TV REVIEW: In The Flesh - Episode One

The first series of Dominic Mitchell's In The Flesh was a very welcome surprise, a politically-infused small town drama that just happened to be about zombies. Whilst the first series was extremely close in its focus, following Kieren (Luke Newberry), a Partially Deceased Syndrome sufferer who attempts to re-integrate into his former community and finding resistance at every turn. The series was brilliant and heartbreaking from start to finish and Mitchell picked up a well-deserved BAFTA in the process. 

The second series begins several months after the events of the first. Roarton exists in a fragile state, peaceful for the most part but with outside threats spilling into the village every now and again. The wider country is also in turmoil with factions set up as a reaction to the Rising; extremist attacks are carried out by the Undead Liberation Army whilst the pro-living political party Victus is making ground. Kieren is desperate to leave Roarton for Europe where he believes people to be more tolerant of PDS sufferers, but this is complicated when his best friend Amy (Emily Bevan) returns from a commune with her new boyfriend Simon (Emmett J Scanlan), a disciple of the Undead Prophet.

The expansion of events to include the wider political landscape proves to be a masterstroke, further highlighting the microcosmic nature of Roarton whilst also building an atmosphere of unease. The presence of Victus feels particularly astute, especially considering the amount of publicity a certain intolerant, right-wing political party is getting. Maxine Martin (Wunmi Mosaku) looks set to be an antagonist for this series, considering the way she allowed Kenneth Cranham's vitriol-spouting reverend to die in his own garden. She's collecting the names of the risen for some as yet undisclosed reason, but it seems to be to do with the rumour that the first to rise were the dead of Roarton village. Her reactions to PDS sufferers makes your skin crawl and her intolerance and discomfort in the face of Kieren is uncomfortable.

However, Mitchell doesn't let the other end of the spectrum off the hook either. The opening attack on the tram is a blistering first scene, tying events back to Roarton with Ricky Tomlinson's Kenneth Burton (who also provides some handy exposition). The tram attack is chillingly realised; the sudden transformation of the Undead Liberation Army is as shocking as any zombie horror movie, made all the more so by the claustrophobic location of the train. Much like Victus, it also carries uncomfortable parallels to our own reality in a post-9/11 society where we're constantly told to be on the alert for potential threats.

Despite their continued affirmations that PDS sufferers and the living are very different, both extremes are remarkably similar, chiefly through the use of religious rhetoric. The Undead Liberation Army's attack is preceded by paraphrased extracts from the Book of Revelation. Roarton's right is characterised by their belief that this rising has somehow prevented the real Judgement Day from happening. Then there is the Undead Prophet, a Jesus-figure complete with his own twelve disciples, one of which happens to be Amy's boyfriend. The religious aspect builds into the social commentary that is inherent within In The Flesh as well as the uneasy atmosphere. In both extreme factions, there is a sense that it irrationalism rules and it makes them all the more predictable.

With this background, it could be easy for the personal aspects of the story to get lost in amongst it. However, Mitchell creates the perfect anchor in Kieren, helped by Luke Newberry's melancholic yet warm performance. In Kieren, the conflicts become more focused; he is still struggling psychologically with who he is, unable to confront himself in the mirror without his mousse on and refusing to take out his contact lenses which hide his undead eyes. His desire to escape is particularly relatable, especially as Roarton has swept most things under the carpet in that very Middle England way, and he has no one with which to share his torment now that Rick is gone. 

The return of Amy and his repaired relationship with his family particularly his sister, Jem, go some way to repair that, but they are not without their complications. Jem is clearly suffering her own mental anguish from her militia days and his father, though better at sharing his feelings, is perhaps sharing them a little too much. Amy's return, along with the arrival of Simon, offers Kieren a form of escape, but one that he doesn't wholly agree with. They are more in favour of Kieren embracing his undead self, stopping him from using words like 'zombie' and standing up to those who are prejudiced against him. 

Setting up several threads and themes to explore over the next six episodes with ease, it's a fascinating opening for In The Flesh. The expansion of the social and political landscape around Roarton proves to be an inspired decision and the show expands its mythology organically and quickly whilst losing none of the emotional power that made the first series so special.

- Becky

You can read Becky's reviews of the first series here: Episode One, Episode Two, Episode Three

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