The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 10

SPOILER WARNING – I’M GOING TO TRY AND REVIEW THESE EPISODES AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE TO THE ORIGINAL U.S. TV BROADCAST. IF YOU’RE IN THE U.K., AND PLANNING TO WATCH THE BROADCAST ON FX THE FOLLOWING FRIDAY, BE AWARE THAT MAJOR PLOT POINTS WILL BE DISCUSSED!

18 Miles Out

WalkingDeadRickShane

This week’s close focus on just a few of The Walking Dead’s ensemble cast made for an impressive episode that should be known as ‘The One Where Rick and Shane Have a Long Overdue Punch-up’. Zombie mayhem was present and correct again, with the character drama being threaded through it, and informed by it, better than last week by some margin.

In some ways, it was a very traditional format for series drama; there was an A plot – Rick and Shane’s excursion to dump off teenage bandit Randall – and a B plot – Lori, Maggie and Andrea have to deal with the now-conscious Beth’s apparent desire to commit suicide. If you were missing your favourite character this week, consolation could be taken that the very tight focus on, effectively, just six characters made for a gripping piece, and left nobody with the sort of perfunctory role that T-Dog seems to have every single week. On the whole, if there’s nothing for a character to do, I’d rather not see them at all that episode than have them mill round in the background and occasionally say one line.

The two plot threads were balanced far better than last week’s ‘first half action, second half talking’ approach, and worked better for it. Of the two, it was necessarily the A plot that got the most attention, as alongside some more actual zombie action, the increasingly poisonous nature of Rick and Shane’s relationship came to a head. Rick put his cards on the table, telling Shane that he knew everything – about Lori, about the death of Otis, about Shane’s twisted love for his wife. Shane initially seemed to take this on board, looking chastened for the first time in about ever. But as they found themselves stuck with a dilemma about whether or not to kill Randall, then a swarm of walkers descended, Shane took the opportunity to have his say. And he was pretty firm about it too.

Jon Bernthal’s been pretty impressive as Shane this season, all glowering anger and frightening obsession; by comparison, Rick’s obsession with what may be a now obsolete morality has meant Andrew Lincoln has had far less of a chance to impress. Let’s face it, the goody-goody hero is usually the less interesting part to play. But Rick’s definitely changed over the last few episodes, and this week Lincoln got a chance to impressively show us the extent of that.

His no-nonsense roadside speech to Shane showed us a man to be reckoned with, and also a man who these days won’t shy away from doing what needs to be done, however horrible it might be. It was telling that he accepted Shane’s reasons for sacrificing Otis, and admitted that he might well have done the same thing. But the crucial difference between them, which drove this episode’s conflict, is that Rick will take the time to consider before doing the horrible thing; Shane will just charge in and do it as a first response.

Hence, when they discovered that shifty teenager Randall, pleading not to be left at an abandoned Public Works Depot 18 miles out from the farm, knew Maggie and had therefore known the location all along, Shane’s first instinct was to kill him right there. Rick, typically, didn’t altogether disagree, but wanted to take the boy back to the farm and think on it overnight. But this was what pushed Shane right over the edge, as he came to the conclusion that Rick didn’t have what it took to do the hard thing. The look on his face said it all as he told Rick, “you don’t have what it takes to keep us alive.” And from that moment, the punch up was on.

They weren’t messing about, either. This was a seriously nasty fight, with both parties struggling for possession of the gun. Clearly, Shane meant to use it on Rick; Rick, presumably would have just threatened Shane with it. But if there was any doubt about Shane’s murderous intentions, that went out the window when he flung a giant wrench right at Rick’s head.

Fortunately for both, he missed, though his intention was now in no doubt. Unfortunately, the wrench went sailing through a window into a room full of ghouls, who shuffled out en masse for another tense bit of zombie mayhem. Surrounded by some quite fast-moving walkers, Rick and Shane scarpered in different directions; the fight put on hold, but far from resolved.

We’d seen part of this action sequence in the show’s cold open, but this time I’d say it hadn’t been needed. I like non-linear narratives, but I’m not keen on the practice of grabbing the viewer pre-credits by taking an exciting bit from halfway through the story then rewinding to the start. It smacks of a lack of imagination – what, you couldn’t write an exciting scene at the story’s beginning? Particularly when, I felt, writer Scott Gimple had done so this week. I would have been grabbed quite sufficiently by Rick’s opening speech to Shane, with a zoom in to the latter’s surly face leading to the credits.

Still, at least we knew there was going to be zombie action. While less numerous than last week, it didn’t disappoint, particularly for taking place in daylight where the detail of the impressive make-up could clearly be seen. These were some nasty looking corpses, particularly the big, lipless brute that ended up toppling on Rick – the first of three to fall hungrily on him, pinning him to the ground while he frantically shot them in the head, unable to wriggle out from under.

Shane too had problems as he bolted into a school bus with a door that couldn’t be locked, and tried to knife each zombie in the head as they squeezed through the gap. Randall arguably had it even worse, as his hands and feet were still tied. Even with this stricture, he managed to graphically snap an undead woman’s arm before reaching the knife he needed.

This was some tense stuff, and well done – there was no stinting on the gore, either. But it was also integral to the progression of Rick and Shane’s fight. As Rick managed to grab Randall and run for the car, Randall made the fairly sensible point that it made no sense for Rick to rescue a man who several minutes ago had been trying to bash his brains in. For a minute, it looked like Rick agreed, as he hared away in the opposite direction; like Shane, I was totally taken in by that, so it was a surprise when the car roared up next to the bus, with Rick exhorting Shane to make his escape via the back door.

