Contains spoilers. Some really, really big ones. You have been warned.
When last we left BBC3’s cult series Being Human it was with a very big problem: the arc of season 3 had inexorably built up to the point where one of the major characters of the show, John Mitchell (Aidan Turner) finally hit the end of the road. My last words in the review of that episode where that “[series creator Toby] Whithouse may just have written a cliffhanger from which Being Human can’t be saved,” after the screen went black with Mitchell staked and remaining series regulars George (Russell Tovey), Nina (Sinead Keenan) and Annie (Lenora Crichlow) left confronting the newly arrived Big Bad, über-powerful “Old One” Edgar Wyndam (Lee Ingleby).
At the start of season 4, the absence of Mitchell proves to be the least of the show’s mounting problems. Sinead Keenan has also left the show over the hiatus, her character reportedly brutally murdered off screen in a very unsatisfactory end for someone who has been carefully built up into a key part of the series. Lee Ingleby also evidently proved unavailable for this season and is similarly – and equally frustratingly – dispatched off-screen. This disjointedness is a major body blow to the show and to be honest a real black mark against the production team for not pre-empting the transition better, because any longtime fan can’t help but feel gravely cheated by the fact that everything set up at the end of season 3 is jettisoned out of sight in such a manner.
Small wonder then that Russell Tovey has also decided to call it a day and handed in his notice, although he commendably at least shows up for a one-episode swan song to give his character a proper send-off. But the fact remains that at the end of this first episode of season 4, we’ve lost three quarters of the regular cast who were the heart of the show; only ghostly Annie remains, and despite the ever-delightful playing of Lenora Crichlow the character has always been the least substantial (pun intended) of the line-up. The producers end up promoting the previously recurring character of werewolf Tom (Michael Socha) into the main cast as a necessary move to bolster what’s left of series continuity, but I have to confess that I never warmed to him in season 3 and don’t regard this as a particularly welcome development – although his thuddingly unsubtle hints about wanting to move into the shared house were some of the warmer, lighter moments of the show.
With Wyndham also gone, we get a similarly jarring reset on the adversary front: a sudden new vampire nest, with a new chief vampire by the name of Griffin once again falling back on the old trick of posing as a police inspector – an oddly unimaginative revival of the character of Herrick from past seasons. Even in the hands of the classy and creepily effective Alex Jennings this is a bit of deja vu too far, and when Griffin is suddenly dispatched at the end of the episode (by the oddly deus ex machina means of a hitherto unsuspected fatal vampire allergy to werewolf blood – if we’d known that in the past three years then stories could have gone very differently!) you wonder what the point of him was in the first place.
Maybe this bit of Herrick-redux is to give us a brief respite from the frantic restructuring work that’s going on elsewhere in the show. We now have an out-of-the-blue eons-old vampire fable (written on human skin parchment complete with nipple!) as the series’ overriding arc. It feels like something rather out of Blade and Underworld and bleeds into a time-jumping sub-plot to 2037AD and a Terminator-esque bleak view of the remaining human resistance losing to the superior vampire invasion forces. This requires the future rebel leader to time travel back to ‘present day’ (albeit as a ghost; this isn’t science fiction after all!) to change history in order to murder an innocent baby whose name is not John Connor but might as well be. Or maybe that’s what’s happening; it was all rather odd and confusing, as if we’d wondered into a completely different TV programme.
Mark Williams (from the Harry Potter films) shows up in the odd role of Vampire Recorder that is frankly too broadly comic for the context of the rest of the dark and harrowing episode; somewhat better judged was timid newly-turned vampire Dewi (Darren Evans) who has a ‘Stake Me’ sign taped to his back by his mocking companions. And best of all is Monroe star Andrew Gower’s introduction as Cutler, a younger and more modern vampire than the old school Griffin who combines irreverent humour with a steely sense of danger and who should prove to be a very worthy and interesting adversary for the heroes to play against. Unless he’s also written out by the start of the next episode – right now, who can tell?
In the meantime there’s still the problem of what to do about the hole left in the show by Mitchell’s departure. Apparently Craig Robert’s teenage vampire Adam will make a brief return to the show later in the season, but in terms of a full-time replacement for Aidan Turner we’ve yet to be properly introduced to the character of Hal played by Damien Molony. It appears that he’s part of a vampire/werewolf/ghost flatshare far older than the one we’ve been watching over the last three years (and therefore far more successful in managing to be low-key and stay out of trouble for decades.) That this supernatural Unholy Trinity is located in of all places my old home town of Southend-on-Sea in Essex is especially weird for me.
There’s a nice “Bizarro parallel universe” feel to the brief scenes we get with this new triumvirate: Pearl the ghost is from the 50s, while the werewolf is an elderly barber whose body can no longer withstand the physical effects of the lunar transformation. Hal himself is immediately established as very different from the dangerously swaggering and tortured Mitchell: he seems more upper class and vulnerable, a Shelley-esque poet-type who has been carefully hidden away from the real world and who wears his emotional sensitivity on his sleeve. But now he knows that this idyll is coming to an end, and he is patently afraid of what will happen to his small supernatural family in the days to come. Molony has big shoes to fill but he does it well, quickly establishing himself as something very different from his predecessor while managing to captivate the necessary attention and steal the requisite scenes to give him the appropriate presence of an incoming series regular right from the start. Mitchell’s departure really has become a surprisingly small problem in the grand scheme of things.
So there’s definitely some good stuff happening here, and overall the show is doing probably the best job possible in the circumstances given the destabilisation caused by so many abrupt personnel changes. It’s also being commendably ambitious and audacious in the way that it’s trying to reboot the show and reorientate itself to its enforced new circumstances, rather than just going for any ‘safe’ and more familiar options.
But right now, my main problem is that I have no idea what show it is that I’m watching: what it’s meant to be or where it’s going, what form it will take when (if?) it settles back down again. With all the changes it’s having to push through, the show has had to sacrifice any claims it previously had to my established ongoing loyalty; only time will tell whether the new characters, cast and plot will win the revamped show the investment of new loyalty in its own right. Jury’s still out on that one: but I’m intrigued enough to stick with it for a while yet to see whether it succeeds in coming together or not.
Currently airing on BBC3 on Sunday nights. The DVD/Blu-ray will be released on 23 April 2012.