Being Human: Series 5, Episode 4–The Greater Good

“All we’re doing is marking time till the inevitable happens.” – Hal

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It was another frenetic mix of farce and fear in this week’s Being Human, a contrast that seems to be the default style of this final year. Perhaps responding to criticisms that the show had gone too far towards the Dark Side in series 2 and 3, Toby Whithouse seems to have steered the tone towards a much broader style of comedy in its non-horror moments. Whether it works is arguable; the domestic sitcom setting of that first sleeper hit series was, generally speaking, more believable than the more overt silliness on display here. Nevertheless, it makes for a very shocking contrast when the story does turn dark.

We were also back to the story proper of this final year, with the reintroduction of Crumb, another appearance from Mr Rook, and more manipulation from the grotesque Captain Hatch (aka Beelzebub). And we got another look at Evil Hal as he struggled beneath the surface of the usually likeable stuffy vampire, while the gang found themselves cast in the unlikely role of a rehab clinic for other wayward supernaturals.

The first of these was beefy werewolf Bobby, played by the incomparable Ricky Grover. Usually typecast as terrifying hard men, Grover got to show his softer side as Bobby, an institutionalised werewolf who’s been kept under lock and key in Rook’s Archive since unexpectedly massacring his family as a 12-year-old in 1980.

Stuck in a timewarped world of Kevin Keegan and Burt Reynolds, Bobby was, despite his bearlike bulk, an instantly lovable character. Deprived of his home in the Archive as the Home Office cuts bit deep and stopped the electric, Bobby was handed over to our heroes by the reluctant Rook, who couldn’t think of anywhere else for him to go.

This didn’t please Tom any, to Hal’s amusement (“Oh my God – you’ve become a snob!”).  Thus motivated by reverse psychology, Tom immediately made it his life’s mission to integrate Bobby back into society just as he had been; no mean feat given his tendency to hide under tables and give crushing bear hugs to those he liked. Employing Bobby to work at the hotel was definitely the stuff of broad sitcom rather than naturalistic comedy – “No – it’s ‘Barry Grand, Bobby speaking’. You’re Bobby.”

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Rook’s other supernatural loose end was, of course, the increasingly manic Crumb, now cutting a swathe through Barry’s pizza delivery boys with fellow gamer and Rook’s former assistant Alan. Tasked with bringing Crumb under control, Hal popped over to his house to a marvellously surreal and bizarre scene; Crumb and Alan, caked in blood but done up in Flaming Orc finery, surrounded by bloodied corpses. As a funny/horrific moment, it was up there with the best.

I’ve enjoyed Crumb as a character, with his increasingly desperate attempts to break free of his loser self, only to discover that being undead doesn’t necessarily change your personality. “There is no Ian here, only Crumb,” he hissed manically through the letterbox in an amusingly pathetic attempt to seem frightening. Hal – who can be really frightening – wasn’t impressed.

I must admit, I can understand why some fans might find Crumb too broadly comic a character to be believable, with his ‘Colin Hunt – office joker’ persona. But while it’s obvious that this year’s Big Bad is none other than Satan himself, I thought it might be quite apropos for this show for Crumb to turn out to be the gang’s real downfall. It would have fit perfectly with the show’s original premise of the supernatural meeting the very, very ordinary – epic archetypes like Herrick or Mr Snow can’t defeat the heroes, but a jumped-up nobody would be their end.

Sadly, it seems that’s not to be. Still, Crumb provided plenty of entertainment – and yet more musings on what ‘being human’ might be – before his demise. Unexpectedly keen to follow Hal’s example in giving up blood, he willingly submitted himself to Hal’s rehab programme; returning yet again to this show’s conception of vampires needing blood not for sustenance, but as a heroin-like addiction.

Going cold turkey was every bit as nasty for Crumb as it had been for Hal – and Mitchell before him. Tormented by hallucinations of one of his victims, he unintentionally staked young Alan (a shame, as he was rather easy on the eye for those of us who fancy nerds).

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And he pushed Hal to the brink, as the tactic of leaving him with two glasses of blood – one human, one werewolf and therefore lethal – basically backfired. Having failed to rehabilitate Crumb with his own mantra of repetitive tasks, or a disastrous ‘date’ with Alex, Hal found himself strapped into a chair and engaging in haemophagic Russian Roulette with the pathetic new recruit. At which point, Evil Hal came out to play.

