S P O I L E R S
BBCHD - 20 February 2011 - 9.00pm
"At a wild guess I'd say they want to know how my Uncle Billy from Bristol came to be in a Barry psych ward."
"You need to come to Barry. You need to talk to a man called John Mitchell."
As 'Johnny Remember Me' wafts through the psychiatric care unit at the beginning of this week's episode and George claps eyes on the resurrected form of Herrick, you get the feeling that no matter where they run, our housemates will never outrun their past lives.
And this is the game-changer that Series 3 has been building up to, particularly for Mitchell who has been dragging around an immense burden of guilt about the Box Tunnel Twenty. At the centre of it all is a performance of such subtlety and craft from Jason Watkins, as the amnesiac Herrick, that any worries about that rather strange resurrection added to the end of the Series 2 finale rapidly dissipate. Watkins's use of his own physicality, as the troubled so-called 'Uncle Billy' taken in by Nina and George, is allied to facial mannerisms to bolster the character's role in this episode's moral and narrative dilemmas.
Is Herrick really unaware of who he is or is this a complex, psychological game that he's playing? And if he is now the helpless 'Uncle Billy' does Mitchell have the right to execute him? The various responses from the housemates illustrate the difference of opinions that this situation creates.
"I'll tell you who this man is...this is my Uncle Billy"The entire episode takes place in Honolulu Heights save for a number of short scenes in the care unit and it is this sense of all the characters trapped inside a maze of gaudily decorated corridors and rooms, all the interiors seemingly drowned in sepia gloom and shadow, that escalates the feverish tensions between the characters to breaking point. Still, on the positive side we do discover that the werewolf transformation has not harmed Nina's baby ("still there") but the journey that takes her and Annie from their cooing over a scan image to that phone message on the Box Tunnel Twenty hotline is a slow spiral into hell.
When Annie promises a big tea and a game of Jenga to celebrate the baby's survival it seems to be more than a coincidence and suggests this episode is clearly Being Human's version of a tower of wooden blocks becoming so unstable that it collapses when the reintroduction of Herrick upsets the foundations. After Nina walks into the care unit and then wheels Herrick out, she really does have "no idea" of the consequences. In that moment all she is concerned about is that Herrick doesn't get in front of the authorities and bring down the whole carefully managed edifice of their social and cultural assimilation around them.
"stake him"Once again Sinead Keenan scores highly with her comedic talents as she bluffs her way out of trouble when Bazzer (Boyd Clack sporting a very camp pair of glasses and a fine line in indignation) from the care unit interrupts the great escape. "I'll tell you who this man is...this is my Uncle Billy" she proudly explains while cuddling Herrick and batting her eyelashes at Bazzer. It's a great comedy moment before the rest of the episode hurtles into nightmarish farce and dark, psychological mind games.
And Mitchell seems no closer to finding redemption as we see him compounding his guilt by adding fresh news clippings to Graham's scrapbook and reliving his nightmare, complete with copious flashbacks to the massacre on the train and Lia's warning about the "wolf-shaped bullet" that will kill him. His immediate reaction upon seeing Herrick is to "stake him" and it's this that then sends the residents of Honolulu Heights plunging into the depths as the bonds of friendship shatter as easily as that kitchen chair that Mitchell breaks up to provide a rudimentary weapon.
To the others, especially Nina and Annie, it demonstrates what Mitchell is capable of but then that's Herrick's cleverness, isn't it? Vulnerability will always swing the odds in your favour and create the seed of doubt in those who think they know you better. It's one that throws light on George and Nina's moral duty as parents and where George worries himself sick that the world he's about to bring a child into is such a violent and amoral place.
Mitchell's struggle to stake Herrick is quite disturbing for a number of reasons. Not only does it show Mitchell in such a state of hysteria that his friends hardly recognise him but it also develops the subtext of the domestic abuse of vulnerable people that is highlighted by the appearance of Nicola Walker as social worker Wendy whose low self-esteem also speaks of other forms of workplace abuse from her boss Barbara.
Walker is thoroughly captivating as the woman from social services (as confirmed by Annie "she looks knackered and she has terrible hair") struggling with her own grip on reality (delayed by "bloody druids" and discovering her lunch squashed inside her laptop is just the start of her troubles) when she steps into a house where the inhabitants must be more convincingly normal than they have ever been. Somehow George using the mural of a tropical beach to demonstrate this normality just seems to make the problem worse.
