“I Want You Back (From the Dead)”
Syfy, Monday, 10 PM E/P
Written by Nancy Won
Directed by Paolo Barzman
Reviewer’s Note: This review covers the American version of Being Human, considered by itself and without reference to the original British series on which it is based.
“Life shouldn’t have to be this miserable.” – Rebecca
This series is becoming bleaker every day. How long do the writers think audiences are going to tune in to this gloomy and depressing take on life (or death)? The most successful series dealing with the supernatural – usually vampires – in recent years leavens their grim horror with humor: True Blood andBuffy the Vampire Slayer. Both shows dealt with the problems of fitting in with normal human life while living as a supernatural being, but they made sure to balance out the tragedy and horror with moments of humor. In the opening episodes of Being Human, we saw plenty of humor, from Sally’s bubbly optimism to Josh’s geeky self-deprecation. But now we’ve had a couple episodes in a row of nothing but pain, death and depression. I’m going to start needing Zoloft to watch this show.
“We can live forever, but what are we living for?” — Rebecca
We start with a tragedy. Bernie (Jason Spevack, Dino Dan), the young boy Aidan befriended last week, is once again the target of bullies, but now Aidan is forbidden to come to his aid. Fleeing his tormentors, Bernie runs into the street and is hit by a car. Aidan fights to save his life, and bonds with his mother over Bernie’s bedside, but there is really nothing he can do. Angry at his powerlessness, he goes to a vamp brothel to get what I suppose is the undead equivalent of roaring drunk on volunteer blood. Rebecca has to cut him off like a barmaid cutting off a drunk, and he confesses his agony to her. He knows he can “save” Bernie (by Turning him), but he won’t. Sob, sob, sob. Of course, Rebecca is as confused and impulsive as a teenager, so she does Aidan a favor: when Bernie dies, she Turns him. Oops. Aidan is aghast, as would anyone be – bad enough to be an adult bloodsucker, but Turning a child, forcing him to spend eternity as a forever ten-year-old, is too cruel even for vampires. It was the pivotal point of Anne Rice’s ground-breaking novel Interview with the Vampire. Aidan does his best to help Bernie deal with his bloodlust, but he can see it’s a losing battle. Rebecca is blinded by her desire to live “normally”, by some fantasy of playing house with Aidan and “raising” a vampire child. “You and I can raise him right,” she begs Aidan. But Aidan isn’t dim, he knows there will be no “raising” of a child who will never go through puberty, never grow up. In Rice’s novel, the child vampire eventually went insane, after decades spent trapped in a child’s body. Aidan has much more experience with vampires than Rebecca; he knows it is only a matter of time until something goes incredibly wrong.
“That is why we don’t Turn children!” – Bishop
Bernie thinks he’s a superhero now. Aidan tries to tell him never to bite humans, but Bernie, like all children, has poor impulse control. He thinks he can bite only bad people. You can see Aidan pretty much giving up the idea that he can inculcate any kind of moral feeling in the boy. Disaster looms, despite his best efforts. As he feared, the bullies who tormented Bernie are found dead in an alley, their bodies nearly decapitated “by tiny teeth”, as Bishop hisses at Aidan. Bishop, in his cop uniform, reads Aidan a riot act over the bodies, blaming him for Turning a child. Even though Aidan knows he didn’t Turn the boy, he feels guilty: it was his killing of Rebecca to start with that started this whole unfortunate chain of events. Bishop sneers that Aidan has to do the “right” thing (as if Bishop would even know what that is). Grief stricken (Aidan weeps more in this episode than he has in the entire series so far) and ashamed, Aidan takes Bernie into the woods to hunt. And as the boy waits, Aidan circles round and comes up behind him with a stake…
“Is it totally crazy time to try to pursue a relationship with someone with you’re both dead?” — Sally
As Aidan struggles with what he has to do, Sally is reaching out to other ghosts. In the hospital ghost wing, she finds a message signed by an old friend, and goes to find him. Nick Fenn is a handsome young man, a former teaching assistant she once had a major crush on. He had one on her, too. Is this the ultimate “meet cute” or what? They tell one another their “death stories”, and Nick reveals a very full after-life: learning Arabic, going to concerts. Sally realizes she is “a total shut-in, slacker ghost” and wonders if she can really pursue a relationship between two dead people. But then she discovers a terrible secret about Nick: every day he relives his death by drowning, a “death echo” that overtakes him at random. Sally, being Sally, goes into fix-it mode, until it finally dawns on her that Nick doesn’t really want to be fixed. And at the same time, she realizes that being devoted to men who need fixing is part of what got her dead to start with. This is a subtle and interesting story, where Sally learns a lot about herself. What could be more human that self-knowledge?
