TV REVIEW: In The Flesh - Episodes Four & Five

The fourth episode of In The Flesh opens with Philip's hilariously twee fantasy of Amy, an idyllic vision (for him) that is quickly interrupted by the concerns of the outside world. It sets the bar for the rest of the episode that sees people continually held back by the world around them until they decide to break out a little and forge their own path. Philip's own narrative forms the spine of the wider story as his frequenting of the brothel is discovered and he is forced to choose between his own ambition and standing up for what is right. His layered characterisation, advanced only through a few short scenes so far in the series, gives this episode its heart. It also adds a bittersweet note to the proceedings as the sacrifice of his reputation leads to a union with Amy at the close.

As ever, there are moments which offer a wider social commentary through the events in Roarton. There's a scene which finds that Simon's preaching is already starting to be misinterpreted by his followers as two of the PDS-sufferers go off on a rogue mission of their own devising. Unleashing two rabids, the pair believe they are doing Simon's work when in fact, he has advocated no such action. Elsewhere, the small community attitudes displayed in the meeting go a long way to satirising many issues from homophobia to racism. As we're now living in a country where senior politicians are found espousing attitudes of a similar ilk, the satire never felt keener. 

It all comes to a head in a dinner scene, which, in true In The Flesh fashion, weaves together the more fantastical elements of the show's mythology with the humdrum events of a family meal. The conversation about the upcoming village fete (which looks to be the setting of the major showdown, of course) and the awkward humour that arose out of everyone's attempts to get to know each other was achingly familiar. So too was the clash of family attitudes as Kieren reached breaking point at the dinner table. Following on from Gary's monologue with a graphic account of his own rising, which Simon quickly deduces means he is the first to have done so. Luke Newberry excels in this scene, channelling all of Kieren's pent-up frustration at having avoiding conflict for so long that he erupts in spectacular fashion.

Simon is proving to the show's most difficult mystery to unravel, thanks in no small part to Emmett Scanlan's brilliantly enigmatic performance. He also gets the best line as he informs Kieren's parents that they became friends at work because Simon "liked the way he gave back." There's a bit of a clanger when Simon declares "there's what I believe... and then there's you", but it does quickly get to the heart of what is an upcoming conflict. The end of the episode sees Simon declare to a mystery person on the end of a telephone that he has found the First Risen, but his devotion to Kieren in the rest of the episode seems quite genuine.

The fifth episode once again puts Simon and Maxine Martin on opposite ends of the spectrum with the same goal, though with different motivations. Simon's mission to sacrifice the First Risen for the Undead Prophet and kickstart the Second Rising also appears to be Maxine's though for motivations as yet unclear to the rest of us. The parallels drawn between Simon and Maxine have been a consistent thread throughout the series and Maxine gets her own mysterious phone conversation in the beginning of the fifth episodes. However, unlike Simon, Maxine Martin continues to be the only characterisation that jars with the rest of the show. Wunmi Mosako's performance is not to blame, she's doing the best she can with what she has been given, but Maxine has been reduced to a simple villain without the moral dilemmas that make everyone else so interesting. 

Simon's heartbreaking background story in this episode reveals a Frankenstein's Creature-esque tale as he is used as an experimental test subject in the creation of the drug (one of the doctors is even called Victor). The flashbacks are well utilised to shade in the missing aspects of Simon's life before Roarton and the way in which he received his scars, both physical and mental. The scenes with his father are beautifully understated, stripped back to two family members trying to find common ground again. The shot of Simon in his old bedroom showed just how incongruous he was to his surroundings now and compounded the isolation seen in the earlier treatment centre moments.

Scanlan's performance is once again excellent, physically reducing the younger Simon into a more unsteady, hunched against the world figure, twisted by his recent experiences. This contrasts sharply with the confident and brash swagger with which he is usually seen in Roarton, an aspect which seems to begin following his first call to the followers of the Undead Prophet. In the present day scenes in the hotel room after he believes he must kill Kieren, his physicality retreats back to that smaller self, backed into a corner. These flashbacks also call back to the religious aspect of Simon's ongoing quest as the undead followers appear first in a Last Supper-esque tableau upon his entering the room. It's a clever visual trick and one which Alice Troughton pulls off swiftly and with an understated flourish. 

Kept apart for the episode, Kieren and Simon nevertheless have their shared experiences, albeit at different points in time. As we see the flashbacks of Simon's family leaving him isolated, we see it occurring in the present day as Kieren is punished for a crime he didn't commit and everyone in Roarton, including the usually reliable Steve and Sue, believe that he did it. Newberry's performance shows Kieren reacting in a different way to Simon, reacting out of disbelief rather than acceptance. Kieren's struggles throughout this episode are a fascinating exploration of the way in which mob mentality becomes infectious and the Roarton community display a similar dogged determination to tear people down as the rabids that were let loose.

Despite the stellar work of Scanlan and Newberry, this episode belongs to Emily Bevan as Amy, going through her own bout of loneliness like those of her friends. Simon and Kieren are off dealing with their own abandonment issues, not realising that their friend is going through something much bigger. That final, dramatic scene in the tent with Philip confirms what many have theorised about Amy's decay; she's slowly coming back to life and feeling again. Her relationship with Philip, given a melancholic finality in the crazy golf scene (another wonderful blend of the banal with the tragic), continues in the same bittersweet vein here. Amy believes that she is dying and her every thought in this scene is affected by that and Bevan plays it beautifully, just as she does in the elated moment of discovering she can feel the reign.

The episode ends on this moment with Simon resolute in his actions, Amy enjoying the rain and Kieren feel helpless in the face of the community anger. However, it is with Maxine that an intriguing revelation comes forth as her eyewitness to the Rising confirms who is the First Risen. Simon is seemingly sure, as we all were, that it was Kieren, yet there is no secondary confirmation here. Could Amy's secondary resurrection be the Second Rising as the PDS sufferers return to life and not, as everyone previously assumed, another zombie uprising? Does that make her the First Risen? Will Simon discover this in time or will his conscience get the better of him? Many questions remain unanswered as we head towards the final episode of what has been an outstandingly good series of In The Flesh and I can't wait to see what it brings us.

- Becky

You can read Becky's review on Episode Three here.

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