“This family’s fucked.” – Jem
The second episode of new BBC3 zombie drama In the Flesh continued to expand on the intriguing mythology established last week, with yet more revelations about the nature of the ‘Partially Deceased’. Writer Dominic Mitchell is clearly taking the approach of eking out the exposition over the course of the three episodes; that said, as the mythology builds, I’m beginning to think this has enough substance to be given a rather longer running time.
Still, if Mitchell’s intended story only has the legs, in his opinion, for this short running time, who are we to argue? The BBC could always commission a second series, perhaps featuring entirely different characters but within the same established world. Just a thought…
This week, we saw some more interesting counterpoints to Kieren’s POV as an ‘ex-zombie’, with the introduction of two fellow Partially Deceased Syndrome sufferers. This was good; Mitchell has already established that not all the ‘Rotters’ want to live in harmony with society as Kieren does.
The two new characters provided some necessary contrast to that viewpoint. The first was Rick, the previously-assumed-dead son of zombie-hating HVF supremo Bill Macy, and best friend to Kieren. Indeed, the passion of their heart to heart chat in the car later on made me wonder if they had actually been more than friends in their pre-death existence…
We established last week that Macy and the HVF weren’t prepared to give the rehabilitated dead the benefit of the doubt. Ricky Tomlinson’s Ken was this week only to be seen briefly, staring grief-stricken at the black stain on the road where his Partially Deceased wife was ‘executed’. Now Macy had to deal with the fact that his military hero son was coming back as one of the Rotters himself.
As it turned out, both Bill and Rick seemed to deal with the problem basically the same way – by ignoring it. Bill (a convincingly dour Steve Evets) tersely announced to his HVF comrades that Rick was coming home, but not as one of the hated Rotters; though tongues were already wagging. When Rick did come home, steel sutures holding his face together, his approach was similar. He did some target shooting with his dad, then went off to have a few pints – regardless of the fact that any consumption of food or drink simply results in the ex-zombies vomiting up copious amounts of black ooze.
Kieren, meanwhile, having got bored of being stuck in the house constantly, paid a visit to his own grave. This led to a flashback of the night of the Rising, as corpses dug their way out of the ground; though it led me to question the make up a bit. As a full-on zombie, Kieren had the standard pseudo-corpse approach that mimics decomposition; sunken eyes, overhanging brow, jutting teeth. As a rehabilitated Partially Deceased, his physiognomy is normal (apart from the bloodless skin and colourless eyes). Does the Neurotryptiline reverse decomposition rather than just arresting it? If so, that would surely make the Partially Deceased virtually immortal.
A possibility that reared its head when Kieren encountered another Partially Deceased for the first time since leaving the Rehabilitation Centre. Amy (the magnificently sparky Emily Bevan) recognises Kieren at the graveside. Fearing the prejudice of the living, Kieren tries warding her off with a metal post, and is horrified when she ‘accidentally’ impales herself on it – only to have a good laugh at his expense. She’s a Rotter too, and apparently their condition includes the usual zombie resistance to pretty severe injuries. Mind you, if they’re all full of black ooze, as previously established, surely Amy would at least have to get the wound stitched up to stop it leaking. Or are these zombies capable of actual healing?
Whatever the case, Amy represents the other extreme from Rick – defiant about not hiding her state, and about carrying on as before regardless of the bigotry directed at her. So much so that she’s keen to wander around Roarton “au naturelle”, without her makeup or contact lenses – which she duly does when paying a surprise visit to Kieren (“I just knocked on every door till I found you”).
The ensuing scene, as Amy joined the Walkers for dinner, was blackly amusing. Kieren’s parents did their British best to avoid the subject of her condition and politely discuss other things, while little sister Jem, still unwilling to eat at the same table as one of the undead, gaped in disbelief.
The bravery of her defiance was obvious after she and Kieren had taken a fateful trip to a local funfair. Recognised as a Rotter by an acquaintance, Kieren had to take to his heels, pursued by the same sort of unthinking lynch mob that used to plague Frankenstein’s monster in the old Universal movies. Which made it all the more challenging when Amy suggested that they try to socialise, and start with the local HVF bar.
Rick may have been trying to ignore his own condition, but wasn’t so insensitive as to ignore that of his former best friend when he turned up with Amy and was banished to a back corridor by the frowning landlady. The increasingly obvious parallel to discriminated-against minority groups was less than subtle; the phrase “separate but equal” was even trotted out. Again, we’ve been here before, notably in True Blood. However well this was done, it had a weary, well-trodden air to it.
Still, we did get some nice conflict as the HVF (increasingly portrayed as incompetent amateurs) discovered an actual Rabid Rotter in the woods. Keen to at least acknowledge his friend, Rick insisted that Kieren should be allowed along on the ensuing hunt, which led to disagreements when the creature was actually discovered. Contrary to standard zombie operational procedure, he was fairly calmly chowing down on a dead animal rather than a person; and significantly, he appeared to be taking care of a little girl zombie, gently feeding her.
That was another interesting, sympathetic take on the zombies of old, amplifying the first episode’s hint that these are more intelligent than your usual ghouls. Clearly, they’re capable of both learning and compassion, attributes the zombies in Romero’s movies were also moving towards (before he ‘rebooted’ the series, anyway).
So Kieren was not altogether happy that Bill Macy wanted to summarily shoot them, rather than hand them over to the authorities for rehabilitation. On top of that, he wanted his son to prove his loyalty and do the actual shooting. It was a classic clash of loyalties – would Rick heed his best friend and show compassion, or would he be true to his father, and in denial of his own condition, ‘murder’ those like him?
It was an interesting moral dilemma – though surely if zombies can be ‘healed’, shooting them summarily would have been made against the law? Again, though, this appears to be a society in flux, which still hasn’t fully adjusted to the post-Rising world. And thanks to the financial greed of the HVF’s very own ‘dumb and dumber’, Dean and Phil (emerging as the comic relief characters this week) the zombies were saved for rehabilitation. Along the way, we also learnt another interesting tidbit of information about these particular zombies; contrary to popular belief, being bitten doesn’t cause you to turn into one. The fact that most people do seem to believe this surely sets up conflicts to come.
Last week, I wondered whether the show’s genesis as a more conventional drama might leave its supernatural mythos fairly sketchy. Plainly this isn’t the case. It looks as though Dominic Mitchell has done a lot of thinking about the ramifications of the scenario he envisioned, and there’s till more to learn about it yet. As a drama, it’s undoubtedly effective, but as a genre piece it’s also more successful than I thought it might be. It still comes off as derivative – notably of Being Human, although the premise that society at large knows about and fears the humanised monsters is equally reminiscent of True Blood.
That said, if you can take the fact that we’ve been here before with other horror archetypes, In the Flesh is shaping up to be a genuinely intriguing bit of fantasy drama. As I said at the outset, I’m now wondering whether its limited run will allow it to fully realise the potential of its concepts. Still, let’s see what next week’s final instalment reveals…