On the drive back, Shane was more docile, but the look on his face made me think that we’re far from seeing their rivalry resolved. But all the secrets between them are now out in the open, and the field of battle is laid. As a result, I’m now seeing Rick less as a do-gooding moraliser, but as someone whose judgement is more measured and considered than Shane. It looks like he really does have what it takes to survive. But somehow I don’t think Shane will be convinced.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, Beth unexpectedly got a plot thread as it became clear she was hellbent on killing herself. Lori and Maggie, inevitably, were horrified, but Andrea had a more Shane-like pragmatism given her own recent desire for suicide. We’ve not really seen any interaction between Lori and Andrea before, but this week they got an electric face-off in Hershel’s kitchen; neither pulled any verbal punches, and we were left in no doubt as to the contempt they hold for each other. Lori sees Andrea as lazy and not pulling her weight; Andrea, for her part, sees Lori as selfish and spoiled, taking for granted all the good things she has in such a horrible situation.

I have to say, it was Andrea I really sided with. It’s no fault of actor Sarah Wayne Callies, but Lori really is irritating and comes across as always wanting more from everybody. This is now so consistent that it must be an intention on the part of the showrunner – I’m sure her selfishness will lead to much trouble in the upcoming weeks. Andrea, meanwhile, had an uncomfortably sensible pragmatism about the desirability of suicide in the scenario they all face. In the event, she left Beth to make her own decision, and the half-assed attempt she made at slashing her own wrists betrayed her lack of conviction in killing herself. Eventually, even Lori had to concede this had probably been the best approach. Trouble is, I’m betting that, having had this one plotline, the writers will be unable to think of anything to do with Beth afterwards. After all, her boyfriend Jimmy has still barely had more than a handful of lines despite having been in it since the second episode of the season.

This dark philosophising on the attraction of suicide was efficiently threaded through the action with Rick and Shane, so the episode as a whole felt far better balanced than last week. There was also some touching on an issue I mentioned last week – is it only bite victims who rise as zombies, or everyone who dies? This came up as Rick and Shane puzzled over some zombies they’d just killed who seemed to have no bite marks at all. Eventually they concluded that the infection must have got in through scratches on the victims; which should worry them both given the open wounds they both got during their fight, and the amount of zombie blood liberally sprayed about near said wounds later on. It could be that one of them isn’t long for the world of the living – my money would be on Shane.

A gripping, action and character filled episode ended with Rick and Shane back where they started, heading back to the farm with a bound Randall in the trunk. Next week, it looks like they’ll have the unpalatable dilemma of whether to kill him in order to ensure their group’s safety. That could be interesting, and intentionally or not shows yet another resemblance to classic BBC post-apocalypse drama Survivors.

There’s a truly gripping episode in the first series of that in which the settlement of plague survivors debate whether to kill an apparent murderer in their midst; with no judicial system any more, it could be the only way to deal with the situation. Eventually, the ‘murderer’, a man with the mind of a child, is indeed executed. And then the group find out that he was innocent after all. It made for an enthralling moral dilemma, and it looks like Rick’s gang are about to find themselves in a similar situation. This could be the ultimate test of Rick’s considered judgement versus Shane’s bullheaded pragmatism –  and could be very interesting indeed.

Being Human: Series 4, Episode 4–A Spectre Calls

“Might be useful, having another feller about the place.”

BeingHumanAnnieKirby

“I don’t mean to cause any trouble between you guys,” beamed newly arrived spook Kirby, and straight away, you knew that was exactly what he was going to cause. After last week’s slightly frenetic mix of comedy, action, and Big Plot exposition, this week’s Being Human was an altogether smaller affair, an intimate psychodrama with the focus tightly on our new trio, and the mysterious cuckoo in their nest.

This kind of thing is something the show’s always done well, but that, if anything, may have been its biggest flaw – it felt like we’d seen this before. Kirby’s poison whisper mindgames were a good deal less subtle than those used by the amnesiac Herrick last series, and it might also have helped to ratchet the tension a bit higher if the script and direction hadn’t made Kirby out to be a wrong ‘un from the outset. His first appearance at the end of last week’s episode, shoving his foot into a Door to re-emerge from the afterlife, had him lit and portrayed as a bad guy; how much more interesting might this episode have been if we’d genuinely believed, at first, that he was there to help?

Not that it was unenjoyable. The tight focus on the main characters was welcome at a point when we’re still getting used to them as a new ensemble; and even if we have seen this kind of thing in the show before, we haven’t seen it with these characters. After bonding so well last week, it was a useful reminder that those bonds are still new and very fragile, nothing like as strong as those between the original trio.

Necessarily, then, we got a lot of attention paid to how well Tom and Hal are settling in at Honolulu Heights. Apparently they’re not working at the cafe any more (though this went without comment), as Annie has set up a detailed and complex rota of how they’re all going to attend to baby Eve. This upset Hal; as the king of OCD, he had of course developed his own rota which looked nothing like Annie’s. Tom, continuing to be the faux-teenage son of the family, just didn’t like all the martial organisation. “This must be destroyed,” was the pair’s verdict.

But before it could be, there was a ring at the doorbell as Kirby arrived. A precredits flashback had showed us Kirby’s death in 1975, and even here he seemed very dodgy. The attention he was paying to that little boy before he strode fatefully into the road to rescue his ball was somehow very unwholesome, and I’d fully expected that, by the episode’s end, he’d be revealed as a child molester. At least here I was wrong, though not as wrong as the production for having Kirby hit by an R registered (1978) car in 1975. And for the true car geek, the other R registered car in shot, a MkIV Cortina, hadn’t even been introduced in 1975.

Still, not everyone pays that much attention to the period details, and the sequence did at least give James Lance a chance to show off his skill at pulling off unwholesome smarm. I like Lance, having enjoyed him in varying comedies, but for me his best role was as a slimy PR man in spin comedy show Absolute Power. Here, as there, he was superficially charming but with a true sense of something nasty underneath. Kirby’s hideous 1970s outfit was a nice touch, making him appear comical on top of the deviousness.

