TV REVIEW: In The Flesh - Episode Two

Kieren's plans to leave Roarton are scuppered when a new government policy designed to bring PDS sufferers back into the community by making them into slaves, sorry, volunteers. Enforced with a grin by Victus MP Maxine, Kieren has no choice but to remain behind. His dissatisfaction brings him closer to Undead Prophet disciple Simon, who may have less than professional designs on Kieren, whilst Amy's shakes get worse and she is forced to see the doctor. Elsewhere, Jem is still struggling with her PTSD and is subjected to a cruel prank by one of her new friends. Facing a personal crisis and drinking crappy booze, she falls in with an old HVF comrade and goes out on a disastrous patrol.

There's a lot going on in this episode, building from the expansion of the show's world that began in the first episode. Dominic Mitchell has established a brilliant mythology for In The Flesh and it is one that keeps growing organically, bringing us further into the quirks of this world without it jarring. It allows him the opportunity to explore various themes across this episode including personal struggles such as depression, PTSD and addiction, as well as wider political issues, the most interesting of which could be the path to extremism on both ends of the spectrum.

Represented by the pro-living Maxine and the undead Simon respectively, the village of Roarton is being pulled both ways depending on your living status. Wunmi Musako and Emmett J. Scanlan are the newcomers to the cast, but it is to their credit that they fit right in with Mitchell's established world. Channelling Professor Umbridge with every sanctimonious grin, Musako has crafted an antagonist that is an absolute joy to loathe. Her bright and shiny disposition, whilst saying some truly awful things, is the perfect counterpoint to Scanlan's calmer and more cryptic Simon. 

Scanlan gets the big speech of the episode, a glimpse back into his pre-death self which revealed his drug addiction and nihilistic attitude. It goes a long way to explaining his character and why he buys into the Undead Prophet's teachings as well as keeping him suitably enigmatic. Despite this, it leaves his motivations largely unclear and when he intimates he might have feelings for Kieren later in the episode, I can't quite decide whether it's genuine or another way to get Kieren on side. He's a fascinating addition to the series and his role in Roarton is proving to be one of the most interesting aspects of this expanded world.

The brilliantly on-the-nose satire of the Give Back scheme was the highlight of the episode, particularly the gratingly cheesy government-made video introducing the scheme to a crowd of incredulous PDS sufferers. Little more than slave labour, it's another method of keeping the PDS sufferers in place and ensuring that they are kept track of. The incredulous reactions, particularly Emily Bevan's, provided some great comic moments, but it also illustrated that, in enforcing these restrictive policies, the pro-living are on the way to creating the extremism that they fear. The PDS population are fast becoming more disenfranchised, separating themselves off from the community and turning to drugs (sheep's brains apparently. Mmm). At least it's not Blue Oblivion. Oh, wait...

At the centre of this is poor Kieren who really couldn't have worse luck if he tried. Trapped once more in Roarton and forced into the Give Back scheme, he finds himself increasingly weary and angry with the current events, drawing him ever closer to the charismatic Simon. Luke Newberry's performance underpins that frustration with a desperate sense of hopelessness, allowing Kieren to become the audience's connection to the ULA. Depending on how this storyline develops, this could be a fascinating exploration of why people find themselves drawn into extremist attitudes. Kieren may be able to detach himself from Amy's wackier ideas now, but if he continues to butt heads with Maxine, the Undead Prophet might become more appealing.

I've spent much of this review talking about the PDS characters because, let's face it, it's very rare that the zombie characters in a supernatural show are the most interesting. However, Mitchell's strength with In The Flesh is that it manages to balance the zombie and human stories. Jem is at the forefront of the human side of things, still reeling from the after-effects of her time in the HVF. Harriet Cains has always been one of the outstanding actors and continues to be so here, reminding us that Jem was only a child when she was forced to take on something violent and dangerous to survive. When she kills poor Henry (who distractingly reminded me of 'cheesy peas!'), it's another trauma to process and considering she's not doing so well with the others at the moment, Jem's path is set to get darker, pulling her closer to Maxine as Kieren gets closer to Simon.

The best supernatural shows thrive on being able to create a world that feels organic and immersive and believable characters operating within that. In The Flesh captures both brilliantly as well as threading in some fascinating thematic developments, which the second episode has in spades.

- Becky

You can read Becky's review of the previous episode here.

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