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