BEING HUMAN - Series 3, Episode 8: The Wolf-Shaped Bullet / Review


BBCHD - 13 March 2011 - 10.00pm

"Rule 1 of Vampire Club. Do not get arrested."

"It's clearly dress-down-Friday."

"C'mon! Me and the boys wanted a fight. There's popcorn! And at half-time I was going to have an Nespresso!"

"Grief and revenge are not things to get drunk on. You wanted wild and biblical and rahhhhhhh! Instead, you just woke up somewhere unfamiliar with your underwear on back to front."

Let's face it, there was an elephant in the room during the latter half of this series's production. And its name was Peter Jackson. When it was announced back in October that Aidan Turner would be joining Martin Freeman in New Zealand for what would likely be an eighteen month to two year production on The Hobbit, I think many of us knew that Toby Whithouse and his team were left with two options. Either kill off John Mitchell or try and accommodate cameo appearances for a prospective fourth series. They decided on the former.

Not much left for such a character to do beyond martyrdom.
If you've been reading Toby's interviews in SFX or his BBC blog then what happens in the finale was very much determined by Turner's casting in Jackson's films. The big problem here is not that I think the killing off of John Mitchell didn't make sense - it did - but that Toby admitted they really didn't quite know which way they were going on The Wolf-Shaped Bullet until shooting had actually started. And I'm afraid that does show. As the end titles rolled on the series finale I could not help but be rather disappointed.

The death of John Mitchell is an inevitable progression of the storyline created out of the massacre of the Box Tunnel 20 and of the way the character's addictive tendencies singled him out as something of a tragic lost soul unable to reconcile the vampire and the human sides of his nature. The trajectory he follows through this series only seems to leave room for a personal sacrifice since he now thoroughly understands how tainted his life is to himself and to others. Not much left for such a character to do beyond martyrdom. I'm fine with that. It's a good, noble ending to Mitchell's role in Being Human.

However, to get us to that final, heart-rending scene of George killing his friend in order to prevent him from further manipulation and being used as a weapon by the Old Ones, pretty much everything that had been carefully built up in the previous seven episodes was too quickly resolved or tossed aside. And there is an awful lot of chat in this episode. Rather too many scenes of characters standing around and rambling exposition that drained away the impact of the drama and some alarming inconsistencies in the abilities of the characters also became evident. More of that later.
"The things we do for love, eh?"
At the very top of the episode Annie is determined that she doesn't want Mitchell to get out of jail. The scales having fallen from her eyes, she insists that Mitchell must suffer as the victims and families of the Box Tunnel 20 have suffered. He has to pay the consequences and she isn't bothered if the world "discovers vampires, werewolves and ghosts." It's also evident that Mitchell himself desires to "be free of all this" and the episode more or less shows us the lengths he will go to acquire that freedom whether it be siding with Herrick or asking George to put him out of his misery.

I'm still not really convinced by the relationship between Mitchell and Annie and that's something that has been bothering me since the beginning of the series. Whether it's just the mere idea of them being together or the mechanics of scripts and acting, for me it just doesn't feel very real. "The things we do for love, eh?" concludes Anni, in an attempt to understand Mitchell's actions, and I suppose that rhetorical question may go some way to explaining many of the moral twists and inconsistencies in this finale.

As soon as Herrick's face appears on screen, you know that inevitably he's the one who will spring Mitchell from the police's clutches even if in the end he leaves a trail in the form of a building full of chewed up corpses. "Oh, well I feel drenched with love," Herrick retorts indignantly after Mitchell admits that he only ever wanted to acquire Herrick's secret of surviving a werewolf attack rather than see him resurrected. Except that Mitchell isn't being handed that secret just yet.

You would presume that Herrick's attack on Nina and McNair would have terribly serious consequences in this episode and granted, for a while, it looks bad for Nina and certainly George is cruelly manipulated by Herrick, out of the presumption she's dead, into knocking seven bells out of Mitchell. However, lest we not forget, it was Nina that decided to squirrel Herrick away in the attic rather than take Mitchell's route of killing him in the first place. There is a bit of an anticlimax to Nina's predicament when it seems, after all this trauma, she survives, along with her baby, to reappear some months (presumably) later in Honolulu Heights.
"This was for you... my Tom"
The one I feel sorry for is Tom who is badly shortchanged by this episode when he decides to avenge the death of his 'father' after a heartrending flashback to McNair writing him a letter begging him not to. Robson Green's voice over ("This was for you... my Tom") and Tom's burial of McNair's corpse provide a moment of genuine tragedy in the episode and offers a true moment of clarity about how the supernaturals must embrace the mundane to once again feel human ("it's so long since I did something so ordinary" McNair confesses). His plea to Tom to cease the violent, chaotic life they lead and make "this the end of that story" parallels the conclusion of Mitchell's own story.

So, Tom sharpens his stake, breaks into the cage facility where Herrick has set Mitchell and George against each other, gets as far as holding the stake over Herrick's heart and then is frustrated by Mitchell threatening to kill George. He then simply vanishes from the story and we never get anything approaching a satisfying conclusion to his desire for revenge. Considering this series is supposed to be about consequences, it seems a terrible waste of a sub-plot and yet another anticlimax.