From here on in the domestic fireworks begin as Nina expresses her revulsion at George for condoning Herrick's murder and Annie is cruelly rejected by Mitchell. The regular cast, Walker and Watkins cook up a storm as the audience is left wondering if Herrick is truly not the vampire he was or is indeed manipulating each of them and their weaknesses to his advantage.
"she looks knackered and she has terrible hair"He taps into Nina's caring nature, George's concern for his child and Mitchell's arrogance and even Annie initially believes he's "so human". Those quick cuts from Herrick lying calmly in the bath to closeups of potatoes boiling away on the stove are a nice visual shorthand for the simmering tensions he's creating. Philip John's prowling camera and Dutch angles transform Honolulu Heights into a labyrinth full of resentment and anxiety.
Is Herrick bluffing? That scene where he realises he casts no reflection in the bathroom mirror seems to suggest that he doesn't recall who or what he is and I'm erring towards the view that gradually, as the episode unfolds, he starts to put the pieces together and by the time he discovers Graham's scrapbook he has a pretty good idea, at least, of what he is and the nature of Mitchell's secret. If Herrick were bluffing I don't think he'd be freaking out at the lack of his own reflection unless he's particularly paranoid at being discovered.
Of course, the slippery slope that the housemates start down is initiated by Nina's request to Herrick that he lie to Wendy about his status as 'Uncle Billy'. From then on Herrick is watching, listening and waiting, accruing enough background on his new carers that will no doubt be used to his benefit.
Then of course there's the return of wonderfully loopy Cara and Mitchell obsessing about the secret of Herrick's return from the dead and selfishly coveting its use simply because he knows he's cursed. It's a side to Mitchell that is turning him into a very unsympathetic character with debatable motives. "I don't want to die, sweetheart, so you'll have to tell me" he demands of Cara after trapping her in the cellar. Love the scene where Cara boasts to Annie about her "demon lover" and how he turned her into a vampire as she was putting the rubbish out. Annie merely retorts "Mmm, a knee-trembler by the bins. That's enough to put stars in any girl's eyes."
However Annie slips up, revealing that Herrick is in the house and Cara escapes from the cellar and the episode turns into a darkly amusing farce as Cara attempts to get to see Herrick while Wendy sits on the loo answering her boss's call with "Barbara, can I call you back? It's just that I'm actually on the toilet...doing an actual wee."
Poor Cara. Herrick denies her, calling her an "obscene bitch" and "filth" and she stakes herself with a knitting needle. A sad end for such a devoted follower. The horrific aftermath is dispelled by more macabre humour. As Cara's remains lie smoking on the floor, Wendy appears and mistakenly believes they've all popped into the attic for a quick fag break. It's all twists and turns in various directions from here - Herrick convincing Wendy that he feels safe and cared for, Annie beginning to suspect that he's using his amnesia to his own advantage and Nina threatening to shop Wendy to her bully of a boss after no trace of Herrick appears in the records, his non-existence threatening to expose this farce for what it is.
Again, Sinead Keenan's handling of the comedy material is superb and her outburst at Wendy is hilarious, claiming she's been negligent. "You arrive late, bombed out on bloody Red Bull, talking a load of inconsequential guff about druids and kitchen units and now you accuse me of...what? Fraudulently inventing a vulnerable relative... " Inevitably Wendy breaks down and Nina uses this as a way to get her to cover up the anomalies in the medical database.
... a mercilessly dark and funny episodeBut worse is to come. After a brutally honest confrontation with Mitchell where she suggests that there is a poison inside him, Nina is shown the scrapbook discovered under the floorboards by Herrick. Her conscience can no longer deal with Mitchell's slaughter of the Box Tunnel Twenty and as well as being physically sickened by Mitchell's deeds, she also leaves a message on the police hotline.
Director Philip John decides to play the call over the confrontation between Herrick and Mitchell where it is clear that all Mitchell now wants is the ability to survive the train of events, that literally appears as the symbol of the train set that Herrick plays with, and which has now been set in motion. The use of Death in Vegas's music is also appropriately in keeping with the doom laden conclusion.
It's a devastating sequence that confirms Mitchell's earlier opinion of Nina as potentially the one person who will fulfill the prophecy and kill him. Herrick has also been pricking the conscience of George, now full of doubts about his ability as a father. Craftily Herrick begins to offer a salve to his worries and becomes the proxy father figure that George feels empathy for. It's clearly 'divide and conquer' in Honolulu Heights this week and Herrick's strategy is stealthily accomplished in a mercilessly dark and funny episode. Certainly the best episode this series so far.
But oh, Nina...what have you done?