This, I must admit, was an interesting take on Hal’s dark side. While Mitchell always treated it as an aspect of himself, Hal seems to think of Evil Hal as an entirely separate personality; and it’s reciprocated, as each refers to the other in the third person. “He was here, wasn’t he?” Evil Hal was just as scary as he was in the flashbacks to his bloody past, and with Hal finally succumbing to the temptation of drinking the flask of blood Rook left him, I doubt we’ve seen the last of this dark side. Even if we have seen the last of Crumb, who, in a debatable final act of ‘courage’ ended up drinking the werewolf blood and disintegrating. A shame, I was enjoying Colin Hoult as the least cool vampire since Evil Ed.

This was all neatly tied in to the ongoing plans of Captain Hatch, who found another player to manipulate in the form of the disillusioned Rook. And when I say ‘player’,it’s literal; he basically did a deal with the Devil over a hand of three card brag. Rook may have had Jack, Queen and King (“the trinity – a hard hand to beat”) but Hatch could best him with three 6’s – 666.

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Still thriving on conflict, Hatch persuaded Rook that the best way to salvage his department was to prompt some real carnage – and that the way to do it was to let Wolf-Bobby loose in the hotel. After all, as Hatch persuasively argued (the old tempter), better to lose a few lives in the quest for “the greater good”.

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Phil Davis was, again, brilliant as Hatch here. Posing (perhaps truthfully) as a man who’d been rescued from vampires years ago by Rook’s predecessors, he gained the stuffy civil servant’s confidence with yet another set of mannerisms; calm, rational and well-spoken, he only lost his cool when it became clear things weren’t working out as he planned, reverting to his cockney snarl.

Because things didn’t go well – Wolf-Tom came to the rescue in the nick of time. Locked into a room together by the frantic Hal, they fought all night before waking up naked together in another amusing scene. If you’re used to Ricky Grover as a terrifying thug, just watch him and Michael Socha hugging with no clothes on.

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This was an enjoyable episode, highlighted by two brilliant performances of comedy/pathos from Ricky Grover as Bobby and Colin Hoult as Crumb. Writer John Jackson cleverly interwove the various plot elements to come together in a gripping climax, with Hatch’s plan, Bobby’s plight and Hal’s dilemma all neatly intercut in a good bit of pacing.

And yet, while it was never less than watchable, I will admit that the show does seem to be becoming a bit formulaic, with its OTT humour lurching towards OTT horror every episode. Only two more episodes to go; in one sense that makes me sad, but in another it’s perhaps a relief – this concept may have been taken as far as it can go.

True Blood: Season 5, Episode 12–Save Yourself

“One of the worst things about being immortal is watching this same scenario happen over and over.”

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Well, that was… interesting. As season finales go, the end of this year’s True Blood felt like a mix of good, bad and indifferent, in an episode that had a lot of entertainment but seemed rather lacking in a balanced dramatic structure. Sure, there was plenty of excitement, but it was unevenly punctuated by lengthy humorous scenes that, while good in themselves, felt like they’d strayed in from another episode where the resolution of the plot wasn’t so urgent.

Not that the (main) plot was resolved, which is something new for this show. True Blood has always ended its seasons on cliffhangers, but they usually presage an entirely new plot for the next year, after the current year’s main plot has been nicely tied up. This time, we got an excellent cliffhanger with Bill’s apparent transformation into a malevolent vampire god – but as a result, the whole running plot about the Authority’s takeover by the Sanguinista cult was never properly concluded.

And the episode seemed to somewhat abandon the seemingly impending civil war between vampires and humans that would logically have been provoked by Eric’s murder of General Cavanaugh last week. True, there was some lip service paid to this, with Sookie’s remark about the current climate of fear towards vampires, along with the Generals’ threatened release of footage of Russell and Steve killing 22 frat boys. But that was about it, and all hell singularly failed to break loose in the way I’d been rather expecting/hoping for.

It was far from the only plot thread that seemed to have been forgotten about almost entirely, though at least it had the excuse that it will presumably be resolved next season. Other things were rather harder to forgive even with this as a potential excuse. Sookie and Jason have spent half the season agonising over the deaths of their parents at the hands of the mysterious ‘Warlow’, and it would have seemed logical to have at least some payoff about this in the season finale. But no, their investigation was abandoned so entirely that it wasn’t even mentioned, despite Jason’s newfound visions of his dead parents egging him on to hate vampires. I know there was more urgent stuff going on, but surely either Jason or Sookie would have at least mentioned their ongoing quest, if only to say, “well, there’s more urgent stuff going on right now”.

