BEING HUMAN - Episode Four

BBC3 - 15th February 2009 - 9.00pm

Mitchell's intriguing narration opens the episode:

'Some labels are forced on us. They mark us. Set us apart till we're just like ghosts drifting through other people's lives. But only if we let the labels hold.'
In a visually arresting scene we see him flip through the various incarnations he has outwardly worn over the 100 years of his existence as he defines himself and his nature. Tonight's episode really gave us something to think about. This series is seemingly unafraid to delve into those dark and damp areas of the human and inhuman psyche and it manages to do this by subverting traditional dramatic tropes, by using horror fantasy as a vehicle to not only discuss taboo subject matters but also to twist horror fantasy archetypes into new meanings. A vampire, a werewolf and a ghost go on a meta-textual exploration of difference and otherness in Bristol.
...being human can fling you into a state of identity crisis
Brian Dooley's script is a complex exploration of the interchangeability of human and monstrous nature. His tackling of various forms of abuse in the story shows how intelligent this series is. The theme of abuse is layered throughout the episode. Herrick sees Mitchell's treatment of Lauren as such, 'What's she gonna do, she can't exactly call Childline,' he yells, admonishing Mitchell for the way he has abandoned her. Herrick sees it as Mitchell's responsibility to take care of Lauren much as he did the same for him. He sees the idea of Mitchell and George trying to be human as a pretence, a 'raiding of the dressing up box'. In the end this episode is about Mitchell finding out that he cannot escape his nature and that being human can fling you into a state of identity crisis.

Whilst George happily prepares for his date with Nina, Annie is displaying some ferocious acts of poltergeist anger. Having discovered that her fiance Owen was her killer, she's having trouble adjusting. Her feelings are externalising into destructive acts within the home. As George discusses his date with Nina, and is accused of being bumptious, also note that he casually remarks, 'the werewolf's a romantic' when trying to describe his feelings and desire for Nina. Thus the ghost Annie is categorised as a symbol of female anxiety, a victim of domestic abuse and George is cast as the antithetically mixed villain/hero, an almost anti-Byronic, bumbling romantic with a ferocious inner nature. 'I had the wolf in me', he innocently remarks, 'So did Nina' retorts Mitchell and this immediately sets up the journey that George's character goes through.
...labels she's throwing around as part of her seemingly liberal attitude

Now, horror movies are all about transgression. The figure of the monster is quite clearly a symbol that is set up to challenge all the accepted rules in society. They are 'other', either through dint of their physical appearance, their moral values, or their biological and social make up. Or a combination of all of the above. The central plot thus becomes the vampire Mitchell befriending a neighbour's boy, Bernie, in order to blend in as human. The initiation of this friendship is on the back of bullying and abuse from other boys in the street. Bernie is a sensitive boy, an outsider who is himself labeled as weak by others of his own age. The codification of the friendship is also seen as gay, something which is later exaggerated by landlord Owen when he comes to turf the flatmates out after the situation gets out of hand. Mitchell empathises with Bernie's situation and describes himself as a child as the 'dorkiest of dorks'. It's interesting to note how Fleur categorises other children as 'shits' that pick on anyone who is different when ironically, she'll be doing the same to Mitchell later in the story. When her son codifies his own sensitivity as 'gay' she is enraged and warns him that she'll tell his two 'Uncles'. Fleur is rehearsing some rather tokenistic attitudes about homosexual identity, from gay couples described as 'uncles' to seeing her son as having a sensitive nature. These are just labels she's throwing around as part of her seemingly liberal attitude. My, how that'll change.
...vampires, and by extension Mitchell, clearly exhibit bisexual behavior
So a good looking bloke looks after a young lad only to inadvertently expose him to actions and images that in part represent his true monster nature. Only this isn't just working on the level of paedophile sexual abuse that the story flags up, the monsters that Mitchell and George are perceived to be - non-heteronormative paedos, queers or nonces - but also their real existence as monsters, as vampires and werewolves. Beyond that there is a further layer, the symbolic arena in which vampires and werewolves are decoded. As Marco Lanzagorta asserts in his 'Closet Full Of Monsters' paper for Pop Matters, 'the vampire's bite is traditionally portrayed as a bizarre form of oral pleasure and sexual intimacy, than as an animal’s gnaw. However, the sexual identity of vampires becomes problematic when we consider that they thrive on male and female victims alike'. If drinking blood is a symbol of sexual intercourse, then vampires, and by extension Mitchell, clearly exhibit bisexual behavior. However, what Being Human has done since the start of the series is to try and posit the vampire's bite not as a curse, the result of a sexual hunger and intimacy, but also as a giver of life, to save the dying. In Episode One George and Lauren challenged Mitchell to save the life of the slain Becca. In this episode he offers a choice to the young lad's mother Fleur - allow him to die naturally but with unfulfilled potential or allow Mitchell to bring him back as undead under the care of his mother.

