As In the Flesh ends we’re left with quite a few loose ends, and a show which, by episode three, was markedly different from what I was expecting after watching episode one. I enjoyed it, overall, but it felt a little incomplete, and a little like an early draft, written by someone who didn’t know exactly how many episodes he would have to tell the story.
This last episode in the series starts with Amy in bed with Philip, which is sort of unnecessary, adds nothing to the story, and goes nowhere, because we’re 60 minutes from the end of the show. After Philip leaves, Gary, one of the HVF soldiers, turns up and violently assaults Amy. His brutality comes out of nowhere and bucks the narrative direction – people starting to accept the zombies. Gary himself certainly didn’t show such hatred in previous episodes. I think the only reason this happened was to prompt Amy into leaving Roarton for the Undead Prophet commune. That’s poor writing, to include scenes unnaturally simply to push forward the plot.
And it wouldn’t have been necessary had In the Flesh been given more episodes in which to expand things. If the writer knew in advance that he had just three episodes then he should really have cut a lot out of the story. Leave the Undead Prophet till season two. Don’t introduce some mysterious zombie drug in episode one and then never mention it again. Don’t have Amy run off to a commune in the final episode, leaving her character twisting in the wind, unresolved, should In the Flesh not be picked up for a second series.
Amy left the show in a scene at a train station, as she and Kieren said an emotional goodbye. I liked it, and I liked the relationship the two characters had, but it doesn’t really make much sense, considering they only spent about 12 hours together. There was the day in the Theme Park, and then the night in Kieren’s house and the pub. And that’s it. They were hardly best of friends. Cutting some stuff from episode one would have allowed Amy to be introduced in that episode, making her relationship with Kieren more meaningful.
Kieren then went on to wrap up his own equally lacking plot point concerning Lisa, the girl he killed as a zombie. I’m not sure any of this was necessary, and it didn’t really add much to the show. If they had cut it out, would you really have missed any of it? Lisa supposedly wandering the woods, the constant, teasing flashbacks, the conversation Kieran and Jem have with Lisa’s parents? It’s another example of how they packed too much into the show. They could have cut it and made room for something else, or cut something else and expanded the Lisa stuff.
I guess the point of those scenes were to show Kieren grappling with his past. But we get that anyway, via his problems with Rick and his suicide. It did though also explain why Jem was so angry with Kieren, as she had the opportunity to save Lisa but didn’t because she couldn’t kill her brother. She was angrier at herself than at Kieren.
As I said in previous reviews though, just because a character is justified in being annoying, it doesn’t make it any more enjoyable to watch. Jem was a lot better in this episode specifically because she didn’t bitch and moan throughout her scenes. She was a good character when all the annoying, teenage angst was dropped and she had an enjoyably realistic brother-sister relationship with Kieren.
After Jem came to terms with Lisa’s death, she began to pack away her HVF things in a montage crossed with Rick’s father Bill putting away his things as well. Except Bill was moving on in a very different way. He spent most of this episode trying to convince his son to kill Kieren, and Rick eventually refused, took off his make-up and showed his real self. Bill rejected it, and killed him.
Kieren came home to find Rick lying dead, and confronted Bill, with the scene ending with the return of Ricky Tomlinson, taking revenge for his wife’s death and killing Bill. It makes sense that Bill’s denial would end this way, his mind warped by his religion. Some though, will use this scene as an example of how heavy handed the show’s central metaphor, prejudice towards homosexuals, could be.
Personally, I thought the parallels were done well enough. I don’t think for instance, that the secondary characters were 2D; there was enough breadth in the prejudice and attitudes to zombies to satisfy me. Bill was in denial, others accepted them outright, like the pub landlord, while others changed their attitudes as the show progressed, such as the Igor looking HVF soldier. The metaphor didn’t need to be overly subtle; be thankful that we have a British, populist show – i.e. not some BBC period drama or foreign import – that at least has metaphors and themes, because they are pretty fucking rare.
Others though will point to the lack of subtleness in the evil vicar corrupting people’s minds, or the scene after Bill kills his son where he literally has blood on his hands. Yeah okay, it could have been better written at times, but there was a level of intellect sorely lacking in a lot of British TV, and I thought the themes were decently handled most of the time.
The prejudice allegory aside, the other main theme was mental illness, specifically Kieren’s suicide. The show finished dealing with this, as Kieren runs off after Rick’s death to the cave he killed himself in. He is in the exact same position he was in before the show started. As he says: “It’s becoming just like it was before and I don’t know how to change it.”
In a nicely directed scene, Kieren sits in the cave with his mother, who convinces him of his own self-worth. Marie Critchley playing Kieren’s mum was great in both this scene and an earlier one, in which she discussed in a group therapy session her son’s suicide, and the painful emotions such an event can cause. And then we moved back to the family house, as Kieren had a similar talk with his father. It was quite nice to see the whole family together, talking openly.
And then the show just ended, rather abruptly. They had Rick’s funeral to close out the show, but it was a little unsatisfying. On the back of two very emotional scenes, I could have done with something a little lighter, and something that gave a sense of closure. It kind of feels like the writer didn’t know how to end things; he couldn’t set-up any plot points in case the show wasn’t recommissioned, but he didn’t want to commit to completely ending things satisfactorily in case it was.
If there aren’t any more episodes, then In the Flesh was a different and enjoyable enough drama, with some intellectual underpinnings, even if it was a little clumsy at times. And if we do get a second series, then I’ll look forward to it, with the hope that the show will be given enough episodes this time around to completely fulfil its promise, and take full advantage of the post-zombie apocalypse world they have created. As it is, In the Flesh is stuck in a kind of zombie state right now, unsure of whether it’s dead or alive, which seems quite appropriate.
- It turned out to be quite a small show, focusing on Kieren and his family and friends. After episode one, I thought it was going to be bigger than that, exploring a zombie UK. They didn’t really have enough episodes for that though.
- The directing was solid throughout, though it didn’t stand out much. In this episode, the scene at the train station, the one in the cave and the shot from the grave at the end were good. I’m not sure I like the discoloured look that passes for naturalism in dramas these days though.
- The music likewise was good. Emotional and melancholic. Very appropriate.
- ‘Dear undead love god. I want you to bite me deep, you horny corpse. Barbara, Stoke-on-Trent.’
- Kieren as a character was a little wooden. He needs to be a little more active and animated if there is going to be a second series.
- The acting was good. Specifically, I really liked Harriet Cains as Jem; David Walmsley as Rick; Emily Bevan (Amy) did well with what she had; the guys playing the HVF soldiers made their side-characters quite memorable; and Sandra Huggett was good as the nurse.