Being Human: Series 4, Episode 7–Making History

“Sooner or later, we always go back to being the monsters we truly are.”

BeingHumanCutlerHal

We’re into the endgame now, and series creator Toby Whithouse is back for the first time since episode 1 to pen the penultimate episode of Being Human’s new format. Not surprisingly, this is a very good thing – good as some recent episodes have been, nobody understands it – and writes it – as well as its creator. And yet even then, I had a few reservations. I’m gripped, sure, but I have an odd, nagging feeling that we’ve been here before.

With the concentration on the Big Plot as the series moves towards its finale, the characters were like chess pieces being moved into place. Cutler’s propaganda plan to use Tom as a werewolf warning to humanity was moving towards fruition, while the Old Ones’ slow boat was now very nearly there, and Hal’s suspicions as to what was going on hardened into certainties as he investigated ‘Stoker Imports and Exports. Meanwhile, Annie took a sidestep in time with ghost-Eve through a convenient Door, to discover a desolate future in which Nazi-like vampires rule the world and humanity is all but extinct.

It’s that latter part, I think, that gives me that nagging feeling of familiarity. Vampires subjugating humanity and ruling the world – wasn’t that exactly the Big Plot of the very first series, with Herrick’s plan to achieve just that being thwarted by Mitchell and George? Here it is again, only this time it’s worked out for the vampires. Whithouse seems to have taken some lessons from Doctor Who colleague Steven Moffat on how to do a twisty turny time paradox to both show a nightmare future and then prevent it.

Not that it wasn’t well-realised.  Future Eve’s chilling description of the events that led to the desolate landscape Annie was seeing was perfectly pitched, and underscored nicely by barely heard echoes of crying and screaming. The focus on little bits of humanity’s detritus – a lone shoe floating in the bay, and a smashed doll stuck in a bush – took on a deep significance unusual for such commonplace found objects, given the context.

There’s an obvious budgetary consideration in simply describing such massive events rather than actually showing them – I don’t think a BBC3 budget would stretch to the scenes of mass exodus, slaughter and genocide that Eve was describing. But it’s a tried and tested dramatic technique for characters to report massive events rather than showing them to the audience; Shakespeare did it all the time, mainly because it’s not really practical to stage a full scale battle onstage. It was done well here, with other nice hints such as the sign over the ‘concentration camp’ gate – “Through me you pass into eternal pain” – and the Obama-like poster of ruthless future Hal subtitled “Show No Mercy”. Though the Nazi-like banners either side of that served to remind us just how much of a long shadow these all-purpose, real-world baddies have cast over genre drama since 1945.

It also worked well to have Annie – nice, conscience-led Annie – as the audience’s identification point in this. She asked all the right questions to prompt the torrent of exposition, but prevented this from being too clunky dramatically by retaining her usual spirit of normality and humour. In the face of all the horror she was hearing about, it was perfectly Annie to focus on whether she’d been a good mother, and what had happened to her friends. Given the show’s weighty mythology, Lenora Critchlow’s an old hand at dealing with this kind of exposition, and so it proved here as well.

It wasn’t just the future we got to see though. In what I think was the best aspect of the episode, we got to see Cutler’s origin story, and how he was intimately tied in with Hal. Turns out Hal was the one who converted him to vampirism in the first place, back in  1950; as a result, Cutler has a peculiar worship/loathing towards him.

The scenes set in 1950 showed us what a nasty bastard Hal used to be – a necessary reminder, I think, as he’s been played so much for comedy that this aspect of his character has been rather neglected apart from one previous flashback to the 18th century. This time we got his forced conversion of Cutler, followed by his sneering contempt when Cutler couldn’t kill anyone, least of all his wife, and lastly a really nasty moment as he revealed the blood he’d been feeding Cutler was actually from his butchered wife, taken care of by Hal personally.

These scenes were cleverly interwoven, line by line on occasion, with the scenes between Hal and Cutler in the present to underline how their roles have been almost reversed since 1950. Now Cutler’s the powerful one, with his big plan, and Hal’s the reluctant killer. And yet Cutler still worships him; he can’t stand to see his former hero begging on his knees, becoming almost physically sick at the sight. But he still can’t let go of his anger. He loves Hal, but he hates him too for making him what he is.

This all culminated in the ultimate cruel reversal, as Hal discovered that his reawakened blood thirst was being slaked by the blood of his butchered prospective girlfriend Alex. These scenes were brilliantly played by Damien Molony and Andrew Gower, each showing how easy it is to lose your humanity and become a monster – and in Hal’s case, how hard it is to get your humanity back. As he spat at Tom, however much they try to ‘be human’, the monster always re-emerges.

With such dark goings on dominating the episode, Tom was left to deliver what humorous moments there were. Unsurprisingly, Toby Whithouse got the balance of his character better than most other writers this series; yes, he’s naive and trusting, but he’s uneducated rather than stupid. His ineptly delivered pre-rehearsed speech to Cutler, and his inability to put on a tie, were nice comic moments, counterpointed by real drama as he realised the victims Cutler wanted him to kill weren’t the Old Ones after all.

Which brought us to the climax of the episode, as Cutler’s plan came to fruition – but not exactly as he’d wanted. With Alex’s ghost having freed Hal from the locked storeroom beneath the club where the slaughter was to happen, she also prevented any actual killing by unlocking the fire exit for the screaming patrons to flee through. But not before, as Cutler planned, the shocked youngsters did exactly what any modern person would do on being confronted by a strange, terrifying creature – got their phones out and started filming it.

Director Daniel O’Hara dealt with the limitations of a low-budget werewolf well, showing us occasional glimpses of it, its own viewpoint, and blurry phone images rather than any lingering shots of the beast itself – a wise move, as it would have been rather obviously a man in a furry suit. Instead, it was a genuinely tense and terrifying scene. With future Eve having told Annie that Tom had never recovered from accidentally killing some humans, you really weren’t sure if he was going to do just that. But with ghost Alex having helped them escape, the only one really in jeopardy was Hal himself.