...who are the monsters and who are the humans
George as a human is all the repressed impulses and desires of his werewolf alter ego. His werewolf nature, his secret, is what society inhibits. His violent sexuality as a werewolf is what monsters do to challenge the rules of the social establishment. Nina perceives his libido to be 'rough' and assumes this is the norm. But that isn't the norm for George. He'd like to woo her properly whilst repressing the ferocious side of his libido. Hilariously, Nina is relieved. There's a bitchy pop at the American teenage fad for chastity rings and Russell Tovey and Sinead Keenan are totally on the money with the way they lift these two characters off the page. Their relationship founders on the secret that George contains. Although his otherness is miscodified as 'gay' or 'paedophile' it is not these labels that pushes Nina away, it is the realisation that he will not reveal his werewolf status. It's ironic that the abuse both he and Mitchell suffer from immediately labels the humans they live among as savage, intolerant and evil. Within the monster frame, their 'sex offender' status is viewed, ironically, as driven by non-human, animal impulses over which they have little or no control. The language we use today to describe sex offenders retains the historical association of half-human monsters with deviant sexuality. Sexual offenders are referred to as predators in the law, as well as the media, suggesting that a sex offender is not a member of civilised society. Again, it is visually underlined by George's reaction to a screening of the 1922 Phantom Of The Opera as the Phantom is hunted down by pitch fork, torch bearing civilisation. Horror films are corny but they tell us a great deal about the society we live in and who are the monsters and who are the humans. George's comment about not being fit to live among decent people is superbly countered by Mitchell's 'It's a good job we don't, then.' Hell is, it seems, other people.
...they are equal in the struggle to be human

The slightly weaker part of the episode is the sub-plot about Annie's anxiety which suggests a critique of patriarchal, male-dominated domesticity and oppression. Her escape from the dominance and fear of Owen is a turning point in the episode, showing her achieving an independence that makes her visible and tangible. This does link into her earlier accusation of Mitchell's own inability to move on when both she and George discover that he kept the vampire porn DVD inside a case for Laurel And Hardy. A corrupting document of vampirism hidden within comic innocence underlined by the best gag in the episode, George's incredulous, 'What else have you got up there? Some German scat inside Chitty Chitty Bang Bang'. Hilarious too is the scene where Annie flips at the news that Owen is visiting, as various ornaments explode around him, George screeches, 'Ahhh no! That was a present!'. Annie, however, is the glue that keeps them together and she proves how important this is when she destroys all the associations with Owen in the bonfire.

Whilst George's relationship with Nina collapses because he fears exposure at the hands of the neighbours, the victim in all of this is poor Bernie. As the battle with their neighbours intensifies, Bernie runs into the path of an oncoming car and Mitchell seemingly cannot save him. This is the ultimate test for Mitchell and one where he becomes totally disillusioned about the desire to become human. Cleverly, the episode lulls us into thinking that Fleur has not accepted Mitchell's offer to bring Bernie back as a vampire until we get to the scene at the train station. Whilst he has revealed to her the 'real' monster inside of him and used his vampire nature to preserve her son, George has asked Nina to accept that he has a secret that she will never know of. She in turn shows him the scars of her own victim status and that in the end they are equal in the struggle to be human. Mitchell is also disillusioned to the point that he accepts Herrick's offer to join him. It seems he's prepared to let the labels hold.

