Last year’s surprisingly stellar In the Flesh returned earlier this month to the UK’s BBC Three for a second season, the first episode of which made its way across the pond to premiere in the US on BBC America last Saturday, May 10th. Fans of the first season’s astutely allegorical use of the fantastical idea of zombism to mirror sociopolitical issues that are all-too-real are in for more of the same–quite literally, as this season’s six episodes is double the first season’s three–and that’s quite alright with me.
Season one of In the Flesh introduced us to Kieran Walker (Luke Newberry) and a world where the zombie genre has been flip-turned upside down more than the Fresh Prince’s life. The series–set mainly in the small village of Roarton in Lancashire, England–deals with the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse (dubbed “The Rising” here); what happens after the disease has been more-or-less cured… or at least rendered treatable. The first season expertly navigated its way through small-town politics and polite euphemisms, while providing a healthy serving of introspective drama and even a little whirlwind romance.
Episode one of season two picks up right where season two left off… well, months later, but thematically, this world is right where we last saw it.
I say that, and then I immediately contradict myself a bit with the revelation that this episode begins far from the small town of Roarton; we begin in a large urban setting with Ken Burton. In case you don’t remember Ken, he was man whose wife was a PDS sufferer; she was killed in the first episode by Bill and the Human Volunteer Force. In the final episode of last season, Ken then killed Bill (after Bill did even more things to deserve it). Anyway, so that’s Ken. I had forgotten how much I grew to like Ken (and Ricky Tomlinson, the actor who plays him), until we see him here. He has moved away from Roarton (as one might do after killing someone) and into the city. He’s walking with his nephew, who asks him some questions that allow Ken to explain to his nephew (and any new viewers) the basic premise of the series, that PDS sufferers have been treated and no longer attack people to eat brains. They board a train and sit down for what would appear to be a nice trip, but there are disguised PDS sufferers on board; they stand up, say some words about being pissed and whatever, and then they take Blue Oblivion, which is a substance that looks like smurf cocaine and turns them into rabid braineaters.
Yeah, so, Ken’s dead. Like, “Dead dead”, as it’s explained later in the episode. I don’t like it, but I do like the “terrorist” attack, as it is deemed by the media.
Right off the bat, the episode has incorporated an entirely different sub-genre of horror: terrorism. But what’s the end game? Why is this happening? Well, I’m glad I asked. See, the first season built a world wherein the government at-large had created a more-or-less open and friendly environment for PDS sufferers (even labeling them the euphemistic “PDS sufferers”, instead of “zombies”), with the small town of Roarton serving as a hotbed of dramatic tension where a small pocket of people are the show’s antagonists; the second season sees the show do another 180 and has Roarton be the hamlet of peace in a country whose government has been steered more toward somewhat Orwellian means. A party known as The Victus has recently made large political gains, and their platform is much less zombie-friendly than that of their predecessors. This change in political climate is what has brought about the attack on the train, presumably, and it’s what has Kieran desperately itching to get the hell out of the country while the getting is good.
After bidding a farewell to Ken, the episode retreats back to Roarton, where–as I said–things are going well. Kieran and his family are living fairly normal lives, Kieran’s dad is wearing mom jeans, Kieran and his sister Jem are closer than ever; Kieran has a job at the pub, and Jem is making her way through high school. Heck, Roarton is even “weapons-free”, now. Everything is peachy keen, right? Well, no. First, Jem has PTSD from what she did and saw during The Rising and her time in the Human Volunteer Force. This continues the first season’s parallels between these “soldiers” and those who fight in real-life wars. What’s more, on top of dealing with safety issues, Kieran is still unable to deal with his PDS. Luke Newberry has a wonderful, dialogue-free scene in the bathroom, where we see Kieran covers the mirror with a towel before removing his makeup and contacts; it’s very good and communicates so much about Kieran’s inability to see himself. I would say it’s a clear call back to the phenomenal mirror scene last season with Rick, Kieran’s friend/romantic interest who also suffered from PDS and was killed by his father Bill in episode three, where Rick finally removed his makeup and saw himself for the first time. This is my favorite stuff of the series.
There are also still those in Roarton who hate and fear PDS sufferers, but they’ve been forced to more-or-less hide their shittiness because the side of bigotry lost. Their prejudice has recently been given a voice, however, in The Victus, who are embodied on the series by recently elected MP Maxine Martin (Wunmi Mosaku); she’s this season’s Vicar Oddie, meaning she is the main antagonist trying to fuck with PDS sufferers. Vicar Oddie is in this episode, and he’s still up to his old zealot tricks, but well… let’s just say he’s an old man, and Maxine is a cold-blooded woman with a secret Vicar Oddie discovers. She’s also a woman with a “Beautiful Mind” room… well, it’s more of a “Beautiful Mind” wall, and it’s very organized; she basically just has some Polaroids of all the PDS sufferers in Roarton taped to her wall.
There’s another new antagonist introduced in this episode: Simon, on the 12 disciples of the Undead Prophet. Who the fuck is that? Well, surely you remember Amy from the first season; she left Roarton in episode three, on a quest to find the Undead Prophet. She didn’t find the prophet, but she does seem to have found a cult of creepy motherfuckers. Simon is one of those creepy motherfuckers. He and Amy are “betrothed”, and they come to Roarton, seemingly just to stir up some shit. You see, this cult doesn’t believe in calling themselves “PDS sufferers” because “that’s the name the living gave us.” Amy tells Kieran they are to be called “The Undead” or “The Redeemed” or some other shitty goth band name; then she stares at Kieran for an uncomfortable amount of time with a dead-eyed grin on her face that would make the Overly Attached Girlfriend avert her eyes.
The arrival of Maxine Martin brings to the surface just how unsettled the politics remain in Roarton, whereas the arrival of Amy and Simon forces Kieran to confront his own aversion to dealing with his condition and how Roarton’s acceptance of him and other PDS sufferers is seemingly only superficial in its sincerity. I can’t wait to see where the next five episodes take this series, what exactly Maxine’s motives are, whether Simon and Amy are good or bad for Kieran, how Jem will deal with her problems, and whether or not Kieran’s dad will get rid of those damn pants.
The second episode airs tonight on BBC America.