Mid-Flight Engine Maintenance for Dummies

This is not a review. But if it were it would a review of Episode 1 of Series 4 of Being Human[1], “Eve of the War” and you’d be well-advised not to read on if you’ve not seen it.

Consider yourself so advised.

However as I said this is not a review. It’s a musing on how we got from here:

to here:

How, and why the how matters and whether I’ll be watching Episode 2 of Series 4.

Actually let’s first go back to here[2]:

Long long ago, all the way back in 2008 I saw the original pilot of Being Human. It was pretty clear that that’s what it was too – one of those one-offs that they make and show to guage whether it’s worth making a series. It was also clear that it had something. Not just that it was a show with vampires and werewolves when the world was going crazy over Twilight. It had a certain tone.

The original Being Human pilot opens on a shot of a naked man in the woods. He’s George, werewolf just returned to human form, but we don’t know that yet. The voice-over, a smooth, confident, ever so slightly world-weary voice, starts to wax lyrical about the nature of the human condition, how it’s essentially about being alone. It’s at once both modern and dark and has the potential for being creepy. Soon there’ll be jokes but the humour will somehow manage not to undercut the atmosphere. Later still we’ll meet bad guys who give the sense of being disturbing, efficient and most of all, not the same cliches we’ve seen hundreds of times before.[3]

What I’m saying is that it manages to pull off the same trick as Buffy the Vampire Slayer – mix pop culture and comedy and traditional horror tropes and real drama and somehow keep all these apparently contradictory things together. But it’s not Buffy, it has its own distinct tone, and that just makes me like it all the more.

So I wait patiently and sure enough the Beeb commissions a series. The vampire Mitchell is re-cast, as is the ghost Annie. We lose the gorgeous and talented Andrea Riseborough but we gain Aidan Turner also somewhat gorgeous and not lacking in talent. More significantly we lose Adrian Lester as Herrick the local big boss vampire, and gain Jason Watkins. Significant because Lester, who I really like, only gets to play the smooth sophisticated be-suited vampire leader that we have seen so often before.[4] Watkins however gets to play an entirely different character – the same position of leadership in the local night-stalker hierarchy but his cover, his point of contact with the human world, his day job – is as a mid-ranking policeman. He has a sense of charm and danger and purpose but he also feels at home drinking a cup of tea from a styrofoam cup in the hospital cafe – quite a contrast from Lester holding court in what looks like a subterranean wine bar.

As the series progresses there are good episodes and so-so ones. I start to feel that we’re losing some of whatever it was the pilot had. It doesn’t feel quite as unique as it did. One of its strong early themes is monsters trying to live as ‘ordinary’ humans and so it covers a lot of the same ground as Buffy did with the ‘I may be the Slayer but I’m also just a girl’ motif.

Nevertheless it remains a good watch. The thing it’s got, the thing that makes the humour and the horror work and that makes it more than just another supernatural genre show is characters and relationships.

Inevitably plot starts to take the foreground. Once you’ve established the characters and how they interact then they do need to do something. And they need to do supernatural stuff if they’re werewolves, vampires and ghosts otherwise you just have a soap with some odd characters, i.e. you just have a soap. So we not only have to have plot but plot and mythology.

Thus it is that after 3 series and just 22 episodes of a gentle slide from the heights of the pilot we end up here:

The story has reached a crisis point – as it often seems to do around the last episode of series funnily enough – and not only that but a character has been Killed Off. But the other three of our core four remain and we’ve gained an impressive new villain from a new class of super-vampire called the Old Ones. I’m a little nervous about whether this will work but it’s got potential.

That’s about where I was at when I sat down to watch “Eve of the War”.

And it’s… wow. And not really in a good way. Although… no, not really.

Now I know that they were coping with some real-world departures. I knew about Nina. I didn’t know about Wyndham but I get it. I certainly didn’t know about George. I’m guessing when it became apparent who was leaving and where they were now at someone got down on one knee and begged Russell Tovey to do at least one more episode.

What’s really impressive about “Eve” is how hard it works and how much it gets done. It ties up the loose ends from everyone leaving, sets up and executes a big self-sacrificial ending for George, introduces new baddies (new big bad who gets killed off, real new big bad who quips and understands the modern world and who’s clearly going to upload that video of werewolves changing to youtube next week) and new good guys (at least one of whom will become one of the regular gang) and it begins to lay down what looks very like the seasonal arc with lots of stuff about prophecies and a child destined to save humanity and flash-forwards to a future of John Connor style resistance movement against a Big Brother style vampire overlord regime . “Now that I say it all out loud,” I said to M. after watching it (she didn’t), “it sounds like a bit of a mess… which makes me all the more impressed I liked it as much as I did.”

But whereas I was nervous before about the slow move to plot and mythology and away from character and relationship, now I’m actively very worried. Because they had to throw gobs of plot and lashings of mythology[5] to make it work at all. But when you effectively re-cast all the major roles in a show except one in a single episode in series 4 – a point when it should be an established entity – it’s a bit like re-building an engine on your plane in mid-air – it’s hellish impressive it can be done at all but not a little terrifying as to the end result.

Or it would be if I cared more. As it is I will be tuning in next week, but only because I like to see a plane crash as much as the next guy.

But hey it’s got Mark Williams with a tea-towel on his head what more do you need?

[1]I’d say “(UK)” to distinguish it from the US version but since I said “Series” instead of “Season” and “4” instead of “1” or “2” you figured that out didn’t you?
[2]Since it was a pilot there aren’t really any promo stills of this episode floating around the web (or not that I found in 5mins of googling) and it’s very difficult to find a shot with all three characters in frame – which I guess makes sense. So I made this with my rudimentary graphics manipulation skills.
[3]OK with one exception perhaps. I’ll get to that.
[4]Yep he’s the one.
[5]including making up some dodgy new stuff to help the George story along – werewolf blood is poisonous to vampires, the werewolf curse heals what it harms in the transformatio and you can fool the curse with a paper moon.
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1 Response to Mid-Flight Engine Maintenance for Dummies

  1. Yep, it did sound like a bit of a mess…

    And i’m still not watching out of principle (the principle being that without Mitchell it’s just not worth watching).

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