BEING HUMAN - Series 3, Episode 6: Daddy Ghoul / Review


BBCHD - 27th February 2011 - 9.00pm

"Oh, shit frightened me!" "Well, I'm a ghost. It's my prerogative."

"It's difficult enough to find the right words at a time like this. Why not rely on those of the literary greats like Auden... and Cheryl Cole."

"A werewolf ripped you to pieces. And yet you survived. I need you to tell me how."

"Eurgh. I don't know what's worse. That fact that you're a ghost or that you just used the word 'lover'"

"So, your dad's a ghost. And a pikey."

Writer Lisa McGee returns to the series after last year's episode in which Annie managed to communicate with her mother while working with a stage medium, helping other ghosts with their final messages to loved ones. She continues with the themes of the afterlife and how the bereaved cope with life in Daddy Ghoul. Here, the focus is on George and his estranged relationship with his mum and dad and how the news of his father's death ultimately brings the family back together. Bubbling away underneath the gentle comedy-drama of this plot is the aftermath of Nina's anonymous call to the Box Tunnel Twenty hotline and how this brings policewoman Nancy to the doorstep of Honolulu Heights looking for one John Mitchell.

There is thrillingly decadent flashback to Paris in 1933 as a reminder that Herrick possesses a secret that most vampires, including Mitchell, would give their... well, eye teeth for. The "eternal bond" formed with a protégé, according to Herrick. confers upon that heir the status of "dark angel" and "protector" and the power to revive a vampire from a fate worse than death. This underlines Mitchell's demand of Herrick in the present day but is this flashback merely recall in order to bait Herrick's particularly nasty honey trap? Is he using Mitchell's arrogance to seek some sort of revenge for the events at the climax of the first series?
"you know... you know it's an instinct"
Compare the suave and sophisticated Herrick with the creature in the attic and the visual contrast is striking. He has no memory of those days in the Paris salon, lining up the glasses of blood freshly drained from the latest victim, and is instead a wretched creature who does not seem to understand the hunger that now screams through his veins. 

He is reduced to drinking from the veins of his rather manic protégé (a visually striking scene with the morning sun throwing Mitchell into silhouette and one beautifully scored by Richard Wells) or scavenging the blood soaked swabs used to mop a wound. And yet, he's beginning to comprehend his own nature by the time policewoman Nancy comes visiting and, like Norman Bates in his motel, spies on her through peepholes and windows. As Mitchell declares, "you know... you know it's an instinct."

In a strange way all George and Nina's initial talk of becoming parents, of teaching their little one to ride a bike, to set their curfew... oh, and understand the ways of the werewolf, parallel the episode's examination of parental relationships, those between husband and wife as much as those that exist between parent and child.

For Nina it seems to be all about environment ("somewhere without a dementia-ridden vampire lurking in the attic perhaps") and, in a moment of uneasy reflection on her phonecall shopping Mitchell to the police, her ensuring the world is safe "at any price" to bring a child into. George eventually embarks on an odyssey that rebuilds the bonds between him and an estranged father, via renting out Titanic, making cup cakes, paying of the paper bill and sampling the pleasures of living in a caravan.

My main issue, probably formed by this episode, is with Annie. When did Annie become so stupid? Right from the start, she's simply and deliberately been made ignorant of all the signs that indicate Mitchell is desperately hiding a deep, dark secret. Isn't she suppose to be in love with this man? Or are the writers suggesting that romance has blinded our lovely ghost friend to the obvious and all she can do is lie back and quote Working Girl (1988) to her vampire lover with "Can I get you anything. Coffee, tea or me?"

Still, even here, she can see something is troubling him and is disappointed in love as a somewhat rattled Mitchell asks for a coffee while she claps her eyes on the various papers he had been scouring for news on the Box Tunnel Twenty. In a classic moment of misdirection, we're teased into thinking the game's up and Mitchell will have some explaining to do only to find that when she asks, "Oh, my God, has he seen it yet?" she is referring to the death notice regarding George's father.

The hilarious recitation of Auden's Funeral Blues aside (complete with painful punch to George's shoulder for good measure), Annie come across as a bit dim in this week's instalment but then, as Mitchell says, she tries to "make things... make people better". Perhaps that explains why she gets entangled in the police investigation of the Box Tunnel Twenty, oblivious to the fact that by leaving post-it notes for Nancy she will inadvertently mark Mitchell as public enemy number one by the end of the episode. Oh, Annie! Trying to make things better has only made them ten times worse.

"Boring." A cruel but fair assessment by George of his own father. Yet, as we discover, the least glamourous members of our family, those most ordinary of people, can be full of surprises. As George admits, "I don't think I ever realised just how wonderful that was" when he compares his own average sounding father with those of his peers at school. McGhee is fond of scripting comic misdirection and the rediscovery of George's love for his father is predicated on the notion that he is dead and George believes that the father he finds watching his own funeral is actually a ghost. A dearly departed waiting to depart.

Enter James Fleet as George Sands Snr. and who then proceeds to steal the entire episode with a beautifully understated performance. Fleet just makes it look effortless and imbues Snr. with immense charm, masses of pathos and the strength to triumph over his own inadequacies. It's just lovely to bask in the work of this very fine actor. It's utterly heartbreaking when father and son meet each other at the funeral and George tearfully admits, "I've missed you. dad."