It also smacked of a lack of dramatic balance that, after last week’s cliffhanger,  Russell was dealt with so quickly, easily and terminally. As I said last week, great though he is as a character, Russell really did need to be decisively killed off to stop the show repeating itself (more than it already has, anyway). But I wasn’t expecting it to happen in the first few minutes of the episode, and by such a peremptory method as a quick staking from Eric. A villain as charismatic as Russell really deserved a better sendoff. As a result, we were also deprived of what had looked like an epic battle between the deranged vampire and the fairies, which felt like a shame.

Still, if Russell’s death felt like a rushed anticlimax, at least our heroes’ raid on Authority HQ dealt out some cool, blood-drenched action. Sookie and Jason joined forces with Eric, Nora and Tara to stage a proper commando raid, armed to the fangs with stakes, wooden bullets and crossbows. That a small group of rebels should get in so easily and slaughter what seemed like the entire vamp population made the lauded Authority security seem surprisingly ineffective after its appearance of hyper efficiency earlier on in the season.

To be fair, Bill had been lambasting them for this earlier in the episode, after it became clear that they’d failed to notice the infiltration of two shapeshifters into their larder. Nonetheless, the ease with which our gang turned pretty much the entire security force into puddles of red goo did tend to make you think that they must have been pretty crap vamps. And it rather undercut the fear/respect Bill and Eric had been according them early on in the season, that not only could Eric polish half of them off in an eyeblink, but they can’t even defend themselves against the awesome might of Jason Stackhouse.

Still, it was fun watching pretty much the entire Authority being reduced to puddles of goo in various inventive ways. Aside from our heroes’ commando raid, probably the most fun was the unfortunate demise of Chancellor Rosalyn, literally exploding from within as Sam transformed from a fly back to himself inside her. Gave a whole new meaning to the old song about an old lady who swallowed a fly…

That scene, with Luna exercising her newfound powers to transform into a replica of Steve Newlin, was kind of fun, but I’d already worked out that it was one of the shapeshifters impersonating Steve. Mind you, I’d guessed it was Sam rather than Luna, who must have also turned into a fly or similar to escape from the vamp larder, then dress in the good reverend’s clothes and reclaim her daughter. But it does beg the question of what happened to the real Newlin, last seen fleeing from the field where his lover had just been staked by Eric.

Bill’ s continuing machinations against Salome were also fun, but I had to wonder which part of Authority HQ that was occurring in, since they seemed fairly ignorant of the carnage being wrought outside. Still, I enjoyed the script again playing with our expectations of Bill, as he simperingly lied that Salome was his chosen leader. For a moment there, you thought he’d gone back to his old self and recognised some falsity in the ‘chosen one’ visions everyone had been having. But no, it turned out to be a scheme to get rid of his only remaining rival, by spiking what seemed to be Lilith’s blood with silver. So now Salome too is a puddle of goo,and Bill is free to be the ultimate leader. But leader of what, I wonder? By then end of this episode, he’s literally the only member of the Authority left.

Occasionally cutting into all this action was the oddly comic subplot of Andy Bellefleur’s fairy-related sexual misadventures. This culminated with his sometime fey lover Morella giving birth to baby after baby on the pool table of Merlotte’s, grudgingly assisted by his disapproving girlfriend Holly. It’s good that Holly and Andy have been given a bit more development this season, but was this really the time to have a comic interlude of fairy birth? It was fun, and made me smile more than once, but I was impatient to get back to Authority HQ and catch up on events there.

Which made it similarly frustrating that the script also chose this moment to return to the subplot dealing with the werewolf pack politics, which I’d thought pretty much dealt with. After all, with the death of Russell, surely it would be harder to get a hold of vampire blood to imbibe anyway?

But no, rascally old JD had been trapping vamps elsewhere, and force feeding V to his sometimes unwilling pack (not to mention forcing himself on some of the younger, more attractive females). Clearly Alice and his reluctant dad were going to have to put a stop to this, but with JD all V’d up, it seemed Alcide would have to fight fire with fire.

