“To desire to be human is the end, not the beginning. To want it is to have it. You’ve already won.”
Well, I’ll be damned – Toby Whithouse has managed to have his cake and eat it.
When I first wrote about Being Human’s cancellation, I was sceptical about his apparently conflicting statements that he’d given the show a definite end, but that it would “keep fans guessing”. That sounded to me like he’d been informed of the cancellation after the fact, and was trying to make excuses for leaving us with an unresolved cliffhanger.
But no – I should have had more faith in the writer who’s rapidly impressing me as one of the best fantasy scripters out there. Not only did both of those statements turn out to be true, this final ever episode managed to fulfil some very tall orders. It served as a capstone to the show’s mythology and themes, gave us an emotional sendoff for characters I really didn’t want to say goodbye to, and provided a real ending – albeit with enough ambiguity to satisfy fans who wanted a happy end and those who wanted to see our heroes go out in a blaze of apocalyptic glory. All of that, and it managed to be a gripping, tearjerking hour of television with more horror, twists and humour than I had any right to expect.
We picked up exactly where we’d left off – Alex was trapped in her own grave, Tom was whittling stakes, and Hal was awakening his newly slaughtered vampire army at a local pub. Of all the things I probably didn’t expect in the show’s last ever episode, I’d rate a musical number pretty high among them; but that was what we got, in a blackly funny scene as the bloodstained Hal danced around the bar singing ‘Puttin on the Ritz’, even while tapping his newfound recruits awake.
No that they lasted long, as Tom stormed in with stakes and phials of his own blood to put them back down in a Matrix-style action sequence that was pure brilliance before taking on Hal himself. Now that was a fight – kudos to director Daniel O’Hara for making the whole sequence so thrilling.
And that was just the first five minutes. This was a full throttle episode from the start, which still had plenty of room for depth and introspection even while not stinting on the action. Fortunately, Alex had figured out that she could walk through solid objects and escaped the grave (which, admittedly, did rather undercut last week’s cliffhanger), and was there in time to stop Hal and Tom killing each other. This was fortunate because, as she put it, “shit’s getting real out there.”
Indeed it was, as the newly revitalised Captain Hatch (aka Beelzebub) had been taking a stroll around Barry before heading off into the wider world. I’d been wondering what exactly the Devil was going to get up to if freed; it became clear that, as usual, he was going to start the Apocalypse.
Yes, not very original I know. But it’s hard to dislike Phil Davis when he gets his teeth into a part like this. No longer a decrepit cripple, he pranced around with a fedora and a bright yellow tie, muck to Rook’s surprise, before letting the stuffy civil servant in on the truth. And forcing some info out of him that would turn out to help him spread his suicide-inducing ways to a much wider audience.
The vision of the Apocalypse starting in a place as prosaic as Barry Island was strangely in keeping with this show’s familiar mix of the supernatural and the mundane. It looked a bit low-budget, with the devastation confined to a couple of car crashes and a few bloodied corpses on the eerily empty streets. But the sense of a wider catastrophe was cleverly introduced with a news broadcast of the suicide epidemic spreading to Cardiff as our heroes, forced to ally against the greater evil, learned from the shaking Rook the venue for the Final Confrontation. Hatch (aka Old Nick) was off to take control of the country’s emergency broadcast system and spread his message of doom to the whole of Britain.
Toby Whithouse has never been shy about… er, pilfering from writers he admires. Way back in series 3, that nail-biting confrontation between Nina and the revitalised Herrick (“You know, you were the only one who was kind to me? I think I’ll let you live.”) was taken almost verbatim from an old Alan Moore comic, Marvelman:
This time, in the first of several instances this episode, Whithouse managed another ‘homage’ to Moore; Hatch’s Address to the Nation was basically a rerun of the one from V for Vendetta: “I think it’s time we had a little talk.”
