If In the Flesh was an American show, it would have an 8-13 episode first season. The whole thing would be slowed down and the writers could take their time exploring the world and the characters. In the UK though, our best dramas often have short runs – too short in my opinion – and In the Flesh follows that tradition. So, with just one episode left, things are feeling a little squashed.
Episode two kept its focus narrowed within the town of Roarton. I’m glad they did this, because it stopped the episode from being too confusingly cluttered, and we needed a breather from the exposition-laden episode one. The problem though, is that we now only have one episode to wrap up all the various plot details, including the ones that were put on the back-burner this episode; remember the zombie drug? And I think we had just one mention of the Zombie prophet. I really wish the BBC had commissioned more episodes.
We only got the three though, and the second concerned Kieren’s exploration of his new zombie-hood and the return of his friend Rick from the dead, as well as the addition of another new character, Kieren’s zombie buddy Amy.
Last review I criticised the character of Kieren’s sister Jem, a purposely annoying creation. This episode compounded the problem, and it’s frustrating, because the character is interesting and Harriet Cains’ acting is good, but the constant teenager moaning and attitude means she grates nearly everytime she’s on the screen. The new character Amy seems to be equally problematic. Written to be intentionally quirky, she conforms a lot to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, were a quirky female character shows up to help change the life of a darkly brooding male character. Think Natalie Portman in Garden State, or Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown.
That said, presumably there won’t be a predictable romantic plot between Amy and Kieren (more on that below), and, to be fair, Amy did start to grow on me the more screen time she had – I liked her comments about ‘the fam.’ ‘I love the fam.’ Her scene with Kieren where they each spoke about their deaths was also good. It’s just frustrating to have two main female characters whose dominate personality trait is ‘annoying.’
The other new introduction in episode two is Rick, the son of Sergeant Bill, the HFV leader. Rick’s arrival really accelerated the discrimination theme of the show, as Bill by sheer denial of his son’s zombification forced the town to start adapting to the presence of the undead. We’re now in the slightly unsubtle territory of making direct comparisons to segregation, with the zombies forced to sit in a sectioned off part of the pub. I do like though that the discriminatory attitudes of the townsfolk have levels: Rick’s presence is just awkward, Kieren is out of place, and Amy, with her zombie eyes, is completely hated. That’s pretty much how it works in real life too; attitudes to Muslims for instance can vary depending on whether they are dressed in western clothes, wearing a head veil, or wearing a burqa.
The rest of the subtext in the show has been understandably scaled back. The religious element made no appearance in this episode beyond the dodgy vicar lurking around. The mental illness parallels were confined to Kieren’s detachment, his family’s awkward, forced normalness, and two good scenes where Kieren discussed his death. In the first, he tells Amy of his suicide and she in turn reveals how she died of leukaemia, giving some insight into why she is now so carefree and, ironically, full of life. It was nicely written, and acted well by Luke Newberry and Emily Bevan.
The second scene is between Kieren and Rick. They meet in the pub, where the whole episode is narrowed down into one room, and the show settles and slows down. In a long running drama, you could build a whole enjoyable episode just set in the pub with all the characters. Again, it’s a shame we won’t get that.
The characters are told of a rabid zombie on the loose in the woods, and they all go off to find it, at one point leaving Kieren and Rick alone in the car. At which point it is revealed subtly that they are both gay and that they were in a relationship prior to Rick joining the army. At least, I think this is what happened. The scene might have been too subtle. I wonder though if that is why Jem was so insistent on telling Kieren that Rick was alive; because she is aware of his sexuality and feelings for Rick, something their parents may not be.
Of course, assuming they are gay, this adds a new dimension to the prejudice theme, and is probably the thrust of the metaphor; small town attitudes to homosexuals. Rick is accepted by everyone, despite his zombie state, because he doesn’t look different; he’s big and tough, he drinks and shoots and fights. Kieren not so much. People in the pub ‘hated me before I was like this,’ he says at one point.
This is expanded, as the action moves to the woods, where two rabid zombies have been caught. Bill wants them dead, and Rick acquiesces to his father until Kieren stops him. ‘Are you going to shoot me as well?’ he asks. While the first episode ended making a point about our hatred for those different from ourselves, this one ended illustrating the various shades of prejudice, and the complexity of discrimination.
- The HVF soldiers decide not to kill the zombies they find, because they can get money for handing them over to the government. Looks like the whole town is starting to put their hatred behind them, not always for the most noble of reasons.
- ‘Tell Vicky I love her!’ ‘What, my Vicky?’
- How In the Flesh’s zombies function is being conveyed nice and naturally. This episode we find out some more about their digestion, and how zombie bites don’t turn you into one. It never did make sense, the infected bite thing, and I’m glad they didn’t include this part of the zombie lore.
- The fairground scenes were really well directed, and fun to watch, especially the bit on the ride.
- I’m glad Bill just stated outright that his son was coming home, rather than trying to hide it. It fits with the character’s personality to do something like that.
- ‘I like your epitaph: did you choose it yourself?’ ‘I was dead.’