“You’re too late. The end has begun. Night will fall. And.. he… will… RISE!”
Well lo and behold, a day after I wrote in my last review that Being Human had plenty of mileage left in it, BBC3 went and cancelled it! Low ratings, they said. Well, it’s bound to have low ratings if you sneak it on with virtually no pre-publicity and shift the HD showing (which lots of people including myself would rather watch) to a week later because of the football.
Commenting on the cancellation, showrunner Toby Whithouse said the series had “a definite end” but that it would “keep viewers guessing”, which to me sounds like two contradictory statements. Still, at least it means he’ll be free to take over Doctor Who when Steven Moffat steps down (fingers crossed). And it is fair to say that Being Human lost a lot of its fans with the loss of the original cast. Not everyone has warmed to the new gang the way I have.
Nor to its rather more broadbrush comedic style this year. In another bumper blog post to catch up with all the shows I missed reviewing while off in LA, I watched episodes 2 and 3 back to back yesterday, and found the same approach of mixing humour and horror that we saw in episode 1. For episode 2, written by Daragh Carville, the balance was once again about right, the darkness of the horror more than offsetting the silliness of the humour. Episode 3, for me at least, was rather less successful, highlighting some of the new gang’s basic implausibilities and saddled with a guest character that, no matter how good Mighty Boosh star Julian Barratt may be, was very obviously a ripoff of Alan Partridge.
Sticks and Ropes, as the title indicates, was our first sight of the mysterious figures that Saul told Annie lurked in the afterlife, way back in series 2. There’s some truth in the old saw that this sort of thing might have been better left to the imagination; I’ve generally found that Being Human works better with sinister hints than actually showing its mythos. However, the Men With Sticks and Ropes were indeed finally seen, and actually they were pretty nasty. Led by a glowing eyed Martin Hancock (you may remember him from such soap operas as Coronation Street and Holby City), they were aided by some atmospheric lighting and direction from Philip John, which couldn’t quite avoid making them look like low-budget Cenobites. Nice try, though.
But before we got to them, it was time for more comedic fun at the Barry Grand Hotel, which is clearly going to be the major setting for this year (aside from Honolulu Heights, anyway). As we now know the Devil resides there in the form of repulsive pensioner Captain Hatch, things were getting “a bit suicidey”. So, with a little urging from Hatch himself, manager Patsy announced an Employee of the Month contest. Cue Hal and Tom bringing out their competitive sides in a series of fun skits, all of which were underlined by the fact that Hatch actually wants them competing with each other.
For as we learned in ep1, Hatch (ie the Devil) actually thrives on the energy generated by vampire/werewolf conflict, and this is his chance to escape from his incarceration in decrepitude. So, for all the broad comedy of Hal and Tom’s competition (sterilising the till keypad, food fights etc), things swiftly turned nasty with a bit of subtle goading from Hatch himself. “I’ve tried to be shit,” snarled Hal, “but you always find a way to be more shit!”
Since the show has established a (mostly) believable friendship between Hal and Tom, it was actually quite nasty to watch. It also showcased how good an actor Phil Davis is; Hatch may, on the surface, appear an unsubtle grotesque, but there was some clever stuff going on in the performance.
Given some alone time to goad Tom (a pretty gross scene as Tom had to clean him up after his colostomy bag burst), he wormed doubts into Tom’s mind with a broad Cockney accent, playing on his doubts about the ‘lordly’ Hal being his superior. When it was Hal’s turn to be manipulated, Davis took on a more cut glass accent, praising Hal’s florid vocabulary (“Meritocracy. That’s beautiful.”), and opining that there should always be a hierarchy.
It also gave him time to repeatedly allude to the Devil’s relationship with God (“I used to work with a bloke like him once. Stabbed me in the back. Threw me out.”) which is clever but still makes me uneasy about the theology. As I said in my review of ep1, if you accept that the Devil exists, you have to accept that God exists too, and for an atheist like me, that feels weird. And yet I have no problem with the show’s basic premise of vampires, werewolves and ghosts – perhaps because everyone accepts that they belong in the realm of fantasy. Funny, isn’t it?
Of course, that might be because Mr Rook is so good at his job. We caught up with him too, as he continued to try and save his funding from the pompous Home Secretary (Toby Whithouse himself, in an amusingly stuffy performance). Rook’s plan, actually, didn’t make a whole lot of sense; bring in the sister (and, as it turned out, niece) of twitchy new vampire Crumb and let him devour them, then show it to his boss as evidence of what he was dealing with. It came as no surprise that the Home Secretary didn’t consider two deaths a viable justification for increasing public funding. Perhaps Whithouse is straying into Yes Minister territory.
