Shiny Shelf


Being Human #3.8: The Wolf-Shaped Bullet

By Mark Clapham on 17 March 2011

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

To my surprise, ‘Being Human’ creator Toby Whithouse managed to not only provide a satisfying conclusion to a season I’ve had mixed feelings about with this episode, but also retroactively fix a lot of my issues with the season as a whole.

By the end of ‘The Wolf-Shaped Bullet’ I was left feeling optimistic about the (already commissioned) fourth season, something I wouldn’t have imagined possible a couple of weeks ago.

Just to add to the usual spoiler warning, there’ll be big, big SPOILERS throughout this review. So you’ve been warned.

‘Being Human’ has almost broken into two different shows this year, divided between the two couples in the cast: the now-firmly-together werewolves George and Nina, and the newly romantically involved vampire Mitchell and ghost Annie.

Pretty much everything with George and Nina has been great this year. Russell Tovey occasionally tries to make weak material funnier than it is by flapping around madly, but he and Sinead Keenan are both very watchable actors with great comic timing and chemistry. The couple have had a lot of fun, standalone stuff this year – temporarily adopting an obnoxious vampire teenager, inadvertently convincing George’s parents that they’re psychiatric patients – while also having a more substantial plot concerning Nina’s pregnancy.

I was a bit concerned that the latter plot thread was going to be abruptly ended by an injury-induced miscarriage, second only to ‘we have to give the child up for adoption in order to protect them’ in terms of cheap, nasty plot devices to run with a pregnancy plot in a TV show then abruptly stop it to avoid tying your characters down.

Thankfully the producers of ‘Being Human’ didn’t do anything that unpleasant, and George and Nina’s cub seems likely to arrive very early next season.

Then there’s the other half of the show, Mitchell and Annie. These scenes have mostly felt like a completely different show to the lightness and charm of the George and Nina stuff: witless, leaden, repetitive and tedious.

The main arc of the series has been Mitchell’s attempts to avoid the ‘wolf-shaped bullet’, a half-cooked prophecy that he’ll be killed by a werewolf. I don’t really like prophecies, I think they’re a cheap way of building tension in fantasy stories, and I was glad to find out at the end of the season that this one had been made up by the woman who told Mitchell about it in the first place, the ghost of one of Mitchell’s victims in the Box Tunnel Massacre.

That’s a clever twist, but for most of the season we’ve been expected to take the prophecy, with it’s ridiculously contrived phrasing (a clunky attempt at creating a ‘Bad Wolf’ type mysterious catchphrase) at face value, and to care about Mitchell’s predicament, and the threat that it poses to his future happiness with Annie.

The problem has been that Mitchell isn’t just a serial killer, for the last eight episodes he’s also been an unsympathetic, self-pitying git who manipulates everyone in sight to try and escape from the consequences of his crimes.

Now, this could be interesting if there was some ‘Dexter’-style cleverness with Mitchell’s attempts to evade both human law and the approbation of his friends by concealing his crime, but sadly ‘Being Human’ isn’t anywhere near as clever as ‘Dexter’, and Aidan Turner’s Mitchell isn’t the endlessly compelling monster that Michael C Hall’s Dexter Morgan is.

Instead he’s an emo whinger who keeps a scrapbook about his crimes and relies on bluffing and his ghost girlfriend’s uncanny ability to not be in the room when he does something ridiculously suspicious.

It’s never terribly clear for most of the season whether we’re supposed to hate Mitchell and want him to get caught. It certainly doesn’t seem like we’re supposed to side with any of the people out to bring him to justice.

There’s certainly an alarming period late in the season when a succession of female characters are treated as clueless busybodies for wanting to see justice for the Box Tunnel Twenty, both disrupting Mitchell and George’s happy boy’s club and not accepting their insistence that public exposure of supernaturals will somehow have worse consequences than constantly covering up for vampire and werewolf killings.

Flicking through comments thread on this season, it’s really not worth engaging with the brain dead misogyny of fans who think Nina is sanctimonious or overly gobby because she has maverick opinions like ‘murderers should be arrested’ or ‘you shouldn’t kill the mentally ill as a precautionary measure’.

