At first glance, the storyline between Larry and Tom has been done before. In many ways, it felt like a repeat of 4x04, when Kirby manipulated Tom by exploiting his naivety and playing on the tensions between Tom and Hal. (And that, in itself, seemed to echo George and Tully from series 1.) So the Tom and Larry storyline should have felt a bit tired, and to a certain extent it did. But I couldn’t quite seem to take exception to it, and it took me a while to work out why.
There are subtle but important differences between 4x04 and 5x03. Tom was completely taken in by Kirby. He trusted everything that Kirby said, and that made him a very easy target. In 5x03, Tom acts differently. Initially, he’s completely star struck – I adored the way they shot the first time Tom sees Larry – but Tom isn’t entirely blind to Larry’s faults and manipulations. Tom notices what Larry is doing, even if he goes along with it at first.
When Larry first arrives at Honolulu Heights, Tom is all too aware that Larry is overstepping the mark – “I didn’t know you wanted to stay.” – although Tom does let Larry move in. And Tom doesn’t simply do everything that Larry tells him. He refuses to smash Larry’s ex-wife’s car, and he does that because he believes that McNair would not approve. McNair’s influence on Tom is stronger than Larry’s.
The scene where Hal tries to warn Tom that Larry isn’t quite what he claims gave a beautifully clear insight into what’s going on in Tom’s head. When Hal offers Tom the role of assistant manager, Tom tells him, “I don’t want to be just your assistant. I want your job.” Admittedly, Tom was angry, but he seemed to mean it.
That drive to do something more with his life isn’t something new, or something that Larry planted there. It’s the same drive that we saw in 5x02, when Tom wanted to work at the hotel, to have a CV, to be the employee of the month. It’s that drive that makes him susceptible to Larry’s influence. And Tom is prepared to let that drive make him do unpleasant things:
Maybe he’s not a very nice guy. Maybe that’s the truth. But d’you know what? I don’t care. Because nice guys finish last, Hal. And I’m tired of finishing last.
This is a new side to Tom. It soon disappeared in this episode, but I can’t help wondering if it’s gone entirely. I doubt it.
And what is the reason for Tom’s desire to do more with his life? It comes out later in the same scene:
McNair would’ve wanted more for me than this. And I’m letting him down. Every day I’m letting him down. And maybe this is a way I can make him proud of me.
Tom is trying to live up to the expectations of a man who is now dead and gone, but who still casts a long shadow on his life. Tom is tormenting himself with the belief that he is failing McNair. And now he’s prepared to do unpleasant things to become the person McNair wanted him to be – or Tom’s own interpretation of what that means. If anyone is exerting a damaging influence on Tom in this episode, it’s McNair more than Larry.
I did feel sorry for Tom in 5x03 – not because Larry manipulated him, but because he was prepared to be an unpleasant person in a desperate bid to meet McNair’s expectations. And that’s the sort of messed-up that Being Human has traditionally done so well.