In The Flesh Series 2

First shown May / June 2014 - Now available to buy

Written by Dominic Mitchell (Eps 1,2, 5, & 6) , Fintan Ryan & John Jackson (Ep 3), Fintan Ryan (Ep 4)

Directed by Jim O’Hanlon (Eps 1 &2), Damon Thomas (Eps 3 &4), Alice Troughton (Eps 5 & 6)

Starring Luke Newberry, Emily Bevan, Harriet Cains, Emmett Scanlan

In the Flesh took a lot of people by surprise when the first three part series was shown last year. In the light of the blistering third episode, it seemed more than likely a follow up would happen and this time round the season is double the length and has the opportunity to broaden out the storyline in interesting ways which it does with panache. It is a fascinating show that has found a rhythm of its own and with the future of BBC3’s drama output in some doubt must surely be one of the series that is saved. 
The second season opens nine months after the events of the first with the villagers of Roarton having banned guns and existing with the PDS returnees in a seemingly harmonious manner. However tensions are sitting very close to the surface, which are exacerbated by the arrival of the area’s new MP Maxine Martin played with silky charm by Wunmi Mosaku. She has a secret agenda that finds itself at odds with the person you imagine would be her natural ally, the village’s evangelical priest. The anxiety that this show is particularly adept at building is punctuated throughout the episode by unexpected moments of violence; a chained rabid brought into a medical centre, a guest house owner attacked in her garden. These come without warning to the viewer, lurching in from the side of the picture, as sudden as they would be to the victims.
Kieran meanwhile sits somewhere in between. There are hints that the risen of his village have a special quality and he seems much more enlightened than the others. Just as he did during the hunt sequence in season one, he is ready to step in and try to diffuse the anger on both sides even if he is not always successful. You wonder even at this stage if writer Dominic Mitchell is hinting that PDS syndrome might be an intermediate state, that these people may eventually become more human a concept that comes back later in the season. In one scene Kieran talks of feeling discomfort, which he is not supposed to; in another Amy’s hand is seen to twitch involuntarily.

Kieran remains a superbly written and portrayed character. It could be difficult for the viewer to accept someone as the protagonist of the piece, but Kieran remains likeable, confused and an easy identifiable figure for the viewer. Luke Newberry’s performance may often seem understated but he is able to interpret the nuances of the script with feeling. This is emphasised in one of the episode’s strongest scenes in which he covers the bathroom mirror as he removes his external mousse and contacts. He still cannot look at himself in his true state. This is returned to in the sixth episode when he finally stares at himself -and us- for several seconds.
Amy’s return – greeted initially with hugs and smiles- becomes more problematic when it is clear she has fallen under the influence of the Undead Liberation army and in particular the charismatic Simon. These people advocate what amounts to terrorist action to even the score for all the risen who’ve been victimised. We see a shocking sequence on a tram where they deliberately ingest a drug dubbed Blue Oblivion to turn them rabid whereupon they slaughter the inhabitants of the carriage (who happen to include Ken Burton, the Walkers’ former neighbour). Emily Bevan plays Amy as a seemingly easy going bundle of contradictions and hides her anxieties to others but we sense things are not right. She is the sort of person whom it would be easy to befriend. Simon on the other hand is monosyllabic except when preaching and seems dangerous. His opening scene also means Kieran gets to use the line nobody ever imagined they’d hear; “You’re sitting on my grave!”

