In the Flesh–Series 2, Episode 6

“Every PDS sufferer in Roarton must be destroyed!”

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(SPOILER WARNING!)

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.

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In the Flesh: Series 2, Episode 5

“We are the community – and we have deemed you a threat to it.”

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(SPOILER WARNING!)

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.

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In the Flesh: Series 2, Episode 4

“There’s what I believe – and then there’s you.”

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(SPOILER WARNING!)

In a week when tribal differences were thrown into sharp relief by the triumph of xenophobic political parties all over Europe, it was another script from writer Fintan Ryan for this week’s In the Flesh. And following on from his poignant vignette of Freddie and Haley last week, this week’s ep foregrounded another of the more minor players in the drama – parish councillor and would be suitor to Amy, Philip Wilson. Not quite as separate a narrative as the Ballad of Freddie and Haley, this still stood apart enough to be a good character piece running alongside the ‘main’ plot.

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In the Flesh: Series 2, Episode 3

“You’re being used by them. What I’m doing is giving you a chance to choose the right side.”

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(SPOILER WARNING!)

As I said last week, the established dramatic style of In the Flesh is driven by the characters’ secrets; and with the relevant secrets revealed and resolved in the first series, the challenge for this second run is to come up with new secrets. In part, this has been achieved by a stronger focus on the Rising itself, which was rarely questioned in the first series. But the other approach has been to introduce new characters, and delve into the secrets driving them.

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In the Flesh: Series 2, Episode 2

“To hell with the living, mate. Undead and proud.”

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(SPOILER WARNING!)

As this second series of In the Flesh continues, it’s clear that this is a very different show to its shorter first series incarnation. Then, its genesis as a personal, intimate character drama was very clear even under the supernatural fantasy trappings; but rather than clashing, each element neatly complemented the other. One of the benefits of this approach was that the fantasy element was very subtly played, conveyed in hints of dialogue and direction rather than heavy handed exposition. It also meant that, while the drama had a supernatural setting, it was still all about the characters and their journeys, their plots cleverly juxtaposed with the fantasy concepts of a zombie apocalypse.

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In the Flesh: Series 2, Episode 1

“Round here, folk like to pretend everything’s all right. But it’s not. Something’s got to be done about those… those THINGS.”

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(SPOILER WARNING!)

I was very impressed by the first, short series of BBC3’s In the Flesh, an interesting take on the zombie genre mixed with dour, subtle North of England drama. After that initial three episode run, it did seem very much as though the story was told, at least from the perspectives of the characters who were dealt with so intimately in the plot. But I thought the world created by writer Dominic Mitchell was so intriguing that there was definitely potential for a second run, with another set of characters in the same new world.

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In the Flesh: Episode 3

“You want me to stay – when I’m like this?”

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All that repressed emotion, Northern stoicism and air of impending tragedy paid off in this week’s final episode of BBC3’s almost too brief In the Flesh, as all the resentment and prejudice the town of Roarton bore towards the ‘Partially Deceased’ boiled to the surface. The result, inevitably, was tragedy and heartache – and yet also some genuinely warm moments that were, curiously in a show about zombies, quite life-affirming.

The tragedy, inevitably, centred on unrepentant anti-Rotter bigot and HVF supremo Bill Macy (Steve Evets, superb). Even with his own son returned from the dead as a Partially Deceased sufferer, Bill couldn’t come to terms with his feelings towards the ‘Rotters’ he’d fought in the Rising; a fact not helped by Rick being every bit as in denial as his father. In a show full of allegories, Bill stood out as a war veteran unable to deal with the changed reality of peacetime. It was a status that put him on an unavoidable collision with the new world, and led to tragedy for all the characters we’d met so far.

Those characters were, without an exception, well-drawn. In many ways, they were familiar from many dramas set in small Northern towns, and there was fun to be had from seeing that juxtaposed with the unusual fantasy backdrop. Hence the amusingly awkward moment when Philip’s mum Shirley found him sneaking out from the house where he’d just slept with Rotter Amy, and each avoided telling the other the truth – despite the fact that it was painfully obvious to both of them.

The Walker family, meanwhile, were still eking out revelations about what had happened during and since the Rising, secrets that had festered for all of them, even Kieren. Luke Newberry showed how good he was this week, as the increasingly confident Kieren developed from timid recluse to a young man with his own sense of self-respect – even as he faced up to his own personal guilt. The flashbacks to his ‘rabid’ self killing young Lisa Lancaster were expanded as he remembered that his sister had been there, and been unable to kill him.

This gave Jem too a chance to resolve what was eating away at her. Not just her hatred of the Rotters, but her inability to put down one that had been her brother, and her own feeling of guilt at having failed to save Lisa. Thus reconciled, the Walker siblings went to tell Lisa’s parents the truth, in a scene that was both affecting and full of surprise. Not only did Mr and Mrs Lancaster unexpectedly forgive Kieren straight away, they refused to give up hope for their daughter, preferring to believe that she would return from the grave as a result of Kieren’s bite.