It was a good cliffhanger for next week, particularly when you remember how werewolf George tore Herrick limb from limb at the end of the first series. But there was one last cliffhanger to pull out of the bag, as the Old Ones finally showed up after what must have been the slowest boat ride in history. As it turns out, they’re led by a pale and creepy looking Mark Gatiss, using his trademark sinister smile to good effect.

And yet I’m not sure about the wisdom of casting Gatiss. He seems to be on a mission to appear on every genre show made in Britain, but I still can’t properly dissociate him from the comic/horror persona he established in The League of Gentlemen. Being Human may be another blend of horror and comedy, but the emphasis here is far more on the horror aspect. Still, let’s see from next week whether Gatiss can be truly scary without also being a little too funny. He tried it in Doctor Who story The Lazarus Experiment, and it almost worked there…

So we’re almost at the end of this radical new series of Being Human, and I’m eager to see how it turns out – and if it works well enough to come back for more. In the mean time though, this episode did leave me with a number of nitpicks. Why would the Old Ones, after hundred and perhaps thousands of years, suddenly change their MO from lying low to conquering the entire planet? Didn’t Mitchell say they’d be pretty annoyed with Herrick for trying just that? And their plan doesn’t really make sense, either; if, as future Eve says, most of humanity has been killed, what will the vampires feed on? After all, predators must always have a vastly greater number of prey in order to survive.

And what’s happening with the ghosts? As I recall, in earlier times it took Annie many episodes to become tangible enough to make a cup of tea. Yet last week, Emrys was able to read the paper and play at poltergeist within hours of his death, and this week ghost Alex could open doors mere minutes afterwards. And after Annie’s traumatic entrapment within the afterlife, why are the Doors now little more than convenient portals to any point in history the plot needs?

Mind you, I did really like Gina Bramhill as the spunky, funny Alex. With last week’s talk of Annie’s Door, and her seeming acceptance this week that she might have to kill the baby, I wonder if Alex is being groomed as a potential replacement? It could be that next week will see the departure of the very last original cast member. If so, will it be the final nail in the coffin for Being Human, or will this new format have taken well enough to survive another cast change? Next week will tell…

W(h)ither the Lib Dems?

Some musings on the state of the party I voted for last time…

WilliamsClegg

What have the Lib Dems ever done for us?

“What have the Lib Dems ever done for us?”, asks Liberal Democrat blogger Mark Pack, rhetorically, before going on to provide a helpful infographic to illustrate just that. It’s a useful data point, because the Lib Dems are not getting this information across very well to their public. For most, they’re simply the junior partners in a nakedly ideological right wing Tory government, haplessly propping up a Conservative Party eager to push through reforms that even Margaret Thatcher would have considered a little extreme.

So, what have the Lib Dems done for us? I mean, as distinct from their multi-millionaire, public school-educated plutocrat counterparts in the Tories (never mind that that’s a fair description of Nick Clegg too)? Turns out there’s a fair bit of stuff that the centre left might approve of, actually. The only trouble is, does it serve to counterbalance the right wing extremes of their Coalition partners? And is it as good as it seems at face value? As good as these measures may seem, it appears that they’re always trumped by Tory policies making the lives of ordinary people worse.

The Lib Dems have indeed lowered the income tax burden for the lower paid, with their pledge to gradually move the tax threshold so that those on less than £10,000 a year will pay no income tax. There are even thoughts about making this threshold higher. Well done, those Lib Dems; it’s hard to find anything wrong with that (though in the interests of objectivity, I’ll have a go).

It is worth bearing in mind that all those low earners may well see many of those benefits disappear in a puff of VAT, as they’re the ones most likely to have been hit hard by George Osborne’s early decision to raise it to 20%. And if that won’t do it, the ever increasing taxes and duty on fuel should, with another 3p per litre duty rise due in August. Not to mention the rising costs of TV licenses and phone bills – though if we listen to Edwina Currie’s views, the poor have no right to such remarkable luxuries.

The Lib Dems have also prevented the Tories from abolishing the top (50%) rate of income tax, and lowering inheritance tax for those poor deprived individuals whose deceased relatives leave them enormous houses. Raising the inheritance tax threshold to £1million was a key Tory manifesto pledge, and abandoning it for the sake of a coalition agreement must have hurt. But a loss of face for David Cameron does not, per se, make low and middle earners’ lives better – they’re unlikely to inherit a mansion.

And as to the 50% tax rate, the Lib Dems are already in the process of negotiations for it to be dropped. To give them their due, it’s looking like the trade-off will be for Vince Cable’s treasured ‘mansion tax’ – a 20% tax on all property worth over £2million. This is an excellent idea, as it’s hard to avoid tax by moving your house to the Cayman Islands. Trouble is, it stands a whelk’s chance in a supernova of getting past Cameron and Osborne (even though, reportedly, Osborne isn’t as opposed to it as Cameron is).

Taxing property is anathema to Tories, and immediately the big guns (well, Jacob Rees-Mogg) have been wheeled out to outline horror scenarios of little old ladies chucked out of houses they’ve owned for decades because the house is their only asset and they can’t afford to pay the tax. As so often with criticism of Lib Dem policies, this is plain wrong – the proposal is for 20% to be levied on the value of properties once they exceed £2million. In other words, if your house is worth £2,000,001, you’ll pay a 20% levy on that excessive £1. And so on (see p14 of the Lib Dem manifesto).

Good though that sounds, apart from the difficulty (well, impossibility) of getting the policy past a party who value untaxed property slightly more than human life, it would depend on getting decent valuations of houses across the country, which hasn’t been done since Council Tax was introduced in the early 90s. As this would inevitably result in almost everyone’s Council Tax bill getting higher, no government wanting to get re-elected is ever likely to do it – a shame, as reforming Council Tax to make it more progressive would be a pretty good alternative to the mansion tax.

Recognising the impossibility of this, Nick Clegg rather surprised everyone at the Lib Dem spring conference by independently wheeling out his plan for a ‘tycoon tax’. Certainly Vince Cable must have been surprised at this sudden proposal to ensure a minimum rate of tax to be paid by ‘tycoons’ – say, perhaps 30%.

