In The Flesh
A Little History:
In the Flesh is a three-part BBC supernatural drama series which began airing on BBC Three on March 17, 2013. The show was created and written by Dominic Mitchell. It is set after “The Rising“, this show’s take on a zombie apocalypse, and focuses on re-animated teenager Kieren Walker as he comes back into the local community.
A second, extended series of the show has been commissioned, to be broadcast in 2014. As yet, it is unknown how many episodes the new series will comprise, but it is believed it will be five or six.
Set in the fictional village of Roarton (Lancashire, England) after “The Rising“, in which teenager Kieren Walker (played brilliantly by Luke Newberry) was re-animated along with thousands of people who died in the year 2009. There quickly followed ‘The Pale Wars‘ in which the zombies were hunted and killed by armed bands of militia. After months of rehabilitation and medication, the zombies (now referred to as partially deceased syndrome (PDS) patients by the government, but pejoratively known as “rotters“) are judged ready to return to society, their homes and families. They are given cosmetics and contact lenses, so they can ‘pass,’ and to conceal their partially deceased status. They must maintain a strict program of medication to avoid going “rabid” again, which is one injection a day. Many are haunted by returning memories of the atrocities they committed while rabid. In the extremist village of Roarton, PDS sufferers face prejudice from the villagers upon their return.
In the Flesh received generally positive reviews, with praise being given to the series’ premise. The Daily Telegraph‘s Simon Horsford praised Mitchell and called the premise “a clever idea“, despite having initial misgivings over the continued use of zombies. Morgan Jeffery, writing for Digital Spy, called the idea a “risk“. Comparisons were made between the show and previous shows aired on BBC Three: The Fades and Being Human.
To conform, or not to conform, to a societal norm is the underlying theme of In the Flesh, and it is a question that is not easy to answer because the question itself seems to buck at morality, humanity and the precarious notion of freedom. The zombie genre has laid claim to commentaries on social behaviors and prejudices for a longtime, most notably with George Romero’s films, and more currently with films like 28 Days Later and the television series, The Walking Dead. Mostly, though, the genre has focused on the non-infected portion of society during a zombie apocalypse, and what that kind of chaotic catastrophe does to society, and human behavior.
It is only recently that we have seen stories come into view that focus on the infected, at least in film and television. A lighter brush was applied to recent film, Warm Bodies, which told a very “Romeo & Juliet” type story through a romantic comedy lens, albeit a dark one. With In the Flesh, the story told is not only much darker, but a much more realistic view of how mob mentality works in a state of fear and war, what being human actually consists of, and how prejudice persists even in the aftermath of an apocalypse.
We see so much of the show through Kieren’s eyes, and though I love his character, and his tragic love affair, both pre-infection and post-infection, with Rick, touched my heart deeply, it is the girls in this, both fellow PDS survivor Amy, and Kieren’s sister Jem, that I love the most.
Jem is in constant conflict over the love of her family, and brother, and the community she has found with the HVF (Human Volunteer Force) who fight against the “infected”, a community that has empowered her, and gifted her a haven after the death of her brother. Jem carried around Kieren’s secret (his relationship with Rick) and now has to deal with her own anger fr Kieren’s death (a suicide) and his now return as a PDS survivor. This emotional roller coaster of feelings and turmoil and confusion over what is right and wrong is intense and brilliantly brought to life by Harriet Cains.
Amy (played wonderfully by Emily Bevan) is infected, she has been sent back to her hometown as a treated PDS survivor, and is expected to work at being “normal”. She has no family to come back to, no support group, until she meets Kieren. Amy is fascinated by “The Undead Prophet” who challenges the “infected” to not conform. Amy died of leukemia at a young age, and while “alive” did not have much of a life at all. She views this revision to her life, her “undead” self, to be a blessing and bucks the make-up and contact lenses, choosing rather to put her real self out there into the world. She is brave and beautiful in her social rebellion, and when she left to go find the prophet I so wanted Kieren to go with her. I will be heartbroken if her character does not return next season.
It is no secret to those who are regular readers here that I am a fan of the horror genre, as well as adolescent stories of finding oneself. This is definitely within my favorite “wheelhouse“. More than just a great zombie story, it touches on the normalcy debate, one that has very personal meaning to me, as I struggle in my own life to be myself, and raise my children, one who has been diagnosed with an non-normative social issue, to be himself, as well. Where do we draw the line with ourselves, and if we are parents, with our children? Where do we push them (and ourselves) to be “normal“, and where do we fight for them (and ourselves) to be just that – ourselves – even if it bucks against society norms?
What is normal anyhow? And, how would I feel in a post-zombie apocalyptic life? This show pushes buttons, stirs emotions, and asks big questions – I love that about it. Oh, and the show has a great soundtrack, too (it is where I discovered the music of Keaton Henson).