When he finally revealed his true colours and identity to a baffled Tom and Hal, it was both chilling and funny that he should turn out to be a fairly amateurish serial killer, frustrated at his lack of reputation in that regard. First though, he set about putting the housemates at each other’s throats, playing on some very good knowledge of their weaknesses, and it was here that Being Human’s usual excellent characterisation was to the forefront.

Nowhere was this better done than in the attention to detail of Tom’s and Hal’s bedrooms. Tom’s was messy, like a typical teenager, but tellingly decorated with cutouts of traditional family scenes from magazines. As Tom went on to confess, this was the kind of normality he yearned for but had never known, and Kirby was quick to exploit that by misleading him into thinking Hal and Annie surely had a surprise party planned for his 21st birthday – which of course they knew nothing of.

Hal’s bedroom, by contrast, was neat as a pin and fastidiously organised; exactly as you’d expect of a vampire whose obsessive-compulsive rituals kept him on the straight and narrow. Less naive than Tom, Hal was a tougher nut for Kirby to crack. But not that tough. Like Mitchell (and pretty much every vampire since Anne Rice began publishing novels), he’s got a very dark past, and the guilt from it haunts him. Little wonder that Kirby managed to get him – and Annie too – to doubt his own self-control.

Annie, for her part, was still missing her old friends, and that was the crack in her armour that Kirby exploited. It was desperately sad when Kirby’s steely onslaught about nobody even remembering her made her fade away into a puff of smoke, and for a minute I actually wondered whether screenwriter Tom Grieves had pulled off the neat trick of killing off the last of the original cast without even a hint of prior warning.

But no, Annie wasn’t gone, and I’m glad about that – much as I like Tom and Hal, they’re still too new for me to be comfortable with losing the only original character left. Instead, we got a very welcome return to dark, powerful Annie; Lenora Critchlow made her seem almost terrifying as she popped back into existence, her eyes deep blue and her face twisted with fury.  All of those den mother neuroses were nowhere to be seen as this awesome, powerful wraith simply squeezed Kirby out of existence.

I’m glad that we got another payoff to all those hints about how Annie is the most powerful of them all, for reasons yet unknown. It’s also exactly right that these moments should be used sparingly, so we can reconcile them with the lovable character we know most of the time. Still, I doubt we’ve seen the last of ‘Dark Annie’ for this series.

With all that going on, there was still room for a few bits of the Big Plot, along with some laugh out loud comedy. The latter was best in the extended scene of Tom and Hal pretending to be gay lovers to fool a visiting GP into thinking Eve was being properly parented. Hal does look rather good in a tight vest, and his interplay with Tom was hysterical. Damien Molony pulled off the neat trick of being convincing within the show as Tom’s lover, but still managing to make the viewer laugh with his obvious discomfort at the role. I should hasten to say, that wasn’t out of any sense of homophobia so much as Hal’s oft-amusing inability to be close to anyone.We also got another laugh later, as he stiffly accepted a hug from Annie while muttering, “awkward…”

As to the Big Plot, it became clear that Kirby had been sent by future-Eve (if that is who she is) with the intent of killing the baby. It’s not clear yet why she couldn’t do it herself (apart from the obvious temporal paradox, but that applies just as much to her asking others to do it). I dare say more will be revealed later in the series.

As will the prophecy about Eve’s ‘Nemesis’ revealed by Regus last week – all we know is that he has a burned arm. Kirby, of course, did not. But in a final twist, we saw that Hal’s wound from his altercation with Tom had become what looked nastily like a burn. A nice setup, but it could get a bit repetitive if we have to spend the rest of the series wondering if one of the main characters will turn out to be the bad guy. That’s basically what happened when Mitchell went off the rails in series 2, and with the prophecy of the ‘wolf-shaped bullet’ in series 3. If they’re doing something similar again, I hope they can make it sufficiently different to feel new.

Elsewhere, there was a welcome return for Cutler, now the only vampire baddie left until the Old Ones’ slow boat reaches Wales. Turning up at Barry police station posing as a defence lawyer, he got Tom freed after CCTV showed his ‘assault’ on a vampire to be, seemingly, a man kicking at empty air. Cutler’s motives in freeing Tom obviously have something to do with his PR spin plan to release the existence of werewolves into the public domain; and the naively trusting Tom seems to have taken his ‘nice vampire’ act at face value.

Meanwhile, Hal found that the framed ‘Box Tunnel Killer’ had been autopsied, and a false coroner’s report issued that he had human flesh in his stomach. This, again, was obviously Cutler’s doing, a prelude to ‘revealing’, presumably, the killer’s werewolf status. This was confirmed after Hal interrogated the terrified coroner, only for her to run straight to Cutler. Who duly bit her throat and graphically drank her blood, in a nice one-shot effect. It was nice to see that, for all his former cohorts’ contempt, Cutler is as much a frightening predator as any other vampire.

A more focused episode, then, with some good characterisation, even if it did feel rather as if we’d been here before. James Lance was a good guest turn as Kirby, who turned out to be a memorable mixture of comic, pathetic and scary. It was also nice, after last week’s torrent of exposition, that the Big Plot was left largely in the background this week. Hal is shaping up nicely, but I’m beginning to get frustrated with the writers’ tendency to play Tom as an idiot for laughs – even the visiting doctor commented that he seemed like a ‘halfwit’. Tom, it seems to me, is more sheltered, naive and uneducated than actually stupid – an important distinction that the show would do well to remember, or his character could quickly become quite irritating.

The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 9

Triggerfinger

The Walking Dead (Season 2)

Strike me pink, there were actually some zombies in The Walking Dead this week! Sightings have been so infrequent of late that I was almost beginning to forget that it’s, you know, a show about zombies.