It sounds good – although the fact that 30% is an acceptable ‘minimum’ is a revealing indicator of just how little tax the hyper-wealthy currently pay. But in practice, surely it’s even more unworkable than the mansion tax. After all, there are so many loopholes for tax right now that it’s easy to make it look like your income is far lower than it is, if you’re in that hyper-wealthy 1%. And if your income appears lower than it really is, how will paying 30% of a spuriously low figure hurt?

Other laudable Lib Dem policies include:

Put like that, I realise it sounds like I’m determined to find the cloud in the Lib Dem silver lining. The Lib Dems undoubtedly have good intentions; though so did Neville Chamberlain (am I exempt from Godwin’s Law if I don’t mention the feller he was appeasing?). These are the kind of policies I could happily support, and perhaps I’m unduly pessimistic about the positive impact they’ll have. Trouble is, does that offset the genuinely nasty bits of Tory legislation currently being hustled through Parliament with the Lib Dems’ apparent support?

Playing doctors and nurses at conference

CamCleggHospital

Andrew Lansley’s shambolic NHS reform bill is a very good example. This is a bill, it seems, which almost nobody wants – a huge proportion of the medical profession, the public in general, more than a few Tories and even the Daily Telegraph want it dropped.

It’s hard for those of a centre-left bent to defend this bill. True, the claims that it will reduce the NHS to a US-style insurance based private system are largely hysterical hyperbole; but even with the amendments proposed by last spring’s Lib Dem conference, and the House of Lords, it will permit hospitals to gain up to 49% of their income from private healthcare. This is massively worse than the 2006 Labour bill which allowed market forces in in the first place; that, at least, banned private income from exceeding 2003 levels, apparently an average proportion of 2%.

Critics of the bill are regularly countered with the accusation that they “don’t understand it”. And yet it’s hard to see how so many august medical bodies, journalists and legislating peers have all somehow misconstrued its intent. It is true to say that many of the proposed amendments have yet to be included; and yet the bill has already been described as “incomprehensible”, by people who have gone through it thoroughly. With more amendments yet to come.

Even among those who support its basic premise, there is plenty of opposition on the grounds that it is, quite simply, a terrible attempt at legislation, appallingly mishandled politically. The Lib Dems are in a key position to restore a lot of their pre-Coalition support if they bow to the undeniable pressure to stop it, and vote against its passing. Nobody, it seems, wants this bill to happen. Except, weirdly, Nick Clegg.

So what did they do at last weekend’s spring party conference? Uniquely among the major parties, the Lib Dems have a truly democratic process by which attending party members may vote on overall policy, and the leaders would be unwise to ignore the feelings of their grassroots members. This, in theory, is more truly democratic than either Labour or the Conservatives, though it does occasionally produce the appearance of a Monty Python sketch as factions debate endlessly over obscure minutiae.

On the NHS bill, they had the choice of debating one of two emergency motions. One, with the support of 204 conference reps, was to drop the bill entirely. This had the less-than-exciting title “Withdrawal of the Health and Social Care Bill”. The other, supported by a mere 15 reps, was to support the bill, and was emotively titled, “Protecting our NHS: The Shirley Williams Motion”. Guess which one was voted through for debate?

The bizarre implication that to oppose the bill was to abandon the ‘protection’ of the NHS was trumped by the naked populism of appending Lib Dem grandee Shirley Williams’ name to it. I like Baroness Williams, and have a lot of time for her views, but on this she’s just plain wrong – despite having changed her mind at least twice on the issue. More importantly, even if she sanctioned the use of her name to sway doubters, Shirley apparently had never even seen the wording of the motion until five minutes before the debate, which, for added emotional blackmail, she personally got to summate at the climax.

Shirley made an emotive speech in support of the amended bill (although her interpretation of it seemed at odds with that of others). Nick Clegg chimed in his own two cents’ worth at a Q & A session, in which he got members’ backs up by proclaiming that opposing the bill was the same as agreeing with Andy Burnham – perilously close to George W Bush’s assertion on the ‘War on Terror’, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists”. Bush is hardly a man Clegg should be looking to emulate; but he reiterated his reductive binary assessment in Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, using the slightly different tack that to oppose the bill is to oppose any reform of the NHS, as though this were conclusively the only way to do that.

Unfortunately for Clegg, his members declined to vote in favour of the motion. Unfortunately for the party as a whole, voting against supporting the bill is not the same as voting to stop it – it is, in fact, exactly the kind of fence-sitting the Lib Dems were frequently pilloried for in Party Political Broadcasts of the mid-80s. It’s less a statement of principle than an exercise in sophistry that will be completely lost on the wider electorate – all they’ll see is that the Lib Dems could have stopped the bill, and didn’t.

‘Nice’ vs ‘Nasty’ – being weighed in the balance

CamClegg

In just the same way that, however many piecemeal tax concessions and minor social victories they may have scored, they’ve been unable to stop the Tories’ other massively controversial pieces of legislation. The Coalition agreement may permit them to abstain from voting in extreme cases, but it doesn’t permit party whips to allow outright opposition to ‘government’ (read ‘Conservative’) policies. Hence, the public have seen the Lib Dems appear to support Iain Duncan Smith’s draconian welfare reforms, Michael Gove’s clueless education reforms, and George Osborne’s suspiciously ideological and dubiously effective austerity policies.

What’s more, thanks to the doctrine of Cabinet Collective Responsibility, Lib Dem ministers have even had to publicly appear in favour of all this, whatever their personal feelings (even though Clegg, bafflingly, genuinely seems to think the NHS bill is a good piece of legislation). The upshot of this is that the public at large, or at least the genuine majority of the country who oppose the Conservatives, have come to see the Lib Dems as little more than a powerless adjunct of the Nasty Party, basically the crutch that enables their masters to trample on the poor. As a result, their popularity has plummeted from the 30%-odd at the election to around 8%.

This is actually rather a shame. The protests of Lib Dems that “it would have been worse without us” are very probably true; imagine an undiluted NHS bill, or Cameron getting his tax cuts for the rich through unopposed. But they’re still politically naive, as can be seen by the haste and overeagerness which they rushed into the Coalition agreement in the first place (an agreement that looks worth less than the USB stick it’s stored on, considering its pledge of “no top-down reorganisation of the NHS”).