Achingly funny, deeply disturbing and very moving, this is another thought provoking episode dealing with some very complex issues, not frightened to wrestle with many layers of meaning. The ensemble cast seizes onto this script and doesn't let go. Superb.

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11 Responses to “BEING HUMAN - Episode Four”
  1. Couldn't agree more, Frank. I've just watched this episode on the iPlayer through Virginmedia and I was just blown away. Staggering stuff; this is becoming, very easily, the best new show on the box in years. Dramatic, funny, intelligent, eerie, moving...I watch this show and I'm reminded how good TV can still be. Outstanding.

    PS: I liked it...

  2. God, this episode was so sad :-(

    But they've really got what it means to be human down to a T.

  3. Tracy says:

    Still brilliant, each episode is raising the bar, don't want it to be the last one next week.

  4. I think we've got two more left, Tracy. I don't know how they are going to improve on what they've achieved thus far but I'll give them credit for managing it so far. This has been an absolutely brilliant series and a salutary lesson to other producers on how to make a a seriously good, and funny, telefantasy series. Series 2 please BBC3!

  5. If they don't produce a second series they must be completely and utterly INSANE.

  6. Frank,

    the vampire bite thing. If we go back to Bram Stoker, the bite is sex - a penetrative kiss, scandalous and destructive. You'll note that Lucy goes willingly, but she's written as a bit of a tart, but Mina gets forced to her knees in order to be bit - and what Victorian Good Girl does that? After Bram, the vampire's bite gets re-evaluated. It's never less than sexual because as long as it remains so you - or rather, Anne Rice and others - can have pretty men penetrating other pretty men without the book being banned in 20 states. Anne Rice does explore the horror of an immortal and unchanging child in Interview, at least in part, but to say more at this point having not seen the episode would be silly.

    I agree, though, this is the best thing on TV at the moment. They could easily not do a series 2, depending on how series 1 ends, but I'm hoping that this has been the massive success it deserves to be.

  7. The male-to-male vampire bite was certainly sexualised by Anne Rice, sublimating homosexual/bi-sexual desire in the way that you state. Vampires are equal-opportunities predators, so perhaps the bi-sexual angle isn't quite right with Mitchell in Being Human, although he is set up as visually attractive object of desire to all sexes. Male vampires attacking men are littered throughout short stories, films and television pre-Anne Rice. LGBTQ themes in horror have been there since Le Fanu's Carmilla, in films as diverse as Dracula's Daughter, the male on male attacks in several Hammer films, Polanksi's Dance Of The Vampire's etc, Daughters Of Darkness etc. It was only until Rice wrote Interview With The Vampire that it was obviously and blatantly codified as 'gay'.

    Personally, I think the episode was exploring how horror films betray straight society’s fears of the outsider (whether gay, bisexual, straight, vampire, werewolf or ghost or a combination thereof), while appealing to queer audiences’ identification with ostracized monsters and also conflating that with the current hysteria that surrounds paedophiles and the traditionally misleading assumption that paedophile=gay.

    It's a phenomenally intelligent piece of television working on a multiple of levels all at once. A rare beast.

  8. I want to be a vampire.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I might have to start watchign this... if not only because that door says "peedos".


  10. Transgression - I like that. Frank - any suggestions for further reading?

    Also, having now seen the episode, something I really enjoyed was something the series does really well - it introduces a little core of iron to moments that should be happy. To whit, at the end on the station platform, Fleur is delighted at having her son back and is ready to face up to the responsibility of keeping him "good" right up to the point where Bernie tells her he's hungry and she realises how selfish she's been and where it might take her.

    If you wanted to, you could suspect that Mitchell had planned this. You could suspect that perhaps he wanted Fleur to live with a monster and become one herself - and she's going to have to be if she doesn't want her little boy out killing strangers - to see how much the accusation stings.

    Personally, I don't think so. It's utterly out of character for Mitchell, but the possibility remains that maybe, just maybe...

  11. Dave,

    Try these for starters...

    Gender in the modern horror film
    Carol J Clover

    Homosexuality And The Horror Film
    Harry M Benshoff

    Noel Carroll

    An Anatomy Of Modern Horror
    James B Twitchell

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