But his demonic broadcast was interrupted by the arrival of our heroes, intent on restaging the ritual from 1918, and getting it right this time – to destroy the Devil. Amusingly, Hatch cut to the old Potter’s Wheel interlude while he was otherwise engaged:
And here was where the episode got really twisty-turny. “You haven’t told them the fine print, have you?” smirked Hatch to Evil Hal. The ritual – involving a ghost drinking the mixed blood of vampire and werewolf – would kill all three. Except Evil Hal was clever, and had snatched some blood from a dying vampire earlier – just the same way he’d escaped ‘alive’ in 1918.
No dice though – Tom and Alex were still up for it, provided Hal would kick the Devil’s arse next time he showed up. Which was when the Old Tempter pulled his greatest trick, living up to that particular nickname. All three of them found themselves placed – apart – with their greatest temptations.
For Alex, it was never having died, and being with her dad (Gordon Kennedy, marvellous as ever). For Tom, it was being free of his curse and living in Honolulu Heights with the now-pregnant Allison. And for Hal, it was being back in the Belarussian forest where he was turned 500 years ago, and having the choice to die a human, never inflicting his brand of slaughter on the world. For added guilt, Leo turned up to persuade him that his own murders were a direct result of Hal’s decision.
It was good to see both Louis Mahoney as Leo and Ellie Kendrick as Allison; their appearances were vital to the plot, rather than just the sort of fan-pleasing gesture that Doctor Who so frequently does. But Hatch, simultaneously appearing to all three (“I’m not omnipresent, but I can multi-task”) had missed the thing that was so vital to all of them – each other. His temptations didn’t work because he’d missed the bonds of friendship this year’s series has so convincingly established. And so they said no to the Devil, and were back in the Emergency Broadcast studio. With the original blood mix smashed on the floor, even Evil Hal was prepared to die to stop the Apocalypse.
The sequences of the trio being tempted were both funny and heart-rending, and beautifully played by Damien Molony, Michael Socha and Kate Bracken. It was a real punch the air moment as the three were intercut telling Hatch where to get off. As it was when Rook, now rehired by the Home Secretary (Whithouse in one last cameo) unexpectedly blew Hatch’s head off.
It seemed a bit unsatisfactory as an ending, Hal opining that the Devil had “dispersed into the atmosphere”. But it was the first in a series of false endings that kept us guessing throughout. In a nutshell – Rook turned up, turned out to be possessed by the Devil, was cast out by the ritual, which the gang unexpectedly survived, and was then killed by Hal, casting Satan out for good. And as Alex discovered that she’d laddered her tights, the truth became clear; with the Devil gone, so had all their curses. They’d wanted so much to be human – and now they were.
True, it seemed a little convenient. I could understand Hal and Tom going back to their human selves, but Alex? Being dead already, wouldn’t she just have shuffled off to the afterlife? Still, as the heroes got used to their newly human status (be careful what you wish for) and settled down, as ever to watch Antiques Roadshow, Whithouse sprang the final twist – the origami wolf (shades of Blade Runner) Hatch had left on the mantelpiece in Tom’s hallucination.
And that’s the ending he promised, that would keep us guessing. Did our heroes win, and get to live out natural lives as humans? Or are they still trapped in their greatest temptation, a happy life together, as the Devil spreads his Apocalypse through the world? What Mr Whithouse has done here is – he’s Inception’d us.
Yes, just as the end of Christopher Nolan’s mindbender (itself reminiscent of the original Total Recall) never definitively states if Leo DiCaprio has got back to the real world, so fans can take this ambiguous climax in the way that makes them happiest. If you want a happy ending, fine – they got one. If you wanted the heroes to perish while the world burned, fine – that might be just what happened. Something for everyone.
I can understand that some might find the ambiguity frustrating. But for me it was just right. I can come down on either side of the fence according to my mood! And in the end, this served perfectly to sum up the show’s continuing theme of what ‘being human’ really means. Even when they were ‘monsters’, as Hal pointed out, they were still ‘human’ – with all the flaws, possibilities and drive to improve that make us all human. A fitting capstone to five years of a show that will always be one of my favourites.