This review contains spoilers.
Midway through the final part of In the Flesh, it was all going so well. Kieren had cathartically confessed to the parents of his last victim, Amy was off to seek her undead fortune (admittedly a departure more bitter than sweet after she’d been used and abused by the supposedly non-monstrous men of Roarton), and the Walker siblings were pals again. You’d have been wet behind the ears to drop your guard at that point though, as there was anguish aplenty in store.
We’d learnt what In the Flesh was capable of in the brutal last ten minutes of episode one, so this conclusion shouldn’t have come as the surprise it did. Killing off the pathologically bigoted Bill Macy (Steve Evets) wasn’t the sting – where else could his character usefully go from here but into a coffin? No, it was the second death of Rick Macy, the only boy in history ever to take off his make-up to come out to his dad, that came as such a blow.
Imagine Romeo and Juliet waking up from that churchyard tomb and realising that they’re alive and have another chance, it’s a gift, the world is full of possibilities… but hang on a minute, who’s that? Mr Montague? And what’s that in your hand? A hunting knife and the misguided belief that you’re on an Abrahamic mission of faith? Poor Rick and Ren. If writer Dominic Mitchell keeps swinging the scythe so unflinchingly around his characters he’ll soon be battling Joss Whedon for heartbroken fans.
What Rick’s death led to of course, was a chance to rewrite the Walker family’s personal history with a happier ending. With Rick dead, Kieren found himself in the same spot as before – literally in terms of the cave location. “It’s becoming just like it was before and I don’t know how to change it” he told his mum. “I’ll tell you how you change it,” she said, “This time, you live, you don’t leave, you stay.” In that exchange and the charged scene between Kieren and his numb-with-grief father, In the Flesh, like Rick emerging from that bathroom, revealed what it really was: an anti-suicide prayer, a dramatic rehearsal of what could be if that permanent solution to a temporary problem wasn’t permanent after all.
Unsurprisingly, with just three episodes in play, elements of In the Flesh felt concertinaed or undeveloped. Jem’s transformation from caustic teen to loving sis and Amy’s one-night-stand were the first, while zom-drug Blue Oblivion was the second. Bill Macy’s momentary Lady Macbeth-style remorse after killing Rick, too, came and went in a melodramatic flash, and supporting character Vicar Oddie didn’t receive the wished-for second dimension either. In the Flesh’s writer says he has more ideas up his sleeve should a second series order arrive, and that was in evidence in this crammed final instalment.
Just as they were in episode one, the finale’s best moments were the tender ones away from the histrionics. Shirley’s coffee morning was a showcase of subtle performance from Marie Critchley and Karen Henthorn as Roarton’s mothers of the undead, and Amy’s goodbye scene made me take a mental note to watch whatever the talented Luke Newberry and Emily Bevan do next.
In between the heightened emotional confrontations this week, Johnny Campbell’s assured, slow-paced direction really shone. Campbell provided the necessary pauses and breaks in the emotional onslaught so the audience wasn’t deluged with grief. Silent shots of Kieren on the bridge, or stalking those Kes-ish moors gave viewers the chance to take a breath, swallow the lump in our throat, and reach for another tissue.
It’s at Dominic Mitchell’s feet though, that the roses deserve to land. In the Flesh was such a confident, layered, well-conceived debut, I’m left more curious to see what else Mitchell can do with a screenplay than whether or not the BBC is planning a return trip to Roarton.
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.