“Every PDS sufferer in Roarton must be destroyed!”
And so the second series of In the Flesh has come to an end, with a mostly satisfying climax that still left a few things to be desired. In structure and plot details, it was actually more than a bit reminiscent of the finale to series one – but with the need to lay groundwork for a potential third series, things weren’t so neatly tied up this time.
Dominic Mitchell’s script continued to play cleverly with the red herrings he’s been setting up throughout – the identity of the Undead Prophet, the motives of Maxine and Simon, the secret plans of Halperin and Weston. But he didn’t forget that, like series one, it’s the characters that give this show its strength, and each of them was given some coverage this week, even if they didn’t all get closure.
With the supposed ‘Second Rising’ prophesied to coincide with the Roarton fete celebrating victory over the Undead, plainly a confrontation was in the offing. The show’s been subtly building up to the fete for weeks, with offhand mentions in episode after episode. In the event, it was another nicely twisted version of reality to suit the show’s premise; anyone who’s been to a village fete would recognise the raffle prizes in the church hall and the half-hearted DJing of faded classics.
The twist was in the march to celebrate “beating the bounds”, which even more than last series drew a parallel with the unelected paramilitary forces of Northern Ireland. That parallel was enough to make you uneasy from the start, especially with the mounting tension we’ve been seeing between the living and dead residents of Roarton.
The script continued to play with your expectations from the start, with the Halperin and Weston pharma reps headed to Roarton for a “collection”. After the doubt introduced last week regarding the ‘First Risen’ it was natural to suspect they weren’t coming for the most obvious suspect – Kieren. And so it proved, as they turned up at Dr Russo’s office asking after Amy. But that had been signposted so heavily last week that you wondered if that was the whole truth either.
Whichever is the case, it’s clear that Halperin and Weston know something about Amy’s increasing evolution towards an actual return to life. There was more of it this week, as she blithely ate a toffee apple at the fair, and later her heart actually started to beat. That lent more credence to the idea that she was the real ‘First Risen’ – if this is a process that all the undead will go through, it seems to be happening to her first. That will foreground even more the moral quandary about killing ‘Rotters’ if they can be not only rehabilitated, but returned to life proper.
Maxine was finally overtly revealed to be literally praying for a Second Rising, in an interesting montage showing several of the characters getting up, getting dressed The progression of her character has been interesting, and a revealing insight into Dominic Mitchell’s plainly cynical view of political extremists. Despite her vicious demonization of the undead, what she really wanted was more of them. Well, specifically, one more – her little brother, dead by accident and not revived in the original Rising. Deception, hypocrisy or both? It was also telling that she showed her motivation to have been in Biblical terms – specifically the whole Rapture thing, in which the pure would return to life unsullied.
A motivation which was even more explicitly referenced by Simon’s ‘disciples’, with their misquote from Corinthians I on the wall of the bungalow (the King James version has I Corinthians 15:52 as “the dead shall be raised incorruptible”). The point was obvious – both extremes of the political spectrum on this issue share a common inspiration. In the current divisive political climate, it’s a powerful message to send.
Even with so many characters being given the limelight, Kieren Walker was still front and centre, linking many of the plotlines together. His parents, having swallowed the Victus KoolAid, had locked him up pending transfer to the increasingly sinister sounding Norfolk Treatment Centre, while Simon was wrestling with his newfound love versus his devotion to the Undead Prophet, and the increasingly unhinged Gary saw Kieren as the key to unlocking the ULA plans.
Fittingly, all the plot elements finally came together in the village cemetery, where the march encountered Simon’s ‘followers’, intent on witnessing the Second Rising, while Gary dosed Kieren up with Blue Oblivion to fan the hatred and Maxine zeroed in on Amy, her new suspect as the First Risen.
I like the approach of having multiple diverse plot threads that all finally collide into something that hits hard dramatically, and this worked superbly. Just as last series had a redemption for the Walker family, so did this one; dad Steve courageously faced his fears standing up for his son, who fought back against the Blue Oblivion – and won (more shades of George Romero’s Day of the Dead, and the awakening memory of zombie ‘Bub’). Jem too stood up for her brother, and later confessed to the murder of Henry Lonsdale, tearfully telling Kieren that she needed help. It wasn’t quite up there emotionally with last series’ revelations about Kieren’s suicide, but it was close.
Also like last year, one of Kieren’s closest friends was killed; though a friend and not a lover this time. Amy’s death was made more heartbreaking by her newfound happiness with Philip, who refused to leave her grave after the funeral, and her apparent revival to the genuine state of living – just before Maxine stabbed her in her newly-beating heart. That’s the way to twist the knife emotionally, Mr Mitchell.
So, just like last year, the series climaxed with dramatic revelation, redemption (for some) and the death and funeral of a much-loved character. This year though, there are plainly preparations for a third series (which I’d very much like to see happen). Kieren himself is starting to exhibit the same symptoms Amy had. Symptoms of which Halperin and Weston are obviously secretly aware, since their reps are digging up Amy’s grave for reasons as yet unknown – though there is more than a hint that we may not have seen the last of Amy.
As the blackly amusing pub sequence showed, Roarton’s living and dead communities may be politely pretending to get along, but behind each other’s backs it’s all a façade. Oh, and we still don’t know for sure just who is the Undead Prophet. Sure, it might have been Maxine, but even then, that’s the thing about anonymous masked ideologues – they’re so easy to replace without anyone knowing.
And the government-sponsored discrimination of the undead won’t have gone away because one its foremost proponents went mental, though I doubt it’ll win much popularity at the ballot box. With next year’s General Election set to draw battle lines on just such discriminatory policies targeting the poor, disabled and disadvantaged, I’m very much hoping for a return to this theme about the same time next year – ie just about when the Election is due.
This second series has been a very different beast to the first, despite its continuity of settings and characters. The more overt fantasy element in the plot has been in many ways more traditional and predictable than last year, when it was cleverly bolted onto a pre-existing drama. And the theatrical staging, with (effective) long scenes in rooms and glacial pacing, has been diluted with Dominic Mitchell’s increased experience of television writing – helped by the inclusion of other writers, who’ve run with the material rather well.
Even so, if this series was less innovative and subtle than the first, it was still as fascinating as the hallowed Being Human in its halcyon early days, and I’ve continued to enjoy it every bit as much. Kudos to Dominic Mitchell and Fintan Ryan on the writing side, and the marvellous cast – Luke Newberry, Emily Bevan, Emmett Scanlan and Steve Cooper in particular. And last but not least, thanks to the show for introducing me to the haunting, mournful sound of Keaton Henson, whose songs soundtracked almost every episode. Let’s hope they’re all back next year.