This allowed writer Dominic Mitchell to shed a bit more light on his mythology. We’d already heard last week that bites don’t cause you to turn; this week, Kieren sadly explained that it was only those who’d died in a particular period that came back.

It was telling that Jem sensitively downplayed this, to leave the couple with the hope that they might still see their daughter again. “You’ve got to have faith, haven’t you?” commented Mr Lancaster. Faith, it turned out, was a major theme of the story this week, and it was left very much ambiguous as to whether it was a good or a bad thing. You could argue that Jem’s sensitivity to the Lancasters left them incapable of moving on and accepting that their daughter wasn’t coming back.

Similarly, it was Rev Oddie’s faith (based on the sort of interpretation of the Bible that you’d expect) that there would be a second Rising, as predicted in Revelations, which would bring back the pure and the good. With no explanation forthcoming for the original Rising, you can see why that might seem plausible, particularly in a society that had seen a resurgence in religious belief.

All of these factors came into play in tying together the various plot threads we’d established for some hard-to-watch resolutions. Rick, pushed too far by his father into trying to kill Kieren, finally embraced what he was and confronted Bill in his true, unmade-up state.

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This felt like another layer to the allegorical depiction of the zombies here – the scene was played very much like a young gay man coming out to his violently homophobic father. And indeed, the implication that Kieren and Rick were more than just friends hung heavy throughout. Kieren’s guilt and suicide over his best friend’s death, Bill’s hatred of him even before the Rising, the graffiti on the cave wall saying ‘Ren and Rick 4 Ever’ – if the pair of them weren’t supposed to have been lovers, I’d be very surprised. Kieren might have had a proposal of marriage from the flighty Amy, but he didn’t seem that jubilant about the idea…

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As the defiant face of ‘zombie rights’ Amy had a hard time this episode. Having slept with ‘pillar of the community’ Philip, only to be told by him that nobody should find out, she had to contend with being assaulted in her own home by the HVF’s Gary, trying to slap her makeup on, after having painted ‘PDS’ on her door.

This latest development, apparently passed by the Parish Council, was another uncomfortable parallel with the ostracisation of certain social groups. Most notably, it reminded me of the way certain newspapers often call for all convicted offenders to be identified to their local communities, even if they’ve served their sentences in full and been rehabilitated. Here again, the script didn’t overtly condemn this sort of thing, though the use of the phrase “only obeying orders” made Mitchell’s feelings on the issue fairly clear.

No wonder Amy was fed up enough to leave Roarton and head off to the ‘commune’ of the Undead Prophet, as advertised on the ‘Undead Liberation Army’ website. This was an intriguing idea – could that really work? Amy was convinced there was plenty of Neurotryptiline there to keep the residents from turning rabid – but wasn’t that the defiant aim of the ULA? If the concept does stretch to a second series, that would be an interesting avenue to explore.

Though I’m not sure it will, as from a character perspective it felt like this story was pretty complete. Bill went into full-on denial, ‘killing’ what he assumed to be an ‘imposter’ rather than his son and dumping the body on Kieren’s driveway. Kieren went ballistic (kudos to Luke Newberry for that scene, which made me want to give him a great big hug) and stormed over to the Macy household for a cathartic shouting match with Bill, now so far removed from reality he was calmly watching football and claiming not to have seen his son for five years.

It was an intense scene that called out fine performances from all concerned, and again reminded us that this is a writer from a theatrical background – he knows how to make such emotional moments truly powerful in a small setting. Confronted by his wife’s sobbing hatred, Bill seemed to realise what he’d done – just in time to be blasted with a shotgun by the vengeful Ken Burton. The ever-excellent Ricky Tomlinson may have been used sparingly for this series, but always to great effect.

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And as if that wasn’t intense (and grim) enough, it was followed by another ‘act’ in which we finally learned the circumstances of Kieren’s suicide, and his family began to come to terms with it.

Perhaps it’s because a few people I’ve known have committed suicide, and I’ve seen  the wreckage left behind, but I found these scenes almost unbearably moving. They were, basically, what those left behind would always want to say to the one who’d died – but this time, he could answer them. It was the kind of resolution that, in real life, is effectively impossible. Seeing it played out like this was a kind of wish fulfilment that was simultaneously emotionally affecting and hard to watch.

It’s been a very good series, In the Flesh, despite its too-obvious similarity to the recently departed Being Human. Unlike that show, it was rather more grim and certainly slower-paced, but the characters and backstories built up were very convincing and well-played. There was always the sense that under the genre trappings was an original story that was more of a straight drama; but the fantasy backdrop gave it a resonance that, paradoxically, it might not have had without it.

As I say, it seems to me that this story is very definitely finished. I’ve no idea whether writer Dominic Mitchell is planning to write more of this world; perhaps, like George Romero’s zombie films, with different characters in the same situation. If he does, I’ll definitely be coming back for more. For all my misgivings about ‘humanising’ zombies, the premise here not only worked, but served to shed plenty of allegorical light on the real world. Only the best fantasy does that.

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