Again, this was well done, and good drama in its own right. But it felt inconsequential compared to the larger events going on elsewhere, and this felt like the wrong place for it to be. Still, Robert Patrick’s grizzled portrayal of Alcide’s cynical, broken father went some way to making up for its odd dramatic placement. Hopefully he’ll be back next year.

Along with, again hopefully, the answers to the questions I’d expected to find here. Were the visions of Lilith real? Last week I theorised they might have been Godric in disguise; I may have been wrong, but I still wouldn’t rule it out. How will the human/vampire tensions be reduced short of all out war? Who is/was Warlow? Why were the Authority troops suddenly so utterly incompetent they could have been recruited by Darth Vader?

Lots of questions, no answers. Don’t get me wrong, this was still entertaining. But as season finale its structure seemed all over the place, and the lack of resolution on so many important plot points was frustrating, even with the need for a cliffhanger to lead us into next year. I know a lot of fans have found this year’s season meandering and unfocused to the point of being hugely disappointing; personally, I’ve still enjoyed it even while recognising those flaws.

In one sense, it’s a shame that showrunner/creator Alan Ball is dropping out on a fairly unexceptional ending; but in another, we can hope that the new showrunner will inject some fresh blood into the show. This year, while still enjoyable, has had a real feeling of deja vu about it, with yet another attempt by vampires to take over the world, and the reappearance of fan favourite Russell Edgington. Perhaps next year, more intimate and innovative character-based arcs will help – it gets harder and harder for a show to keep topping its previous portrayals of near Armageddon. True Blood’s strength is its characters; I think that’s what it should be building on more than vague threats of a massive war.

True Blood: Season 5, Episode 5–Let’s Boot and Rally

SPOILER WARNING – THIS IS FROM LAST NIGHT’S US BROADCAST, AND MAJOR PLOT POINTS ARE DISCUSSED. DON’T READ AHEAD IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN EPISODE 5 YET.

“I keep thinking that if I just made the right choice, the madness would end and life would go back to normal. But it won’t ever end, will it?”

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Looks like episode 5 is the point where the steamy gumbo of True Blood finally starts to boil over, as plot setups finally give way to action, revelation and yet more twisty, turny backstabbing. All laced with a delicious soupcon of meta self-awareness, as several characters begin to mock the sheer supernatural insanity that makes up everyday life in Bon Temps.

The first of those, unsurprisingly, was Sookie Stackhouse. Having dragged Alcide to her bedroom then somewhat spoiled the moment by puking on his shoes, she couldn’t resist a good laugh as Bill and Eric turned up to dragoon her into the search for Russell. Her half-amused, half-weary resignation as she headed for the door, keen to get yet another supernatural civil war out of the way – “must be Thursday” – was pretty funny, if somewhat reminiscent of similar humour in the later seasons of Buffy.

I must say though, her ability to almost instantly sober up after having been, a few minutes before, so drunk that she couldn’t keep her stomach contents in, stretched plausibility. This is actually a pretty common trope in many thrillers, film and TV, supernatural and conventional. A key character will choose to drown his/her sorrows, getting completely blotto, at which point something vital to the plot will occur. Said character will then become instantly capable of action (perhaps with complaints of a headache to show that drunkenness wasn’t completely forgotten about).  As opposed to most real people, who would stagger about, fall over, keep needing to urinate, and probably get killed.

Still, Sookie’s not real, and we’re not looking at gritty realism here (quite the reverse, if anything). And maybe being part-fairy gives her a pretty high tolerance for alcohol. So off she went with the bickering trio of lovelorn supernatural suitors, to use her mindreading ability to probe the glamoured memory of Alcide’s boss Doug, the only witness to Russell’s exhumation.

Her mind probe (“no, not the mind probe!”) instantly revealed that Russell had been dug up by a) a woman and b) a member of the Authority. Given the way previous episodes have shown the Authority to be a hotbed of subversion and religious sectarianism, this was hardly a surprise. But in order to maintain some level of suspense and uncertainty, the woman was conveniently wearing a face-shielding hat. So which is it? Nora? Salome? Rosalyn? Or perhaps someone we haven’t even seen yet?

Further mind probing led our bickering heroes to that old staple of the traditional horror tale – a scary, dark, abandoned hospital which they would have to explore by torchlight. Again, Sookie took the lead in pointing out that they were, basically, in a cliched B movie, and subverting that by saying that no way were they going to split up and investigate separately. And for that matter, that her ‘fairy magic’ was pretty much the only weapon in their arsenal that had previously been effective against Russell, so this time she was protecting them. The point was amusingly underlined as the hulking, bearded Doug, quivering in fear, clung desperately to Sookie’s mind reading hand for comfort.

