The third season of Being Human debuts tonight on BBC America at 9 p.m. Eastern.
In spite of some significant weak spots, for a season premiere, “Lia” is a rather strong table-setting episode. The episode kicks off Being Human’s third season two years after Annie’s death. The good news: “Lia” handily gets us through in one episode’s time what could have been a drawn-out, season-long process of getting lost in Purgatory, the limbo state that Annie is now trapped in, by putting an artificial cap on Mitchell, Nina, and George’s search for her (Mitchell’s search for Annie is artificially hastened by a MacGuffin as vague as a bunch of loud noises that Annie says sounds like a marching band that’s about to take her away). The bad news: The main plot of “Lia” concerns Mitchell and his new-found guilt over being a vampire. The better news: Mitchell’s story is only the most prominent of three plot-lines vying for attention in “Lia,” an episode that both excels and fails where the show usually does. Fun camaraderie and good acting balance out cliched and sometimes ill-conceived major plot points but only by so much. The show’s still better at conjuring up atmosphere than plot, so if “Lia” is to be used as a barometer for what’s to come in season three, then we’re pretty much in for more of the same limited but enjoyable goodness as the last two seasons.
Let’s start by talking about Mitchell’s story and get the most unpleasant part of “Lia” over with, shall we? Mitchell’s character arc stands out mostly because of the silly path towards redemption it’s forcing him down. In “Lia,” he’s made to revisit his victims in Purgatory in a canned attempt at getting him to admit that he’s a ruthless killer. Each encounter brings him closer to Annie, but each one is also an over-determined step towards admitting through gritted teeth that he likes being able to abandon his humanity when he feeds on his victims.
This wouldn’t be so bad if Mitchell’s dialogue were slightly less hammy. He tosses off a new trite aphorism with each closure-enducing encounter, real cringe-worthy stuff like, “The shame of that. The horror of knowing what I was” and, “I was dead, but I never felt so alive. I wasn’t human anymore. I lost my conscious. I was free! That’s what I was addicted to.” This is sub-Anne Rice nonsense and a good part of why Mitchell’s currently the most boring thing about Being Human. He was at least tolerably scuzzy when he was arrogant and had a messiah complex. Now, he’s just Wolverine with an Irish accent and vampire fangs [Note: the sentence originally read "British accent" but was changed to "Irish accent" after a much-needed correction from the peanut gallery; thank you].
Thankfully, Mitchell’s neutered journey of self-discovery is made a little more tolerable by the episode's title character (Lacey Turner), a mysterious figure that Mitchell doesn’t quite recognize but he’s assured knows him very well. While it should be plainly obvious who Lia is, or at least how she’s connected to Mitchell, the fact remains that her character is exceptionally well-played by Turner, who radiates maliciousness in spite of her overtly chipper demeanor, effortlessly making Mitchell seem that much more dull by comparison. When she jokingly dismisses the suggestion that Mitchell could have just run into a mine field out of guilt for having killed one of his victims, you’re not quite sure you’ve heard her say what she just said. It seems too vicious, too blunt to be a real suggestion, especially in light of Lia’s upbeat, flirtatious tone (“Spit spot,” never sounded so unnerving). And then she directly asks Mitchell why, exactly, he didn’t kill himself. And your heart skips a beat in spite of how contrived the scene is. Once again, the stellar casting on this show makes its more limp characterizations work.
That’s also true about the most inconsequential of the three subplots in “Lia,” one focused on MacNair (Robson Green) and his son Tom (Michael Socha), a pair of werewolves that wind up getting attacked by a pack of sadistic vampires that kidnap MacNair and force him to fight a human for their entertainment. The camaraderie shared by MacNair and his son, not to mention the enmity between MacNair and head vampire baddy Vincent (Paul Kaye, done up to look like Gary Oldman in Sid & Nancy), is more than enough to make this vampire vs. werewolf variation on a very familiar generic story effective. (I immediately thought of Unleashed when Vincent said, “MacNair the Bear would be a good name if you were a bear, but you're not, you're a dog! You're my dog. My mad dog.”) It’s an unoriginal segment in other words, one that presumably will pave the way for later developments from the two characters, but it’s at least well executed (I especially like MacNair and Tom’s banter about Joe Johnston’s The Wolfman: “Benicio del something. He's a Spanish actor. The special effects are amazing, Dad. I've seen the pictures.”).
But the best subplot in “Lia” is without a doubt the segment with George and Nina. It’s probably no coincidence that this segment is also the least dependent on plot and is the most character-driven of the bunch. George winds up getting caught in a police raid on a backwoods prostitution ring, putting him in a jail cell with an unsuspecting pimp during a full moon. They make a great comedic pair: The scene where she breaks George out of jail is very well done, both actors responding to each other’s with sympathetic werewolf growing pains. His Joe-Strummer-like shrieking is especially winning, and her stammering and convulsive gut-grabbing is equally charming. Again, all the ancillary details add up and make these goofy sequences memorable, including the brief shot of a werewolf transformation that looks surprisingly good in spite of the show’s modest budget.
That having been said, if “Lia” is any indication, I’m not entirely sure season three is going to be as rudderless as I’d like it to be for very long. (SPOILERS AHEAD!!!) Nina and George’s story is heading towards an inevitable head; I anticipate a werewolf baby bump sometime in the couple’s near future and a bloody miscarriage after that. Mitchell is told that his death has been foretold and that he’ll die by the hands of a werewolf. In that sense, I can theoretically get behind the ending of “Lia” as a calm-before-the-storm denouement. Still, the storm coming had better have some impressive freakin’ displays of Sturm und Drang, because otherwise, the show will never become more than another inessential little sci-fi show with a lot of charm.
- If you want to see more coverage of Being Human UK, be sure to say so in the comments section. The more we get, the greater the possibility I can continue covering season three’s run on BBC America. I think it’d be nice to have some BBC coverage outside of Doctor Who but then again, my request is obviously self-serving.
- “Humanity isn’t a species, it’s a state of mind.” Oh, do shut up.