I’m not sure Clegg and David Laws realised what a powerful negotiating position they were in when the Agreement was drawn up. After 13 years of increasingly bad Labour government, the electorate were still not ready to forgive the Conservatives for their 18 year reign before that. Cameron was desperate to get into power; sure, the negotiations dragged on for days, but I still think they were too rushed. Had the Lib Dems held out harder for some of their aims – or for freedom to oppose those of the Tories – they could have come out in a far stronger position.

Or they could have exercised the ‘nuclear option’ – simply stated they were unable to reach an agreeable compromise with the Conservatives and just walked away from coalition, leaving the Tories looking like the intransigent bad guys and having to try to get their reforms through a minority government. I’m not at all convinced that this would have led to another general election within months, as others have speculated; but even if it had, and the Tories had gained a slim actual majority, I think they’d have had a far harder time getting their legislation through. And I think they’d have been a one term government if they had managed to be the ‘unmoderated’ Nasty Party.

Sadly, that’s all speculation, which of course can’t be proved either way. In the mean time, we’re stuck with what we’ve got – the risk of the Lib Dems being so thoroughly absorbed (in the public’s view) into the Conservatives that they may as well no longer exist.

I’d regret that immensely. Unlike many who drifted from the increasingly authoritarian Labour Party to the Lib Dems, I’d hate to lose them. Many of those defectors have now drifted back to Labour, perhaps missing the point that, socially liberal though they may be, the Lib Dems were never a left wing party. Yet if you think the disappearance of our third party would be a good thing, take a look at how well an entrenched two-party system works in the US. Look how much tribalism we’ve already got – aren’t you sick of hearing the mantra about “the mess we inherited from the last Labour Government” being responsible for everything from the financial crisis to the Black Death?

The Lib Dems are – or could be – good for democracy. If they learn a little more political nous, and stop putting themselves in lose/lose situations as with the Coalition Agreement and the NHS bill, they could regain some of the support they’ve lost. They’re starting to learn that, but it’s still stumbling baby steps, as last weekend’s party conference showed. They could maybe do with abandoning the increasingly isolated Nick Clegg, who’s now beginning to look like a figurehead for his party’s identification with the Tories. Their increasing ability to assert distinctions from their senior partner offers a shred of hope. But there’s still three years till the next general election, and they’ve still got a lot of learning to do if they want to survive their partners’ policies.

The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 12

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!

Better Angels

WalkingDeadShaneRick

With the season end in sight, this week’s Walking Dead suitably ramped up the tension in another gripping episode that seems to demonstrate a show regaining its form. Brilliantly paced, Evan Reilly and Glen Mazzara’s script built from a slow burning character drama to a climax that’s been seemingly waiting in the wings for weeks.

First though, the gang had to mourn Dale after his shock death last week. The show’s cold open nicely intercut Rick’s eulogy at his graveside with an incredibly brutal and graphic zombie hunt. As Rick solemnly intoned that he was going to do things Dale’s way from now on, a close up on Shane showed him looking distinctly unimpressed. The zombie hunt flashed through the ceremony, showing Shane’s preferred method of doing things – brutally, pragmatically and finally. The effects here gave us some top notch gore, as walkers were dispatched in some inventive, non-gunfire ways.

There was some time to take stock, as Rick set about organising the proper fortification of Hershel’s farm – something that they might sensibly have done some time ago. Having resolved to follow Dale’s moral compass, Rick was still set on reviving the plan to release the hapless Randall a long way from the farm, and from his well-armed comrades. He plainly didn’t trust Shane to help him with this, choosing Daryl instead. A sensible choice, but one that Shane saw straight through; as they argued the toss, it was interesting to see Shane as the calm one for once, with Rick acting like an arrogant hothead who knew all the answers. This, surely, was what precipitated the later, tragic events of the story.

First though, Carl confided in Shane that he saw himself as responsible for Dale’s death, by failing to kill the walker he taunted last week. Shane’s advice on this was as pragmatic as ever; it wasn’t Carl’s fault, but he should keep the gun and learn how to protect himself. The grownups wouldn’t always be there to watch out for him. Actually, by the end of this episode I was beginning to wonder whether anyone was keeping an eye on him at all!

Rick having finally taken Shane’s advice on talking to Carl, there was a touching father/son bonding scene, in which Rick almost tenderly outlined the new realities to his son. It was interesting to note that, after having proclaimed he’d do things Dale’s way, the thrust of this was Rick’s firm persuasion that Carl really should be armed. There was much debate after last week’s episode as to whether Dale’s pre-apocalypse, ‘civilised’ approach was the wrong way to go with the way things had become; it looks like Rick has decided that civilisation has to be tempered by the brutal realities of the situation. He continues to develop as a character, much as he does in the comics, and Andrew Lincoln was particularly good this week with some very strong material to work with.

Sarah Wayne Callies got some good stuff too, in a significant scene with Shane in which Lori finally acknowledged her own responsibility for the impossible situation between him and Rick. Lori’s been arguably the most annoying character this year, presumably intentionally; selfish, indecisive and occasionally incompetent at basic self-preservation. Seeing her finally admit some of her own shortcomings was a surprise, and the scene with Shane felt like the beginning of some kind of closure.

In hindsight, a lot of the early part of this episode was indeed building up to closure on Shane. The fuse was lit as he stalked into the barn where Randall was tied up, then began flipping out and smashing himself on the head. After weeks of gradually unravelling, it was plain that he’d finally, completely, lost it, and this made for interestingly tense viewing as I genuinely couldn’t tell which way he was going to jump. As he led Randall through the woods, encouraging him to spill all about his gang, I really believed that Shane might take the step of joining them. So it took me quite by surprise when they disappeared behind a tree and a distinctly nasty, neck-snappingish noise was heard.

And then, as Shane smashed his head against a tree, his plan became clearer – he was faking Randall’s escape. But why? Plainly he was up to no good, but even here it was hard to see what he was hoping to gain.

