“We are the community – and we have deemed you a threat to it.”
With the plot ramping up for these final two episodes of In the Flesh’s second series, show creator Dominic Mitchell is back at the helm for scripting in a fascinating episode that features, for the first time, some detailed flashbacks to the events of the Rising. Since our only glimpse of it previously was Kieren’s traumatic recall of the girl he killed in the supermarket, this was yet more expansion of the show’s mythos, which Mitchell has cleverly revealed a fragment at a time.
The flashbacks are, vitally, used to provide background for the ongoing main plot, now to the forefront again as events are heading for a climax. There was plenty going on here for all the characters, but insofar as recent eps have had a focus on one in particular, this week it was Simon’s turn.
The first series, with its genesis in non-fantasy drama, effectively equated the horrific acts of the ‘Rabids’ with the violent acts of a young man (Kieren) unable to be considered responsible for what he did due to a mental breakdown. That theme was very much repeated and enlarged upon here, with the gradual revelations as to Simon’s killing of his mother while in a Rabid state – an act that horrified him every bit as much as the father who couldn’t keep from blaming him for acts beyond his control.
The show owes its existence to this basic allegory, which came into play when Dominic Mitchell had the inspired idea that his stalled drama might work better if, instead of mental illness, Kieren’s actions were caused by his being a zombie. And yet, while I think this allegory has much to commend it, it does make me slightly uneasy in the way that it effectively tars mental illness as a cause for violence which the sufferer cannot control.
Still, if you avoid that rather awkward generalisation (and perhaps Mitchell isn’t trying to generalise), the situation was affectingly played by Emmett Scanlan and the ever-reliable Francis Magee as his dad. Trying to deal with his awful guilt, then having it reinforced when his remaining parent threw him out into the street, it was easy to see the temptation of the path towards radicalisation Simon was being driven towards. Especially after the rather ghoulish, Frankenstein-like experiments at the ‘Rehabilitation Centre’, where we finally saw the inventors of Neurotryptiline, Doctors Halperin and Weston.
That we finally saw them was not much of a surprise, since the photo shown in Jem’s classroom earlier in the series was very obviously actor Stephen Robertson, recently seen as Mr Rook in the last series of Being Human. Their lab setup, and the gruesome experiments therein, was hugely reminiscent of the lab used by Dr Logan in Romero’s zombie classic Day of the Dead; since he previously said he didn’t know much about the genre, I’d guess Dominic Mitchell’s been doing some research since the first series.
And of course it was in the lab that the frightened Simon first made the acquaintance of the mysterious Undead Prophet, as a disembodied, disguised voice during a convenient power outage. Fast forward to the present day, and the Prophet’s directive that “the First Risen must be destroyed – only then can the Second Resurrection occur” was obviously going to cause Simon a few problems. Firstly his undead state had caused him to kill his beloved mother; now his ideologue was demanding that he kill the man he’d fallen in love with. No wonder he was so traumatised he spent most of the episode in a dingy hotel room staring blankly into space.
Back in Roarton, that man had troubles of his own, with the villagers yet again forming a mob on the assumption that he and Simon were behind the release of the Rabids that mauled the doctor’s assistant. Leaving aside the fact that the citizens of Roarton seem to be forming as many angry mobs as the inhabitants of Springfield, this did show yet more of the believable ostracisation of the undead as a minority, denied even a parody of justice. Doubly affecting was that even Kieren’s parents didn’t believe his protestations of innocence. His dad’s been portrayed as iffy throughout, but now even his mum was jumping on the bandwagon of assuming all the undead were a threat.
Of course, what undermines the allegory (and perhaps this is intentional) is that they have a point. Like the vampires of True Blood, they may be an oppressed minority, but they do have it in their very nature to be killers. And again like those vampires, it’s only a scientifically developed serum that keeps them from going down that path. Perhaps this is part of what the allegory is trying to get at – the mob fear mentality is despicable but understandable.