Annie, upon meeting the ghost of the dead policeman and being passed a message by his own corpse in one of the episode's gruesomely effective scenes, decides to return to purgatory to get the truth from Lia. What troubles me here is that popping back and forth to purgatory seems as easy as catching the No. 11 bus and the very real fear that Annie always articulated about being dragged back to Hell has more or less been ignored as she casually turns up and bumps into Lia. It's a convenience to the plot that reflects her handily forgotten horror at the men with ropes and sticks (whatever happened to them, eh?) and her rarely used superpowers that are quietly gathering dust somewhere. Still, the scene where she leads the scared young man through death's door is another eerily moving sequence.
"revenge kinda sucks"
When we do get to purgatory and Lia's very pink bedroom, we then discover that in fact the whole prophecy of Mitchell's death by "wolf-shaped bullet" has in fact been a lie concocted by one of his teenage victims in a bit of a hissy fit. Yet another anti-climactic revelation suggesting that all the time and effort the audience have invested in this sub-plot has equally been of little point. Perhaps we've all been watching too much TV if we've really fallen for this whole prophecy malarkey. Actually that isn't entirely fair because, as we do see, Lia's manipulations and desire for revenge paid off, despite Annie convincing her that "revenge kinda sucks" by playing on the guilt from her victimisation of George and Nina.

She's turned Mitchell into a pretty miserable, guilt-ridden character, made Annie cruelly (and unconvincingly) fall in love with him and George and Nina have become "the last victims of the Box Tunnel 20 massacre". Mission accomplished, I'd say. Annie manages to turn it around (and Lenora Crichlow gets one of her best scenes in the series) and she even recommends that Lia go and find Gilbert, the ghost Annie befriended back in the first series, as she heads back to Nina's bedside.

Herrick, like us, wants to know exactly who Mitchell is - the mass murderer capable of the Box Tunnel 20 or the humanised pillar of the community - and of course his schizophrenia is what this series and our characters have wrestled with, particularly Mitchell himself. He could be both but that's too conflicting for Mitchell and his friends. Mitchell taunts Herrick about his inability to rid himself of the vampire poster boy and you do wonder why Herrick just simply hasn't done so thus far. Mitchell clearly welcomes it now but all Herrick wants is for his acolyte to be "ugly... corrupt" and he despises Mitchell's desire to be human and decent.
... the death of Herrick is poetically staged
When Mitchell expresses his dissatisfaction with humanity and vampire kind and agrees to be Herrick's "villain" Herrick foreshadows his own death with "there'll come a day when one of us finally kills the other" even though Mitchell denies it will happen any day soon. Herrick throws George into the cage and goads the two friends into fighting simply to prove his theory that Mitchell is wearing the black hat again. A wonderful scene between Aidan Turner and Jason Watkins as the two characters use each other to reflect back their oh-so-similar natures and with Watkins getting some of the episode's best dialogue. And Russell Tovey can expertly channel George's anger when Herrick casually informs him about the attack on Nina. When Tom's own attempt at revenge is thwarted by Mitchell in a rouse to distract Herrick, George takes the opportunity to disavow his friendship with Mitchell, believing Nina to be dead. Again, Tovey is superb in one of the few moments where the melodrama is not overplayed.

Herrick doesn't really get to explain the secret despite all of Mitchell's attempts to squeeze it out of him. There's a vague notion Herrick simply got lucky that George tore his head off instead of staking him, with the latter only ever really the only way to insure the death of a vampire. And the death of Herrick is poetically staged before the sunrise on a secluded beach, as Mitchell offers him one final memory in return for the more memories than he deserved that Herrick provided. It's sad that Herrick is finally killed off and it again feels like we're being cheated after the development of the brilliant sub-plot that returned him to the series. There is a distinct feeling that Whithouse is clearing the decks by this point in the episode as Herrick goes up in smoke. Jason Watkins will be greatly missed and Herrick will be a very hard act to follow.
... a little overwrought
And then we get the rather odd introduction of the Old Ones, the first indication of the 'big bad' being set up for the fourth series, and new character Edgar Wyndham (Lee Ingleby) taking charge of the Box Tunnel 20 investigation to the extent of setting up a cover story and arresting someone for the crimes. After this, there is a fade out and presumably when we fade in and back to Honolulu Heights some time has passed. Nina has seemingly recovered and Mitchell is missing.

It's unfortunate but the final fifteen minutes, where Mitchell pleads with George, Annie and Nina to kill him, to end his misery and the taint he has been on their lives, is uneven as it not only tries to provide a fittingly emotional goodbye to the character but also attempts to bring in the Old Ones as a palpable threat to the survivors. It all becomes a little overwrought and you could be forgiven for seeing Whithouse's own dilemma writ large in that debate in the kitchen over whether Mitchell should be exiled or murdered.

Sadly, some of the performances (I'm looking at you Lenora and Sinead) wander off into unconvincing territory and there is a tad too much existential chest beating between George and Mitchell, shots of tear stained, gurning faces and apologia from Mitchell that rather outstay their welcome. And then Edgar Wyndham turns up (and Ingleby attempts to chew the scenery with marginal success and proves he's no Jason Watkins just yet) and offers a less emotionally complex way out ("this martyrdom isn't an option") for Mitchell when he suggests that the Old Ones will make Mitchell their puppet. If he rejects this proposal then he'll "crucify George and Nina... in Regent's Park". Talk about an offer you can't refuse. George, horrified at what this will mean for Mitchell, finally takes action and stakes Mitchell to save him from being used in that way ("I'm doing this because I love you" is a very human line to end it all with) and it provides the episode and the character with a much needed and satisfactory coda, concluding with George's declaration of war to Wyndham.

For the John Mitchell character it is the end and thankfully so. There really was nowhere else to take the character after the Box Tunnel 20 sub-plot. Aidan Turner has been an asset to the series and will be greatly missed I'm sure. As a finale to what has been a very good series this was patchy and, over reaching in its ambition, it became the sum of its parts rather than the glorious whole that Though the Heavens Fall provided last week. A promise unfulfilled it seems and perhaps indicative of the indecisiveness about Mitchell that lasted into production of the episode itself. Series Four is now on its way and personally I need some convincing that it will keep its promises.

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