It all came to a head in one of the tensest scenes the show’s done, as Rick and Shane came to a desolate, moonlit field near the woods. Director Guy Ferland gave the scene some excellent visuals as Rick and Shane stood silhouetted facing each other, the moon high behind them, as if reaching the final showdown in a classic Western. The implication was clear, and Rick, a trained cop after all, figured it out quickly. “So this is where you’re going to do it then?” he asked, knowing that this was Shane’s endgame. “Good a place as any,” Shane replied laconically. The showdown vibe was unmistakeable; that same laid back attitude the antagonists display at the end of every Sergio Leone movie. I fully expected a long, drawn out standoff with increasingly close shots of the actors’ faces interspersed with shots of fingers twitching near triggers.

And what we got, cleverly, was something quite different. Having built up that vibe, the script switched tack as Rick went into classic ‘police negotiator’ mode, trying to persuade Shane that, if he only gave up the gun, all this could be forgotten and they could move on.

This was certainly the ‘Dale-like’ thing to do, and was reminiscent of the more peaceable philosophy of heroes like Jean-Luc Picard or the Doctor. It was also, in light of Shane’s increasing insanity, plainly the absolute wrong thing to do here. This played out for a tense few minutes, until Rick took the step of holding out his gun to Shane. At this point, I was prepared for two outcomes; Rick getting killed (unlikely), or Shane accepting his terms and condemning the viewer to more endless weeks of seething tension between them.

Instead, I was again genuinely surprised that the scriptwriters had the balls for Rick to finally accept what had to be. As Shane reached for the gun, Rick, sobbing, stabbed him through the heart. It was a shocking moment, well-handled by both actors. The look of amazement on Shane’s face as Rick finally bought into his way of doing things was priceless. Mind you, I also wondered whether the whole thing had been engineered by Shane as an elaborate, unhinged way of committing suicide; the scene seemed laced with deliberate ambiguity on this.

Even than, the shocks weren’t over, nor the script’s clever mind games. Carl suddenly popped up, having seen everything (really, does nobody keep an eye on what he’s doing?). And it looked for a moment like he was going to shoot his father. Rick certainly thought so, an indication of how he’s not getting the changes in his son.

But no, as the gunshot rang out, it was the stumbling, now zombified Shane that Carl shot; possibly a clever nod to the comics, in which Carl shot the living Shane much, much earlier. It also served to establish (along with the discovery that the strangled Randall was now a zombie too) something we’d suspected for a few weeks now – you don’t have to be bitten to come back from the dead. This is a potentially interesting development; it means that, if this is caused by some kind of virus, everyone is a carrier, with death waiting to trigger it. I wonder if that’s what Dr Jenner whispered into Rick’s ear at the end of Season One? Still no resolution on that – yet.

As a prelude to the season finale, the episode ended with a swarm of walkers, drawn by all that gunfire, stumbling across the field towards Rick and Carl – and the farm. Clearly, in time-honoured zombie movie tradition, the climax to this season is going to see an invasion of the undead laying siege to our heroes’ refuge. Will they survive? Will they have to move on from the farm? (God, I hope so!) And more importantly, will they have the sense to get guns with silencers?

With the episodes of the last few weeks, The Walking Dead really seems to have got its mojo back after a distinctly patchy, often badly paced season. This was another strong story, and a great sendoff for Shane. Jon Bernthal has been excellent in the role, and will be missed. Zombie stories really need a human villain to work; the zombies are an all-pervading danger, but they’re essentially mindless. For genuine nastiness, you need the living, something George Romero’s movies always remind us of. I gather that another of the comic’s well-known baddies is due to put in an appearance soon to fill the void. First though, our heroes have got what looks like an all out zombie onslaught to contend with. If it can match the quality of the last few episodes, roll on next week…

Being Human: Series 4, Episode 6–Puppy Love

“If people find out about about vampires, werewolves and ghosts, there’ll be lynchings. There’ll be riots. It’ll be like the tuition fees march all over again.”

BeingHumanAllisonTom

With, presumably, the last two episodes of the series earmarked for the climax to this year’s Big Plot, this week’s Being Human felt like a bit of light relief. It was perhaps the first true standalone episode this year, in the sense that it could be removed from the series as a whole without making a difference to the overall story. But it was more than just filler; it now feels like we’re properly bedded in with the new characters, and this gave all three of the gang a chance to flex their comic muscles with more than a hint of pathos. And for a wonder, we actually got a script that wrote Tom as more than a one-dimensional comic relief idiot, which truly was a relief.

Obviously, the events this week were spurred by the Big Plot, as geeky teenage werewolf Allison set out to find Tom after seeing him on Cutler’s now widely viewed YouTube video. It was also the first time our less than internet-savvy gang got to find out about this (“Don’t tell me you’re still on MySpace,” sighed Allison at their blank incomprehension of the word ‘Facebook’).

Cutler too was having problems, as a comedy trio of 80s style vampires turned up at the warehouse to usurp his ‘management’ for the Old Ones. These were fun, but obviously one shot characters from the start. Golda (Amanda Abbington) was like the worst boss you’ve ever had (“If you don’t like it, complain to your line manager. Oh wait – that’s me.”), and her eventual comeuppance was like a bit of wish fulfilment for every downtrodden employee. For once, in fact, you found yourself rooting for Cutler, as his typically Machiavellian schemes drew Tom and Allison into doing his dirty work.

Meanwhile, Hal was being played for laughs more than Tom this week, as his OCD rituals struggled to compete with the temptation of sultry Scots tomboy Alex (Kate Bracken). The story actually drew heavily on both of the guys’ awkwardness with women, and of the two, Hal seemed to draw the short straw. His quiet serenity at rearranging the eggs in order of size interrupted by a girl who actually fancied him, he was stuck with a distinctly old-fashioned view of ‘courting’. “Write her a poem, then go and speak with her father,” was his advice to Tom on the matter, while Annie’s view was “get her drunk and snog her”. It can be funny that Hal has so singularly failed to move with the times, but there was possibly a bit much of that here – at least he eventually reminded us that he’d “seduced thousands of women”, although that felt more like a hollow boast by Julio Iglesias.

