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