The premiere opens with a woman on a mundane shopping trip; this seems like a nod to the “zombies = consumerism“ trope we‘ve long become familiar with, ever since George Romero introduced the concept to us so many years ago. This is further evidenced by the fact that we soon realize this supermarket is also being perused by the undead, and the shopping woman happens to be carrying an assault rifle; this immediately thrusts us into the world of this series, right? Wrong, because this scene is just a “recovered memory“ of Kieren Walker (heh “walker”) a zombie “Partially Deceased Syndrome sufferer”. Kieren is in a hospital/prison for former zombies. The real world of this series is one which exists beyond the zombie apocalypse we’re used to. In the Flesh explores a fresh premise that hasn’t really been visited before: one after a cure has been found. Kieren and hordes of others have traded wandering the streets in search of brains for queuing up in endless hallways waiting to receive their next dose of medicine. It’s a world where we’ve euphemized the word “zombie” to make ourselves feel better, and you know we would do that. You get all of this in the first five minutes of the premiere, so the series certainly seems promising.
Now we jump to two couples: one trying to sell their home, and one looking to buy one. Those selling? They’re Kieren’s parents, and they’re trying to sell their house to move somewhere more “remote”. They also have a daughter, Jem, and she’s none-too-happy to have Kieren coming back; she’s a member of the Human Volunteer Force which is said to have disbanded now that “The Rising” is no longer occurring, but she still wears her HVF armband and will probably not be too accepting of Kieren. We’ll see.
Back at the treatment center, Kieren is sitting in a PDS support group discussing his flashback–the one with the woman in the supermarket–it turns out that‘s the last person he killed. Kieren feels bad that he killed people while he was a zombie; another PDS sufferer, Alex, tells Kieren he shouldn’t feel bad because the humans killed them during The Rising, too: “They get medals; we get medicated”. He has a good point. The mediator of the group tries to calm things down by talking about their recovery. They’re to be wearing contacts and putting stuff on their face and in their hair; things to make them look “normal” again when they return to their lives–Kieren is looking forward to seeing his sister again.
Jump now to a pub where some HVF veterans, including Jem, are trying to order drinks. There’s a sign that says “veterans drink free”, but the bartender is charging them because she’s being “bled dry” by veterans drinking for free. The Rising was years ago, as one of the more calm veterans says, but the older sergeant of the group is upset. How do you treat veterans years after they’ve won the war? They’re still heroes, but does life move on?
Unfortunately, life hasn’t moved on for these veterans. Jem isn’t just wearing her HVF armband; she and this group of other HVF members are still patrolling for zombies (“rotters“, in the parlance of this show). The sergeant is totally distrustful of the government; he doesn’t trust that those being treated are cured.
At the treatment center, Kieren and Alex are talking, and Alex gives Kieren contact information for someone called “The Undead Prophet”. Then, Alex promptly takes some kind of drug that causes him to turn rabid, and the doctors presumably kill him (as we’ve been told they do to those who do not respond well to treatment). Kieren is loaded onto a bus and taken away to be released.
Kieren’s parents, noticeably nervous, hop in their car and take the long ride out to pick up Kieren. Meanwhile, Kieren awakes in a bed at a separate “treatment center”; he prepares to be picked up by putting in his contacts and makeup, etc. As they pull up, Kieren’s parents mention how they expected there to be armed guards and barbed wire. That’s why the treatment center buses the patients/prisoners to this other facility; to make it look nice for visitors; it’s the same reason for the makeup, which coincidentally Kieren’s parents are fooled by. His mother bursts into tears over how “good” he looks; he tells them it’s cover-up, but they seem to ignore that, choosing to only see and hear what they want.
Elsewhere, there’s a Roarton–where the Walkers live–town meeting assembled where a vicar–not surprisingly–is whipping the crowd into a fervor of fear and discrimination toward these PDS sufferers who are being treated and released. He’s also upset about laws that have been passed “to protect these monsters”. A guy is there to assure everyone that the “PDS Protection Act” is good for everyone and that PDS sufferers are to be strictly controlled, but the now out of control crowd won’t hear it. It’s the same sort of anger you see from racists or–perhaps more aptly–homophobes, in response to the AIDS epidemic.