Just so everyone had an equal share of the action, Annie was stuck babysitting a cantankerous, pervy old ghost, after she accidentally killed him in the mistaken belief that he was trying to kill Eve. Anthony O’Donnell was surprisingly likeable as the Rigsby-alike old git, who made for a suitably comic house guest as the boys’ action unfolded around him. It’s noticeable that, of all the varieties of supernaturals in the show, the ghosts seem to have been given shortest shrift lately in terms of their mythology; so it was nice to get back to the world of redemption and Doors into the afterlife.

Mind you, it did feel like a bit of a disconnect that there was no mention of Annie’s recent, unanticipated relish for killing, in the wake of what happened with Kirby. After the portentous dialogue last week about that, I would have expected some reference to it after Annie, however accidentally, killed again. A more eagle-eyed script editor might have spotted that, and put in at least one line acknowledging it.

After much of the usual leching after Annie, it transpired that Emrys’ unresolved issue was to psychically torment his loathed ex-wife and her too-cutesy piano teacher husband. After a previous (and amusing) bit of misunderstanding in which Annie mistook a cupboard for Emrys’ Door, his real Door finally materialised. This led to much talk along the lines of “when you get your Door”, which seemed a little odd; Annie has already passed up one Door to save Mitchell, then been dragged involuntarily through another, from which Mitchell rescued her. I’ve got a feeling that for her, as far as Doors are concerned, the regular rules no longer apply. But it was surely a significant bit of foretelling as Emrys pointed out that her redemption might not necessarily involve doing something “good”. I’ve got a feeling that’ll come back to haunt her (so to speak) by the end of the series. And with all this talk of Annie moving on, are the showrunners preparing for her to leave too?

However, the heart of the episode (hence the title) was Tom’s burgeoning romance with Allison. Ellie Kendrick was genuinely sweet as the gawky teenage weregirl, making a character that could have seemed like a cardboard copy of Ab Fab’s Saffy believable and charming. She also got some proper character development, as she went from Blue Peter badge-wielding debating champion to eager vampire slayer – a development Tom was none too keen on. The montage of her ‘training’ in vampire killing, to the title tune of ‘Puppy Love’ was fun and sweet, but in the end maybe she was too light a character to be kept on.

That’s a shame, as the rapport between her and Tom worked well. Michael Socha rose to the challenge perfectly as his character was finally written as a shy, sensitive virgin however many vampires he may have killed. His final, all-too-transparent pushing away of Allison was a little heartbreaking; she felt like a character who could have stayed on. But then so did Emrys. And Adam, last week. It’s notable that the ‘guest’ characters this year have been so memorable that they felt like potential additions to the main cast; possibly an indication of a show in transition. Or, if you’re one of those (and there’s quite a few) who simply haven’t taken to the new characters at all, an indication that the main cast aren’t as interesting as those around them.

This was, ultimately, a fun and amusing romp of an episode. It was never less than entertaining, and made me laugh a lot, but was really pretty forgettable. It was chiefly notable for giving Tom some proper character action, and for the foreshadowings of the climax to the Big Plot, as future-Eve appeared through Emrys’ door and made herself known to Annie. A ‘filler’ episode then, but a rather enjoyable one. This may be Being Human on auto-pilot, but it’s still miles better than a lot of other cult TV shows on right now.

The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 11

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!

Judge, Jury, Executioner

WalkingDeadRickShaneRandall

After the last couple of zombie-heavy episodes, this week’s Walking Dead was back to the zombie-light character drama that has been, on occasion, so frustratingly slow-paced. But this was no letdown; rather, it was one of the most intensely dramatic episodes the show has done in ages. This time, you found yourself really caring about the characters and how they were adjusting to this cruel new world, in perhaps the cruellest episode yet.

As I predicted last week, there was more than an echo of classic BBC post-apocalyptic series Survivors, specifically a similarly talky but nailbiting episode called ‘Law and Order’. The story’s basic structure even resembled it, as it all built to a central ‘trial’ scene at which the group had to debate the morality of, and potential alternatives to, summarily executing their potentially dangerous prisoner.

As an examination of one of the central dilemmas faced by survivors of the collapse of civilisation, the episode pulled no punches. When those who survive have no authority structure left, they must necessarily take law and order – and its prosecution – into their own hands. This is a responsibility that most people simply don’t want, as we saw here – Hershel, Maggie and Carol were all more than willing to take no part in the debate and leave it to others. The trouble was, as Dale put it, that taking no part was tantamount to carrying out the ‘judicial murder’ themselves.

With Rick having thought long and hard, and having come up with no reasonable alternative to killing Randall, it was left to Dale to be the sole voice of what used to be called ‘civilisation’. The first half of the episode showed him roaming the farm and trying to change the minds of the gang one by one. As he said to Andrea, “the world we knew has gone, but keeping our humanity? That’s a choice.”

Andrea wasn’t initially convinced. When Dale reminded her that in the world before she’d been a civil rights lawyer, she simply replied, “who says we’re civilised any more?” But it was Daryl, still tormented, who had the most revealing assessment of the situation. Rebutting Dale’s assertion that the group respected him and his decision counted, he accurately summed up the state of affairs: “This group’s broken.”

It was later to become clear why the episode focused on Dale so heavily; but in the mean time, other characters were getting a little more screen time than usual, particularly Carl. Chandler Riggs has been putting in an amazingly confident and solemn performance for a twelve year old actor as Carl heads into dark territory this year; never more so than here, where for the first time the episode focused strongly on him. Even more so than in the comic, his pragmatic, child’s-eye view is a disturbing foretaste of the way humanity’s next generation could head, even while the aging Dale represents a world now long gone.

From Carl’s disturbing encounter with the desperate Randall in the barn, through his angry denial of Heaven to Carol and ultimately two hair-raising scenes of him taunting a stuck-in the-mud zombie, this was as much Riggs’ episode as it was Jeffrey DeMunn’s as Dale. With the very real moral dilemma taking centre stage, that zombie (gruesomely realised with some excellent makeup) was the only one in sight this week. But it was to take a vital role in the plot as basically a symbol of the very situation our survivors found themselves in.