Cliched or not, the exploration of the creepy hospital was as well done as any iteration of this trope. The usual suspects were present – sudden, jump-inducing rats; dismembered body parts; a ‘larder’ full of hanging, terrified victims-to-be. For Bill and Eric, the stakes (as it were) were raised by the revelation (from the Authority’s relentlessly chipper tech geek) that their iStakes would kill them at dawn if they hadn’t found Russell.

But find him they did, surprisingly quickly. I must admit, I’d half expected him to have been spirited away by his unseen Sanguinista sponsors; but no, there he was, looking deceptively frail and shrunken on a gurney. Great to see Denis O’Hare back, with his former louche Southern accent as Russell. And since this is only episode 5, I’m willing to bet that he’s not nearly so infirm as he seems – I’m expecting some serious trouble with him next week.

Also confronting the bizarre proliferation of ‘supes’ this week were the Bon Temps PD, in the dogged forms of Andy Bellefleur and Jason Stackhouse. Investigating the mysterious shooting of Sam’s shifter friends, Andy received the news that Sam was yet another supernatural creature with a kind of weary resignation. Poor old Andy, it must be starting to seem to him like there are barely any mundane humans in the town he’s responsible for policing.

It didn’t help when Jason explained the identity of those hosting the party they’d been so unceremoniously thrown out of last week. After some initial comic confusion about the word ‘fairy’, Andy just seemed to give in out of despair, asking Jason to just not mention it again. I don’t think that’s really going to help. But it is amusing that the show’s characters, in-universe, are starting to find the whole thing pretty implausible now, and it helps subvert similar criticisms from the audience. Of course, whether those criticisms are justified is an entirely subjective thing.

And as if to give the finger to those critics, we had yet another supernatural being introduced as Terry and Patrick were told the tale of what was really responsible for the recent deaths of their old army buddies in mysterious housefires. Turns out it wasn’t their hyper-paranoid comrade Eller after all – he was the only one to remember, through their stoned recollection of the massacre of Iraqi civilians, that they’d been cursed by a woman (shortly before Terry himself, shockingly, silenced her with a shot to the head). The purveyor of that curse (“you and all you love will burn”) has finally come Stateside; and in keeping with the style of the show, it’s not a vengeance-crazed jihadi or a traumatised GI. It’s an Ifrit, an ancient Arabic fire demon.

Nicely visualised as a Supernatural-style cloud of black smoke, embers glowing from within, the Ifrit showed up to off Eller now he’d served his function of telling the other characters what’s going on. Patrick, now revealed as the main culprit for the massacre, didn’t believe a word of it (what’s the betting he’s next?), but it rang all too true for Terry. Thing is, now he’s been shown as complicit in a war crime, how much will we now care if it comes for him? It’s a brave tactic to show a formerly sympathetic character in such a horrible light, one which, hopefully, might get viewers asking themselves a few questions about the US’s recent Arabic ‘adventures’.

Elsewhere, Lafayette is once again being seriously put through the wringer this season, understandably driven to near-distraction by his uncontrollable propensity to transform into a malicious Brujo-style demon at inconvenient moments. Unlike anyone else in the show, he’s told absolutely no-one about his troubles, which weren’t helped any by the not-entirely-unexpected reappearance of his dead boyfriend Jesus. Well, actually Jesus might have helped if it weren’t for the fact that he appeared as a gruesome severed head, trying unsuccessfully to speak through a sewn-up mouth. Luckily for Lafayette, help might just be at hand, as his mom too can see the apparition, and unlike him, she can understand what it’s trying to say…

And lastly, Tara, pressganged into bartending at Fangtasia, had a nice bit of bonding with Jessica as they discussed the tribulations of being a newly-made vampire, in a conversation freighted with the show’s frequent analogy between vampirism and homosexuality. “It gets better”, Jessica insisted, in case we missed the point.

This parallel is quite common in recent, liberal-leaning vampire tales – True Blood, with its ‘God Hates Fangs’ movement and ‘coming out of the coffin’ euphemism, is more overt than most. It’s an obvious comparison, you’d think – these vampires are (mostly) sympathetic characters struggling against mainstream society’s refusal to accept the ‘other’.