A little glib, I know, but the general lack of any walking dead in a show called The Walking Dead has been a pretty obvious sign of the budget cuts the show’s had to cope with this year. Well, that and every episode being basically set around one house and one field which I’m now becoming resigned that our characters will be stuck at for the rest of the season at least.

And even when zombies have shown up in recent episodes, they’ve been less than a threat. Hershel’s barn full of walkers were fairly easily dispatched as they shuffled blinking into the sunlight, that chubby one down the well literally went to pieces, and the ones Daryl encountered in the woods were too pathetic to threaten him much even though he was actually unconscious.

Here, though, I think we were presented with more zombies in the first half of this episode than have been in the last seven combined (I’m not counting the season premiere, with its impressive freeway herd; the last time we saw zombies as any kind of threat in the show). I suspect their numbers may have been digitally enhanced, but if so, it was done well – since I only suspect it.

And they were genuinely threatening too, and gruesome. We were thrown right into zombie mayhem from the outset, as one of them literally scraped off its own face trying to get through the hole in the windshield of Lori’s overturned car. Eww! Thankfully Lori seems to have got back some of her previous gumption, and had the presence of mind to rip off the indicator stalk and shove it through the creature’s eye socket. Menaced by another zombie, she used a handy wheel trim to knock it off its feet, then having run out of bits of car to use, got her gun and shot it.

Meanwhile, in the local town that seems to consist of a bar, a pharmacy and three anonymous buildings, Rick, Glenn and Hershel were faced with a veritable swarm of the beasties. First though, there was a nicely tense standoff with the fellow travellers of the two reprobates they’d shot last week. I was a bit confused by this, as I’m sure it was still daylight when Rick shot them, but it was full dark as we heard (presumably the same) gunshots echoing outside the bar. I did wonder whether one of the thugs hadn’t been shot in the head, and had risen again – the show has yet to establish whether it’s only bite victims who come back as zombies, or everyone who dies. But apparently not, so the day/night discrepancy remains a mystery.

The remaining bandits were put to flight by a rapidly approaching crowd of zombies, but not before Rick managed to shoot one of them who was then graphically chowed down on, mostly in the nose area. It’s great to have some real gore back in the show, to remind us that this is a horror story as well as thoughtful post-apocalypse scenario. Another of the thugs was abandoned after having jumped from a roof and impaled himself through the leg on a railing; cue Rick’s usual, perhaps non-pragmatic, insistence on trying to rescue him, even in the midst of a crowd of rampaging zombies. But after much umming and ahhing over whether to conduct an impromptu amputation, even Rick had to concede that this wasn’t the time or place and simply ripped the guy’s leg off the railing – again gruesomely.

This was looking good, but at that point the action pretty much stopped, and we went back to the character tension we’ve been all too familiar with for most of this season. Admittedly, there is some very good drama to be had out of this, particularly with Shane becoming increasingly unhinged, but the episode felt a little unbalanced as a result; all action the first half, all talking the second.

It’s looking like most people on the farm have now twigged that there’s something a little off in Shane’s account of how Otis died, including Lori, who got a chilling two handed scene with Shane in which he told her that he still loved her, and would do anything to protect her. And I mean anything. Jon Bernthal’s performance as Shane is convincingly unravelling as the situation continues, even while the viewer is often forced to admit that his more pragmatic philosophy is better suited to guarantee survival than Rick’s endless moralising.

Hershel, of course, is still none too happy with Shane after what happened at the barn, even after his change of heart regarding the walkers. Scott Wilson has made Hershel a believably old-fashioned, upright Christian without making him dislikeable, which is something of an achievement in this kind of show. He’s simply a decent, honest man with his own set of values, and Shane has trampled all over them. Which is why his telling Shane to watch his mouth carried some weight.

Indeed, the Shane-as-bad-guy thread may be coming to a head, as Lori had a heart to heart with the ever-trusting Rick, to try and convince him of just how mad his best friend was becoming. This was a chilling scene in two ways. Firstly, Lori’s summing up of Shane’s present state of mind made you realise quite how dangerous he’s become; and secondly (maybe this is just me), it seemed that Lori was virtually egging Rick on to ‘get rid’ of him. It may be that the writers are trying to play up a very selfish streak in Lori that wasn’t there in the comics – in this scene in particular, she came across as rather like Lady Macbeth, driving her husband on to a murder that she wants committed.

Away from the Rick/Lori/Shane triangle, we got to see Daryl again, which was a relief after him having been almost absent last week. Like most fans, I find his character one of the most interesting in the show, and his disillusionment after the death of Sophia is being excellently played by Norman Reedus. This week, he had a revealing scene with Carol, who’s rapidly shaping up into a sort of love interest for him. Perhaps it’s because their names rhyme.

Their scene together, as Daryl vented his anger by verbally attacking Carol then almost physically attacking her, was cleverly laden with what was unsaid. Daryl’s plainly racked with guilt, about Sophia and even Merle, and unsure of his place in the gang. Carol, for her part, encouraged him to “let it all out”, while almost seeming to brace herself for what she saw as the inevitable moment that he started to hit her. As Carol, Melissa McBride gave quite a lot of weight to her domestic abuse plot thread last season, and I liked the way that was subtly referenced here. I was also glad that Daryl, for all his anger, and his necklace of severed zombie ears, obviously remembered it too, pulling back at the last moment as he almost struck her.

As character stuff went, I’d say that was probably the highlight. Maggie and Glenn had a bit of business about Glenn’s crisis of confidence; elsewhere, Beth was still catatonic, so she at least didn’t have to have any lines written for her. T-Dog did get one line this week, consisting of three whole words –“Who is that?”. It’s a shame the writers can’t think of anything to do with him this season, as though his character only existed to counterpoint Merle’s racism last year. The irony is that he now seems like the show’s token black guy, with nothing to do or say, which is surely a little bit racist in itself.

