Note: The following review contains spoilers for all aired episodes of Being Human, including the most recent, “Lia.”
Toby Whithouse’s masterful supernatural drama, Being Human, returned to BBC Three last night with an absolutely superb series premiere that manages to accomplish a number of major storytelling goals with the writerly economy and elegance that has always typified this essential work. In one all-too-brief hour, Whithouse reintroduces us to his all-too-human characters, who are still grappling with issues from the previous series, introduces us to their brand new environment, along with brand new faces who will surely have an impact on our protagonists over the course of the arc, and resolves the major cliffhangers from last season, while leaving us with a whole new set of mysteries to ponder. Perhaps most impressively, he further explores Being Human‘s philosophical underpinnings in this episode, reasserting its major thematic threads, and examining its metaphysics in a way that contributes to the expansion of the series’ worldview while continuing to keep us questioning the true nature of what runs this universe.
Before I go on, though, I would first like to get one thing out of the way, which is to praise the entire cast to the very heavens for the funny, moving, absorbing, devastating work they do here. Being Human is the rare show that not only doesn’t have a single weak link in its cast but is composed of bona fide genius actors who play every emotion the writers throw at them with absolute honesty, which is quite an accomplishment for a series whose universe is so fantastical in so many ways. Russell Tovey’s initial, heartbroken reaction to thinking Mitchell has returned alone; Aidan Turner’s breakdown on the train; Lenora Critchlow’s response to Lia; Sinead Keenan trying to hold herself together at the police station, whilst succumbing to the curse. These are but a handful of examples of the sheer brilliance of their work, which doesn’t even take into account how wonderful they all are as a unit. The chemistry between the four leads, in particular, is sheer electricity, and I will simply never be able to get over how amazing they are.
Returning to the episode itself, its main thrust revolves around Mitchell’s Orpheus-like attempt to follow Annie into the Underworld and bring her home, a quest that ends up being less about Annie and much more about Mitchell himself. While in Purgatory, Mitchell is forced to face his own crimes of the past in order to retrieve his friend. It seems very likely that the reason Annie was taken in the first place, why she was selected for Hell, and why she was allowed to broadcast (as powerful and unusual a spirit as she is, it seems that they–whoever “they” is–could have prevented this, if they wanted to) was in order to lure Mitchell in after her. Everything seems tailor-made for “getting” Mitchell, though I wonder if the “long game” to which Lia later refers eventually involves getting all of them, or at least Mitchell and Annie.
The nature of the afterlife on Being Human has always been difficult to grasp, and this is clearly intentional on the parts of the writers. We know that, upon initially dying, Annie first saw a dark, terrifying place with visions of “men with sticks and rope.” She seemed fairly certain that Death was a bad place. When she helped Gilbert cross over, however, the passageway behind his door glowed with what seemed to be welcoming light, and he was pleased with what he saw–an early indication that not all people end up someplace scary. My personal theory from that point has been that, in the universe of Being Human, the afterlife that one is initially greeted with is dependent upon one’s frame of mind upon dying. A person who has died violently or chaotically with unresolved issues might find a violent, chaotic place, whereas someone who approaches his or her door with a sense of completion or upon reaching an epiphany will find a good place. This was given further credence in the second season episode in which Annie helped the ghost in the theatre pass on. Again, once he’d resolved the issues he had with his still-living wife, he walked into what seemed to be an optimistic hereafter. All of this implies that, had Annie walked through the door that appeared for her near the end of the first series after standing up to Owen, she would have wound up in the “right place.” Lia even says in this episode that the only reason she ended up in Purgatory, having to fill out forms, waiting and waiting and waiting until her mind began to fracture, was because she went through the wrong door.
Of course, however, nothing that Lia says about how Death works should be taken at face value. After all, in the second series, Death seemed to be going out of its way to force Annie through the wrong door, going so far as to recruit newly deceased people into dragging her there, against her will. Was this the result of Annie upsetting the natural order of things and thus angering whoever is in charge? Or is it possible that there is a separate, malignant force in the afterlife that is able to take control of the situation, when a spirit is disobedient? Either way, it seems strange that a force that was practically terrorizing Annie last series in order to compel her through the door is now letting her leave so relatively easily, and more so, that they seem to have expected Mitchell and prepared for his arrival, which is why their long-term agenda is so fascinating. Is Annie just a pawn to get Mitchell? If so, why plant the idea in her head that she should be in a romantic relationship with him, after telling him separately that he will be killed by a “werewolf-shaped bullet”? Is that just to cause Mitchell pain, or Annie, and/or George (presumably, he is said bullet, though if Nina is responsible, that would cause all of them pain, in different ways), as well?