And yet it often disturbs me a little. As Tara and Jessica point out, vampires are consumed with a desire to rip apart all the humans around them, and their ability to restrain this urge is what makes them civilised. Taken to its logical extreme, the parallel would be that all homosexuals are filled with a near-uncontrollable urge to have sex with everyone of the same gender around them. The analogy is well-meaning, but speaking as a homosexual myself, I sometimes find that being compared to a species of genuinely dangerous predators makes me a little uncomfortable.

Still, Tara and Jessica’s newfound bond didn’t last long, as Tara took to feeding on newly-minted fangbanger Hoyt, and Jessica took exception to that. Their fight was nicely intercut in a montage narrated by a speech from Authority head honcho Roman that seemed to sum up the point the season has reached – and it’s a point of no return. From hereon in, expect the action to ramp up week by week!

True Blood: Season 5, Episode 4–We’ll Meet Again

SPOILER WARNING – THIS IS FROM LAST SUNDAY’S US BROADCAST, AND MAJOR PLOT POINTS ARE DISCUSSED. DON’T READ AHEAD IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN EPISODE 4 YET.

“Oh yeah baby, you survive. You always do. But goddam, do you leave a trail of bodies behind. You know what, you the fuckin’ angel of death.”

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This week, True Blood was mainly beating Sookie Stackhouse with a big guilt stick.

I mean sure, there was as usual plenty going on. But more than usual, Sookie was being dragged into it to face the consequences of her actions. Consequences, as she was reminded by Lafayette, Tara, everyone in Merlotte’s (via their thoughts) and finally herself, that usually leave a lot of people dead.

The biggest problem (ie arrest and conviction) about Sookie’s ‘murder’ of vengeful, V-addicted werewolf Debbie may actually have gone away, thanks to the selfless actions of her friends. Alcide came clean with Debbie’s parents that she was dead, but then lied and blamed it on the now equally dead Marcus Bozeman. Having overheard Sookie’s tearful confession to her brother, ‘ace cop’ Jason Stackhouse of the Bon Temps PD, helpful vampire Jessica contrived to glamour Sheriff Andy into forgetting all about the case.

Still, even if the matter is all cleaned up for everyone else (and that’s by no means certain), it isn’t for Sookie. She’s always been portrayed as an oasis of almost impossible goodness in the steaming pit of iniquity that is Bon Temps, but she can’t escape the fact that, however good her intentions, they always leave a trail of corpses in their wake. But Sookie is basically a nice person, so this realisation is weighing heavy on her conscience.

It doesn’t help that these days, when Lafayette gets pissed off, he does a Hulk-like transformation into some kind of evil Brujeria-style demon. And since it’s Sookie he’s pissed at, he takes it out on her elderly Honda Civic, bewitching it to accelerate unstoppably to speeds that must have been magical – a 1980s Civic couldn’t hope to go that fast without supernatural intervention. Sookie has the presence of mind to jump out, but the Civic gets wrapped around a phone pole – yet another of the show’s major characters that’s now met its maker (Soichiro Honda, presumably).

By this point, the viewer couldn’t help but sympathise with Sookie when she took refuge in the only course of action left – getting roaringly drunk on every bottle of spirits left in her house. Ironic, really, since it was largely ‘spirits’ that caused so many of her problems. But even in guilt-driven drunkenness, Anna Paquin maintained that perky optimism that defines Sookie as a character – perhaps it’s her fairy ancestry. Where most of us might revel in self-pity, Sookie found herself entwined in the understanding arms of the hunky Alcide (finally!), who’d popped round to tell her she was off the hook with Debbie’s parents. But whether it’s entanglement with the law or her own tortured conscience, I doubt we’ve seen the last of this theme about the consequences of Sookie’s actions.

The vampires too were faced with consequences from every angle. Pam had to face up to her responsibility as a Maker by commanding Tara not to destroy herself, while Eric, trying to find a lead on the missing Russell Edgington, faced up to his own responsibility as the Maker of Pam herself. Since only four people knew about Russell’s location, and Pam was one of them, Eric had to mercilessly interrogate her, leading to some all too real tears of betrayal on his progeny’s part.

