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In the Flesh (2013): Season 1 Review, part 2

Here is part two of my three-part review of season one, from Dominic Mitchell's In the Flesh (2013). In part one, I discussed the show's positive qualities. Now, I'll dig a little deeper and see if I can't find any flaws. I'll save the larger thematic analysis for part three.

In the Flesh isn't perfect. Details, such as the medicine having to be administer daily (or else) don't quite add up, given the hero's tendency not to stay at home. Does he take the injection with him, and if so, who applies it? He can't do it, himself, but the show conveniently leaves little details like that to our imaginations. I found its best not to think too hard, concerning them. To its credit, the narrative doesn't focus on them, the reliably-engaging drama helping to distract me from such potentially-deflating retrospection.

At the same time, there were some less-inspired moments that can't be ignored. In the Flesh does delve into the inevitable "humans are good, zombies are evil" argument I've heard a-hundred-and-one times, already (Gothic fiction, in particular, has always attacked the more dubious qualities of organized religion). Personally I found it a little tiresome, especially when compared alongside the biting satire and effective drama the show already exhibits; maybe it wasn't the content, itself, but how predictable it felt, that irked me.

In any case, Rick's dad, Bill Evets, is a religious nut; what he makes up for in marksmanship, he recoups in zeal and lethal intent. It's hardly surprising when he pulls up to the Walker's neighbors and executes an old lady "survivor" right in the street (a more grassroots version of the door-to-door, government-sponsored violence on display in movies like Polanski's The Pianist [2002] or Spielberg's Schindler's List [1993]: National Socialists acting like hired thugs); nor is it exactly a surprise when the Vicar hints at a "second resurrection," loosely interpreting the Bible to motivate his goon to kill—a fact made all the more ironic given that Bill wanted this same religious leader to inspire Rick to kill, by any means at his disposal. Alas, Rick gets cold feet, removing his contacts to show his father who he really is; Bill's denial towards his own son caves and he kills him, convinced that the Vicar was right, and that his "true" son will rise from the grave, not some zombie knockoff.

Alas, the harsh reality is that there is only one second chance, here (according to the hero). The people who came back are changed—they can't eat or drink, and their bodies are forever maimed by mortal injuries—but deep down, they're still the same. They retain that sense of self death normally deprives the body of. As such, it permits catharsis in situations that are, themselves, normally beyond reach. People are given a chance to respond—to take this strange new hand they've been dealt and do with it as they will: heal or squander. In the show, some people squander. Others heal.

I appreciated the variety. I also enjoyed how the show entertained situations that in reality would remain hypothetical. It accomplishes this without feeling forced, or one-sided. For me, the concept of "human zombies" is unique in the sense that I've never seen it explored quite so nakedly as social critique: Here, the heroes aren't isolated, undead vigilantes, like Eric Draven, in The Crow (1994). Likewise, they aren't the faceless majority in a doomsday setting that relegates humanity to a select, unlucky handful.

Instead, there's a good mix, and ample room for comedy and tragedy. All of what In the Flesh delivers feels rather genuine, too, thanks to an all-around stellar group performance by the actors, themselves. All do a wonderful job, but especially Emily Bevan as Amy Dyer. Every scene she's in feels impactful, conjuring up moments of pure comedy/drama gold, galvanized by an energetic performance that's never for a moment dull. She's free, both in control and, at times, a victim; there's little tying her down to a fixed role.

Once she leaves, and leave she does, I found the narrative leaning somewhat on the climax foreshadowed through Bill Evet's treatment of his own son. When he stands in the bar asking all inside to recognize the return of a war hero, everyone but he can see that Rick is different. Of course, no one is brave enough to enlighten him. In any case, it wasn't a question of if it would happen, but when. As the end neared, I felt like I was waiting for Bill to wake up and the blood to spill. Eventually it does, but I could see it coming from miles off. It's suitably tragic. Then again, given that it was one of the weaker elements contained therein, I found myself praying that the show had other tricks up its sleeve, too.

Much to my delight, it did. In the end, the reason for the hero's suicide is explored, as well. For the entirety of the three episodes, I watched the Walker patriarch ignore this white elephant, until, near the end, it all comes to a head. Think Elia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) with Vivian Leigh collapsing on the floor at the very end; or Gus Van Sant's Good Will Hunting (1998) with the therapist finally getting through to Will ("It's not your fault."). In those movies, the device works as required. Here, with Kieren and his father, it does too.

Apart from the obvious, inevitable physical differences between the survivors and the "survivors," all the characters look and feel human. Much like a zombie, the show has its most fun playing around in the grey matter—not brains, in the literal sense, but the fact that, as soon as the condition of undeath becomes a treatable illness, the line between us and them becomes increasingly thin. The part that matters—how we're seen and treated, as a result—is constantly tested, abused and explored.

Thus, moving into part three, I wanted to explore the larger thematic explored by zombie tales, and how Mitchell's In the Flesh attempts to deliver a somewhat different take on the same old stuff.


About me: My name is Nick van der Waard and I'm a Gothic ludologist. I primarily write reviews, Gothic analyses, and interviews. Because my main body of work is relatively vast, I've compiled it into a single compendium where I not only list my favorite works, I also summarize them. Check it out, here!

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