“You know what? You’re a ghost, talking to a werewolf making an egg-salad sandwich. I no longer compute what’s ‘weird’.” – Josh
To a certain extent, we rely on Josh, the only living breathing human in this household, to ground us. Apart from his monthly madness, he’s an ordinary guy – compassionate, funny, boringly normal. Absent a full moon, he’s as gentle and non-violent as milk. Unfortunately, the only time he’s really interesting is when the moon is full. Tonight he was even less interesting than usual, in fact he was a neurotic, whiny mess. Having given way to his wolf side once before, when he had animal sex with Nora in a closet, he now tries to hold her close while pushing her away to protect her from himself. Simple physics should tell him this isn’t going to work. It especially won’t work with a woman like Nora, who is so perfect she is two-dimensional: blonde, pretty, hot for sex with him. Is there a living, straight man who would turn her down? For sex-starved Josh to do so is patently ridiculous.
Nora: You’re such a nerd.
Josh: Yes, but a sexy nerd. I’m like a living oxymoron.
I can see that, having just finished a story last week where Josh told his family he was a werewolf and got an earful of noise for it, he would be reluctant to tell his new girlfriend about his hairy, fanged side. I get it that he’d want to keep her safe. But he can count, he has a calendar, and he has friends. He can certainly keep his secret from her long enough to cement the relationship and build a little trust before he starts hitting her with “I’m a werewolf”. Josh has always been presented as socially clueless, and even Nora found that endearing – but Josh was way short of endearing in this episode. Jealous and annoying are a bad combination for anyone, let alone someone who makes an art form out of awkward. His story is the only one that holds out any hope for a happy ending, primarily because he’s still alive and therefore still has options. As the only person in the household with a heartbeat, he’s the one with the deepest heart. But in this show, we see Josh allowing his fears to ride him like a circus pony, distorting his judgement and his character. Josh needs to learn that the full moon only comes once a month; he has the other 27 days to live life as a human man.
“It’s you humans who haunt us, and you won’t let us go.” — Josh
True to what is becoming form for this show, there’s a twist, and this time there’s one for Josh and one for Aidan. Nora shows Josh why she’s so strong—she’s been a victim. She has scars all over her belly. Josh locks into protective mode, but perhaps is dimly realizing that Nora is a survivor, and maybe has the strength to survive his revelation. While I like the fact that this relationship – the most basic of human stories – is growing slow and strong, it needs a little more humor to lighten it up. Aidan, unknown to him, is ruthlessly victimized; as it turns out, the bully boys dead in the alley were killed by Marcus on Bishop’s orders. Bishop’s manipulative mind games make him a far more evil and dangerous character; but he has a weakness. Bishop surrounds himself with weak people (Marcus, Rebecca) he can dominate; Aidan surrounds himself with self-reliant, strong people. I have no doubt who will come out on top.
“That awful need to touch someone, to be touched — for some of us, it just won’t die. And eventually, that need will take you to your breaking point.” — Josh
This was one of the darkest yet strongest episodes of Being Human to date. Aidan’s story was by far the strongest, gripping me from the very beginning. But even Josh and Sally had important moments. The main characters were well supported by some very convincing work by Jason Spevack, a promising young actor who completely sold his child-monster transformation; Bernie’s death (both of them) filled me with pity and terror, as Aristotle prescribes for tragedy. This show is coming into its own, with strong character development despite very slow movement forward. If the plot development is a little weak, it’s usually offset by some very wry humor (although not tonight). It’s unusual, and dangerous, for producers to take the long view in series television these days, but it would not surprise me if the game plan called for a first season devoted to character development and a second series with more action. These un-blithe spirits are growing on me with every episode, but I sure would like to see a little more light, a few more bright spots. It doesn’t have to become a spoof or a self-parody, but unrelenting misery makes for boring television.
Being Human came in at almost 1.4 million viewers, for a 0.6 rating among viewers 18-49. Last week’s numbers were slightly higher, but I’m not sure it’s a really significant drop. The show seems to be holding steady, and Syfy does not have high targets for its audience ratings. So we may see a second season of the show. There are four episodes left of the thirteen ordered for this “season”, and so far the ratings seem to be holding. It still swings unsteadily between the dark and the light, but then, don’t we all?