“Let’s go resurrect my dead girlfriend.”
With series creator Howard Overman back on scripting duties, this week’s Misfits was another of the ‘homages’ that have been so prevalent this year – and a pretty good one at that. After dissecting comic book superheroes and alternate Nazi realities, this week the show took on 1980s cheesy zombie movies. I say 1980s ones specifically, because in my experience the trend of zombie cheerleaders began about then, although they’ve shown no sign of lying down since…
This episode balanced its homage/ripoff with the show’s usual tropes rather better than Overman’s Nazi episode, retaining the humour that was noticeably absent in that one. Of course, it’s rather difficult to do a cheesy zombie story with an entirely straight face, so in that regard it was actually better suited for the Misfits treatment than the Nazis winning World War 2.
As I mentioned some weeks ago, when it became clear that Seth was looking for a power to resurrect his dead girlfriend, this plot traditionally does not end well. Horror literature is littered with tales of bringing back the dead only to find that the resultant walking corpse is rather more horrible than you might have wanted; probably the first, and best known, is W W Jacobs’ 1902 story The Monkey’s Paw, but numerous variants have appeared since in comics, films and TV shows like The Twilight Zone and notably Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which did it at least twice).
Indeed, the opening sequence bore more than a little resemblance to a Buffy episode, as Seth and Curtis ventured by night into what looked like South London’s creepiest cemetery to dig up Seth’s dead girlfriend Shannon. Kudos to director Will Sinclair for imbuing this with all the atmosphere of a traditional horror movie, though it wasn’t afraid to show its roots. The exhumed Shannon was unpleasantly decomposed, but when Curtis used his resurrection power on her, the process was reversed and she returned to her former self; almost exactly what happened when Willow revived the dead Buffy at the opening of season 6. Luckily for Shannon though, she wasn’t left buried and having to claw her way out like Buffy!
Frome hereon in, the familiar tale of unintended, flesheating consequences unfolded with lighthearted inevitability. As we waited for Shannon to start feeling inexplicable hunger pangs, Curtis took pity on an old lady by reviving her dead cat. Anyone who’s ever seen ReAnimator or Night of the Creeps could tell that wasn’t going to end well; and so it proved, as Curtis was trapped in the bathroom by the vicious undead Mr Miggles, who’d already chowed down on his owner.
With nothing else to do but come clean, Curtis called in the rest of the gang to deal with “the crazy killer cat”, but having trapped Mr Miggles, nobody could quite go through with killing him. Rudy expressed what we were surely all thinking: “You can kill numerous probation workers, but you can’t kill one cat?!” Luckily, they had no such qualms about vicious old ladies; as Mr Miggles’ undead owner lunged for Simon’s neck, Curtis was quick to ram a hammer claw into her head.
It was clear that this was going to be a high body count episode; as Simon realised what the rest of us had some time ago, he summed up the situation – “It’s like a zombie film”. And in zombie films, there are always a lot of bodies. As Rudy commented when the gang were confronted with a horde of flesheating cheerleaders, “that’s a lot of killing, even for us.”
But first, the story skilfully interwove the spread of the zombie plague with Shannon’s plight and Seth’s dilemma. As Kelly found out she’d been dumped for Seth’s formerly dead girlfriend, she didn’t take it well, and Seth looked suitably ashamed; Shannon, meanwhile, was beginning to discover an insatiable hunger for living flesh, and desperately trying not to slake it by eating her boyfriend and resurrector. Even when he realised what she’d become, Seth couldn’t bring himself to put her down, because he was still in love with her and just couldn’t let go.
That central dilemma was one of the more affecting parts of an episode that was mostly a gory fun romp. The zombies here weren’t the mindless, rotting revenants of Romero’s movies. Like the girl in Return of the Living Dead 3 (and probably many others), they were still the people they had been, with thoughts and feelings they could vocalise. But they couldn’t stop themselves from killing and spreading the contagion. This would lead, as Simon said, to the gang holing up in a shopping mall while the rest of the world turned undead. As the show’s primary geek spokesman, Simon clearly knows what he’s talking about when it comes to zombie films.
