In The Flesh series 2 episode 3 review

In The Flesh impresses this week with the depth of its characterisation and tense climax…

This review contains spoilers.

Last week’s review expressed concern that In The Flesh’s second series was spiralling uncontrollably away from the compact power of the first. Its multiple new characters and plot threads – went the argument – were threatening to replace human truth with shallow allegory and distract the drama from the emotionally shrewd storytelling that made such a success of series one.

Whoever wrote all that must be an idiot. Episode three was a tremendous hour of teen drama, succinct, honest and involving. If In The Flesh is spiralling away from Kieren’s woes to tell stories about new characters as honestly-written and touchingly performed as Freddie and Hayley (Bryan Parry and Linzey Cocker), then more power to it. Keep ‘em coming and let’s have a series three order to add to tonight’s Bafta win while we’re about it.

We’d barely met Freddie Preston before this week, but his and Hayley’s characters were so natural and recognisable as the irresponsible, optimistic, hedonistic love affair of your late teens/early twenties, it felt as if we knew them inside out. More importantly, we rooted for them, so when it all began to fall apart we felt the consequences.

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In The Flesh’s supernatural premise was used to its best advantage in Freddie and Hayley’s story, not to provide horror-movie thrills, but to magnify a universal truth: you can’t go home again. Put another way, you can’t ever be the person you used to be. What happens then, when someone dead and buried (metaphorically or otherwise) comes back to try to convince you otherwise? Hayley’s choice between Freddie and Amir – one fun but unreliable, the other unexciting but considerate – was the choice between youth and maturity. You don’t need a zombie ex to feel something about that.

Their story’s tense climax was set up efficiently (Freddie’s blue watch, the reminder from poor Henry’s mum that Neurotryptaline can wear off after one missed dose, the stuck garage door…) and executed well. Additionally, In The Flesh’s trigger-happy disposal of Ken Burton, Vicar Oddie, Henry and more gave us no guarantees that Freddie would survive the events inside the lock-up, creating a sense of real unpredictability. Had the missed dosage story belonged to lead Kieren, we’d have been assured the last-minute rescue, but Freddie’s fate could easily have gone either way. Will he be delivered to the tantalisingly referenced ‘Non-Compliant Detention Centre’? Or will Kieren and Simon intervene? My money’s on the latter.

Hayley’s dilemma was mirrored this week by Jem, who was also being pressured to return to the person she once was. Rotter hunter (and now love interest) Gary wanted her back as an uncomplicated soldier and patrol partner. The problem for Jem was that series one’s reconciliation with brother Kieren had shaded in plenty of Undead grey where once she’d seen only black and white.

Jem going back in time and on patrol last week ended in tragedy, so this week she guiltily punished herself for what she’d done. Like brother, like sister.

Harriet Cains’ performance was as natural and likeable as ever in the episode, especially in contrast to Wunmi Mosaku’s arch, moustache-twirling portrayal of MP Maxine Martin, whose hypocrisy (“I assure you everything is being done to locate Henry”) bigotry (“PDS or living?… Well then”) and mystery (“Everything is going to be just perfect”) were developed further.

Maxine and Jem were just one of episode three’s fruitful pairings. The Give Back scheme usefully provided this week’s In The Flesh with two other illuminating combinations: Philip with Amy and the increasingly magnetic Simon with Kieren.

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While Amy’s truculence towards Philip was entertaining (“Village of the damned, how may I help you?”), the contrast between his maladroit attempts to make Amy happy and Simon’s pragmatic use of her introduced some pleasing depth to the scenario. Could it be that Philip would actually be good for Amy? As Simon explained to Kieren, she needs to be shown love, which is exactly what Philip, with his soppy DVDs and thermostat-changing, is desperate to do.

Is Simon however, good for Kieren? Their desperate cliff-hanger kiss (hooray! Finally some explicitness. Ren and Rick had no such moment in series one) cemented the burgeoning romance, but is Simon just using Kieren in the same way he’s stringing along Amy? Both the Undead Disciple and the Victus MP are searching for the first of Roarton’s Risen, a position for which Kieren is not yet out of the running…

Overall, this was a cracker of an episode. Putting Freddie and Hayley centre stage showed a new slant on the difficulties of life after death and provided some useful breathing space for the other stories while binding them together under a common theme. It was like all the best supernatural dramas: involving, tense and altogether human.

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

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