Recently I found myself pondering about the humans in Being Human. There’s a natural tendency to focus on the supernaturals – the vampires, the ghosts and the werewolves – not to mention the Brucie bonus beings of zombies, the odd succubus, demons, the Devil himself, TMWSaTMWR (wBBFoTBBW) and whatever Saul and Lia were. It’s easy to forget the humans.
But isn’t that what it’s all about? Being human? Isn’t it time to ponder on those mortal women and men (and occasionally children) that Mitchell et al so aspired to be like?
Human characters were at their best and their worst in series one and two. Once we were full pelt into Mitchell’s decline and fall, vampire prophesies of a bleak future (and a baby) and the icing on the cake – The Devil in Barry (and a cardigan) it inevitably meant that supernatural problems took centre stage.
In series one the original threesome tinkered with a number of humans, probably more so than in any other series. They all got a share and memorable almost the throng were Becca, Fleur, Bernie, Owen, Cara, Nina, Josie, Billy and Janey. Let’s be honest, it didn’t generally end well. The final results – dead, frazzled/doomed, undead, doo-fucking-lally, undead, wolfified, dead, dead and – actually that’s a good point. What did happen to Janey? Does she still have her feet? And her tan?
They all taught our threesome something – Becca’s death was tragic, more so that Mitchell ‘saved’ her to George’s initial horror but later understanding. He needed to know the monster. The clever thing about Owen was not that he got away with murder, more that he showed us that Being Human humans weren’t always going to be nice. It would have been an easy distinction – them and us – but initially smiling, still slightly grieving, apparently good egg Owen was a bad hat of the first order.
Nina – the little nurse with the giant-sized strop spent series one as human but as she became a werewolf in the final episode I’ll pass by this time. This is about the humans who were only being human.
And then there was Josie. Oh yes Josie. The best of the best. I’ll come back to her…
The series two humans who had dealings with Mitchell may have wished they hadn’t and he messily finished off Quinn the coroner and Wilson the dodgy copper. The main opposition of Kemp, Lucy, Lloyd and (innocent victim) Hennessy ended up respectively – dead (sort of), dead, probably dead and dead. Is it fair to blame Mitchell for all of those? He did munch his way through the bible boys as well and I think we could say he was pretty damn culpable in the other cases too.
And anyway, that bloody tartan hat makes him full-time culpable for anything and everything…
Of course you could say it was only the Old Testament style justice that Kemp and the Gang deserved – in a blood drenched, kind of ironic way. Like Owen, Kemp and Lucy were the villains but so cleverly written and played that it wasn’t until episode seven that I realised Kemp was far from the understandable zealot created by the tragic loss of his wife and child and that actually, he was insane. Lucy wavered after she’d had a fiddle with Mitchell but ultimately condoned genocide. And Lloyd? Just a perv… As George reminded us – not everything about being human is nice.
The humans that had the various pleasures of meeting Annie and George didn’t do so badly. Annie in particular and unsurprisingly was fond of a happy ending. She reunited sweet (and only slightly weird) Hugh with
Fatima Whitbread Kirsty, gave her mother closure and the magnificently moustachioed Alan Cortez hope. George did batter his boss but managed not to scratch, claw or otherwise lacerate new love Sam and evil child Molly and while it all went rather horribly wrong did we ever expect anything else? No. I think we were all shouting “Rebound!” at the TV. Or possibly “You TOBOGGAN??!”
Once we get to Barry in series three the human influence dwindles dramatically. There was Bob in episode one who ended up incarcerated with George for a spot of dogging that was beyond any of Swansea’s specialities, Adam’s parents, Number 7, ‘lovely bra’ Sadie and the empathetic Bazzer but none of these did much more than help edge the story along – and for a change none were damned or saved or even offered a biscuit by our trio. (Although Sadie nearly got more than a cookie from Mitchell…) George’s parents and his mum’s ill-advised gym teacher BF were just comic relief, although nicely done. The touching return of George to their lives (even though they’d thought him dead and concluded he was insane) was tempered by the fact that he apparently never saw them again. Tenacious Nancy, the slightly irritating detective won an empty victory over Mitchell. Determined to bring him down – despite her vampire boss – and ultimately with Annie’s help he was ready for his close up while Herrick munched on the victor. Yes indeed Uncle Billy, you had pulled…
None of this shows us much about the main characters except to serve as a warning to watch who you pick up in bars – avoid the peach schnapps drinkers – and that men wearing pjs during the (most beautiful) day may have something to hide…
The single most memorable human character in series three was Wendy, Community Psychiatric Nurse *holds up ID badge*. I’ve rhapsodised about this character so often that I won’t bore you with it all again. I’ll just make two points.
Q1: Could The Longest Day have worked without Wendy being there?
A: Yes. Probably.
Q2: Would it have been such an amazing, epic, incredible episode without her? Without the human centre around which our supernaturals revolved in ever decreasing circles, talking too much and too little and setting themselves up for the inevitable heartache and fall that Herrick would bring to them? Without the real life problems of sandwiches in laptops, paperwork, pagans and ley lines and the Red Bull wearing off? Without someone being human?