On the drive back home, Kieren is understandably in a bit of shock at just being back in the world, and his dad tries valiantly to drum up some conversation by telling Kieren all about the movies he’s missed while he was “away” and all about the new entertainment system he bought so they could have movie marathon nights like they used to. It’s a nice, human moment, but you know that shit isn’t going to happen; the best laid plans of mice and men, and all that. This is immediately evidenced not only by the fact that Kieren sees “God Bless the HVF” painted on an overpass and asks “What’s the HVF?” (and receives silence as an answer) but also by a group of the people from the town meeting who stop their car; Kieren’s parents make him hide under their coats in the backseat. They barely get away without anyone seeing Kieren, but as they pull into the driveway, neighbors take notice (just as they did when the parents left out in the wee hours of the night). Hiding him is clearly not going to work.
One of their neighbors, Shirley Wilson, comes over and, after a bit of cat and mouse type conversation, says she knows Kieren is back. As it turns out, she was contacted by “The Department of Partially Deceased Affairs” and asked to be a “PDS Community Care Officer”. Basically, she’s terribly under qualified to be administering any kind of medicine, yet she’s been tasked with teaching Kieren’s parents how to treat their son. This scene provides some comedic relief, but it’s fairly black comedy, as you realize–while laughing at her bumbling to figure out the sophisticated instruments she’s been given and has to use leaflets to even know what the medication does–that this actually happens; not to “PDS sufferers”, but it happens. She trained for “three weeks”, about which she says “I know; it’s a long time, isn’t it?” (She also makes a passing reference to this being a “brave new world”, which I’d imagine is an allusion to Aldus Huxley’s novel about a medicated society)
Then she tells them Kieren really shouldn’t go outside, and gives Kieren’s mom a stun gun that she’s legally required to give them; there’s a drug, Blue Oblivion, that some PDS kids are taking and turning back into zombies. I guess now we know what Alex took earlier.
At a council meeting–with the vicar and a few others–it’s being debated whether or not Halloween should remain banned. It’s decided the ban should stay in place because “we live in a world with real monsters”. Afterward, the vicar meets with Philip–who happens to be Shirley’s son–and tells him that his mother has not been working at the clinic at which Philip thinks she has been working. The vicar doesn’t know where she’s working, yet, but that’s why he wanted to speak with Philip: he wants Philip to find out for him. Getting a son to spy on his mother? That’s cold-blooded, Charlie Murphy.
Back at the Walker home, Kieren and his parents are sitting down to dinner. The only problem? Kieren doesn’t eat anymore. Of course, his mother asks him to “pretend for a bit” because they still don’t get it; they still don’t want to accept that their son has changed. This scene really reminded me of a similar scene in Steven Spielberg’s AI: Artificial Intelligence where Haley Joel Osment (playing a robot) has been brought home by his new “parents” and is taught to pretend eat. It’s these kinds of scenes that really drive home the idea that these parents don’t know how to parent a son that can’t be the son they lost.
After a few moments of Kieren awkwardly scraping his silverware against each other, Jem comes through the front door. For just a moment, we get to see a hopeful Kieren happy to see his sister… then she says “I’m not coming in until that disappears”. What a twat! Kieren is visibly devastated; he departs to his room, where he sullenly rifles through his old things; his old life.
If that wasn’t depressing enough, don’t worry! Now we jump over to Bill Macy’s house; you remember Bill, right? He’s the unrelenting, hard-assed sergeant from earlier. Well, it turns out that today is his son Rick’s birthday. Happy birthday to Rick, right? Wrong. Rick’s fucking dead. Bill and his wife have a cake and everything for him; they cry. Damn. Guess we see why Bill keeps his life busy with HVF stuff.
Over at the Wilson house–home to Shirley and her son Philip–things are pretty cozy. They’re watching television, and Philip asks his mom about her day; you know, at the clinic where he knows she doesn’t work? She lies all to and through his face, and you can tell he’s like, “This bitch…” Anyway, Shirley heads off to bed, and Philip takes this opportunity to look on her computer. He clicks literally the only file on the desktop, and it happens to contain two files conveniently labeled “Understanding PDS” and “Roarton PDS Cases”. Mmmhmm. So he clicks the second file, and it’s secured (at least Shirley had sense to do that). This leads to, by far, the biggest laugh of the episode. In trying to guess the needed password, Philip guesses “ILovePhilip”. Hahaha! This boy is under so many delusions. Failing to get into the file, Philip is then interrupted by Shirley. When she asks what he was doing with her laptop, he says he was using it to “relieve stress” by watching pornography on the world wide web; he even says he might be a sex addict. Shirley tells him to scan it for viruses when he’s “finished”, which is a really uncomfortable choice of words.