First though, there had to be the showdown between old world morality and new world pragmatism, in that ‘trial’ that was so reminiscent of the one in Survivors. Dale passionately made the case for mercy, arguing that it was patently immoral to execute somebody for a crime he had yet to, and might never, commit. Shane’s pragmatic approach, with Rick’s agreement, was that the risk wasn’t worth taking.

The look on Jeffrey DeMunn’s face as Dale realised that he was alone in his views, that even his admirer Glenn wouldn’t back him up, was heartbreaking, tears shining in his eyes as he realised his world was probably gone forever. And then, surprisingly, it was Andrea he convinced. After she spoke up, a discussion was had as to the alternatives; keep Randall prisoner (a mouth to feed contributing nothing), dump him somewhere far away (considerable risk to whoever had to take him) or trust him to contribute by working with the group (either meaning someone would have to watch him or running the risk that he’d slip away and bring his thirty heavily-armed friends with him).

In the end, though, just as in Survivors, the pragmatic argument won out over the compassionate one, and Randall was dragged out to be shot. Rick having insisted that he had to shoulder the responsibility of carrying the act out himself gave Andrew Lincoln the chance to look unutterably tormented as he tremblingly held the gun on the weeping, terrified boy blindfolded before him.

And then a surprise, as Rick was confronted with the consequences. Carl turned up unexpectedly, urging his father to go through with it, perhaps with even a hint of bloodlust. And Rick, shamed by facing up to what his son was becoming – and what he might too – couldn’t pull the trigger.

It was a heart-stopping moment in an episode full of them. I was hugely impressed with director Greg Nicotero’s handling of his cast with Andrea Kang’s hard-hitting script; the more so because Nicotero is usually the king of zombies, having begun as a makeup man with Tom Savini on Romero’s Day of the Dead. You’d almost expect a Nicotero episode to be a gore-heavy one, but this was real drama, and sensitively handled.

And even after Randall’s last minute reprieve, the script had one last punch to deliver. Dale, wandering disillusioned out to the fields, was grabbed and disembowelled by a wandering zombie – the very same zombie that Carl had taunted and singularly failed to kill earlier, and may even have led to the farm. And finally, with Rick having been unable to shoot the untrustworthy prisoner, the episode concluded with Daryl having to shoot one of their best friends, just to save him from his death agonies.

It was a jaw dropping shock, and yet another clever example of wrong-footing those familiar with the comics. In the comics, Dale survives much, much longer than this, eventually striking up a romantic relationship with Andrea. Here, a character we thought was safe was ripped from the show brutally. The message was clear – forget what you think you know from the comics, all bets are off.

And it was also a final, nihilistic bit of symbolism in an episode that was full of them. Dale was the last representative of the old, good, compassionate world, and here he was, his guts ripped out by the world that was now, having to be put out of his misery.

This was an incredibly powerful episode for much the same reasons as the Survivors one, but given an extra level of tension by the fact that almost every US state still has the death penalty. In Britain, even in 1975, the debate was old news, but in the US it’s still very much current. What this episode does, as its very title indicates, is ask the viewer how you would feel about it, particularly if you were the one who had to not only make the decision but carry out the execution itself.

And finally, if you have any sympathy at all for the characters, it was an incredibly cruel episode. Rick is confronted with his son turning into a cold-hearted pragmatist like Shane; Carl is left with the knowledge that he may be indirectly responsible for Dale’s death; and Dale himself goes to his grave never actually having been told that his arguments for civilisation ultimately won the day. Good drama works by putting its characters through the wringer – this did that in spades. A superb episode even with only one zombie in it, impeccably written, directed and acted.

Being Human: Series 4, Episode 5–Hold the Front Page

“He’s not the Nemesis. He’s far too much of a nob.”

BeingHumanAdamYvonne

Yay, Adam’s back!

After last year’s endearingly obnoxious portrayal of the 47 year old vampire forever caught in a teenage boy’s body, it was great to see the excellent Craig Roberts return to Honolulu Heights this week. With his charmless innuendo, teenage awkwardness and outdated 80s pop culture references, Adam was an instant hit last year; as a result, you couldn’t help feeling that bringing him back was something of a fan pleasing move, when the show still seems a little uncertain with its new formula.

Nonetheless, this fan was pleased to see Adam back. After his enjoyable reprise of the role in last year’s webseries Becoming Human, Craig Roberts slipped back into the role as comfortably as an old pair of shoes. The 80s references were present and correct from the outset as, on first meeting Tom, he instantly referred to him as “Littlest Hobo”. There’s an amusing interview with Craig Roberts in SFX, in which the actor confesses (with much the same sweariness as his character) that he didn’t know half the references himself. Thankfully the interviewer is able to fill him in on who exactly Suzi Quatro is…

Adam was accompanied by his latest conquest, an ever-so-proper girls’ school headmistress called Yvonne Bradshaw. Selina Griffiths as Yvonne gave the character an amusing comedic rapport first with Adam and then with the rest of the household. Her initial, rather kinky, teacher/schoolboy relationship with Adam was genuinely funny, as his crudities were met with a clip round the ear to which he responded, “sorry, miss.”

But there was obviously something a bit odd about Yvonne from the outset, signalled pretty clearly by the fact that she could see Annie. Mind you, Annie was being a little careless in her assumption that she was invisible to Yvonne – if she actually had been, Yvonne would have been confronted with the image of a baby floating in midair.

Yvonne was obviously something supernatural then, and as soon as she began telling her seemingly exaggerated stories of her irresistibility to men, the penny must have dropped for any fan of horror stories. When Tom started to make puppy eyes at her after she touched him, it was obvious – Yvonne was a succubus. The offspring of a demon and a human, she was cursed to bewitch every man she touched, then kill them with the act of what Annie tactfully whispered as, “s..x”.

Now, granted, not every casual viewer is likely to be as aware of succubi as they are of vampires and werewolves, so for some Yvonne’s identity may have come as something of a surprise. But, I have to say, not for me – even The X Files once featured a succubus chasing poor old Walter Skinner. And even if the viewer didn’t know the name of what she was, I have to say that we’ve seen this plot before in all manner of genre shows – mysterious female inveigles her way into ensemble cast, setting all the men against each other by bewitching them with desire. It’s been done on shows as varied as Red Dwarf, Deep Space Nine and Futurama. It is, in short, a cliche that’s already been richly parodied.

