The problem with evaluating a TV drama is that so much of any serialized narrative revolves around judging a single episode based on how well it is able to deliver on its promises. Even if it gets everything but the ending of a story arc right, that botched ending often looms larger than all of the capable storytelling that led up to that anti-climax. The prevailing story in “Daddy Ghoul”—George’s reunion with his father, now dead—features some of the most wrenching and emotionally charged scenes I can recall in the show. But the ending is just so soggy and such a big letdown after the way the episode established a father-son relationship defined by its crucial lack of intimacy.
George and his father desperately want to have a healthier relationship, and they show each other that throughout “Daddy Ghoul.” But no matter how much time they devote to bonding with each other, their relationship will always be defined by the sense of loss that surrounds George, Sr. (James Fleet). Unfortunately, the deeply resonant and melancholic mood can’t withstand the slap-happy ending episode writer Lisa McGee tacks onto the episode’s conclusion. George Sr. can be happy, after all, which gives a tacky sense of closure to an otherwise very strong character-driven story.
While the relationship between George and his father is defined by a very basic kind of sentimentality, the pitch and the tone of that sentimentality never feels overly maudlin. George first finds out that his father has died after Mitchell frantically searches the local paper for news that he’s been outed as the Box Tunnel 20 killer. The news naturally hits George so hard that when he talks about his father, he breaks out the biggest cliche about middle-class fatherhood: self-serving and mundane to a fault and all the more wonderful because of it.
A trope as stuffy as that might have otherwise been overbearing, were it not for the superb way that series director Phillip John, who also helmed last week’s episode and “Type 4,” blocks the scene (camera facing its subject head-on, fostering a forced but effective kind of intimacy). Russell Tovey’s line delivery is equally remarkable. It’s pretty heart-breaking to hear him tell Nina that, "He was ordinary, boring. I don't think I ever realized how wonderful that was.”
After George initially bumps into his father at his own funeral, George, Sr., is defined by all of the expected tics of a homely character that is thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Fleet’s performance confirms that Being Human U.K.’s biggest asset is still its ability to latch onto exceptional performers that are able to make most any material work in a big way. His mannerisms are perfect for the part of the doddering dad, like the way he stammers when he asks Nina if she’s a werewolf, too, or how he flounces about his mobile home, offering to make George some tea, even though he himself can’t drink any.
The fact that all of the scenes where Nina and George play off of each other as a comedic pair work as well as they usually do (“Church of Earth... wind! And fire.”) makes the resolution of George Sr.’s problems that much more frustrating. Everything, right up until George, Sr., confronts George’s mother and wins her back from her current beau, up to and including the twist about George, Sr., works so well. But that ending, no matter how well-acted or shot it was (I especially like the way that the impact of Fleet’s limp punch surprises him most all) is just so trite and unimaginative in the way that it tries to throw a bone to George’s slovenly, absent father.
The way McGee neatly wrapped up events will hopefully make more sense when the current series wraps up in two episodes. But still, just within the context of the way George Sr. interacts with his son in “Daddy Ghoul,” that ending feels wrong. Neither character feels completely comfortable being around each other, creating an insurmountable friction that’s totally bypassed when George, Sr., is allowed to start afresh with his ex-wife. Resolving his martial problems with a punch to the jaw and a cuddle on the couch is much too easy a way to get around a story that largely related the impossibility of connecting with a loved one.
That having been said, “Daddy Ghoul” was so good that I largely enjoyed Mitchell’s story arc, too, even though it’s still moving more slowly than I’d like it to. The reintroduction of Herrick really has gone a long way toward making Mitchell interesting again. Just the scenes where Herrick obsessively hounds Detective Nancy Reed (Erin Richards), the investigator that’s come to investigate the tip-off Nina delivered anonymously at the end of last week’s episode, are more than moody enough to make up for Mitchell’s story’s lack of momentum or any attendant gaps in logic. (For instance, why, if you’re Nancy, do you listen to Herrick when he tells you to come closer so that he can tell you a secret? Herrick’s main appeal as a bad guy is that he looks like the stereotypical quiet sociopath nobody expects to be harmful but is actually the most dangerous guy in the room. Why would you allow yourself to get so close to someone that looks like a serial killer?) The opening scene with Herrick and Mitchell in 1933 Paris bristled with a slick kind of tension that I rather admire, and the shout-out to Shallow Grave during the scene where Herrick whittles a hole in the ceiling, just to get a better view of Nancy, really pushed my buttons.
Still, now more than ever, I believe that series three’s most defining moments have yet to come. Though “Type 4” will likely remain a highlight of the series, the introduction of the concept of Mitchell’s heir is going to get important soon. I also expect that George and Nina’s relationship is going to have to accelerate significantly somehow in two episode's time, and I doubt it’ll change for the better. So for the moment, a wait-and-see policy is still probably best.