Kieren’s having another nightmare; another “recovered memory”, when he wakes up to Jem having twatted into his room to stand over him. When he looks at her, she asks him what he is and what his name is. When he tells her he’s Kieren, she demands proof by way of telling her something only he would know about her. This is when we’re treated to a bit of a sweet moment between the two of them where Kieren relays the story of Jem walking on her tiptoes for nine months. That’s a little too eccentric to have been written into the scene, but it works, I guess. He says she did it because she felt she was weird and didn’t want to be noticed (a universal feeling that this series is clearly attempting to allegorically address, both directly and indirectly). Then Jem interrupts him to say he didn’t even leave a note when he left–he killed himself. Kieren now gives us an awesome bit of organic exposition (that totally lets the writer off the hook for that tiptoes thing) when he reveals that he blames himself for Rick’s death. Yeah, Bill’s son Rick. Looks like we’ll be learning more about that relationship in the future. Jem doesn’t buy it, though, because–as she rightly points out–Rick died in Afghanistan; “Taliban killed him!” Still, Kieren blames himself for Rick joining the army. Kieren apologizes to Jem, but she’s all shitty and tells him he doesn’t get to say that to her. Geez, she’s horrible. Your brother died; he’s back, and now you’re shitting on him? He apologizes again, and she’s throws a glass at him.
The next day, Kieren and his dad are playing the board game Life; it was apparently his favorite, which is ironic considering how he died. They’ve bought a shitload of board games, presumably to pass all the time they have to spend not going outside?
Afterward, Kieren goes to the computer where he decides to let curiosity get the better of him; he visit’s the website Alex told him about–to contact the Undead Prophet. It’s a website for The Undead Liberation Army, and it creepily tells visitors that they have a purpose; they exist for a reason. Looks like it intrigues him.
Old Bill Macy pays a visit to the vicar, where he is told “We have a wolf in our midst.” The vicar gives Bill a mission to take care of this. Bill goes home and grabs his gun. Meanwhile, Jem is out drinking and brooding, when she hears over her walkie-talkie that Bill is on his way to “bag” a rotter. I should stop here and point out that, earlier, Bill gave everyone in his HVF group a walkie-talkie, which he paid for out of his own pocket. I didn’t think it was important–other than to point out how much Bill is still dedicated to this cause–but now I guess it was important. Jem runs home and tells her parents they’re coming to get Kieren; although, we don’t yet know Kieren is even the rotter they know about because they haven’t said so. Jem grabs a gun, dad gets a board with nails sticking out of it, and mom fires up a chainsaw. They are not playing around!
The doorbell rings, and they’re expecting shit to get really real, now. Turns out, it’s Dean, one of the other members of Jem’s HVF troupe. He’s looking for Jem. The rotter they were looking for was someone else, a woman named Maggie who lives across the street. Jem leaves with Dean. The troupe drags Maggie out into the street, Bill has a back-and-forth with Maggie’s husband–who, of course, was the most vocal person against assimilation in the town meeting, earlier, because that’s always how it is–about Maggie’s funeral and how, if she was dead, can she be here. Maggie’s husband tries in vain to convince Bill that it was actually Maggie’s twin sister who died. Bill doesn’t buy it, and is about to shoot Maggie… when he hesitates. He asks her, “Why do your eyes look like mine?” When she tells him she wears contacts, he tells her to take them out. To her husband’s protest, she does. Her eyes look gnarly, to which Bill says, “That’s more like it.” She smiles, thinking he’s spared her, but then he walks behind her and shoots her in the head. Everyone watching is kind of taken aback by it all, which is a bit surprising considering the troupe presumably killed a lot of people; it’s also nice, though, because they haven’t lost their humanity. Well, all of them except Bill. Kieren was also watching all of this from his window. The troupe drives away, leaving Maggie’s husband devastated in the street.
Jem returns home; her mom asks if she’s alright, and Jem shakes her head no. This whole sequence was to show us where Jem’s allegiance really lies. Dad goes to Kieren’s room and sits next to him. Throughout all of this, you can still hear Maggie’s husband crying in the street.
Bill goes home, expecting to be arrested by the officer waiting in his kitchen, but the officer isn’t there to arrest Bill; he’s there to tell them they’ve found Rick. They found his body? No. He’s alive? Partially. The plot thickens!
The final moment of the episode sees Kieren’s dad leave his side while telling him everything’s going to be okay. Kieren walks to his sister’s room where she’s hiding her gun under her pillow.
Next, on In the Flesh: “Episode 2“, tomorrow night.