This review contains spoilers.
There’s so much to praise about the broad strokes of In The Flesh’s world that its finer details risk going unnoticed. Not only have the show’s production designers recreated a trio of teenage bedrooms so accurate that frankly, it verges on the suspicious (kids, check under your beds tonight for BBC employees with mood boards), but their designs also inform the storytelling.
When Kieren sat down to a family breakfast for the first time this week without his cover-up mousse or contact lenses, he was framed against a wall of thematically apt masks. In Roarton’s other houses, Christian symbols in the form of crucifixes and icons abound, making sure the notion of resurrection is never far from our minds.
Doing the same was this week’s skilful direction by Alice Troughton and cinematography by Dale McCready, which positioned Simon in a Christ-like pose during his trials at the hands of Halperin and Weston (more attention to detail from writer Dominic Mitchell there, in borrowing the names of the director and writer of 1932’s White Zombie for In The Flesh’s two scientists). The scene of Simon – whose harrowing origin story formed the parts of the episode not eclipsed by the terrific Emily Bevan – joining the Undead Apostles momentarily recreated Da Vinci’s Last Supper. The imagery shores up In The Flesh’s fascination with the biblical rhetoric of sin and redemption, coming together to create a pulsing and complete imagined world.
All of which would be nothing without well-written characters and actors capable of bringing them to life. On the first note, the causes of death for each of In The Flesh’s central trio – Kieren, Amy and Simon – feed elegantly into their personal storylines. Series one was an anti-suicide prayer righting the wrong Kieren committed. Simon’s overdose was symptomatic of a man lost long before he was ‘found’ by the Undead Prophet. And finally, knowing that Amy died from leukaemia made her series two storyline almost unbearably sad. Until, that is, this week’s cliff-hanger baptism.
Before series two’s nosebleeds and hand-shakes, Amy Dyer had already been robbed of life by an illness. Living Amy had presumably monitored her worsening symptoms while presenting a cheery smile to the world all before, just as Undead Amy has been these past weeks. It rings entirely true that her character would choose a swift exit this time around, one that ensures she can do nobody any harm. Letting us believe her body was shutting down all over again was a cruel trick from Dominic Mitchell, one for which he can be entirely forgiven thanks to that beautifully played moment in Amy’s torn tent. With that touching scene and those preceding it, actress Emily Bevan should by rights have secured herself a career’s worth of work and a Bafta nomination at the very least.
Amy and Philip’s day trip to the mini golf course of 1970s childhood nightmares was an unexpectedly romantic affair, made all the more affecting by Bevan’s performance. The significance of the pair’s chat about whether the point of a game was to finish it or keep playing fitted in neatly with the episode’s other ideas on species survival imperative, too. (Incidentally, any script that can stage a discussion of metaphysics via the medium of crazy golf is a winner in my book.)
As is a drama with the nous to wait until now to share Simon’s flashbacks of his torture at the Treatment Centre. Another supernatural show might have started with the bigger picture – Jackbooted soldiers leading the Undead around like cattle in Hannibal Lecter masks – then zoomed in to humanise the story. In The Flesh starts with the personal and works its way outwards. We were introduced to Simon in a Noel Edmonds jumper in a bungalow before we saw him being Frankenstein’s creature in that lab, so by the time we got there, his pain really meant something. And what pain there was. Emmett Scanlan’s father/son scenes with Francis Magee were harrowing (and featured more W.B. Yeats for detail-spotters).
Troughton certainly proved her horror directing chops with those experimentation sequences, which raised some tantalising questions about the identity of the Undead Prophet. A couple of possibilities arose (if speculation’s not your thing then look out the window for the next few lines) the first being that he’s a 1984’s Brotherhood kind of deal invented by the government to sniff out potential rebels, and the second more promising possibility is that Victor Halperin, the scientist who memorably described the Undead as “a superior species” to that MP, is actually the man beneath the mask…
Elsewhere, Kieren was falsely accused of the GP’s break-in and placed under house arrest (Roarton being the world’s first police state without any actual police). After the Walkers’ series one finale conciliation, seeing Steve and Jem fear and reject Kieren once again felt like time moving backwards. At the beginning of this series, I was wary of In The Flesh straying too far from the Walker family home, but I shouldn’t have been. Episode four’s Sunday lunch aside, all of series two’s best stuff has happened elsewhere.
Things are still lining up for next week’s finale, with all the main players tooled up for the forthcoming confrontation. Jem has her Colt, Kieren has his Blue Oblivion, Simon has his monstrous tool set, and MP Martin (still a boo hiss villain whatever we learned about her brother this week) is armed with knowledge of who the First Risen really is. There are bound to be casualties, and Maxine Martin aside, the loss of just about anyone would be deeply felt – a testament to how strong this series has been.
All that, and we haven’t even talked about the significance of Amy feeling again. Have the Undead all been in some kind of purgatory that she’s now graduated from? Or is it simply a matter of time before they all start coming back to life?
One thing’s certain: there’s plenty of meat left on the bone for a third series of In The Flesh, so come on BBC, do the clever thing.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.
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