Dominic Mitchell is careful to explore both sides of this debate; you can see the parallel with any number of contemporary or historical scenarios and he manages to pull off the not inconsiderable feat of making you believe each side when they put their case. His central idea that we are all hiding behind a persona whether actual or psychological provides the opportunity for every character we meet, right down to those with a few lines, to seem real and believable. Once again the cinematography is excellent underscoring director Jim O’Hanlon s unsettling mood.
The advantage of having twice the amount of time in the second season allows for some interesting sub plots that support the main narrative. The second episode for example is partly set in Jem’s school where she exaggerates her exploits to make friends, something that backfires when she is seen to cower at the rampage of a classmate who has taken a sniff of Blue Oblivion and becomes temporarily rabid. The good thing about this is that Mitchell adds one of his signature twists when Jem’s new friend reveals her father rose only to be killed by the vigilante group.
The main thrust of the episode though is a new `initiative` called, with typical government understatement, PDS Give Back. PDS sufferers must work on community schemes for six months before having a review to determine if they can be, as it is put, re-citizenised. This is reminiscent of recent coalition government schemes aimed supposedly at reducing the welfare bill but which in practical terms take little account of the impact this will have. The Give Back scheme is alleged to be a scam with the likelihood of the periods simply being extended indefinitely. For Kieran this means his planned trip to France is off and he finds himself wearing an orange tunic and having to erect a fence that will defend the village, rather like he is a part time prisoner. Slowly Roarton is turning back into a more militarised zone. In the looks and chatter of locals, the script keeps showing people’s inherent fears of PDS sufferers are never far from the surface and with the death of the reverend Oddie, it is now Maxine Martin who rules the roost.
The episode also continues to hint that there is something significant about Roarton in general and Kieran in particular. Was he the first person to rise? Maxine Martin seems to think so as she investigates all the area’s PDS sufferers. It is this significance that seems to have drawn Simon here too.  For Kieran the issues are pushing him towards the ULA’s orbit if not yet their tactics; his talk with Simon at the end of the episode seems to make sense to him and suggest he is slowly being initiated into the shady organisation that is driven by vague prophets.
Episode 3 centres around Freddie Preston’s attempts to win back ex-wife as storyline that treads a fascinating balance between farce and tragedy while Kieran becomes increasingly frustrated with the treatment of PDS sufferers. There’s also Jem who is in shock after killing her classmate Henry by accident.  Miss Martin’s causal reaction to this news is telling though she has a slightly different agenda to others in the village. The episode draws on the way that people accept creeping laws that infringe rights without even realising it. The callous, offhand way the nurse at the medical centre treats the two rabid PDS sufferers in isolation is one that Kieran and Simon have different reactions too however. When Simon steals a key with a view to setting them free Kieran makes him return it. A tense climax inside the garage lock up brings these strands together and is enough to draw Kieran further into Simon’s influence. How much the feelings between them are real and how much Simon is manipulating Kieran is left at this stage to us to decide.
Part 4 seems to answer at least part of the question when during an impassioned speech at a supremely awkward family dinner at which Simon and Gary are both present, Kieran appears to confirm he actually was the first risen. The description he uses to illustrate how he felt upon reawakening is unsettling. The entire dinner in fact is one of the best scenes in the season with writer Fintan Ryan really getting under the skin of each of those present. It’s a significant moment for Simon, who having obliged Kieran by turning up wearing his mousse and eyes, remains silent as he takes in the idea that in more ways than one Kieran is the person he’s been looking for.  It’s another stand out moment for Luke Newberry who delivers his speech with a deft combination of shame and delight as Kieran is determined to shock yet also try to get the others to understand how he felt.

Jem goes back on patrol only to find herself haunted by what happened. Harriet Cains handles the part so well and you have to feel sorry for the way her character is so easily influenced by Gary despite her outward bravado. More concealment I suppose.
Elsewhere, the slightly drawn out plot line involving Philip’s visits to a PDS brothel bear dramatic fruit as he finds himself trapped by events. He’s been a character it’s difficult to warm to yet one who seems to be unable to make a stand about anything in aspects of his life. That he finally does so in the least sensible of circumstances does not immediately become clear until we discover he remains in love with Amy. In the run up to this as Philip desperately tries to cover his tracks some neat touches mean the viewer is constantly left with the impression Philip might do something drastic to protect himself but in the end he takes responsibility in front of an angry crowd that once again represents the unforgiving nature of this community.
What they don’t know is that two of Simon’s followers have let the rabids caged in the medical centre out and they have already attacked the nurse, a scenario which Kieran and Simon are blamed for in part 5.  All these things continue to swirl around Maxine Martin who has become the central character of this series (though you do wonder whether she doesn’t have any other MP’s duties having seemingly taken residence in Roarton)  Her casual reaction to events she doesn’t care about compares with barely hidden zeal about ones she does. She has brought slippery big city politics into this small place that views things more simply and the writers draw a number of examples in which she manipulates the locals with ease. Wunmi Mosaku pulls off a complicated role with skill; sometimes a look is all it takes. When Philip is making a speech in a final attempt to justify himself just check out her smug sideways look as she knows the crowd are not going to accept what he is saying. If you didn’t dislike the character by this point that look is enough to change your mind!
In episode 5 as a result of the accusation Kieran finds himself appearing before an impromptu court in the village hall which decides that unless he signs an admission of guilt. The speedy way in which the villagers reach this conclusion- and especially the manner in which his parents seem to accept it- is striking and means he ends up locked in his own room. After a couple of episodes written by others, the return of Dominic Mitchell amps up what the critics have accurately called “dramatic rug pulls” that define his scripts. There’s subtlety too; take away the actual things being talked about and much of the interaction between Kieran and his parents is reminiscent of archetypal trouble teen dramas except with a layer of death on top! In the final two episodes Luke Newberry, who’s been slightly side lined in the middle section, delivers his best performances yet as Kieran is caught between conflicting sides neither of which is right. 