But the cleverness of this performance also lies in the fact that McGhee has George's father accept his son's contrition, the idea that he's come back as a ghost and that he admits he knows why George left the family three years ago when in fact none of it is really true. Like the unfortunate fire that leads to George Snr. deciding to play dead to avoid dealing with his failing marriage, he also uses George's attribution of ghostly return as a convenient way to deal with his subterfuge. Fleet hoodwinks us so skillfully and gets round what eventually become minor contrivancies of the script to underline the emotional fall out within the Sands family.
"... Celine Dion wailing like a banshee? Seriously, what's not to like?"
It's a means to an end and Fleet makes the journey a very appealing one. We may think that his father is being sympathetic to George's lycanthropy but by the end he's simply accepted that George is mentally ill (his lunatic status ironically and humourously foreshadowed when George confesses to his father that for the rest of his life he'll be "howling at the moon"). After all, he must be mad if he thinks his own father is a ghost and he has a ghost friend called Annie. When Snr. pleads with his son to go and see his mother, George refuses and believes that she will never accept his 'madness'. His father offers that he coped and, inevitably, she will too and George sums up McGhee's entire theme in his response, "Dad, death gives you a great sense of perspective."

Still, there's a lovely symmetry visually and performance wise between Fleet and Russell Tovey that certainly offers much credibility to that old saying 'like father like son'. Love the moment when Snr. speculates on what kind of door it is that allows you to pass over - "is it wooden, glazed, PVC or panelled?" and the list of 'unfinished business' that includes a screening of Titanic. "1500 people drowning and Celine Dion wailing like a banshee? Seriously, what's not to like?" says George as he and his father lie back and watch with their respective arms behind their respective heads.

And then there's Marcus Logue. The new stepfather that George is about to be lumbered with. The other side of the coin in the depiction of fathers, the domineering bully in counterpoint to the unassuming husband who played dead out of a sense of inadequacy. Suddenly, George's reunion with his father and mother is playing out like some supernatural version of The Jeremy Kyle Show. Add in his mother's salsa dancing classes with this ex-PE teacher that leave George wondering "how does it go from kick-ball-change to suddenly walking out on a 25 year marriage and shacking up with a failed athlete?"

Back at Honolulu Heights, Mitchell falls under the beady eye of Nancy as she comes calling in response to Nina's message. After Nancy has enjoyed a particularly good cup of tea ("seriously, I think I've shagged people for less") she is satisfied that there seems to be no connection between Mitchell and the Box Tunnel Twenty. However, Annie is so concerned that Mitchell has been named in connection with the murders that she takes it upon herself to try and find the real culprit, little knowing that the man with "the mask on" is the suspect hiding behind the honour of the vampire code. Things turn distinctly darker when Annie spots Lia's photo in the investigation room and again, after questioning Mitchell about Lia, blithely accepts his ignorance of Lia's role in purgatory. Oh, Annie!

"The church of Earth...Wind & Fire"
One of the creepiest moments in the episode, as Herrick spies on Nina attending to Nancy's grazed leg (the peril of high heels) through his hastily made peep hole, is later turned into one of the most terrifying scenes through a perfect distillation of performance and direction. There's also a lovely visual statement of Herrick's growing strength as he wanders from his room into the sunlight, briefly flinching and then shuffling forward with renewed purpose to sate his hunger. 

This reaches spine-tingling intensity when Nancy returns later to question Mitchell further about the whereabouts of Daisy after Annie has alerted her with the post-it note in the office. When she nips to the bathroom, Herrick appears at the bathroom window, the glazing in the door fragmenting his blank, staring face as he spies on Nancy and feels the bloodlust mounting.

Director Philip John's handling of this scene is positively Hitchcockian ("you smell nice" observes Herrick) and he's helped immeasurably by the two performances from Jason Watkins and Erin Richards and more of Richard Wells's very atmospheric scoring. As Herrick leans in to whisper his 'secret' to Nancy, a rushing, pulsing sound effect can also be heard and clearly represents Herrick's heightened perception of the blood coursing through Nancy's veins.

Back at Sandscastle (a lovely visual touch), George and Nina have persuaded George's father to speak to his wife Ruth and stand up to Marcus. Ruth is clearly upset about young George's three year absence but like his father George Jnr. avoids telling her the truth, his subterfuge of Jeremy Kyle proportions suggesting that he and Nina were inculcated into a cult - "the Church of Earth... Wind and Fire". Without knowing the real reason for his disappearance, she calls it what it is - "cruel". However, when Marcus is sent packing after a heroic right hook from George Snr. and husband and wife are reunited, George does admit to them that he is a werewolf. Ruth and George Snr. assume it is just another manifestation of his illness. It seems that even though his father can come back from the dead, George can't even tell his parents the truth no matter how hard he tries.

The episode ends in ominous style as Nancy now clearly suspects Mitchell of his involvement in the Box Tunnel Twenty murders after he prevents her from leaving the B&B with Graham's scrapbook. We see Mitchell tearing the scrapbook up and burning it in a drum outside the house, his determination to expunge his guilt a visual echo of Annie' s own action of burning Owen's photograph back in the first series. But is this surrendering of his guilt, and the evidence of it, to the flames now all a bit too late?

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