An odd mixture of action and character drama then, this week, with the balance not well struck between the two. But the zombie mayhem was most definitely welcome, coming close to the heights of the season premiere and reminding us that this isn’t just any apocalypse – it’s a zombie apocalypse. Let’s see if they can keep us from forgetting that.

Being Human: Series 4, Episode 3–The Graveyard Shift

“Sometimes I think the only demons worse than him must be the ones he’s fleeing from.”

BeingHumanHalTomMichaela

After a thoughtful, character building piece in last week’s Being Human, the action (and the convoluted plot) were back with a bang in this week’s episode, The Graveyard Shift. There was a lot going on in Jamie Mathieson’s script – I’d say perhaps too much for one episode, resulting in a slam bang piece that felt like a chapter of a story rather than a story in itself.

Not that there wasn’t plenty to enjoy. Amidst all the plot advancement – Eve’s destiny, the vampire prophecies, the Old Ones heading for Wales in a boat – there was plenty of the character based humour the show seems to be recovering with its new cast. In particular, we learnt a lot this week about Hal, the ultra-repressed, OCD-ridden vampire who refers to his supernatural status as “my condition”. After last week’s cliffhanger, in which Fergus learned of Hal’s return, we got an opening flashback very much in the mould of those we used to see for Mitchell, showing his past as a Big Bad, slaughtering all and sundry with Fergus. It was, not to put too fine a point on it, massively reminiscent of the flashbacks to Angel and Spike’s historical killing sprees in Buffy.

At this point, I think the show needs to be a little bit careful. Up till now, the writers have been at pains to distinguish Hal from Mitchell (though both characters’ resemblance to Angel has never been shied away from). The flashback to 1855 was nicely done, with Fergus and Hal (gratuitously shirtless, not that I minded) covered in blood having slaughtered the inhabitants of a big country house.  But Mitchell too was a former Big Bad, revered among the vampire community for his previous life as an unrepentant killer, as frequently shown in flashbacks just like this. As we learn from Fergus, Hal’s past as a vampire Old One is arguably way more prestigious than Mitchell’s. But the similarity was there, and I think the show’s going to have to be careful not to make Hal – in some ways – seem like a carbon copy of his predecessor.

Still, Hal in the present is very much a different vampire to Mitchell. Socially awkward where Mitchell was easy going and blokish, this week saw him forging a more friendly relationship with Tom. The tension is still there, of course – initially, Tom’s carrying stakes around just in case, while Hal almost turns him over to Fergus and the gang. But the episode quite skilfully built the beginning of a believable friendship between the two; not quite on the level of Mitchell and George’s easy mateyness, but by the end of the show, you could see them getting there.

This started by having the aloof Hal having to get a job, in order to pay for the baby stuff that Annie is currently having to spectrally steal from Aldi. In a week which has seen much debate about the UK government’s Workfare (read ‘slave labour’) scheme, with the Work and Pensions Secretary decrying objectors as ‘job snobs’, this was curiously timely. Initially, it seemed like Hal thought counter work in the same cafe as Tom was beneath him; later, though, as they grew closer, a Jaws-style pissing contest over who’d had the worst jobs revealed that Hal had done some pretty grim stuff to earn a living.

Nonetheless, Hal seemed to find the job rather distasteful at first, with his glacier-speed table wiping and lettuce chopping. It was only when he and Tom began to build up that camaraderie you tend to have with your co-workers that he lightened up a it. We got some nicely humorous business with Goth-ish wannabe writer Michaela, who amusingly tried to freak the boys out with her ‘edginess’ (mostly comprising terrible poems and drawings). She resisted the boys’ competition to see who could get her number because they weren’t ‘edgy’ enough – something that would come back to haunt her later.

Michaela, along with vampire recorder Regus, provided much of the broad comedy this week. How funny you found this depended on your tolerance for a character who was a little too broad and comical to be realistic – for me, anyway. Laura Patch put in a good comedy performance, but Being Human has never been that kind of comedy. It was too much like caricature rather than character to be believable.

By contrast, Mark Williams, returning as Regus, pitched the humour of his character just right. It’s nice to see that even a vampire can be a nerd and a loser (“my lunch fought back. I mean, who carries a crowbar to walk the dog?”). Williams played him as genuinely weary of 400 years of being a nobody, thrust into the spotlight by his interpretation of the mysterious prophecy.

He also developed a sweet but creepy rapport with Annie, who was this week struggling to accept Tom and Hal as being more than just lodgers. It’s good that the new trio haven’t just fallen straight into the pattern established when the show began. It’s always traumatic when a beloved flatmate moves out and is replaced by someone you don’t know, and for Annie that’s even harder as both of her ex-flatmates are now dead.

Annie spent a lot of the episode advancing the Big Plot, firstly in a genuinely tense confrontation with Fergus and then in mountains of exposition with Regus. As the oldest hand in the show, Lenora Critchlow has the confidence to pull this off while the boys get all the action, but I’d just as soon see some return to the dark, powerful Annie we’ve occasionally seen before.

Perhaps that will come to pass by the end of this series, but for now, she seems largely stuck with relationship building and comic moments. There was quite a good one of the latter, as Regus blackmailed her into telepathically sharing her memory of her first sexual encounter – only to discover that, being from her point of view, he was actually going to experience what it felt like to have sex with ‘Dave’ (“Don’t worry, I don’t remember it lasting very long”). Annie’s always been the show’s real moral heart, steering George and Mitchell back to the straight and narrow when necessary, and now she seems to have become a den mother in addition. All very well, but I’d like to see her take more of a role in some of the action again.

