Being Human went through a lot of surface changes in the course of five years, but always managed to end up much the way it started; with a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost who all live together fighting to save humanity from every greater supernatural (and increasingly apocalyptic) threat. Now that the show has officially breathed its last, I can definitely say I think it was most entertaining when it was in its death throes. Interesting as the show could be in its early seasons, especially when the focus was on Russell Tovey’s fearlessly nerdy characterization of George—the werewolf as ultimate geeky outsider, the eternal adolescent who can’t fit in and has absolutely no control over his animal urges—it was often shrill and embarrassingly self-serious. The last couple of seasons had a lighter, more playful touch, and the show became surprisingly funny. The downside was that it could all feel so light—and underpopulated—that it seldom seemed as if anything important was at stake, which raised the question, just what kind of half-assed excuse for an apocalypse are you people running here?
Maybe that’s not the worst sin in the world. If the summer movie season that’s currently winding down has proven anything, it’s that you can only see the world end, in IMAX 3D and Dolby Stereo, so many times before the law of diminishing returns sets in. Being Human offers modest, TV-scaled days of reckoning, and there’s something almost charming in that. The chief villain of the finale season is Captain Hatch (Phil Davis), a toothy, glowering old man in a wheelchair who is, in fact, the devil. Because of an exorcism ritual that Hal the vampire was in on, he’s been trapped inside this ruined, aging body for much of the past century, which must be why things have been going so great. He can only be defeated by means of that ritual. As Hal explains, the devil draws his power from the energy released when vampires and werewolves are at each other’s throats, since “our condition came from him, so his curses have to be united by those against him.” What this means is that, since the devil makes vampires and werewolves, only a werewolf, a vampire, and a ghost can destroy him, albeit at the expense of their own lives. I’m not sure how a ghost got shoehorned in there with the vampires and werewolves, but isn’t it just lucky that we happen to have one?
The devil’s main talent seems to be the ability to make people kill themselves just by telling them they should, and in the finale, his master plan is to obtain the Emergency Broadcast codes, go on TV—resplendent in a dark suit, yellow tie, purple shirt, and pocket handkerchief—and send his call to mass suicide out over the airwaves, thus obliterating the human race. I was a little taken aback to learn that all the devil wants to do when he breaks free for the first time in decades is kill as many people as he can; Milton’s Lucifer, and for that matter Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate, seemed to have much grander, less Manson-like aspirations. But I do like the idea of his Satanic majesty using the medium by which we are savoring this show as his tool for genocide, as if suicide were the product he’s pushing in his infomercial. The live-TV-broadcast setup also allowed for some pretty funny in-jokes for broadcast-history buffs and other shut-ins, about the notorious potter’s wheel film the BBC used in case of technical malfunction.
The big showdown in the TV studio has something in common with most of the big showdowns from previous Being Human season finales, which is that it looks depressingly underpopulated. A modest apocalypse is one thing, but the apocalypses on Being Human tended to look downsized, with far fewer henchmen on site than OSHA can possibly be good with. Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which set the gold standard for shows pushing the supernatural as a metaphor for alienation, kept finding ways to broaden and open out its world, extending the show’s territory. If anything, the world of Being Human’s characters was continually shrinking, boxing them in more and more. Maybe that’s why the show got so repetitious. “I’ve never understood why you lot are so proud of being human,” Hatch tells someone. “A monkey falls out a tree and invents a digital watch. That’s basically it, isn’t it?”
It’s not a bad little speech, but it sounds so much like something Hatch, or any of the previous seasons’ Big Bads, might have said before that it creates an echo chamber effect. Likewise when Hal tells a roomful of new vampires they’ve been handed “evolution’s winning lottery ticket.” Also likewise any of the episodes when the three heroes make the mistake of doubting their friendship and temporarily drift apart; as well as all the weirdo characters who turn up out of nowhere and invade the house for an episode, for the express purpose of threatening the heroes’ friendship, before finally teaching them something important. In the last couple of seasons especially, there were enough of these to make me wonder just how big an influence Yogi’s Gang has on British TV writers.
The final episode pretty much captures the strengths of Being Human’s later seasons as well as the weaknesses that dragged those strengths down. Much of the action consists of the devil throwing each of the heroes into a “false reality” where he tempts them with the chance to live out the rest of their lives in a fantasy realm where they would never experience the trauma of becoming supernatural beings, while he goes about his business of destroying the “real” world. It is all cleverly written and very well acted, especially by Davis and Michael Socha, but it is a cleverly written, well-acted version of something that’s been done a million times since Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Superman story “What Do You Get For The Man Who Has Everything?,”and it didn’t originate there, either.
Still, for every line that set off waves of déjà vu, there was one that put a fresh spin on the ball—“I’d turn water into wine,” Captain Hatch sneers when challenged to prove he has unearthly powers, “but it’s been copyrighted.” And there’s a happy ending, with the heroes besting the devil and discovering that, with him “dead” and their curses lifted, they’re now finally, fully human. The only problem is, a bonus scene on the DVD set shows the heroes realizing, after the final credits have rolled, that their “happy ending” is just another false reality they’ll have to snap out of if they want to prevent the devil from following through on his evil plan. And that’s not meant as a teaser for another season or a movie; the show’s creator, Toby Whithouse, has sworn up and down that this inconclusive, cliffhanger ending is it. Being Human got better as it went along, and those who missed it during its run might find it worth their time to sample it on DVD or Hulu, but it never quite found that middle ground between not being as smart as it thought it was and being too clever for its own good.