This first episode picks up shortly after the events of the last series, with Hal still tied to a chair and undergoing an enforced blood detox. At this point, however, the OCD vampire is more concerned with the disgusting state of the house. Tom and Alex agree to let him go under his own recognisance, but his attempts to return to his precious routine are scuppered when Tom reveals that they’ve been fired from their old jobs at the cafe. In order to pay the rent, the two lads apply for work at the local hotel. The manager has an obvious crush on Hal but the grumpy old pensioner in the corner is much less friendly…
It’s fairly obvious from the get-go who Phil Davis’ glowering, foul-mouthed Captain Hatch is, as this week’s flashback shows Hal collaborating with a werewolf (a spirited Victoria Ross as Lady Catherine) and a ghost to attempt to trap the Devil himself. Needless to say, things don’t go well, and it doesn’t take us long to figure out whereabouts in Barry he’s ended up. The Captain is clearly a wrong-‘un even before his eyes flash red. It’s not exactly subtle, but there’s a strong sense of purpose and direction to this storyline that has sometimes been missing in previous series.
Hatch aside, the bulk of this week’s plot is taken up with pathetic jobsworth-turned-psychotic vampire Cram (Colin Hoult) and the mysterious political fixer Mr Rook (Steven Robertson). Rook appeared at the end of the last series hushing up Tom’s public transformation and is quickly developing into one of the show’s most interesting characters. During the course of the episode we see his department get shut down due to budget cuts, but at the end he’s still operating as if nothing has happened. He’s also got a keen interest in Hal and the hotel, and his status as a true believer should make for some fun developments.
Apart from some excellent Michael Socha moments (“Sorry about the crying”), Cram gets the bulk of the episode’s humour. While some of the broader moments are a little grating it sets his transformation up nicely, and he contributes to the episode’s welcome emphasis on character development. Whithouse’ script gives each of the three leads a moment of self-reflection, none of which feel forced. Tom’s continued and unwanted gentlemanly treatment of Alex leads to his admitting that following the rules his dad laid out helps him feel like he’s not alone. Hal’s confrontation with Cram at the episode’s finale makes him realise he welcomes the opportunity to put another face on his self-loathing.
And then there’s Alex. Of the three, she is the character that we’ve spent the least amount of time with, but she makes a great first impression here. Quite understandably, she’s still upset about the fact that she’s a ghost, and touching scenes of self-pity are balanced with moments of rage, frustration and inappropriate jokes that help to make her a rounded and appealing character. While it’s good that the previous characters are acknowledged (Tom makes Hal swear on baby Eve’s bib), Bracken, Molony and Socha have shown themselves to be more than up to the task of carrying the show. We’ll have to see how the Devil plays out but this is a very strong start and a very welcome return.