Said action erupted as Fergus and a gang of vampire heavies turned up to storm the cafe, and there was much shouting, hissing, and brandishing of stakes. Somewhere in the middle of all that, Michaela got caught up with Hal and Tom, only to end up with her throat slashed when Fergus and his heavies crashed into the B&B. Inevitably, the lonely, creepy Regus brought her back as a vampire – this made me groan, but I was relieved that the new happy couple headed off for happier shores. It was a little contrived, but I think that might be my dislike of Michaela as a character colouring my opinion. At least the script got in some not too subtle digs at the vampire-worshipping fangirls. Pointing out Regus’ Twilight T shirt, Michaela asked, “are you taking the piss?”, only to receive the inevitable reply, “well, you started it.”

Still, an actual vampire battle in the B&B was a welcome bit of excitement in a show that has had so much happen between seasons. I was genuinely surprised to see Fergus offed so quickly; Anthony Flanagan has made him a rather good villain, and I expected him to be around a bit longer. There was no sign of Cutler this week either, fisticuffs plainly not being his thing. Still, I believe that makes him the only vampire villain left not in a Hoover bag at this point.

And Hal nailing his colours to the mast after initially convincing Fergus that he was back to his old ways was a superb – and necessary – bit of drama. Up till that point, like Annie, he was undecided whether the flatmates were his actual friends. This was the moment when he decided, and as a consequence convinced them too. I’m very much enjoying Damien Molony as Hal, and hope the show survives its cast change to see a bit more of him.

By the end, then, of a tumultuous episode, we were back with Hal and Tom slouching on the sofa watching TV just as Mitchell and George used to. The point that “it’s similar but different” was made amusingly but unsubtly, as the boys rejected watching “something about conmen” in favour of Antiques Roadshow. Still, as Annie sat down to join them, it felt like something of an equilibrium had been forged with the new trio. In many ways, the show could have ended right there – but no, we still have the Prophecy to deal with, along with a boatload of vampire Old Ones and a ghost from the future intent on killing herself as a child. Still, on this evidence, our new gang of heroes may have bonded well enough to deal with those things.

Temporary Fault

Well, I’ve been off in Los Angeles for the last week at the Gallifrey One Doctor Who convention (about which more soon). On returning, I’ve got a little bit ill – the inevitable consequence of being in a restricted space with 3000 people from all over the planet and their delightful airborne pathogens.

As a result, I’m almost a week behind on reviewing Being Human and The Walking Dead, but never fear, these will follow in the next couple of days. Normal service will soon be resumed. In the mean time, here is some music.

The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 8

SPOILER WARNING – I’M GOING TO TRY AND REVIEW THESE EPISODES AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE TO THE ORIGINAL U.S. TV BROADCAST. IF YOU’RE IN THE U.K., AND PLANNING TO WATCH THE BROADCAST ON FX THE FOLLOWING FRIDAY, BE AWARE THAT MAJOR PLOT POINTS WILL BE DISCUSSED!

Nebraska

WalkingDeadRick

After the brutal slap in the face (and highly effective it was too) that was the last few minutes of the mid-season finale, AMC’s The Walking Dead is back for what I gather is referred to as a mid-season premiere. I must admit, there were times during the draggy first half of the season that I was tempted to stop watching altogether; or at the very least stop blogging about it. But after the slow burn culminated in that incredibly powerful ending to the first half, I thought I’d give it a chance to get moving again.

And has it? Well no, sad to say, not really. I’m starting to get an almost pathological boredom reaction to the very sight of Hershel’s farm now, so it didn’t help that the action picked up exactly where we left off. Having said that, this was the only thing to do from a dramatic perspective – something very shocking had just happened, that would have a profound effect on all those present. It made sense to pick up where they did. Still, this is a show that’s done non-linear narratives before. How much more effective might it have been, given the widespread criticism of the first half’s slow pace, to throw the viewer into an entirely new, refreshingly different scenario, then reveal in flashbacks how we got there?

Be that as it may, there were at least signs that the show might be starting to pick up the pace. There were, inevitably, more of the interminable arguments in the group, as Rick and Shane shouted at each other about whether what Shane did was the right thing or the bloody stupid thing. But a lot of people are starting to see it Shane’s way now. T-Dog was strongly approving of what Shane did, and even Carl seems to be shifting to the pragmatic, survivalist viewpoint. Only Dale, glaring balefully at Shane while Shane ranted, seems to be mired in the morality of the world that’s gone. By the end of the episode, it’s beginning to look like Rick too has accepted that things can never be what they were.

From a character perspective, this episode was full of people having that kind of realisation. As Carl solemnly told Lori that he would have shot Sophia himself, had he been in that position, we saw the look of sheer horror on Lori’s face. But a child growing up in a post-apocalypse world full of hungry ghouls can’t expect the kind of caring upbringing we expect now.

One of the things the show has done rather well is explore the gulf between our ‘liberal’ morality (as represented by Dale and Lori), and the pragmatic realities of survival in such a situation (as represented by Shane, and increasingly, Andrea). Thankfully, given the zombie genre’s tendency to be a survivalist nutter’s wet dream, it’s come down on neither one side nor the other; and paradoxically, it’s been previously stereotypical redneck Daryl who’s embodied the balance between the two philosophies best.

Daryl, though, was thoroughly disillusioned this episode, as was Carol, who accepted that, really, her daughter had been dead for ages. Hershel too was undergoing that realisation, having witnessed the fact that repeated gunshots won’t stop these ‘people’ unless they’re to the head. Hershel reacted in a rather stereotypical way for an upright Christian having his beliefs shattered; he found the nearest bar and proceeded to get roaringly drunk.

With his daughter Beth in a state of catatonic shock, his medical skills were clearly needed, so off Rick went, accompanied by Glenn, to the local watering hole. All right, fine, that makes sense, despite Lori’s rather selfish misgivings – after all, as ‘leader’ of the group, Rick was taking responsibility for what had happened. But what on earth then possessed Lori to firstly try sending Daryl after them, then recklessly go herself?