Having already been dragged unwillingly into caring about Tara, that was plainly a bit much for her to cope with. Weeping tears of blood, it was actually kind of tear jerking when Pam begged Eric to release her from his command. Ultimately he did, but out of his own compassion – he doesn’t want her caught up in what’s to follow (“either Russell will have our heads or the Authority will”). Alexander Skarsgard was back to his icy, commanding demeanour but with hints of some compassion beneath, while Kristin Bauer van Straten brilliantly conveyed the depth of feeling she has under her bitchy facade, at least where her Maker’s concerned.

Back at Authority HQ, the political wrangling and backstabbing was carrying on rather excitingly. They’re a shifty bunch, the Chancellors of the Authority; keen on coexistence they may be, but I wouldn’t trust a one of them. Neither, it seems, does the Guardian who leads them, joining with Salome to browbeat the captive Nora into naming her apparent collaborators.

It still seems unconvincing to me that Nora is a mole for the Sanguinista movement, but if she’s not, it’s a role she’s playing very believably. It would be a bit of a waste of a good actress like Lucy Griffiths if spitting curses in a cell was all she got to do, so I’ve a feeling there’s more to this than there seems. And while we didn’t see it, she did lead Roman and Salome to another traitor – Drew, representing the stock-since-Anne-Rice vampire child.

Jacob Hopkins carried himself rather well in the part, exuding the necessarily unnerving adult confidence in a child’s body, so it felt like rather a shame when Roman staked him with the Authority’s Special Stake – whittled from the branch where Judas hanged himself, and tipped with silver cast from the thirty pieces he earned for his betrayal. The show’s sailing satisfyingly close to the wind on its religious overtones this year. Not only have we had the Vampire Bible and Salome explaining the truth of her story in the regular one, this week we had Dieter’s comment on the vampires’ holy text: “It’s just a book! I know the guy who wrote it and he was high the whole time!” A cheap shot maybe, but I smirked.

Again, these two plots took up the lion’s share of the episode, making me think that they’re going to be the dominant ones this year. But there was room for other subplots too. Terry and Patrick were off in South Dakota looking for their army buddy who might be setting all those fires, leading to another Iraq flashback that (perhaps) explained what it’s all to do with. Looks like Terry’s unit, defiling a mosque while stoned, half-assedly instigated a massacre of innocent civilians. No wonder he’s been so traumatised. Surprising though to see such a trenchant critique of such a recent war in a show like True Blood, where political allusions are usually oblique at best. Terry and Patrick found their old comrade in an underground bunker lined with murals of burning buildings – but I’m still not convinced he’s the man responsible.

And we found out about the mysterious young man who smelled so good to Jessica last week, in a pretty unexpected way. Sheriff Andy and the loyal Jason were invited to a debauched secret club night by the local judge who they’d helped out by ripping up his son’s speeding ticket. Suspicions were aroused when the busty beauties conveying them to the club insisted they be blindfolded, then hardened into certainty when they were thrust through a mystical invisible gateway to a party full of beautiful people dancing around semi-clad. Yes, the fairies are back!

This may not go down too well with some of the show’s fans, who found the inclusion of the fair folk in last year’s season a bit much to stomach. But I like the way True Blood’s fairies are shown in a very old school way, as tricksy, deceptive creatures to be trusted as little as the vampires they’re hiding from.

That they are hiding was confirmed in an infodump from Sookie and Jason’s cousin Hadley, last seen dejectedly giving blood to Louisiana’s now deceased queen vampire Sophie-Anne. At that point, she was dropping hints to Sookie that she knew just what she was; now she’s hanging out with the fairies for real, that’s pretty much confirmed. She assumes Jason’s come to hide too (which makes you wonder whether he too has some fairy blood, being Sookie’s brother and all), then drops some very heavy hints that their parents were actually killed by vampires, not a flood as everyone previously thought. This led to, predictably, a ruckus that involved Jason and Sheriff Andy being bodily thrown out of the invisible gateway, with two angry fairies giving them the old energy blast from the hands…

So, the plot thickens – but we can now be pretty sure that the main focus is going to be on the potential vampire sectarian conflict, and on Sookie’s growing guilt about her actions. How will the fairies fit into this? Despite their unpopularity last year, they didn’t actually feature all that much, but this year I have the feeling that they’re going to e quite heavily intertwined through the other plots. As, pretty much, an ongoing supernatural soap opera, True Blood has an enviable consistency of quality in its episodes (though not always brilliant) which means it’s easier to critique whole seasons than individual episodes. On the basis of what we’ve seen so far though, I’m not disappointed.

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…