! It's really ridiculous. I saw someone uploaded season 4 on YouTube, but they cut off the first 5-10 minutes of every episode for some bizarre reason, so that's annoying. I feel like life is conspiring to keep me from David and Maddie and it's not cool.


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