Great swathes of series four pass by with barely a glimpse of a real live human. The screaming catch of the day at Stokers, a social worker solely there to invite Fergus into HH, the doomed doctor who was doubting of Tom and Hal’s romance (how could he?!) and Pete, the equally doomed vampire-hunting journalist who bit off rather more than he could chew with Cutler. As did the coroner. (Delete filthy joke.) (Snigger.)
One of the humans with an ostensibly small role but a disproportionate impact was Rachel Cutler. Wife of Crispy Nick she was captured, killed and bled almost dry by Hal when Cutler refused to do the deed himself. At least he got a drink out of it… The death of Rachel at the hands of his creator – to prove a point, to set him free, to win a bet, whatever the motive – informed Cutler’s future in a way Hal could never have predicted. Rachel said all of 24 words but lives on in many a fanfic, filling in the background that we never knew. All we really know for sure was who she was married to which makes it all the more interesting that her death cast such a long shadow. As a human death should.
Rather like Nina we first met Alex as a human, a somewhat flirty and forthright human but also like Nina her story is as a supernatural.
And then at the end of the series a new human – Mr Rook. Quietly threatening, politely menacing and an unknown quantity. On first acquaintance he’s maybe human, maybe not. We had to wait and see.
Mr Rook turned out in series five to be that rare beast – a regular human character, the first since Kemp and Lucy. He was rare in another way too – a human with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the supernatural world. The cover up man. The man with a mission to keep humanity safe. And sadly a mission that corrupted when the wheels fell off his political handcart. He turned to murder, feeding vampires with their own families, sticking a pen in the eye of a witness, sending his almost daughter to be a vamp snack, confessing his sins-slash-problems to a sex line. As you do. Another role model then… No wonder Mitchell despaired!
Even fewer humans in the final series – unless you count the multitudinous corpses that the devil – sorry – The Devil left cluttering up the highways and byways of Cardiff. Not to mention Hal’s (and Tom’s) somewhat smaller offering. No worries boys – size isn’t everything.
We did see writerer Toby Whithouse as Alistair the Home Secretary. I’m assuming he was human – he’s a politician, it isn’t necessarily the case – and he did seem to be controlled rather erratically by a very much non-bespoke suit. Do we have a name for that? Oh yes. Primark. Who else? Patsy survived a couple of episodes before disposing of herself on The Devil’s command. She stands out for all the wrong reasons – she came over as a snide and slightly nasty dig – and that made her unbelievable as a human character compared to those who came before her. Although perhaps that’s more a reflection on the less layered, more slapstick style of series five – very BBCThree in fact.
The only other two humans left that stick in my mind from series five were both pretty well done – thankfully! Natasha showed us a fully rounded person – wanting to please her rescuer and her new paramour Tom and eventually managing to please neither. No stranger to the supernatural world after her upbringing, her treatment of Hal with a mixture of contempt, morbid fascination and pity rang true. Alex’s dad, only seen in The Devil’s temptation could be counted as human – he was, clearly, but the only time we saw him was in a false world so does it count? Did The Devil or Alex’s memory alter him to the Father she wanted or was that really him? We have no way of knowing.
So we come to the end and the $64,000 question. Or in Mitchell’s case the plate of hobnobs and a cuppa question.
Were Mitchell and the others right to want to be human? Did they have shining examples to look up to or were they always going to be on a hiding to nothing? Well, yes and no. Mostly no.
We saw the best and worst of the human world – murderers, zealots, the wilfully and naturally ignorant, the good and the strong. We saw people we liked even though we probably shouldn’t have, people we hated and people we could imagine loving, people we wanted to be with – for a pint or for a laugh or for life. We saw real people.
These were not shining stars. Paragons of virtue. Wanting to be human isn’t that simple. Human like Owen? Like Kemp? Like Rook?
Personally I believe that to deny your essential nature will never result in happiness – Herrick had it right when he said that unforgettable line “You’re a shark – be a shark“. Of all the humans we saw I think Josie – Clare Higgins’ Josie – was a pretty good role model. She wasn’t perfect but she had an inner strength and a real empathy with Mitchell’s predicament. She didn’t want to make him human, she wasn’t going to pretend he was or even could be human. What she was prepared to do was to use her own human mortality to enable him to not only be what he was but to be the best of what he was.
Isn’t that all any of us can hope for? To be the best of what we are – and to recognise what we are and not dream of the impossible. Why would you want to be human when humans can be cruel and unforgiving – but then so can vampires and werewolves and ghosts. And vampires and werewolves and ghosts can be kind and supportive too.
Be what you are. But be the best version of who you are.
Maybe that is truly Being Human.
The post title comes – of course – from the Human League song I’m Only Human – which has proved to the most tenacious earworm I’ve had for quite some time! Have a listen… In fact have my earworm! You’re welcome.