Monday, 21 February 2011

'BEING HUMAN' 3.5 - "The Longest Day"

Monday, 21 February 2011

Vampire boss Herrick (Jason Watkins) returned in surprising style, for a character-focused "bottle episode" (almost exclusively taking place in the B&B) that posed the moral question "can someone be forgiven for their sins, no matter how unforgivable?" It was an undeniably strong hour of straight drama, albeit one that I found rather shaky to begin with, partly because the comedy was played so broadly and, frankly, it took me awhile to warm to the concept.

George (Russell Tovey) discovered Herrick in the hospital psychiatric ward, bewildered and suffering from retrograde amnesia. Fearing he'll innocently expose the existence of vampires when the police realize they can't take his photograph, George helps Herrick escape by having Nina (Sinead Keenan) pretend he's her "Uncle Billy", although the notorious vampire's presence at the B&B doesn't go down well with his former protégé Mitchell (Aidan Turner), who doesn't believe Herrick's unwell and demands they stake him before it's too late. Shortly after, a psychiatric nurse called Wendy (Nicola Walker) arrived to inspect the B&B's suitability and ensure "Uncle Billy" is happy with his new living arrangements, prompting issues as the housemates struggled to put on a united, compassionate front.

Let's get my two biggest gripes out of the way first: I've never accepted Herrick as a strong villain and was glad he got torn to shreds by werewolf-George back in series 1. The idea to present an incongruous little man as the head of Bristol's vampires was good (he's a fanged Napoleon), but Watkins was often an embarrassment when required to drop the comedy and go for the pure horror (to wit; his laughable, snarling resurrection from death, reprised in this episode's opening.) For me, there was too much of a gulf between my reaction to Herrick and the characters here; as George, Mitchell and Annie (Lenora Crichlow) spent the first 20-minutes looking inordinately petrified that Herrick's back. I wish I could share in their horror, but I don't think Being Human ever made Herrick into enough of a nightmare for their response to feel justified.

Secondly, there are times when Being Human's comedy misfires; either because it's nowhere near as funny as it thinks it is, or gets played so broadly by the actors that it loses the sense of realism I like about the show. Sinead Keenan's particularly guilty of overacting the humorous moments (the elevator scene, the telephone threat to nurse Wendy) and Tovey is a repeat offender when it comes to hitting comedy with a wrecking ball when a tack hammer would suffice. Subtlety would be appreciated on a show with Being Human's modest backdrop and everyday sensibility, but the laughs can be rather overblown and silly.

However, those two issues aside, "The Longest Day" was otherwise a very strong episode once it found its rhythm. It may even have been a extraordinary episode, had it not suffered from the aforementioned irritations, and filled its hour better -- as I remain convinced Being Human would be improved immeasurably if the BBC slashed its runtime by 15-minutes. They may even be able to afford two more episodes with the accumulated saving, right?

What worked about "The Longest Day" was seeing Herrick given far more compelling treatment by writer Sarah Phelps (Spooks), with Jason Watkins doing a fine job with the new demands of this suddenly downtrodden character. Herrick was sympathetic and even likeable in his deranged state (kept in the attic to play with a train set like a child), but he managed to keep the uncertainties of his condition prominent in your mind. A lurking creepiness was never far away, so when he finally started picking on Annie behind everyone's back, it was a suitably spine-chilling moment ("'re a bit peripheral, like a regimental mascot.") I don't understand why Herrick decided to drop his façade in that moment, as his plan was working so well. Or was it unintentional and just a sign the real Herrick's still around, trying to reassert himself? Either way, I can't deny Watkins was fantastic throughout this hour. I like what he brought to the table, even if I'm still unconvinced when he's operating as the fully-fanged Herrick.

Toby Whithouse has claimed in interviews that series 3's threat comes form within, and "The Longest Day" delivered our first real taste of what he meant. The gang's close-knit harmony was thrown into chaos by Herrick -- to such an extent that their friendships look close to irrevocable damage! Mitchell admitted to Annie that he doesn't really love her, he just loved being valued as her saviour; George came round to trusting Herrick and didn't want to start fatherhood with another murder on his conscience, later giving Mitchell an ultimatum (if he kills Herrick, their friendship is over); and Nina developed a curious maternal bond with Herrick.

The latter became especially strong when Herrick shared with Nina his discovery of the scrapbook Mitchell's been keeping under the attic floorboards, which catalogue his many misdemeanors. While the newspaper cuttings were actually compiled by Mitchell's obsessed fan, they upset Nina to such an extent she turned white and vomited in the hallway. Did nobody tell Nina about Mitchell's ugly past? It appears not. Or perhaps it's one thing to know about someone's unspecified transgressions, but quite another to see it laid out for you in tangible print. And Mitchell obviously decided to keep the scrapbook; maybe using its existence as a figurative rod to beat his own back with in penance, or perhaps he gets a sick pleasure from reliving his past through this volume of "trophies"?

"The Longest Day" really ratcheted up the drama and tension in interesting, unexpected ways. The return of Herrick-obsessed simpleton vampire Cara (Rebecca Cooper) was also appreciated, before she sadly decided to commit hari kari (hari cara?), Mitchell now believes Nina's the "werewolf-shaped bullet" that Lia prophesied will end his life soon, and it's clear that Mitchell wants to know how Herrick managed to resurrect himself if he's unable to avoid his fate. All juicy, exciting stuff for the remaining few episodes to tackle.

Overall, this was a great episode from a third series that wobbled for a few weeks after its premiere, but is now starting to deliver compelling drama and unpredictable storylines. There were some letdowns, a few moments where the performances became too OTT for my taste, and some strained comic asides (sandwich in a laptop?), but when "The Longest Day" was focusing on Herrick and everyone's reaction to their guest in the attic, this was a fine example of Being Human, and a terrific budget-saving exercise.

What did you make of this fifth episode?

written by Sarah Phelps / directed by Philip John / 20 February 2011 / BBC3/HD