It’s no fault of actress Sarah Wayne Callies, but Lori is rapidly becoming the show’s most irritating character, in the same way as all those heroines of trad horror movies who, frustratingly, seem to go out of their way to put themselves in as much danger as possible. With Lori having flipped her car after contrivedly crashing into a handy walker (really, even after the apocalypse, it’s still a good idea to look where you’re going), we’ve got a new plotline. Let’s hope to heaven the gang don’t spend the next six weeks poking round the woods looking for her now; if they do, I really might stop watching.

Conversely though, the bar scene in which Rick, Hershel and Glenn were suddenly interrupted by the arrival of a pair of uncouth survivors was rather splendid. It’s a scene I’ve seen before in most post-apocalypse stories, but it was done well. The introduction of a couple of new characters, after the cabin fever of the endless stay at Hershel’s farm, was refreshing, as was their account of the way things were going in the wider world – I just wish the show would start showing us rather than just telling us about it.

The tension built as Rick was clearly not going to let them at the farm, and they equally plainly weren’t taking “sod off” for an answer. The fact that it culminated in a messy exchange of gunfire was no surprise, but what was a surprise was Rick so readily shooting them. It’s a vital bit of character development as he too starts to become more pragmatic about survival; what it says about his humanity is not too complimentary, but it’s believable.

Still, though, this is a zombie show, remember? After the pretty low zombie count in the season’s first half, I was hoping we’d get a bit more undead action amidst all the character development. As was pointed out, you’d think all that gunfire around the barn would have caught roaming walkers’ attention, and the farm might have been besieged by a herd, our gang having to fight their way out and finally get the show on the move again. Or at the very least, you’d think Rick, Glenn, and Hershel might have drawn a few ghouls to them in that bar.

But no, disappointingly, zombies were still pretty thin on the ground here. I say “on the ground”, as the most we saw of them was the now neutralised corpses outside the barn. There was a moment that genuinely made me jump as one of them turned out to be not so dead after all, but she was quickly dispatched. After that, the only undead gore in evidence was that carelessly placed arm in the pickup full of corpses, as it fell off the side and Andrea, plainly now used to such things, unthinkingly picked it up and threw it back in the truck.

Apart from that, the only walker we saw (for a split second) was the one unwise enough to wander into the road at the precise moment that Lori was paying no attention whatsoever to where she was driving. That zombie may or may not be properly dead now, but he didn’t play much of a part.

And that was it for the zombies this week. Again, I think the show’s reduced budget over its longer running time is becoming far too evident. For a mid-season premiere, this had far too little action. After all, when Doctor Who came back after its unprecedented mid-season break, at least Let’s Kill Hitler actually moved (whether its movement made any sense is another matter entirely). By contrast, The Walking Dead’s mid-season return, while a little pacier than it has been of late, still moves at a zombie’s pace in comparison.

Yes, the character development and exploration of the post-apocalyptic scenario is well done. But as it stands, I can’t say I have so much emotionally invested in these characters to want to spend more time on their ruminations than on progressing the story. If I want an in depth exploration of the day to day realities of life after the end of civilisation, I’ll watch the original Survivors. What I want from The Walking Dead is a pinch of this, but with a lot more action. And on this basis, sadly, I may have to wait a while…

Being Human: Series 4, Episode 2–Being Human 1955

Annie: “Things have changed a lot recently.”
Pearl: “That’s a pity. Over 55 years and I’ve never had to change my lineup.”

Being HumanAnnie

OK, this is the episode that’s convinced me I want to stay with this show (though judging by my Facebook friends, I may be in a minority). After the sturm und drang of last week’s Big Plot shenanigans, this week Being Human concentrated – quite rightly I think – on establishing the new characters and their place in the show. Despite the loss of George and Mitchell still being very keenly felt, this was a real return to the blend of comedy and horror that made the show so much fun in the first place. It’s not the show it was, to be sure. But it felt, unlike last week, like a promising new direction.

Lisa McGee’s script was rather excellent; full of quotable lines, it had me by turn laughing my head off and then gasping at the drama. All right, I think the comedy was most to the fore, but it was used to inform the drama (and vice versa) in precisely the way the show used to before it got so hung up on its own mythos.

Oh, the mythos is still there, and we’re obviously going to see some developments this year with the threat of vampire domination and their ongoing war with humanity and the werewolves. I was glad to see that both Fergus and Cutler survived last week’s massacre at the groan-makingly named ‘Stoker Import and Export’ building (though bafflingly they’re still headquartered there).

Of the two, Fergus is the more obvious baddie. Like last week, Anthony Flanagan invested him with genuine menace beneath an apparent bonhomie, and he’s very much a trad vampire with his first response to everything being to kill and feed – “We need fists and fangs”. But charismatic though he is, Cutler is the more interesting of the pair. A ‘vampire of the times’, we first encounter him using homeless people as a ‘focus group’ for his werewolf transformation footage propaganda. Fergus’ first reaction is to immediately kill all the humans (“we missed lunch”), and then more tellingly, compare Cutler to a certain political figure – “we don’t need a vampire Peter Mendelssohn”. Cutler’s withering putdown to this – “Did you mean ‘Mandelson’, or are you calling me a 19th century German composer?” – was gold, and I’m hoping their bickering double act will be a running thing.

Fergus and Cutler aside, we also saw Future Eve (if indeed the ghost from the future is her), who was directing the plot by sending the ailing Leo, together with Hal and Pearl, to see Baby Eve in her capacity as Warchild and Saviour. I’m still not sure about this aspect of the plot, and may have to watch last week’s again – is the ghost from the future really Eve? If so, her mission to kill the infant version of herself, while noble, is a time paradox more head scratching than anything in the Terminator movies.