A large chunk of the episode takes the series back to its initially horrific roots as we discover Simon’s story. Simon is in town meeting a representative of- or perhaps the- prophet who tells him the first risen must be killed with quasi pagan certainty at mid-day on 12 December and as he wrestles with this it triggers flashbacks. Till this point we haven’t really known much about him but now we see, in graphic detail, his post Rising situation as he is the first to respond to the new drugs. Direction and cinematography highlight the oppressive cold metal filled rooms conjuring up a sense of evil as dispassionate white coated scientists consider the results while Simon is terrified and confused. Once he recovers enough to go home there is precious sanctuary there as he discovers he killed his mother when in a rabid state and his father- a superb Francis Magee - throws him out. In the light of what happens later I wonder how the chronology fits though of course we may not yet know the full story. Despite some red herrings along the way it seems likely that Kieran was the first risen yet Simon’s capture and treatment seems way ahead of his. Knowing Mitchell, there is a fiendish answer in there somewhere!

We’ve watched Amy develop an increasing number of tremors and tics and now, convinced the effects of the drugs are wearing off for good, she decides to persuade Philip to kill her in a slightly surreal scene inside a tent. Talking of those rug pulls, Mitchell pulls a good one here as a tear in the fabric lets in some rain which Amy feels- having stated earlier she can feel nothing. While initially seeming unlikely the romance between the couple has developed with teenage style simplicity even though both are older so the melodrama of the suicide attempt fits. Yet the sense that rather than turning rabid Amy might be becoming alive again kicks matters off in a different direction especially when she develops a heartbeat.

The pieces are in place then for a terrific sixth episode that once again shows the benefits of what has been a slow burn type of drama. Dominic Mitchell certainly likes to root matters in English tradition and it’s notable how some of the major plot turns have involved old fashioned things like phone boxes, notepads and video tapes. Now he goes back further with a traditional December march accompanied by drummers that will bring the villagers into a direct confrontation with the PDS sufferers awaiting the supposed second Rising.
Kieran is trying to escape his house arrest when Gary drags him out forcing him to take a small amount of Blue Oblivion. At this point with the two parties confronting each other and Simon lurking with a knife you feel anything could happen. What does occur is masterfully edited together to wring out maximum tension as a shot rings out and it could be any of about six main characters who have been hit. It turns out to be nobody at first- a great double take as we start with what could be Kieran’s body and the camera pulls out. It is only moments later when, convinced Amy is the first Risen, Maxine stabs her and she ends up as the only victim of the day, at least in actual terms. Her death of course affects Kieran, Philip and Simon in different ways. How apt that probably by coincidence the production team seem to have chosen the coldest, wettest day of the year to film the funeral.
There is still plenty of story left of course, not least the fact that Amy’s body is dug up by two outwardly chirpy but obviously serious government types who have been lurking around the fringes from the start of the episode. Is she really dead as such or now immortal?  Then there’s a scene showing that Kieran is starting to develop the same symptoms as Amy had again hinting that his condition may be transitory.  This could open up whole new plot- lines on the ideas of rehabilitation and healing wounds. Plus what would a different kind of human be like? Then there’s the big unanswered question of why exactly the Rising happened at all? Was it some supernatural phenomena with a purpose? Or was it, perhaps, the result of some scientific experiment unknown to all but a handful? Maybe the duo who dig up Amy at the end are part of the investigation into that?  Meanwhile a scene in the pub shows that the prejudices of many of the villagers remain deep seated just under the surface. While many of them attend Amy’s funeral yet by the time they’re back in the pub it’s “once a rotter, always a rotter.”

Of course if matters were simpler I’m sure a third season would be commissioned,. This is BBC3’s most mature drama in the fantasy genre and a genuinely intriguing take on the undead that has exceeded its boundaries and developed into a drama that has a lot to say.  It is packed with excellent scenes and performances not to mention a narrative that often surprises. Yet the decision to move BBC3 online is more than just a change of delivery, it will mean even less money – and one of the wonders of this show is what they’ve done with relatively little money- and hard decisions. If any series can maintain the identity of a channel often unfairly vilified because it takes risks then In The Flesh is it and it is to be hoped that at the very least it is at the top of the queue to be continued in whatever new format the channel develops.

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