Toby Whithouse’s supernatural drama Being Human continues to go from strength to strength, a fact made all the more galling with the knowledge that this is the final series.
It’s been described as the ‘British Buffy’ and while such a comparison might seem trite in many ways its rather apt. In particular, whereas Buffy specialised in huge displays of emotion and quite literal world-ending drama, Being Human is at its best when keeping things low-key, domestic, claustrophobic and horrific. Buffy plays with supernatural tropes but is fundamentally a superhero series; there may be tragedy along the way but the bad guys will get beaten. Being Human is a little less optimistic. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of horror in Buffy, but Being Human can go a little further and there’s little that can match the grisly, bloody, bone-snapping nastiness of the Box Tunnel Massacre, or indeed any other time the vampires get fang-happy. When people die in Being Human it always feels visceral and nauseating and close-up.
The previous series erred here, swapping the small dramas inherent in three supernatural beings attempting to live an ordinary life with a time-travelling plot that ultimately rendered most of series three’s struggles redundant. Most of this was enforced by the departure of the actors portraying Nina and Mitchell, to be followed not long after by Russell Tovey’s George. Such things can’t be helped, of course, but the fridge-stuffing of Nina that facilitated George’s depression and sacrifice, not to mention the illogical retcon regarding the poisonous nature of werewolf blood, left something of a bad taste in the mouth (ho, ho!).
Still, it wasn’t all bad! After all, we got ourselves a shiny new cast of monsters (well, semi-new in the case of werewolf Tom) who, free of the constraints of having to fit in around previous characters and plotlines, have been allowed to soar. Indeed, as I alluded to above, the fact that this is the final series is rather hard to swallow. Apparently, five series in, Being Human is considered a bit too long in the tooth (oh, dear, I slay me!) for trendy, hip BBC3 but really, it feels like a new show now and could easily go on for a couple more. This cast deserve it.
Special mention must go to one of the guest stars of this episode, Julian Barrat, whom you will recall as either Howard Moon (the better half of the Mighty Boosh) or Dan, Dan, the Preacher Man from Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris’ prescient sitcom Nathan Barley. Here he plays Larry, a washed-up, hotel-surfing former telly personality, sleeping in his car, divorced from his wife and subsisting purely on a diet of self-help, self-congratulatory nonsense. He is also a werewolf.
Some six months after the cold-open in which we see him receive the slash on the arm that transforms him, he arrives at the hotel in Barry, Wales, where Hal and Tom currently work, ostensibly to give a talk. Of course Hal and Tom peg him immediately and before you know it he’s ingratiated himself into their home, taken the naive Tom under his wing and pissed off Hal by not doing the washing up.
Barrat delivers a magnificent turn as, basically, Alan Partridge. He doesn’t bring a big plate to the hotel buffet but his line as he fills up a plastic bag with food (“I missed the fried breakfast so technically I’m just getting what’s owed to me”) could have come straight from the pen of Coogan and Iannucci and later on he even gets to exclaim “unbelievable!”. His main function in the episode is as a catalyst for Tom and Hal, respectively, but it’s a role he pulls of fantastically, imbuing it with a real nastiness towards his, er…I mean, the end.
Whilst Tom takes absurd self-help lessons Hal reveals that he has a secret friend, another ghost named Lady Mary*, who died two-hundred-and-fifty years ago and spends her time walking around a stately home being very proper. The reveal that the prim and proper Lady Mary is actually a foul-mouthed, sex-fiend who enjoys piggy-backing on people’s toilet cubicle knee-tremblers and starting fights is perhaps a little obvious but still good fun, even as it takes a darker twist regarding her relationship with Hal. This, and her odd, sort-of friendship with Alex are handled well and prove to be the real key to the episode as Hal is forced once again to confront his darker nature.
Speaking of Hal, our resident vampire continues to impress with his combination of innocence regarding the modern world, irritation at mess and complete inability to stop murdering people horribly proving a winning combination that further distances him from the slightly more emotional Mitchell. The twist at the end, as a flashback reveals that he had murdered Larry (almost cheerfully!) and handed the body over to Rook, the now-unemployed head of the government’s “weird happenings” department, was masterfully handled and added extra poignancy to preceding scene where he is saved from a vengeful Lady Mary’s stake by his friends Tom and Alex, who vow to make sure he will never kill again. They’re going to have their work cut out at this rate!
Alex, the new ghost of the house, has finally started to win me around after proving uniquely irritating in both the previous series and the first couple episodes of this one. Her little moments of vulnerability (last episode with the young boy, this episode in the woods with Tom) have gone a long way to redeeming her from the screechy, abrasive character I found her to be before. I was hugely fond of her phantom predecessor, Annie (who was definitely written with Cordelia from season 2 of Angel in mind) but Alex has definitely earned her place in the new gang.
Tom McNair is still the wide-eyed innocent hoping to prove himself in the world. He’s pretty unique as a character, having been raised in the woods by a crazed Robson Green, and a lot of the naivety we see in him, both in this series and the last, slightly jar with his previous portrayals as a stone killer (of vampires, admittedly.) Still, he’s such a charming character (look at the little show-off gesture he gives a colleague in the background after getting his ‘new’ suit) and Michael Socha has such a perplexing face that I’m not so worried. He bounces well off of the other characters, providing a contrast to the snooty Lord Hal and the bawdy Alex.
Despite the brief appearance by Rook, contemplating suicide after the loss of his department until a timely phonecall from Hal stops him, there’s little else from the story-arc this episode; no sign of Phil Davis’ magnificent Devil or Colin Hoult’s insane “Crumb”. I’m looking forward to more from Crumb in particular. The scene in the last episode where he murders his sister and neice sum up what I was talking about earlier regarding the horror aspect of this series; the vampires here don’t seem like superhuman monsters; rather, they seem like real, actual psychopaths. Indeed, immortality aside, they barely even seem supernatural at all. They could almost be human…
More next week!
*Incidentally, Lady Mary is played by Amanda Hale, whom I know from my time at Young Blood Theatre Company. Along with Lenora Crichlow that’s two people I know who have been in this. So close to greatness, yet such a loser…