In The Flesh series 2 episode 2 review

Review Louisa Mellor 11 May 2014 - 23:00

Has In The Flesh bitten off more than it can chew in its latest episode? Here’s Louisa’s review…

This review contains spoilers.

When In The Flesh’s creator Dominic Mitchell said he had one or two ideas up his sleeve for a second series, he was being modest. This week’s episode introduced so many plots, characters, mysteries and settings it was hard to know where to focus. What was once a contained allegorical story about grief and guilt is now a supernatural teen soap spilling over with capital ‘I’ issues: substance abuse, depression, racism, peer pressure, prostitution, PTSD, civil rights, bed-wetting… Episode two featured enough youth topics this week to fill an entire term’s PSHE curriculum.

None of which is a problem. In The Flesh was made for BBC Three’s audience, not HBO’s. Those of us with mortgages and chronic back pain are the interlopers here, so we can’t very well complain if the content goes a bit Hollyoaks.

What we can justifiably feel peeved about is when so much content is crammed into an episode it muddies what made In The Flesh an extraordinary zombie drama to begin with. This week’s hour traded series one’s quiet humour and emotional honesty for soap storylines and a politics lesson in why oppressing people is, like, bad and that.

Admittedly, there was fun to be had in the script’s wry handling of the Give Back scheme, especially in the accompanying instructional video. In The Flesh’s gentle satire of government-sponsored rhetoric has always been enjoyable and well-observed, and that patronising voiceover was no different. Also fun was Kieren’s going-away breakfast (any script containing the words “eggy bread” gets my vote), a rare moment of levity in an otherwise heavy episode.

This week’s revelation that brains - sheep, human or otherwise - act as a mood-enhancing drug for the Risen was a strong idea. It might have been more welcome, however, if the series wasn’t already crowded with zombie pharmaceuticals Blue Oblivion and homemade Neurotryptaline. What In The Flesh does with this new thread is yet to be seen, but hopefully we're not facing another tired addiction plot, particularly after Simon's confession about his past as a user to Kieren. Like True Blood’s tiresome adventures with vamp blood hallucinogen ‘V’ or Willow’s cringe-inducing scenes with magic dealer Rack in Buffy’s sixth season, a show can easily get into trouble when the moral of the story starts to outweighs the story itself. Fingers crossed that won't be the case here.

Philip’s undead brothel was something else that’s become a cliché through overuse in fantasy and sci-fi. Sex-bots, vampire strippers, demon prostitutes… we seen supernatural fiction’s obsession with the scummier side of human sexuality all before. What’s next for In The Flesh? An illegal underground zombie fighting ring? The rug-pull that it wasn’t kinky sex Philip was after but a soppy DVD and a cuddle with an Amy lookalike pulled the scene back from the brink. Philip’s obsession with Amy will likely serve a later plot point, but for now, it, like so much else this week, feels like one complication too many.

As ever, some real positives came from the cast, especially Harriet Cains whose layered and sympathetic portrayal of Jem was the focus of the episode. Her transformation from shy teenager to bragging ‘war hero’ to traumatised child rang true, all the way to her inevitable murder of poor lovesick Henry. As if she didn’t have enough haunting her, poor kid.

As Kieren, the always-affecting Luke Newberry had less to do than usual thanks to the busyness of this week’s plot, which piled woe after woe on his head. Thematically, this was the 'all hope is lost' episode for Ren. With the chance of an escape to Paris snatched away from him and the prospect of hard labour for no pay in his immediate future, things are bleaker than ever for him.

He’s not the only one. The Give Back scheme and local prejudice have made Roarton’s Risen an increasingly disaffected and marginalised social group. Its response? Hedonism, growing resentment, civil disobedience and planned attacks on the establishment, as seen in Rob’s schoolboy experiment with Blue Oblivion. The real-life parallels will escape few viewers, and they leave us with a question: what precise point is In The Flesh making? That society is unfair to some groups? That radicalism flourishes under oppression?

Whatever its purpose, we’ve zoomed far out of the personal and into the political. Last year, In The Flesh distinguished itself from other undead dramas by making its revenants characters first and zombies second. It stood out because of its depiction of Kieren as a person, not a political avatar. Let’s hope this idea-packed series doesn’t watch him disappear into the crowd.

Read Louisa's review of the previous episode, here.

Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.

Disqus - noscript

I must admit this review has surprised me somewhat, I thought this episode was very strong. One of my favourites of the entire show, actually. But that's just my opinion. :)

There is clearly a lot of ideas to explore, so why ignore them? Each archetype is being used to explore a different issue or viewpoint and it feels more real & unpleasant for not focusing on an individual. This season seems to be about an ideological war, it can't be small scale like the first season.

I thought this was much stronger episode then last week, up their with the likes of S1 actually. I agree that it should keep character first and zombies second. S1 was brilliant because it focused on Kieren as a character, but I cannot blame the writer for wanting to zoom out a little now and explore the multitudes of ideas and themes that such a unique mythology can grant. So far this series still has that right balance of character, and I have faith that it will continue so for the next few weeks.

I'm starting to suspect Kieren was the first to rise. I have no idea where the show could go with that though. Unless maybe there is no undead prophet, and the twelve disciples are looking to create one with the first risen.

the 'picking someone as a symbol' would be rather interesting. That and what seems to be Simon hitting on him specifically to draw him into the fold and gain his trust/manipulate him.

I felt this episode was still very strong. Zombie movies have always reflected issues of the time, and I felt the workfare scheme...sorry I mean give back scheme was very well handled.
Less interested in the school storyline, but the boys side of it was there more to give the final moments impact than a story arc of its own (I hope).
Looking forward to where this is going. The wider scope works, as long as the show remembers the personal issues are why people fell in love with the show. Showing the impact the wider issues have on individuals. Everyone can relate.

Amy is fit.

Not as good as last week, and I agree there was a bit too much going on, but it was still pretty good. As for the ending: pretty shocking. Looking forward to next week.

I enjoyed this episode a lot more than last week. Most of the irks you have with this episode are ones that I had with the previous one, eg. too political, too broad a view. I felt that, with the increased cast being introduced in the first episode, this episode developed on them a bit further. Still, it's not on the same level as the first series, but it was very entertaining.

The trouble with that theory is that in series one when Kieren was shown rising from the grave there were already plenty of zombies strolling about around him who looked like they had long been out of the coffin. Unless they choose to ignore than snippet, which is entirely possible.

We don't truly know who was the first to 'rise', I mean those zombies could have crawled out the ground before Kieren but it doesn't mean they 'rose' before him, Ren could have risen but been trapped in the coffin for longer....

I can't see it being Kieran because it's too obvious and would seem contrived. It'd also lead to some pretty bad stuff happening to him at the end of this season. I fear that role is infact reserved for Amy.

Sure, that's one explanation.....

I had hoped that Jem wouldn't pull the trigger because that would have been the more adventurous choice - having her go to the brink and realize that her nightmares are the result of her HVF time, not the Rising. Instead we're just going to see her spiral...

"In the Flesh" is of course a complex and thought-provoking allegory. It is about how shame can eventually transform itself into pride and activism. It's also about how pride and activism can push some people to go too far, to seek vengeance against those who hate them.

i disagree with so called "too many plots" i'm not saying it started out bad or anything with the 1st main plot and i didn't find any plots hard to follow also because there are several characters in the show and each of them are doing their own thing you cant expect them to all be involved in the same situation

Sponsored Links