Richard Lindsay undertakes the daunting task of reviewing the entire second and third seasons of BBC’s supernatural series, Being Human.
I offer this review as part of my “Graduate Student Comes Late to what’s on Cable” series. Seasons two and three of Being Human are now available on DVD and iTunes, with series four having been greenlit for next winter. (Maybe by then I’ll have BBC America, but I doubt it.) I couldn’t care less that the show has been adapted for Syfy here in America. Like MTV’s attempt at Skins, there are certain concepts that don’t translate well culturally just because the source material is in English. There’s a Britishness to the idea of revealing what goes on behind closed doors—and beneath the “skins”—of a more private and reserved culture that makes these shows tick. In America everyone already conducts their lives as though they’re on reality TV, leaving nothing to the fervid imaginations of writers and viewers.
In Being Human’s second season, the wacky roommate set-up is mostly strained beyond credibility, as the supernatural narratives outstrip what can be contained in a small apartment in Bristol. George Sands’ (Russell Tovey) “infection” of his girlfriend Nina (Sinead Keenan) with the werewolf bug leads to a standard (and dull) dumped-by-girlfriend plot. Annie (Lenora Crichlow), the ghost who haunts the series, continues to struggle with not taking the Door to the Other Side, but when these doors keep popping up in the closed confines of the house, it begins to look like she’s resisting being sucked into various closets.
Mitchell (Aidan Turner), the dark-eyed Irish vampire who struggles with his blood addiction, continues to be the best character. Having destroyed the evil head vampire, Herrick, in the first series, the vampire world of Bristol is in disarray. All the careful arrangements the vampires have made to get their fix without setting off alarm bells with the local authorities begin to break down. Mitchell comes up with an ingenious and loopy solution: a twelve-step program. And for a while it works, keeping the bloodthirsty undead at bay with coffee, cigarettes, personal confession and group affirmation.
When he’s not saving the world, Mitchell checks in with his housemates, offering advice to the dumped George (“Move on, mate”) or interacting with whatever it is Annie does. There’s a rebound plot with George and a single mom, which is almost worth enduring just to get to a frightening scene where George begins his monthly conversion in the midst of a primary school parent night.
Religion finally rears its head in this series, and in the conception of the post-Christian writers, its far more monstrous than any of the roommates. We know Lucy (Lyndsey Marshal) the scientist has gone off the righteous path because she’s written a positive research paper on Intelligent Design. She’s drawn in by an undertaker-like Anglican priest, Kemp (Donald Sumpter), who wants to use her knowledge as a researcher to destroy the vampires and “cure” the werewolves. Despite a scene showing a vampire attack that killed his family, Kemp’s only real motivation is “religion” in the worst sense—his character is a bloodless stereotype of the soul-shriveled moral crusader.
Lucy is far more fascinating, and she could have benefitted from a more compelling story arc had the producers had a bit more commitment. She’s a Christian and a scientist whose interest in monsters comes from a desire to discover a genetic cause for evil. There’s something formidable about her as a character, and when she and Mitchell fall for each other, I found myself wishing for an extended romance between Christian and vampire. It was not to be, however, as she quickly descends into the character of mad scientist, poisoned further with religious zeal. After the obligatory prayer scene kneeling at an altar, she collaborates with Kemp on blowing up one of Mitchell’s twelve-step sessions. On this show, monsters get to be three-dimensional characters, but Christians don’t.
Once Mitchell realizes he’s been duped by the woman he loves, he falls off the wagon—way off the wagon. The mass slaughter of 20 people on a commuter train that Mitchell undertakes in revenge becomes a national tragedy, with the intense police and media scrutiny that follows. Although Mitchell doesn’t admit to his friends what he’s done, he persuades George, Nina, and Annie to flee Bristol for Wales.
The third season has the four of them renting a closed-down B&B in a shabby seaside town in Wales. The house is now truly haunted by Mitchell’s act of abject evil. Whatever limitations the domestic space presented before are transformed, as the housemates begin hiding their secrets not just from the world, but from each other.
This inner secrecy is amplified as each episode brings a strange new temporary visitor that the roommates must contend with. Guests include a horny vampire teenager (who’s actually 46 – they don’t physically age) who’s been living “clean” by nursing the blood of his parents, a Welsh party girl who died in a drunk driving accident and now exists as a decaying zombie, and a dorky vampire fanboy of Mitchell. Also living in town are a “respectable” middle class vampire couple that indulges their blood hunger by finding willing S&M slaves on Craigslist; a father and son werewolf team that have become crusading vampire-killers; and, touchingly, George’s father, who may well be a ghost, but whose main problem is learning how to express passion for his wife.
Before long (and not a moment too soon) the former head vampire Herrick is resurrected. (Apparently you really do have to stake them through the heart; simply having a werewolf rip out their throats isn’t enough.) Played magnificently by Jason Watkins, Herrick comes to the house dry of blood and in a state of dementia. The housemates allow him to live as the crazy uncle in the attic just to keep from drawing attention to their monster clan. But as he slowly begins to recover his faculties and his bloodlust returns, his restoration to scene-chewing evil is truly terrifying to behold.
Meanwhile, even a budding romantic relationship with Annie and friendship with George and (the now wolf-pregnant) Nina, can’t bring Mitchell to own up to the truth about committing mass murder back in Bristol. He’s a mess and a liar, and his continued descent threatens everyone around him. The program portrays with eerie accuracy the family chaos caused by an addict cut off from treatment and support. Eventually, their cozy supernatural family set-up is destroyed by his duplicity.
I closed my review of series one of Being Human series one with a reflection on the idea of human frailty as “shadow” versus “sin.” What the show captures in these latter two seasons are the “monsters” that so often get pushed to the edges of human community: the diseased and the dying, sex “perverts,” addicts, social misfits, the homeless, acne-afflicted teenagers whose horniness seems to work in inverse proportion to their attractiveness, the mentally ill; and even those who society allows to become monstrous to keep these other monsters at bay—like police, soldiers, and coroners. (A guy in my dorm in college was training to be a coroner; they’re not like you and me, these people.)
Bringing large and intractable social problems down to size in a domestic setting is the purpose of both classic melodrama and its modern equivalent, the situation comedy. Being Human straddles both genres, most successfully in the third season. But this domestic focus continues to be what separates the show from other vampire fare in television and movies. Like True Blood or even (cough) Twilight, Being Human unleashes the nightmares of the human shadow in metaphorical monster form. But here, it all happens within a house, behind closed doors, with a voyeuristic world peeping through the windows. Let’s hope the next season continues to keep the drama “all in the family.”