In The Flesh 1.03 "Episode Three” TV REVIEW(opens in new tab)
Writer: Dominic Mitchell
Director: Jonny Campbell
THE ONE WHERE Rick finally forces his dad to face what he has become… with tragic results.
VERDICT Let’s get this out of the way first: dear Lords Of Television, please give us another series of In The Flesh !
However, if in your warped wisdom (the same wisdom that axed Being Human in favour of more second rate, interchangeable BBC Three sitcoms) you decide that three episodes is all we’re getting, then thank you at least for that. In The Flesh has been so refreshingly different and uncompromisingly unlike anything else on TV it’s stunning it was given the green light at all by an ever more conservative television industry. Or maybe it was really cheap?
Any concerns expressed in the past couple of reviews about the show’s (few, minor) shortcomings vanished completely with this utterly compelling final episode. This was raw, but not in the way supernatural horror is usually described as raw. If anything the gore quotient was even lower than before. No, the rawness comes from seeing so many festering chinks exposed in so many of these formerly stiff-upper-lipped characters. Even Amy, who in the previous episode seemed so cool, so together – a poster girl for being given a second chance – has a layer of her bravura cruelly stripped away. The PDS sufferers support group shows us the inner turmoil eating away at Kieren’s and Rick’s mums (“I blame Kieren…”) while Jem’s kick-ass babe facade comes tumbling down. Suddenly, characters who were hard to empathise with become all-too-achingly human.
There’s some wonderful writing here, full of shocks (Ken shooting Bill) and surprises (Philip sleeping with Amy… we really didn’t see that coming). The scene with Kieren telling Lisa’s parents that he killed her is just downright phenomenally good; first, because of their unexpected reaction (they thank him) and secondly because of the horrifying reason why they’re thanking him – they think she’s going to return to them as a PDS sufferer (“I leave the patio door open all the time… just in case,” is such a harrowingly simple line).(opens in new tab)
Of course, some may moan that Bill killing Rick was obviously coming, but this ignores that fact that writer Mitchell clearly wants you to guess that’s what’s coming. It wasn’t telegraphed, it was carefully foreshadowed. The speech from the Rev about a second rising (hmm, was this always going to be shown on Easter Sunday?) is where the suspicion stars, and by the time Bill is paining out the PDS graffiti on his garage you’re pretty certain he has stuck a knife in his son’s brain. The power of these scenes comes rather from hoping that he hasn’t done it. But, of course, he has, and Luke Newberry’s reactions to the discovery of his “best friend’s” body are spot on.(opens in new tab)
There’s so much to admire here; so much subtlety, so many little details, so many interesting ideas, and moral debates we could pick over. Listing them all is pointless; you can pore over them in the comments section below. But the real genius of these series is how it stuck to its guns, telling one small story against a deftly sketched-out larger world in which a zombie-outbreak occurred. So much so that the true climax of the series was not the slightly melodramatic deaths of Rick and Bill (well handled though they were) but the subsequent scenes with Kieren’s parents finally coming to terms with their son. Two scenes that could have been unbearably schmaltzy are instead totally mesmerising, surprisingly unmawkish and, yes, we’ll use that word again, raw.
The fear of homosexuality/fear of zombies parallel may have laid on a little too thick at times (even if, oddly, the word gay is never used and the most intimate we’re ever told Rick and Kieren got for certain was that Kieren made Rick a mix tape – a euphemism in the making surely?), but it’s a minor quibble, and all credit to the show for at least tackling something like this (dealing with prejudice in small, parochial communities) in such an original way.
In The Flesh may have been a little soapy for some who wanted a British answer to The Walking Dead . But why do we need a British version of The Walking Dead ? Surely it’s better to create something unique, which In The Flesh can proudly claim to be.(opens in new tab) (opens in new tab)
COMEDY HIGHLIGHT Henry’s mum at the PDS relatives support group: “My son Henry has been getting fan mail. From perverts. Who find his condition – PDS – arousing. Some of the letters he gets. Pure filth. This is one: ‘Dear undead love god. I want to feel your cold dead hands all over my warm body. I want you to bit me deep, you horny corpse. Barbara. Stoke on Trent.’” Although In The Flesh has largely steered clear of the kind of cultural reference gags that have been in vogue with small screen supernatural series since Buffy, we can’t help thinking this is a subtle dig at Team Edward Twilight fans. Even if not, it’s another great example of writer Dominic Mitchell giving us tiny glimpses of the larger post-Rising world beyond Roarton. ( Quick thought – is the woman next to Kieren’s mum in the pic above a spoonhead? )(opens in new tab)
ENDANGERED SPECIES Blimmin’ ’eck! What’s that? Oh, a phone box. We remember them. Okay, okay, we exaggerate – they do still exist, especially in places like Roarton, but it’s still odd to see a teen/20-something character in a contemporary drama use one instead of a mobile. Even weirder, before the pips cut in, Rick seems on the verge on leaving an intensely personal message on Kieren’s family phone.(opens in new tab) (opens in new tab) (opens in new tab)
CALLING THE SHOTS A round of applause, for director Jonny Campbell’s impressive work across all three episodes. He not only had knack for framing some wonderfully iconic shots (as above), he also made a small northern town look grim yet strangely gorgeous at the same time. But direction isn’t just about pretty images. Campbell should also be roundly congratulated for keeping the tone of the show grounded and consistent (resisting the temptation to play it more jokey or more soapy) and drawing such brilliantly low-key performances from the whole cast. He rarely put a step wrong.(opens in new tab) (opens in new tab)
MIRRORING Interesting to the mirroring of Rick’s father Bill with blood on his hands (both literally and figuratively) in the later scene where Kieren’s father describes the blood on his hands when he found Kieren’s body. For one (who is in denial) the blood is sign of not one, but two fatal endings; for the other (who has come to terms with his feeling) it’s a new beginning.(opens in new tab)
In an episode full of wonderfully wry flashes of humour, scorching dramatic rants and touching confessionals (“"I hadn’t run out of bullets. I just couldn’t pull the trigger on my own brother”), this exchange between Philip and his mum stood out because it exemplifies In The Flesh at its understated British best, where the real story is between the lines. If Alan Bennett ever wrote a zombie series, this is what it would sound like…
Philip/Shirley: “What are you doing here?”
Shirley: “Oh you mean Sam? I knew her. At the hospice. Came to give her some leftover belongings.”
Philip: (sarcastically) “Oh… Right!”
Philip: “I”m doing outreach.”
Mum: “Oh. Right.
Phillip: “Partially deceased face-to-face relations.” (He pulls his flies up)
Mum: “We’re having pork tonight, Philip. You like pork, don’t you love?”
In The Flesh has finished airing on BBC THREE