The problem of killing zombies who were still, essentially, the people they had been was later the cornerstone for some amusing gags. Still unable to bring themselves to terminate Mr Miggles, the gang had locked him up in a cat box only for him to escape and infect the troupe of cheerleaders who were conveniently rehearsing at the community centre in order to complete the ambience of a cheesy zombie film.
This led to a hilarious explanation of Rudy’s hitherto unsuspected terror of cheerleaders; as he related to Simon and Alisha how he’d caught his dad having sex with his mum while she was dressed as a cheerleader, even his friends couldn’t help smirking: “That scarred me right through puberty. I couldn’t even have a relaxing wank without it popping into my mind!”
Joe Gilgun was as funny as usual as Rudy got to work through his phobia by helping the gang put down the horde of gore stained, bitey cheerleaders (well, helping in the sense of running away and hiding in a cupboard). But first, there were some cheerleaders who hadn’t quite turned yet, leading to some hysterically awkward pauses as our heroes waited impatiently for them to die while they begged for an ambulance. It’s black humour, sure, but still funny.
And, typically, caught up at the end of it was yet another new probation worker, having turned up just in time to be bitten by a zombie. Having drawn the short straw and the responsibility of bashing her brains in, Rudy effectively summed up the whole series with his apology – “We just want you to know, this isn’t our fault.We’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. A lot.”
Mind you, the death of yet another probation worker (onscreen for such a short time she didn’t even get the courtesy of being given a name) does beg the question of quite how slipshod the Thamesmead police must have got since the first series. Back then, they were all over the disappearance of the gang’s first two probation workers; so much so that it was a cause of major panic when building work threatened to dig up the first’s makeshift grave.
Now, it seems, replacement probation workers are sent out without even an inquiry as to where the previous one has got to. And wherever the gang are putting all the bodies, it must be starting to look like one of those mass graves from the Great Plague. Also, even if the cops aren’t too bothered about probation workers, surely the disappearance of an old lady, Seth’s next door neighbour and a troupe of cheerleaders should prod them into action?
To be fair, the show has playfully acknowledged its increasingly improbable undiscovered body count a lot this year. But while it may seem churlish to complain about a lack of realism in a show based on superpowers, just making postmodern references does slightly undercut the previously realistic setting. Still, with one more episode to go, perhaps the police will start poking around after all…
Outside the zombie-killing romp, though, the episode did have to deal with the emotional impact of what had started all this. Satisfyingly, it ended with Seth realising that his new feelings for Kelly were stronger than those for his undead girlfriend; though it probably helped that Kelly wasn’t trying to eat people. So, once again, it was Seth who resolved the situation in a confrontation with the ‘villain’ – because after all, it wasn’t Shannon’s fault she’d ended up that way. Charlene McKenna did a good job of making Shannon a sympathetic character, but really, the only way to resolve this was for Seth to prove himself by taking responsibility for killing her personally.
Which of course he did, proving his feelings for Kelly and prompting her into a surprisingly emotional declaration that she loved him too. I’m glad this seems to be getting resolved; it’s been a nicely underplayed Big Plot for this year, and Lauren Socha and Matthew McNulty have had some real chemistry together.
So, another ‘fun romp’ episode, its homage/ripoff done supremely well in the Misfits style, and all the regular characters getting a fair crack of the whip. It ended up with the gang’s realisation that, by containing the zombie plague, they’d actually saved the world – as Kelly said, “that’s some real superhero shit.” Of course, they then comically realised they’d forgotten all about Mr Miggles, and dashed off to deal with him as the episode closed. But Mr Miggles isn’t the only loose end – Shannon had also chowed down on Seth’s pet iguana, which presumably was still housing the time travel power Seth placed into it for safekeeping a few episodes ago.
As we know from the Nazi episode, killing someone means their power is lost for good. So how will Simon’s future self travel back in time now to die saving Alisha? Or could the iguana become a zombie, and if so, can zombies still house powers? Who knows, but with only one more episode to go this year, maybe the future Simon’s fate will be coming closer. In a way, I rather hope not, as ending that plot may well end the series as a whole (although it doesn’t necessarily have to, I suppose). Either way, I’m eagerly waiting for next week’s finale…