Note: The following review contains spoilers for all aired episodes of Being Human.
This is a very hard review for me to write, because I am of two minds about Being Human‘s fourth series premiere. As a piece of supernatural drama tinged with black comedy, it is expertly and quite beautifully written, directed, and acted. If this were the first episode of a brand-new show, I might be completely compelled by its audacious blend of epic fantasy, mundane humanity, and gallows humor. And yet. The problem is that it is not a new story but an extension of one which I hold nearer and dearer to my heart than most other television series I’ve seen in my lifetime, and while as an episode, it is a remarkable work written by one of my favorite writers, the brilliant Toby Whithouse, it also feels largely like a forced compromise, brought on by a decision on the part of Russell Tovey and Sinead Keenan to leave the show just when they were arguably needed most.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not an angry fanboy, castigating two of my favorite actors for leaving my favorite show. They aren’t beholden either to me or to the series, and I fully understand why, particularly for Tovey, it may have felt odd and a bit uncomfortable to proceed with Being Human sans Aidan. At the same time, I feel it is a deep shame, because after last series’ magnificent finale, I was eager to see just how the gang would get on without Mitchell. Although his death was terribly sad, Series 3 also ended on a note of triumph. George staked his best friend so that he could die on his own terms, and then our remaining trio stood together, facing the vampire who had threatened him, and by extension, the camera–heartbroken, yet strong, defiant, and ready to take on the world. It is, therefore, jarring to say the least to pick up where we do, with Nina having been viciously beaten to death, George acting like a walking-dead remnant of his former self, and Annie desperately trying to maintain control over a life spinning wildly out of control.
This is certainly not the story that Toby Whithouse originally wanted to tell. For example, why save Nina from the brink of death in the previous episode only to kill her off-screen before this one begins? Why end the previous episode with an image of the three characters at their bravest only to undercut that heroism and solidarity in the very next installment, leaving them so defeated and small? I believe that, given the circumstances, he made some wise decisions, and he gave George a gutwrenching yet noble end. Having brought on the werewolf change himself in order to save his daughter, George was able, like Mitchell, to die for something he believed in and at his own hands, not those of a villain. But I also can’t help thinking that there could have been another way to handle this. George and Nina had been through so much heartache over the course of the past three seasons, and their arc, particularly in the last series, seemed to be about getting them to gradually realize that they could have a happy, healthy family, despite the odd circumstances. It just doesn’t seem organic to the storytelling and the series’ philosophy for that to have been tragically destroyed, and off-screen of all places. I’m not saying that the story couldn’t have put them through more hardship, but I think they deserved if not a simplistic “happy ending,” a fairer one than that which they received.
And that could have been possible, had Whithouse and Co. made a very difficult decision to let the wonderful Lenora Critchlow go as well. Because, when it comes down to it, the desire to keep her on the show is what created the narrative need for George and Nina to die. Because she is a ghost, there could be no other convincing explanation for why they would need to separate, except for the one Whithouse gave–George and Nina dying, and Annie needing to remain on this plane to care for their baby. The Being Human universe had been gradually evolving over the course of the first three seasons to the point that the writers were even able to create a successful web series spin-off, Becoming Human. The writers could have left George, Nina, and Annie in Barry and picked up with a different set of supernatural characters, also involved in the larger war that began at the end of “The Wolf-Shaped Bullet”. We might even have heard sporadic updates on the three, without the need to either show them or to kill them. They could have been the equivalent of folk heroes, as befitting the first werewolves and ghost to co-habitate (or so we had thought). UK shows such as Skins have been able to continue with completely new casts of characters, and given that Being Human‘s mythology has grown so epic in scope, it would have been relatively easy to do.
I’m not saying that I’m not very happy to continue seeing Annie, but it just seems, well, a bit forced that now she will once again get a new vampire friend and a new werewolf friend (or, well, an old one, I guess, but one who is now going to “officially” replace George). George, Mitchell, and Annie were special, unique–an unprecedented friendship, and a bond that shouldn’t be simply replicated. But this episode even undercuts that, as well. It was all right that Becoming Human also featured such a trio, because George, Mitchell, and Annie were first, and Adam formed his group largely from their inspiration, but in introducing Hal’s werewolf and ghost friends, with whom he has lived for many years, the show reveals/retcons that they weren’t the first at all. From a writing perspective, it provides a nice parallel, but it also detracts from what made the original team such a singular phenomenon in the first place (and also made so many villains feel so threatened by this inexplicable union).
It seems as if the show is straying from what made it so brilliant. It wasn’t just the concept of a werewolf, a vampire, and a ghost sharing a house, but how their experiences both simultaneously separated them from humanity and reaffirmed their humanity; it was the juxtaposition of the supernatural and the mundane; it was how the intimacy of their friendship contrasted with the big, scary world outside, particularly ironic given that they were big, scary monsters themselves. And not. As impressive as this premiere is from a writing standpoint, with the flash-forwards to an apocalyptic future, the truly stunning misdirect about the identity of the blonde woman, the really clever vampire humor, and yes, even George’s death scene (an example of beautiful writing and acting that I still wish had never happened), this isn’t the Being Human I fell in love with. This is too sci-fi epic, too broad, often too camp. I feel, in many ways, that my Being Human ended with the third series finale. That isn’t to say I won’t keep watching. As I said before, if this were a completely new show, I would have probably loved it, and I feel that I might even be able to do so eventually, by imagining it to be an alternate universe. Which, in many ways, it is, as it is a prime example of what sometimes happens with serialized television writing: the need to shift storytelling choices in order to accommodate casting issues.
In my fantasy Being Human Series 4, however, we pick up right where the third series left off. With our protagonists battle-scarred, perhaps, but alive to fight another day. Because when they are together, they are a sight to behold. An invincible force. My George, Nina, and Annie vs. the world.