In The Flesh series 2 episode 4 review

Review Louisa Mellor 25 May 2014 - 23:00

In The Flesh's second series is really motoring now. Suddenly six episodes doesn't seem like enough...

This review contains spoilers.

It was an eventful Sunday in Roarton Valley this week: Philip’s morality was tested, Kieren was found to be the First Risen, and Sue outdid herself on the roast beef. In The Flesh’s winning combination of mythology and banality continued to charm as series two lurched significantly towards its endgame.

The remaining two episodes are ratcheting towards a major confrontation between Roarton’s PDS sympathisers and detractors, a showdown promisingly likely to coincide with the village fête. There’s much to love about a drama that sets an undead rebellion against a backdrop of homemade chutneys and a tombola. To wit: Sue’s line-of-the-episode response to Gary’s vitriolic defence of plans for stalls to commemorate the Rising at the forthcoming fair: a withering “It’s mostly jams”.

The speech of the episode though, goes to Luke Newberry for that vehement account of Kieren’s rising story at the Sunday lunch table. As well as performing the narrative job of perking up Simon’s ears, it was also a blinder of a monologue and a turning point for the character. After weeks of attempting to dial down conflict, Kieren snapped. Between Paris, the locals, Give Back, Simon, and the new-look HVF coming over for tea, Ren was finally pushed over his limits; death by a thousand bigoted pinpricks.

Structurally, episode four was very neatly drawn. Everything was sandwiched tidily between Philip’s fantasy of Amy and the real thing, signifying his character’s leap from dream to reality, and from the back to the foreground.

Condensing the hour’s plots into a single day too, was a deft way to underscore the battle lines drawn in Roarton. The village meeting, brothel protest and Sunday lunch provided public and private arenas on which those battles could take place. Each of the three events had its own climax and its own dramatic fallout, pulling series two’s story tantalisingly forwards.

The character of Maxine Martin, a pillar of evil in a Dorothy Perkins skirt suit, continues to be series two’s only weak link. Her levels of evil moustache-twirling this week were so high that actress Wunmi Mosaku was in danger of pulling the thing clean off. In The Flesh’s series one villains - Vicar Oddie and Bill Macy – were its weakest-drawn characters, and Maxine Martin looks to be continuing that trend.

With two episodes remaining though, all that could change. At the start of this week’s instalment, Philip Wilson was a grey-faced jobsworth even whose sexual fantasies were comically dull (“Oh Philip, you’re so adept!”). By the end of the episode though, he was heroic, sacrificing his public reputation to preach love and tolerance in the face of placards and bigotry. Maxine Martin may lack any sympathetic or redeeming qualities as a character now, but let’s see where we stand on her come the finale.

About six feet above is a likely position. Maxine is surely the odds-on favourite to snuff it by the end of this series, clearing the way for a new baddie in (BBC drama commissioners willing) series three. Of course, following patterns established by ensemble dramas from The Walking Dead onwards, now that Philip's been humanised and given a romance of his own, there’s a target on his head too.

Undead agitator Simon must also be in line for the chop. His demise would be much less popular after this week’s Philip-like transformation from creepy one-note manipulator to lost soul in love, desperate to learn how to be normal and willing to try. Unlikely as it is, I hope Simon makes it, mostly for the soppy romance of lines like “…because there’s what I believe, and then there’s you”.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves. There's a great deal to get through before we tally up series two’s eventual body count: Amy’s physical deterioration, Jem’s psychological deterioration (fingers crossed that’s her last ‘student film hallucination sequence’), Simon and Kieren’s relationship, the dead GP’s receptionist, Sue’s tangled bunting… Three episodes really didn’t feel like enough for the first run, and now that series two is really motoring, neither does six.

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

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