BEING HUMAN - Series 3, Episode 1: Lia / Review

BBCHD - 23 January 2011 - 9.00pm

"A slice of heaven in Barry. I bet heaven doesn't have chemical toilets."


No, this isn't Location, Location, Location with Kirstie Allsop and Phil Spencer... in case you wandered in after the 'previously' montage. Mitchell, George and Nina are in Barry and are being shown round a property by someone who sounds and looks like a slim-line version of Gavin and Stacey's Nessa. For a minute or two, as Mitchell, George and Nina freak out over the reappearance of Annie on their television set, I thought she might have been inclined to say, "What's occurrin'?"

The three friends decide that the rather retro looking, former B & B will do for them. It's going to have to work hard to become as much of an iconic place as the pink house in Bristol. That always felt like it was an additional character in the set-up so I'll reserve judgement on the faux-Hawaiian theme that seems to describe the previous owners' desperate lack of taste here. In that brief exchange between tenant and landlord there is however a flicker of respect for one of many unspoken agendas. Annie.

...a major emotional hurdle that Mitchell will need to face
Last seen hurtling through death's door and then waiting in the afterlife's bureaucratic nightmare, Annie is not far from their minds. Mitchell is insistent that she will be joining them soon. The landlady jokes that because she's never been able to let the place, she thinks it's haunted. The irony is that it may well be true. Eventually. And with the 'extensive basement gym' at least George and Nina might have a bolt-hole when the moon is full. We also learn that the move to Barry has secured them jobs at the local hospital and this, with a number of other references, (George marking his territory with a chicken on a string for example) harks back to the premise of the very first series.

It's at this point that Nina reminds George that there have been significant changes to "you, me and Count Dupree up there" and that Mitchell is certainly not who he used to be. Although George believes it is the loss of Annie that has upset Mitchell, we all know that guilt is eating away at him over the horrific attack on the train that he carried out with Daisy in the seventh episode of the last series. There have already been reminders of the attack on the news as a prelude to Annie's reappearance on the television. It is clearly a major emotional hurdle that Mitchell will need to face.

Thankfully, writer Toby Whithouse has cleared a big space in the episode to deal with this and he does a brilliant job. As usual he leavens the distress in the narrative with some wonderful humour. As Annie fades back into purgatory and Mitchell claws at the screen, the landlady observes, "I know, there's tit all on these days. Thank God for Terry Pratchett, is all I'm saying." Is that a sly dig at Pratchett's recent view of science fiction and fantasy on the box?

The episode then introduces us to McNair and his son Tom (excellent work from Robson Green and Michael Socha) - the new werewolves on the block - as they chat about going to a pensioners' screening of The Wolfman, the Benecio Del Toro starring vehicle that received something of a critical mauling last year.  It's a nice way of aligning the world of Being Human with both the real world and the Hollywood version of the supernatural. Even real werewolves can appreciate good special effects, it seems.

However, the local vampires, a mixture of The Lost Boys and the gang from Near Dark, are keen to recruit new blood for their supernaturals versus humans cage fights and their bonkers leader, Vincent (a wonderfully raw and genuinely unhinged performance from Paul Kaye) has his eye on McNair and son. Before you know it, they've kidnapped NcNair before Tom can come to his rescue.

...they also managed to have great sex
Sinead Keenan and Russell Tovey follow this up with some lovely comedy business as Nina decides it time to perk up her love life with some naughty underwear and a hair do. However, their attempts at kick-starting a hot night in bed are frustrated by pens (sticking into George), hair getting tangled in George's glasses and Mitchell bursting in looking for a radio. Keenan and Tovey really enhance the relationship between George and Nina with natural comic timing.

This is built on later in the episode when George is arrested after accidentally stumbling across a group 'dogging' in the woods (led by Torchwood's Kai Owen - I'm sure Gwen Cooper would have something to say about that if she ever caught Rhys in such a compromising position) and Nina has to bail him out just as they are both on the cusp of transformation. Again, very funny and a positive outcome when they realise during their shared night of lycanthropy they also managed to have great sex!

The connection between the horrific incident on the train and the rescue of Annie is foreshadowed by the sounds of trains as Mitchell attempts to contact Annie and even though we don't know what exactly that relationship is we do understand that in rescuing her Mitchell must face up to what he has done. We don't have long to wait and the core of the episode concentrates on his journey into purgatory to get Annie. Except it isn't just any old purgatory. It's his own personal and spiritual contrition that he's forced to make. Hitching along with the recently departed Sean and bidding George an emotional farewell as he steps through death's door, Mitchell encounters Lia.

It is in Lacey Turner's performance where this episode succeeds the most. The flirty guide who takes Mitchell into the heart of his own darkness, provocatively offers clues to the real reason she's by his side and hints at the darkness ahead. She takes him back to 1917, just after he has been turned by Herrick and has poisoned his friend in the trenches in order to feed on him; then to the attack on Sally in 1960 and finally to the scene of the crime on the train in the Box tunnel.

Her cryptic clue of H12 turns out to be the seat number on the train and all her talk of who are the victims and the victimisers in Mitchell's life makes sense as she forces him, reflecting a rather similar moment in An American Werewolf in London, to meet his dead and very bloody victims. The anonymity of H12 and all the victims of the attack are emblematic of Mitchell's swiftly changing nature. As Lia points out, they are "the end of the line" that started in killing the dead soldier where it was "kind for him and torture for you" but then changed with Sally where "there was drinks, there was sex."

Gradually, she peels back his hypocrisy and reminds him that he was once a victim just as she and the other passengers on the train were. It is a powerful scene where Mitchell acknowledges that he somehow lost his humanity and that the struggle to keep it while his animal nature takes control is often a desperate one. Her "twelve good men and true" find him guilty, through their grim but humourous acknowledgement as she introduces each of them to him, that he selfishly took away the promise of their lives. Lia wants him to take full responsibility for what he is and asks him if he can taste the things "that make a human being" in the blood he drinks from them. Then she'll free Annie.

But there is a price and Lia hints at where this series might take us when she reveals that Mitchell's death has already been accounted for and that he will be killed by a werewolf as "the final piece in someone else's story." And with that she sets off to release Annie and plants a further seed in the narrative, suggesting that there is an unrequited love between Annie and Mitchell. I hope we'll see more of Lia just so we can get another dazzling performance from Turner. All very intriguing developments that lead to a tearful and emotional reunion with George and Nina. The moment where George thinks Mitchell has come back empty handed is heartbreaking until it turns into joy when Annie pours him a cup of tea.
...I witnessed the very best of being human
We close with Vincent (where Kaye looks like Heath Ledger's version of The Joker) and McNair. Inevitably, McNair is forced into a cage fight, turns into a werewolf, kills his opponent and is eventually rescued by Tom who kills Vincent with a stake through the heart ("stake and chips, anyone?" he cries as he begins to disintegrate while scoffing a bag of chips). The stake has a carved wolf's head on its top and the implication is that McNair and son may indeed feature in the episode's prophecy for Mitchell. 

As Lia's death is covered on the news and the friends settle into their new home, Annie summarises much of the episode's sense of starting afresh:

"My name is Annie Clare Sawyer. Two years ago, I died. But in so many ways, that's when my life began. In the company of horrors, I learnt about friendship and loyalty, 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. In this little enclave of the lost...I witnessed the very best of being human."

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