What I’m thinking now is that since she is a ghost, Death would most likely eventually “get” Annie regardless. By some point, she will probably choose to move on, whether it is now or 300 years from now–this is something that ghosts do, we have been told in numerous episodes. Vampires, however, cheat death in a much more brazen manner. A vampire can live forever and never pay for his crimes. Assuming that the force that runs the afterlife is a “moral” one, it is possible that Mitchell’s actions in the previous series have angered it to the point that it demands punishment from him but unlike a ghost, can’t get to him by any direct means, so instead use Annie as bait. Note the quotation marks around the word, “moral.” At the very least, Death in the Being Human universe seems to be a cold, bureaucratic institution that cares less about the people than the rules. The good are rewarded, the bad punished, and the unclassifiable are made to wait…and wait…and wait while filling out paperwork that decides their fate. And Death don’t seem above manipulating a situation or harming someone in order to get the results it desires. Perhaps the reason is just as simple as the corrupt priest, Kemp’s motives last series: they simply don’t like the unprecedented phenomenon of a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost having the gall to live together and try to carry on normal human lives.
The episode raises other ambiguities. The vampires on Being Human have always been so fascinating, because unlike on Buffy, for example, they don’t “become” evil due to a lack of human soul. They are themselves, albeit unchained from human morality, and can therefore decide to partake in murder and mayhem or to not. When Mitchell was one of the most dangerous vampires in history, it was his decision. When he later reformed, it was also his decision. Unlike Angel on Buffy, when Mitchell backslides and performs more evil actions, it isn’t due to a Gypsy curse or spell. It is Mitchell, the same person who he was before, only now he has fallen victim to the addiction that defines his unlife. Being Human challenges us on multiple levels, firstly by making us sympathetic towards someone who–let’s face it–is a mass murderer, and then finally, in this episode, by reminding us why we shouldn’t so easily and blindly forgive him.
What to him might have been a brief descent into mania cost a great deal of people their lives and their futures, and this episode makes Mitchell truly confront that–to stop considering himself as a victim of his addiction and instead focus on the true victims of his addiction. And in so doing, the series’ major theme–being human–is reasserted. Mitchell describes the sensation of giving into his bloodlust thusly: “I’m not a victim. I’m an animal. I don’t deserve mercy or forgiveness. I’m a murderer. I couldn’t help myself. I love it. The sensation. The power. I was dead, but I never felt so alive. I wasn’t human any more. I lost my conscience. I was free, and that’s what I was addicted to. I hacked my way through the world. I left a trail of blood a thousand miles long, and I loved it.” In other words, Mitchell sees his vampirism as the antithesis of being human. The writers of Being Human, however, know better. They know that humanity can be beautiful, but it can be ugly too. Some of the greatest evils in the world are caused by humans, not monsters. In fact, both times that we’ve seen Mitchell either revert to his old ways or come close was the result of being disgusted by human actions–in the first series, it was the mob mentality that led to the little boy’s death, and in the second, it was Lucy’s betrayal of him. Yet, when it comes down to it, Mitchell still defines “humanity” by its good actions and still strives to attain this practically indefinable thing that is kind and generous and openhearted and noble.
As Annie says in her closing voiceover: “My name is Annie Clare Sawyer and two years ago, I died. But in so many ways, that’s when my life began. In the company of horrors, I learned about friendship and loyalty and sacrifice and courage. Humanity isn’t a species. It’s a state of mind. It can’t be defeated. It moves mountains. It saves souls. We were blessed as much as we were cursed.” This is such a beautiful and powerful speech, because it is the first time that a character on the show has acknowledged, fully and openheartedly, that what happened to them was a good thing–that their supernatural status doesn’t rob them of their humanity. That their struggles and drives and yearning make them human. That their ugly sides make them human, too.
This is also reaffirmed in another lovely, subtle way, through George and Nina’s arc in this episode, which basically details their struggles to keep one another safe during their transformations. They had assumed that they couldn’t transform together–that, both being wolves, they would rip one another apart. Through a number of twists of fate, however, they end up turning together, in the same enclosure, and not only do they each wake up alive the next morning, but they seem to have had sex. In other words, it seems that their love for one another has affected their wolf sides, as well. It’s not surprising that this happened. In fact, had George and Nina thought about it, they might have remembered that the George Wolf calmed down when he first locked eyes with Nina, moments after scratching (and cursing) her. I love that they didn’t think of this, though. That it took them breaking up and going through a large number of struggles and crises of identity before coming to the simple truth that, both as humans and as supernatural creatures, they are stronger together. That they never would have met if George hadn’t been turned into a wolf. That perhaps this was all meant to be. That they can be a healthy, “normal” werewolf couple together–truly together. The idea that the wolf sides of them share in their love is yet another step towards them integrating all aspects of themselves into their identities. That’s what being human is all about.