But it’s worth noting that Nina has been the only one of the four lead characters to show any backbone for most of the year, with George and Annie both seeming incredibly ineffectual and soppy as Mitchell somehow runs rings around them without ever being particularly competent in his deceptions. Quite frequently Nina seems to be the only regular with a functioning brain cell, never mind a sense of compassion.

It’s been Annie’s character who has suffered from the interminable Mitchell-arc this year. She’s had some good moments, befriending a WAG zombie being the most noticeable one, but until staking a vampire in the penultimate episode she’s spent much of the year being smitten and clueless, a step back from last year when the character went out of her way to define herself by something other than the men she was involved with.

There have been some highlights this season. Robson Green and Jason Watkins were great as McNair and Herrick respectively, and often seemed more dynamic and interesting than the lead characters, which can’t be a good sign. The two relative standalone episodes early on in the season – one a lead in to the ‘Becoming Human’ webseries, the other featuring the aforementioned zombie WAG – were both really fun episodes that harked back to the more accessible episodes of the first season.

However, there’s also been plenty to dislike: after the very characterful Bristol setting (South West bias alert – I live in Devon), the Barry Island setting often feelsĀ  like a ‘Sarah Jane Adventures’ locations tour. There are some impressive locations, but they’re mostly familiar ones to viewers of ‘Doctor Who’ and it’s spin-offs.

More fundamentally, the series seems to have lost track of the whole initial point of the series, which was the monsters trying to integrate with society. Instead, they spent most of the series in that B&B, rattling around with other supernaturals like an emo ‘Rentaghost’. Virtually the only humans we see are social workers, Doctors, police and other nosy public servants, all caricatured as so thick I thought they’d let Eric Pickles script edit it.

(That both the comedy social worker and more serious character of Nancy the detective are women doesn’t really help with the impression that this is a series where the big, super-powered men know what is right and should be free to do what they like, away from the petty restrictions of the girly rule of law.)

With all that in mind, I wasn’t very optimistic going into the final episode. I was therefore very pleasantly surprised by the extent to which writer/creator Toby Whithouse pulled it altogether with the finale. Although I didn’t think much of the Whithouse-written season opener, when he returned to pen the last two episodes of the season he showed a scene-by-scene, line-by-line flair in his writing that a lot of the other episodes lacked.

Whithouse may not as showrunner show the greatest long term plotting – character motivation being as all-over-the-place this season as last – but he can certainly turn out eccentric, sharp and funny lines of dialogue.

With the final episode he brought it all home, and fixed a lot of what was bothering me. Most significantly, of course, Mitchell was killed off, resolving that tedious plot thread. That it’s George who delivers the killing blow countered the passivity that had blighted the character for much of the season, while the revelation that George had suspected Mitchell’s guilt all along revealed him to be not as stupid as previous episodes might have painted him.

Mitchell’s insistence that it had to be George who stake him, because complicity with Mitchell through turning a blind eye had tainted George’s inherent goodness, was a welcome reminder that, you know, murder is bad and protecting murderers from the law isn’t much better.

By the end of the episode I was much, much happier with the set-up of the series going into the next season. Annie and George have rediscovered some guts, and along with Nina seem set against a new group of bad guys, the vampire ‘Old Ones’ led by the always-good-value Lee Ingleby.

That’s a good cast, and a more sound premise than ‘they run off to Wales so one of them can avoid being arrested’, although I’m a bit worried about the series turning into a TV-budget version of those terrible ‘Underworld’ films with their vampire/werewolf war premise.

Rather than disappearing up their own mythology, I’d like to see the characters out in the world more, both in the production sense of going to more interesting locations and not trapped in the B&B, and in the character sense of interacting with humanity and real life more.

This year there didn’t seem to be very much about being human in ‘Being Human’, with the series mostly avoiding the real world in favour of the dynamics between supernatural characters. If Whithouse et al can fix these issues next year, I’ll be more than happy to keep watching.


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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named markclapham.com.




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