(Warning: contains spoilers for both the UK and US tv shows Being Human)
I’ve been thinking about story-telling lately. Sometimes when I’m writing, a scene will come out two ways; plot-wise, both versions are identical. It’s the emotions of the characters that are different and they come out in the subtle details: in posture, in the tone of someone’s voice, and, as my brother says, most especially in the eyes.
And it’s amazing, because these subtle differences can really change the tone of the scene or indeed, the entire story.
The other thing I’ve been doing lately is watching a BBC show called “Being Human”. In someways, I am very normal: I checked out Being Human because I read that the Hot Dwarf from the Hobbit (aka Kili) was in it. Boy, am I ever glad that Aidan Turner is easy on the eyes because I really, really like BBC’s Being Human…the first series, anyway. Indeed, I liked it so much that I decided to check out the American reimagining, as produced by the SyFy channel. How would the different setting and different styles affect the basic story? My gut reactions after first watching each pilot, BBC: wow! SyFy: eh. A lot of my reaction has to do with the different portrayals of the vampire characters, Mitchell as played by Aidan Turner in the BBC original and Aidan, played by Sam Witwer in the SyFy reimagining. (The American vampire’s name was taken from the BBC actor, by the way.) Though they are both tall, dark and handsome with an undercurrent of danger just waiting to erupt, with Aidan, this danger is expressed mainly as brooding–while Mitchell’s come across as desperation.
Let me take a scene that appears in both versions to illustrate how the subtle differences between two expressions of the same scene can stack up to change the tone of the whole story. In bare-bones plot points, these British and American scenes are almost carbon copies: the vampire’s on a date, ends up in bed with a girl, kills her and then sits down and cries. This girl is turned into a vampire and she comes back to kill the next girl that Mitchell/Aidan is getting involved with. Then in both versions, the new vampire chick taunts the main character to save this other girl by turning HER into a vampire; Mitchell and Aidan both refuse. Now for the differences.
In the BBC original, you don’t see Mitchell and Lauren’s date. You see them getting, er, amorous, and then Mitchell’s eyes go black and he switches seamlessly from one kind of lust to another. It takes all of twenty seconds and the only words are from Annie’s voiceover…a character not actually in the scene. In the SyFy version, the scene is much longer. Aidan is walking Rebecca home, they converse and she invites him in; the tone of this scene is quiet and laid-back until the fangs come out. It plays out like he loses control in the heat of the moment. He hangs back, hesitates at the front door and the bedroom door. No such hesitation is shown from the British vampire. Lauren even says to Mitchell’s next girl, Becca: “At least he took you out. We had to make do with a bottle of wine from the supermarket and a packet of Doritos at my place.” Later she says that they “barely made it to my bed”. For Mitchell, this night with Lauren was always selfish, always about what he wanted. It’s all about her body and her blood. In fact, drawing on his subsequent interactions with Becca, I’d say that he always knew the night was going to end with him killing Lauren.
In another point of interest: Mitchell’s killing is shown in full light, one brief but very clear moment; Aidan’s is in a darkened room, shown in quick flash-backs. Afterwards, both men sit with their backs against the bed, the girl they’ve just murdered sprawled out on top. In the American version, there is blood everywhere and Aidan is still strategically naked.
There are only two splotches of blood in the BBC version: dripping down from Lauren’s neck and on Mitchell’s mouth…blood that he quickly wipes off. The blood is on his hands now, hands that he uses that to hit himself over and over while he cries over what he has just done. Mitchell is also wearing jeans during this scene and going by BBC’s willingness to show skin, the clothes have to be deliberate. For one thing, it distances him from the deed. In Aidan’s remorse scene, it looks like he just rolled off the bed immediately after doing the deed. Mitchell, however, has taken the time to get dressed before reacting to what just happened; continuing the differences between premeditated versus loss of control.
Secondly, outside the story-world, the fact that Mitchell is dressed means your eyes aren’t drawn to what’s cleverly NOT being shown. Your attention is pulled back up to his face, to the self-disgust and the regret and the tears.
As for what happens next…Aidan makes a phone call to the other vampires and they are the ones that turn Rebekah, without his knowledge or consent. Mitchell turns Lauren himself, in an attempt to set right what he did wrong. It’s still selfish; he’s trying to make himself feel better. “It’s okay, I didn’t really kill her” kind of thing. He turns her, takes her to the other vampires and leaves her there. These are bits of information you find out gradually as they come up in the story–instead of the more direct, straight-forward storytelling of the SyFy version.
This difference alters the climax of the episode: the death of another young girl who had been rather desperately fawning over Mitchell/Aidan–Becca in the BBC version, Cara in the SyFy one.
It is completely and undeniably Mitchell’s fault that Becca is killed. He’s the one that took her out with the intention to feed from her; he’s the one that turned Lauren and then abandoned her to the likes of other vampires. It’s his seesaw of selfishness and hasty reaction that leads directly to an escalating chain of events that ends in another young girl dead, killed by Lauren to get back at him.
In the SyFy version, the blame is a bit murky. There’s definitely blame for Aidan…if he hadn’t lost control in the first place, neither Rebecca or Cara would never have come into contact with the vampire world…but it was not his choice to turn Rebecca; he didn’t abandon her and give her cause for bitterness. Aidan has a relief in the guilt that is closed to Mitchell: he only robbed Rebecca of her life, not her humanity. Aidan letting Cara die lacks the power of Mitchell’s choice not to turn Becca…because this stands in contrast to his actions with Lauren. Both girls died because of him, but at the end of the episode he has the strength of character to not attempt to white-wash his sins. He lets her go as an innocent human instead in bringing her into the world of the dead just to make himself feel better.
You need the darker sins, the deliberate wrong choices he made to lend power to ending. When George says: “Every inch of [the other vampires] is just hunger and fury…the energy it must take him every minute NOT to be like that!” you believe him. You’ve seen the best and the worst Mitchell can be, existing only a stone’s throw away from each other; the battle between them has never left his eyes, not once throughout the entire episode.
Being human is a struggle: everyone of us wrestle with ourselves every day. We all have to choose between floating in the current and trying to direct it. In the end, I preferred BBC’s Being Human because I felt the human condition, in all its glory and shame are represented the deepest in the character Mitchell. His darker sins give power to his struggle to hang onto whatever scraps of humanity he has left. He just wants something “good and normal” but he can’t remember how to go about it. On his own he is losing; he desperately needs his friends, and the house where they share the dream of a normal life, to chain the monster within.
This isn’t something I felt from Aidan. His desperation to be human didn’t feel as visceral as Mitchell’s struggle, didn’t stick with me as long. It stayed on the screen and didn’t leap into my life.
This is the kind of writer that I want to be: visceral emotions and ideas buried in the smallest gesture, characters that wear our skin and cry from our eyes.
So I guess whenever I come to scenes that splitters in two, I’ll have to call back my reactions to these two scenes and remember that less is more and that no amount of fancy editing can compete with raw emotion.
(I’m not watching the rest of BBC’s Being Human. I’ve read about it and I decided I don’t want to see the Box Tunnel 20 incident or the subsequent unraveling of Mitchell. I don’t doubt that it’s well done and believable…the quality of the writers and the actor are certainly high enough to pull it off…but I don’t want to see it. As Herrick says, it’s all about symbolism.
And I prefer to keep the symbolism of a Mitchell who is still successfully keeping his demons in check. I prefer to end with hope.)