It was notable that Kieren has given up the pretence of being living, forsaking the makeup and contact lenses as he gets more and more alienated from the living. It was also notable that, after the show has dispensed with subtlety about depicting Kieren’s homosexuality, his parents (who obviously know) are still very much beating about the bush over it, referring to Simon as another young man who has Kieren “under his spell”. Like the prudishness (and bigotry) of the community over the brothel, this is another aspect of ‘keeping up appearances’ that makes the villagers so believable as a community. Depressing but accurate, from my experience of being brought up in a small rural town.
As ever though, not everyone is a knee-jerk bigot over the ‘different’ minority among them. Philip, after his “I’m Spartacus” moment last week, seemed to be openly seeing Amy this week; while Amy, for her part, seemed very resigned about her former fiancé having a sexual relationship with her ‘BDFF’. Then again, with the mysterious physical symptoms she’s been suffering in recent weeks, that’s understandable, I suppose. The ep nicely contrasted her and Philip’s sweet game of Crazy Golf with the later scene in which she was begging him to kill her.
With all the portents of doom conveyed by that sinister masked figure with the disguised voice, one running thread this week was the identity of the so-called Undead Prophet, who’s so eager to sacrifice the First Risen and start a Second Rising. The episode cleverly presented us with disaffected suspects throughout – and it’s worth remembering that, with the mask on and the voice disguised, there’s no way to tell if the mysterious figure even is really undead; or a man, for that matter! So let’s review the suspects as we ask…
Who is the Undead Prophet?
Is it… Maxine Martin?
The show’s been dropping hints since Maxine’s first appearance that she has a Terrible Secret, and that it’s something to do with a dead child. There was the teddy bear she was crooning to, and the grave she was seen visiting with the promise that “it won’t be long now”, implying that despite her anti-PDS stance, she’s actually rather keen on a Second Rising to reunite her with what this ep heavily hinted was her little brother.
Mind you, when Gaz presented her with the items he’d lifted from Julian, she seemed to watch the Undead Prophet DVD as though she’d never seen it before. Still, worth bearing her in mind.
Is it… Julian?
Anthony Flanagan’s suspicious Scouse Rotter was the first to mention the Prophet to Simon, in the rehabilitation centre. Could he have been the one making the mysterious broadcast when the lights went out in the testing room? He also seemed to be the one in charge when Simon found the undead commune. A definite possibility, with the intriguing aspect that, if Simon was the first undead to respond to the Neurotryptiline, that means the Prophet must have ‘recovered’ without it…
Is it… Dr John Weston?
Certainly the rather ghoulish scientist seemed less than happy at his colleague Halperin and the simpering government minister’s plan to reintegrate the undead into society (amusing to see the patronising term ‘Partially Deceased’ being coined by this focus group politician). What better way to derail that plan than to foment a rebellion of the undead? Plus Weston was in the next room when Simon first heard that disguised voice…
All of these characters are possible suspects… and yet I wonder if Dominic Mitchell is playing us with red herrings and we’ll find out that the Prophet is the last person we would have suspected. How about Kieren’s dad? Or the grumpy undead mother-in-law? I’m fairly certain we’ll find out next week, as the date of the required ‘sacrifice’ coincides with the village fete we’ve been hearing referenced throughout.
I think we’re going to have quite a few surprises; not least of which about the identity of the First Risen. Simon may be being tormented about killing Kieren, but it may not be an issue if my suspicion is correct. When the B&B landlady finally identified the First Risen to Maxine from her wall of photos, we weren’t shown which she selected. Given her miraculous recovery (which raises all sorts of issues of its own), what’s the betting that the First Risen is none other than Amy?
It’s good to see that, even as a more fully fledged fantasy show, In the Flesh hasn’t lost that knack of creating believable, sympathetic characters and pointed allegories that made the first series so successful. Yes, it’s largely lost the subtle underplaying that was such a strength last time, but let’s see if next week’s finale wraps things up in a way that satisfies both zombie nerds and drama geeks.