“The War Child” S4 / E8
- B+ Community Grade
The rules regarding supernatural creatures change from movie to movie, TV show to TV show. It’s a crapshoot now whether a vampire can walk around in broad daylight or can’t risk exposure to the sun without bursting into flame, and George Hamilton’s Dracula in Love At First Bite may have been the last member of his species to turn into a bat. But one rule that Joss Whedon brought back in a big way in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and that seems to have stuck hard and fast since, is the one about vampires needing an invitation before they can enter someone’s home. On the face of it, it seems like one of the silliest rules ever; As vampires in popular culture have become ever more vicious and feral, they seem to have recovered their manners, as they relate to this one area, in a big way. Probably they’ve done so because it’s so handy for plot purposes, especially in a long-running, open-ended TV series. If a vampire on Buffy or True Blood or Being Human can’t enter a home without an invitation, it goes a long way towards making it more plausible that they aren’t just breaking into any house on the street when they’re hungry, let alone why they allow anyone with a reputation for vampire slaying to live to see the dawn.
It’s only natural to wonder, when watching a scene like the one in the season finale of the U. K. Being Human, when the vampire Cutler (Andrew Gower) begs to be let inside, what would happen if he forgot his manners and just barged in? Cutler does just that, and the effect is pretty cool: first, his hands begin to smoke and sizzle, and then, as he summons the strength to press on despite the pain, his whole body flames out, so that by the end of the scene, he has the gooey look of a pizza left to melt into the picnic table on an August day. Being Human isn’t principally a monster show, of course: It features monsters living together and protecting humanity from other, worse monsters, but their condition is, first and foremost, a metaphor. Moments like Cutler’s farewell scene suggest that it could be a better show if, like Buffy, if it were content to be a bang-up monster show that gains resonance from the metaphorical resonance that a viewer is probably having too good a time to focus on while watching it.
Being Human does try to play the horror game, but its approach toward freshening up the cliches of the genre tends to be less than surprising. For instance, because this is a British show and class-conscious as hell, its efforts to keep coming up with ever more loathsome villains is largely a matter of coming up with bad guys who seem ever more snobbish and condescending. After a full season of dire warnings about the coming of the “Old Ones,” the centuries-old vampires who are more powerful than anything else in the world, the show finally brings on the oldest of the Old Ones, “the worst thing in the world”— Mr. Snow, played by Mark Gatiss of The League Of Gentleman and Sherlock. “These eyes,” he tells Cutler, “have looked upon the pharaohs and the son of the carpenter, and now they must look at you, proudly showing me your idea, like a child with a handful of excrement.” His plan is to take the world and “pluck it apart, like a child with a spider.” Maybe it’s meant to be a sign of his bored arrogance that he can’t get enough of child similes. He wants Hal’s help, and though Hal tells his friends that he’ll be powerless to resist if Mr. Snow asks for it, Mr. Snow one-ups him by informing him that he doesn’t even have to ask: Hal is already in his pocket, always has been and always will be. Hal thinks that he’s been hiding from his vampire masters for more than 50 years, but Mr. Snow soon disabuses him of this notion. “Oh, Hal,” he says, “you weren’t hiding. I was just giving you the afternoon off.”
This season of Being Human began with the promise of a story involving Annie the ghost (Lenora Crichlow) and her two new friends, Hal the vampire (Damien Molony) and Tom the werewolf (Michael Socha), as they teamed up to protect Eve, the baby left behind by her previous werewolf friends when those characters died, because the actors playing them left the show. Eve, it is prophesied, is the “savior” who is fated to prevent mankind’s annihilation at the hands of vampires, and so Cutler had been very keen to make his bones by wasting the baby. (He also had a plan to make vampires more appealing to the human race by scaring the hell out of them by letting them know that werewolves exist.) John (Aidan Turner), the show’s original vampire, had been killed off in the previous season finale, and this has turned out to be a blessing for a show that was often overpowered by his over-scaled misery over what a bloodthirsty monster he was. Hal has the same personality flaw, but his soul-searching seems to weigh the show down less, maybe because the baby-faced Damien Molony is never for a second convincing as a timeless being who has hundreds of years’ worth of blood on his hands. (Michael Socha is much more believable, and affecting, as the stoic sad-sack Tom, who looks like a soulful young Ray Dennis Steckler. Summing up the lessons he’s learned in his hardscrabble life, he advises John, “Always be kind and polite, and have the materials to build a bomb.”)
Once the season got the tracks laid down, it kept setting the central story line off to the side to make room for guest appearances by a string of freaks, such as the ghost of a serial killer and a forbidding succubus in an older-woman/little-boy relationship with a deceptively youthful-looking vampire. The big news in last week’s episode, which got things rolling towards the finish line, is that Eve’s existence is actually the catalyst for setting in motion the vampires’ takeover of the world, and that she has to die in order to prevent that. The mysterious blonde woman (Gina Bramhill) from the future who’s been checking in via TV transmissions, trying to orchestrate the baby’s murder is, in fact, Eve herself, as she finally got around explaining to Annie in a time-travel sequence. But even knowing what will happen if Eve grows up—even knowing that the Old Ones actually want to keep her alive— isn’t enough to keep Annie from saving her life again when Cutler comes calling. She loves her that much. Eve insists that she loves Annie, too, though that didn’t stop her from sending that serial killer to the house, even though she knew that he’d only try to kill her younger self after he’d taken the trouble to destroy Annie.
If that doesn’t entirely compute, there are still lots of things on Being Human that don’t. Last week’s episode ended with what looked like a cliffhanger, with John and Tom, in his werewolf form, about to square off. Rather than show us what happened between them, tonight’s finale cuts ahead to the next day, with Tom vaguely thanking John for having gotten him home safely and making sure he didn’t hurt anybody. Later, Tom has a tense face-off with another werewolf who’s sold himself out to the vampires. Tom calls this sell-out a coward, but the scene gradually comes to an inconclusive end, and soon afterward, Tom is offering to serve the vampires himself, so that he can at least keep an eye on Eve, who he’s decided to hand over to them. With Tom suddenly (and unbelievably) ready to kiss Mr. Snow’s ring, and John reduced to putty in his hands, it’s left to Annie to save the day by suddenly turning into the most ferocious and resourceful character in sight. It just feels like her seniority package for being the last original cast member still standing.
The finale ends with Annie’s departure and John and Tom being joined by a new ghost—Alex (Kate Bracken), a young Scottish lass with an impudent nature and a nifty haircut. (The finale also introduces a new wrinkle in the show’s mythology, in the form of some Men in Black characters who clean up the monsters’ messes for them.) The show has been renewed for a fifth season, and it’s clear that its creative team thinks that the energy that it might be putting towards connecting the dots so that its stories make sense and its climaxes don’t peter out really need to go toward making sure that there’s always a vampire and a werewolf (both male) and a (girl) ghost under the same roof. Being Human remains a frustrating show that is often at its best when building up to the big moments that are either fumbled or seem to have somehow been edited out of the final cut entirely. But a comparison with the slow-motion train wreck that was the second season of the North American version really throws the virtues of the original series into sharp relief.