But these Big Plot aspects were fairly incidental to the episode’s USP, which was, plainly, to set up the new household. It’s being done in a nicely gradual way;we’re already getting used to Tom as the new resident werewolf, and with this in train, here comes new vampire Hal. Only glimpsed last week, this week Damien Molony got a large slice of the action to establish this new bloodsucker as a very different vampire from John Mitchell. He’s far more introverted, with his archaic suit and clipped 1950s English accent (though I’m pretty sure I detected traces of Molony’s real Irish twang once or twice).

He also has an endearing tendency to OCD, with his strange superstitions and rituals. He never stops at petrol stations on the left hand side of the road because it’s bad luck – which must cause problems on dual carriageways, considering we drive on the left in this country. He also has a daily ritual of setting up complex domino chains, but never actually knocks them down, preferring to then carefully put them away.

As he explains, this is a method taught to him by Leo for controlling his primal urges; I like that. For as we saw in an electric confrontation between him, Tom and a slimy pawn shop owner, he could be very dangerous indeed. That scene, with Tom’s initial loathing of the stuffed wolf head leading to the owner pulling a shotgun on him, felt like the writers and the actor really setting the stall out for Hal as a character.

Molony was chilling as he calmly explained what killing was like, how easy and exhilarating it was, and how hard it was to live with afterwards. You got a real sense of how many times he’d learnt this himself. As the shopkeeper said, “you’re either a man of God, or you’re speaking from experience.” Molony’s regretful, faraway look as he replied, “I’m not a man of God.” was perfect, and it was a good one liner the likes of which the show used to do so well. The whole scene reminded me of nothing so much as a scene in Doctor Who story The Happiness Patrol, in which the Doctor, held at gunpoint, calmly and firmly talks his would-be executioners into putting down their guns. I wonder whether the resemblance was intentional?

But we also got Hal’s housemates Leo (werewolf) and Pearl (ghost) turning up with him, in a nicely timed comic bit after Tom had declared that Baby Eve wasn’t going to be suddenly visited by three wise men proclaiming her the Messiah. It had ben pretty well-publicised that the show’s new lineup was going back to the original mix – one vampire, one werewolf, one ghost, so plainly they weren’t going to stay around long. As it turned out though, the resolution of their storyline was every bit as affecting as the characters we’d known since the show began.

As much as the writing, this was down to the actors involved. Tamla Kari as Pearl had a nice interplay with Annie from the outset, with her bitching about the B & B’s decor, not to mention her smug assertion that she’d managed to make a vampire/werewolf/ghost household last for decades while Annie had barely managed a few years. And it was a brilliant, laugh-out-loud moment, in keeping with the show’s traditions, that the one snipe Annie just couldn’t take was when Pearl criticised her tea-making skills!

Good though Kari was, Louis Mahoney as Leo was again the best of the new crew. He was both funny and heartbreaking as the dying werewolf, with his assertion that he once saw Louis Armstrong – “though it could have been Shirley Bassey. I was really drunk” – and his obvious tenderness for his supernatural companions. I must say though, after this and his turn in Doctor Who episode Blink, I do wish someone would give this talented actor something more to do than dying emotively in bed.

All that said, the ultimate resolution to his and Pearl’s plot was a little predictable; they’d always loved each other, and having worked this out at the end of his life, could both move on through their doors, together. It was sweet, but signposted as soon as Leo sent Tom off to buy that mysterious ring.

In the same way that Hal is very different from Mitchell, Tom is clearly nothing like George, and again that’s a good thing. Theirs is obviously going to be a fractious relationship, nothing like the best mates that Mitchell and George were from the very beginning of the series, which is perfectly in keeping with their wounded and mistrustful natures. Hal may be best friends with another werewolf, but he still can’t touch Tom without interposing a handkerchief between their hands; and Tom never even came to trust Mitchell, so as far as he’s concerned, all vampires are still the enemy.

This all came to a head as Hal, alone and upset, tried to fall off the wagon by feeding off the nasty pawn shop owner. As he and Tom pointed a shotgun and a stake at each other, it was down to Annie to make an uneasy peace, and set the scene for that final shot of all three of them on the sofa, uneasy allies but housemates at least.

Ah, Annie. As the last one standing of the lineup that fans came to love, Lenora Critchlow has a heavy load to bear this series. On the evidence of this episode, she’s more than up to the task. Although an ensemble piece, Annie really dominated the action, with her usual mix of comedy and pathos. She got all the best laughs, from her mothering of Tom – “no stakes in my shrubbery!” – to her cobbled together ‘ceremony’ in an attempt to heal Leo, in which she randomly spouted every bit of Latin gobbledegook she could remember – “carpe diem, veni, vidi, vici, Dolce, Gabbana…”

But she also got some of the best moments of pathos. Hal saw straight through her cheery exterior – “Your mask. It’s almost as good as mine.” Then there were her tears as she tried to stop Tom and Hal killing each other. She’s lost her two best friends, and despite her cheeriness, is far from dealing with it well. She’s the same old Annie, but there’s something sadly ironic that out of the three housemates who started, it’s only the dead one who’s still around.

So, the new lineup is complete. They’re not mates yet, not like the old gang; Tom is very much like a teenage son to Annie, who’s also relishing being mum to Eve. Tom and Hal seem to have reached an uneasy peace, but I’m sure it’ll take a while before they even trust each other. Still, for all the show’s ever growing mythos and Big Plots, it feels like we’re back to its original format – three supernatural beings sharing a house, trying to deal with their own monstrous natures and ‘ be human’. In a way, the character change could even be a good thing; it felt, last year, like they’d gone as far as they could with Mitchell and perhaps George too. This way, we have a new gang to deal with the same problems in different ways. However much you loved the original cast, that’s got to be a good thing – and on the strength of this episode, for me, it is.