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

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


“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.