Still, it was good to see Steven Robertson back as the prim Rook, and Colin Hoult is marvellous as Crumb. He’s a simultaneously amusing and scary portrayal of, as he puts it, what happens when “the victim gets superpowers”. Plainly wracked by blood withdrawal, much like Hal in ep1, he still managed to find time to bang on about his favourite role play game, which, as it turned out, Rook’s disillusioned young assistant also liked. Which was the cue for yet another swerve between humour and horror when Crumb acceded to his request to be “recruited”.
Alex, meanwhile, was dealing with the unexpected appearance of a new ghost at Honolulu Heights – an irritating spoiled brat from the Edwardian era called Oliver, who claimed to have died there as a child. This too swerved between funny and chilling, as Oliver revealed that he’d killed himself from guilt at seeing his crippled little brother drown. It also turned out to be a part of Hatch’s plan; Oliver had been put there to bring out the Men With Sticks and Rope when his Door appeared.
Alex managed to avoid that by getting him through the Door and closing it, as the Men With Sticks and Rope couldn’t survive on our side. But there were some dire warnings, along with the revelation that the Men work for Hell itself – the first indication we’ve had that there’s a worse afterlife in Being Human than Limbo, and again playing very much into the realm of Christian mythology.
This was a very busy episode, capped with a truly nasty scene in which Hatch basically explained his entire plan for our benefit; it might have been unsubtle exposition, but it was intercut with Hatch causing hotel manager Patsy to slowly die in front of us, blood streaming from every orifice until he finally gently suggested she wash herself in the sea. Nasty. He also revealed that, while he liked vampire/werewolf conflict, he didn’t like the idea of them also having a ghost friend, making a Trinity. Definitely Christian mythology there.
With so many of this year’s ongoing plotlines weaving together, it could have been an overcrowded episode. But in fact it was far more entertaining than the more simple one that followed. Pies and Prejudice stuck to a more simple A plot/B plot formula; in the A plot, Tom fell under the spell of incompetent werewolf and former Partridge-like weatherman Larry Chrysler (Julian Barratt), while in the B plot, Alex caught a glimpse of her future with another of Hal’s ghostly victims, the misleadingly prim and proper Lady Mary (Amanda Hale).
Unlike the previous ep, there wasn’t much in the way of actual horror here, which left the broad comedy looking a bit one-note. I like Julian Barratt, and this kind of role is very much his forte, but it was so transparently Alan Partridge it felt like cheap writing. Plus, we were back to Tom being written as an impressionable idiot rather than a naive innocent; it’s a subtle distinction, but one that writer Jamie Mathieson has managed to avoid in previous episodes.
It was fun seeing Lady Mary’s transformation from genteel 19th century lady to modern party girl as soon as Hal turned his back, and underlined the episode’s general point about the lies people tell each other and themselves. He was under the impression that she was a relic from another age (much like himself), while she was under the impression she’d been keeping him from killing for 200 years. Both were wrong. In one sense at least, that was clever writing, as it echoes the Jane Austen novel whose title the episode puns on.
Still, the ep gave Mathieson a chance to give a bit more welcome depth to Alex’s character, as she visited her family to see them moving on without her and resolved to let them get on with their lives. She also got to see, in Lady Mary, what she could become if she stayed Earthbound for too long; an aimless shade reduced to seeking pleasure by feeding on the sensations of sad clubbers shagging in toilets.
No sign of Hatch or Crumb this time, but we did briefly catch up with Mr Rook, as he contemplated suicide after pouring out his troubles to what turned out to be a phone sex line. And Hal was forced to turn to Rook after his fury at Larry for turning Tom into a sobbing wreck drove him to murder. Again, we got the sense of a very strong friendship between Hal and Tom, and it was affectingly played by both Damian Molony and Michael Socha as Hal gently tried to coax him back to the house. Still, isn’t it a little soon after the death of his previous best friend to be telling Tom, “you’re the best man I’ve ever known”?
Of course, the friendship between Hal and Tom, however different they are, is integral to the group’s chemistry. But I also have a feeling, given how strongly it’s being emphasised, that it’s going to be a vital plot point at some point this series.
For all that, I found the arc-heavy, slightly overcrowded Sticks and Ropes a more enjoyable episode than the more straightforward comedy of Pies and Prejudice. Even if it is a mixed bag this year (and hasn’t it always been?), I do still love this show though, even with its new characters. I shall miss it when it’s gone. Though I still have the American version to watch, which is very much its own beast now, and every bit as watchable.