The fun to be had in this episode, then, was seeing how  the Being Human gang reacted in a situation which is already familiar to your average fanboy. And, fair enough, there was some fun to be had here. Hal’s reaction to first Adam and then Yvonne was pretty amusing; Adam being less than impressed with Hal’s status as an Old One was soon followed by Hal’s Lestat-lite courting of Yvonne once she’d finally touched him. Recalling his conquest of a girl in the 17th century (“I gave her a thousand tulips”), he followed it up by quoting one of Keats’ love letters, which Adam could only counter with, “there was a young girl from South China…” The whole scene was a spot on parody of lovelorn, Twilight-style vampires, nicely skewering that particular cliche which is still being mined by True Blood. It was almost a shame that it turned out to be a fevered dream of Hal’s, though that was pretty clear from the moment he appeared to have killed Tom.

Tom, for his part, was once again the broader comic relief. Not only did he moon after Yvonne for most of the episode (his sexual fantasy of her as a barrister quoting nonsensical Latin was a highlight), he also again proved himself utterly useless at dealing with the wider world in his doorstep ‘interview’ with the scandal-hungry journos camped outside the B&B. “Piss sticks!” was his response to a query about Adam’s non-appearance in photos as he mindlessly repeated everything the unseen Annie said to him.

I must admit, I’m really starting to get irritated with using the character as this kind of comic relief. I get that Tom is meant to be an innocent, with a sheltered, old-fashioned upbringing that can sometimes cause social awkwardness. That’s kind of cute (as was Michael Socha appearing in nothing but his boxers initially). The trouble is, the show’s writers seem to be interpreting this as ‘Tom is a complete moron’. While that does make for some good comedy, it doesn’t make for a believable, sympathetic character, something Tom certainly was last year. Michael Socha is capable of more than broad comedy, and I’m hoping the writers give him something a bit more serious to do soon.

The strengths and weaknesses of the characters were, if anything, magnified by the fact that the story took place almost entirely within the confines of Honolulu Heights. In some ways, that was a good thing; I like that we’re truly beginning to see the new gang as a proper household, with Hal doing the washing up (“marigolds”) and all taking turns to mind the baby. It was also (as usual in this kind of story) the lone woman who spotted something was amiss.

Lenora Critchlow once again got many of the episode’s best scenes and lines, alternating between comedy moments (“I could have been in catalogue when I was 16. But you don’t hear me going on about it”) and more of last week’s darkness. As she nudged Hal on to terrify the persistent journalist who’d noticed that Adam was invisible to cameras, you wondered where this new, bloodthirsty Annie had come from. It was chilling when she told Hal that after ‘killing’ Kirby, she was hungry for more – “it’s addictive”. Hal, who knows a thing or two about killing, got to nicely reverse roles as he tried to teach her something about restraint.

The Big Plot was threaded through all this, if a little lightly, intersecting with events at the B&B with intrepid journalist Pete (Sacha Dhawan out of The History Boys, who isn’t on TV enough in my opinion). It turned out that staking out lecherous schoolteachers was just Pete’s day job; he’d been building a case file on vampires. To his misfortune, this led him, via Adam and the police footage of Tom, to Cutler, still working on his big werewolf reveal propaganda.

Having already mocked up the corpse of a werewolf ‘victim’ in the woods, Cutler was more than happy to use his newfound press acquaintance to further his aim, posing as a ‘reliable source’ about vampires to show that werewolves were worse. Pete, it turned out, wasn’t quite taken in, managing to hoodwink Cutler into a trap by inviting him in to the hotel room then drawing a crucifix on the door.

That Cutler managed to outwit him using a ploy Hal had used once (killing him then using his body as a shield from the crucifix) was a shame; Pete was an interesting character we could have done with more of. But it also provided a chance for a bit of exposition to explain away the inconsistencies in the show’s vampires. Hal, as an Old One, has no fear of crucifixes, though it wasn’t always so. We can also extrapolate that, as an Old One, he has other powers not shared with your run of the mill vampire, though I seem to recall he still had to be invited in when he first showed up at Honolulu Heights.

Indeed, the show’s mythos was (perhaps unintentionally) expanded considerably this week. Up till now, we’ve only been aware of three kinds of supernaturals – vampires, werewolves and ghosts. There was the ‘Type 4’ zombie we encountered last year, but she only existed because of Mitchell’s tinkering with the afterlife. At the time, Mitchell himself seemed surprised that there was another kind of supernatural being.

Now, we not only have succubi in the mix, but also, by extension, their demonic parents. You could charitably assume that Hal was aware of these while Mitchell wasn’t because Hal is so much older. Nonetheless, if the show’s supernatural universe starts becoming too cluttered, it might be less believable that it could be kept hidden from the normals; indeed, give the incompetence of Adam, Tom, and last year Mitchell in staying ‘off-camera’, it’s already looking implausible that their secret wasn’t out years ago.

Be that as it may, this was a mostly amusing romp, with an unexpectedly sweet ending as Adam realised that he really did love Yvonne, spell or no spell. His contention that love is always out of fear of being alone was mournful and surprisingly mature; thankfully he was back to obscene hand (and tongue) gestures as he climbed into Yvonne’s car to leave for happier climes. The Big Plot was mostly to the background this week, only apparent in Cutler’s manipulation of the hapless Pete; Hal did have a dream that his ‘destiny’ was to kill Baby Eve, but he was bewitched at the time, so who knows how much of that to believe?

As watchable as ever then this week, though some may have been put off by the over-familiarity of the plot’s basic premise. Still, great to see Craig Roberts back as Adam, and as he made it out ‘alive’, I’m hoping it’s not the last we see of him. Hal continues to work well as a markedly different replacement for Mitchell, but as I said, the temptation to use Tom as ‘comic relief idiot’ is one the writers would be well-advised to steer clear of. This episode was fun, but not one of the show’s classics.

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.