On Being (Even More) Human

I’m troubled by my empathy for John Mitchell. Vampire. Programs like Being Human and Dexter, where the ‘hero’ Dexter Morgan, is also a serial killer, demonstrate the lack of absolutes in life. Or at least present stories in which viewers are manipulated in to feeling for characters whose motives and actions are, well, bad. BAD with capitals. Yet how I empathise with Mitchell is different to what I believe about Dexter.

In Being Human there are rules (blood must be fresh, sunlight can be tolerated), but identity is fluid. Mitchell is alternately revelling in and despairing of his vampirism. He seeks forgiveness and demonstrates he has a conscience, but equally can separate himself from his actions, blame others and (pretend to) act like a victim. Blood is a food, but it is also an obsession, a drug and a mask between himself and his victims. It changes him. As discussed in Gallifrey Base, Mitchell, as person or at least a person in training, murdered the coroner out of spite (rather than as a vampire for food). As well as a poor version of a vampire, he makes a bad man.

Let’s stop for a moment and compare Mitchell and Whedon’s vamps. In the Jossverse, vampires are evil and are a type of demon who possess the bodies of vampire victims. The demon vamp retains the dead person’s memory and personality in a body but is evil. The soul is what distinguishes ‘good’ from bad. The vamp Angel has a soul but retains his demon. He is therefore a good vampire. Spike, trained into ‘good’ or at least into not killing people through a chip in his brain, goes and gets himself  a soul to become entirely good. In Being Human, vampires are bad and Mitchell, for all kinds of reasons is singled out as special, by his friends and by other vampires, but there is less talk of souls and absolutes. Sometimes I think Mitchell is more like Darla, his inherent ‘goodness’ is borrowed from the good friends around him, just like Darla shared in the soul of the child she was carrying. Once gone though, once isolated from friends or child, they are what they are.

This is, perhaps, too simplistic for Mitchell, as I noted earlier, his conscience singles him out even before he has friends. He is a singularity among his vampire peers. He sees others like him struggle with their nature and lose.

Then I wonder about the cultural obsession with vampires. In Being Human each of the characters very deliberately ‘speaks’ about aspects of humanity.  Ostensibly outside humanness, they are its mirror. In the case of Mitchell and of vampires generally, I think they are a commentary on the need for sustenance.  They are the embodiment of hunger.

At university one class spent a lot of time studying Homer’s Odyssey. Our lecturer explained the entire section about Cyclops was a metaphor for the horror of eating. The cave of the Cyclops was the stomach and the hero figuratively enters the belly of the beast.. Then as now, human beings kill for food and there are issues with this. How can humans be sacred if we kill? How can ‘nature’ be as sacred if we kill to survive? It meant humans must reconcile eating meat with the sanctity of all life, whatever that means. What has this to do with vampires? Vampires are all about what they consume to survive. Their’s is an illicit hunger. Humans are prey. We characterise as evil what kills humans and we do this even now. Sharks, lions, komodo dragons, whatever, we fear them and sometimes ‘demonise’ them. Even though what they do is neither good nor evil, but an act of survival. Just like when humans eat. Vampirism could be the result of the human imagination’s collective issues about the need for food.

Ok if Mitchell is about hunger (or desire). Annie is literally about spirit. She is a witness. She is the spirit of all the good intentions she and her friends have, for she can do little else. She doesn’t sleep or eat and can only experience things vicariously. George is a symbol of the animal. The most cerebral of the three, George’s pain is therefore more acute as ‘the curse’ which governs his body and sometimes infects his behaviours does so no matter how intelligent he is or what he thinks.

The wolf is physical, carnal. The vampire is hunger, desire. The ghost is spirit, intention. They  are super-natural in they’re beyond what they were once were, yet together they are human. This is why we feel for them, because each of them is an element of us. 

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