Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Article first published as Zombies IN THE FLESH on TheTVKing.

BBC America's latest offering, airing the past three nights, is In the Flesh. Set post-zombie apocalypse, the undead are being somewhat cured and sent home. But their former families and neighbors have mixed feelings about these creatures walking among them, especially as neither side has forgotten the tragic events that the mindless horde set in motion.

I'm not completely sold on the logic of the story. People that died over the course of a year climb out of the ground and go on a spree of destruction, then, after receiving medicine, are returned to their former state, save some cold, pale skin and dietary restrictions, with memories intact. Wouldn't the brain have stopped working upon death, so no memories would be recorded? And wouldn't some of the flesh be rotten, which makes the human / zombie sex shown within more than a little gross.

However, those issues aside, I find In the Flash thoroughly fascinating. I can't recall anyone ever exploring this angle of the zombie myth, and dealing with the after affects of such a disaster would be very difficult indeed. How can one look someone in the eye that is known to eat flesh and be OK with them? How could one live with oneself after remembering doing such things? Is it OK to kill what appears to be an older, defenseless woman in front of her husband just because, out of her mind, she once kills someone else? Can a person that is no longer a zombie be forgiven for hurting people, by himself or his victims' loved ones? How long does it take life to return to normal?

This series takes the very wise move of making the tale personal, the only way to really access the emotional heft involved. The protagonist is Kieren Walker (Luke Newberry, Lightfields), a teen who killed himself, and then ate his sister, Jem's (Harriet Cains, Human Beings), friend in front of her. He has the double duty of having to own up to both his deeds as a person, and as a member of the undead. In both, he makes horrible mistakes that deeply wound his family.

Jem is more willing to forgive Kieren his zombie actions, which makes sense. After all, while in that state, Kieran doesn't have any conscious control, whereas his suicide is a choice he definitely makes. Jem is so resentful of this that she joins a squad haunting zombies, surely a personal lashing out against Kieren from robbing Jem of him. They are close, once upon a time, and she can't help but take his death personally.

Kieren's mother, Sue (Marie Critchley, Poppy Shakespeare), also deals with a mix of anger, grief, and relief. She is furious at her son, too, but also oh so happy to have him back. Surely, this is sort of how any parent must regard a child after a suicide attempt, and so should be relatable on a very basic level to many in the audience.

Kieran's death has to do with love, of course, as his best friend and crush, Rick (David Walmsley, Love Story), left him to go with the military to Afghanistan. Rick returns, like Kieren, a former zombie. They reconnection is interesting and a bit sweet, proving that these "cured" fellows are as human as they once were when fully alive.

Another character, Rick's father Bill (Steve Evets, Wuthering Heights), cannot reconcile his love for his son with his religious beliefs that the zombies are unnatural, and so goes into deep denial. He even encourages Rick to kill Kieren and other "cured" people by insisting that they aren't actually people. Yet, somehow this label never applies to his own son for Bill. It's another example of coping that is recognizable, even  as it is tragic.

I absolutely love the Jem / Kieren / Rick / Bill story, and all angles of it are brilliantly written and acted. There is lots of nuance in the various relationships, and even when conflict of morality emerges, it's dealt with on a very realistic level. These are people, nothing more and nothing less, and they represent the way a wide swath of the public would act under these circumstances.

There is someone completely outside of the norm, though, and that's Amy (Emily Bevan, St. Trinian's). Without loved ones to return to, she feels completely isolated and alone. She reaches out to Kieren, but he has his own stuff to deal with. A sexual encounter with a boy only makes her feel worse. It's no wonder Amy chooses not to stay in town, preferring to go sans makeup, and eventually leave to be with others who understand her.

Series two will most likely deal more with the group Amy chooses to be with. They seem sinister, and while their plight of being exiled by their own people is sympathetic, there is definitely an impression they will use dark and dangerous means to try to get their way. Violence and lashing out will not help their cause, yet that is what is hinted at as the group's mantra. We'll see how this plays out.

In the Flesh is a wholly original piece of intelligent fiction, forcing us to look at an ugly side of humanity in intriguing ways. I look forward to more of the story, hopefully in the not too distant future, as it has been renewed.

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