In the Flesh: Series 2 Episode 1 Review
Reviewed by Rory McKay.
In the Flesh splashed onto the scene last year hot off the heels of Being Human for an all-too-brief, excellent three episode debut series. A year later, and in a very different landscape with the cancellation of BBC Three imminent, In the Flesh is back for six more episodes – but does the Series Two premiere live up to expectations?
Series One may have had a lot going for it, but the budget constraints left it feeling a little small in scope, the Roarton-based story feeling almost claustrophobic in its focus on the small Northern town and the struggles of PDS sufferer Kieran. The opening scene of Series Two, however, sets the scene in heart-pumping fashion as Ricky Tomlinson’s pro-PDS sufferer Ken Burton suffered a gruesome death on a Manchester train. It’s a brutal, tense way to open the series, and clearly sets a precedent for what’s going to be a far more action-packed and large-scale series – after last year’s time in Roarton, it’s very interesting indeed to get a glimpse of what’s happening outside the village.
Back in Roarton, however, things aren’t going much better. After the shattering events of the Series One finale, there’s an extremely uneasy truce between the Partially Deceased Syndrome sufferers and the jaded living – the two only just able to co-exist, head writer Dominic Mitchell skilfully creating a believable, close-knit yet slightly depressing village (as with Series One, the direction here is excellent) where just one tiny element could push everything over the edge. That element arrives in two very different forms – determined MP Maxine Martin, part of anti-PDS group Victus, and the return of Amy, along with new pal Simon, campaigning for PDS rights. It’s not exactly hard that come the finale, these tensions will boil over – but the extended series length gives Mitchell a little more time to let the tensions simmer.
Wunmi Mosaku does a great job as Martin – a smiling, affable MP who turns out to be quite the thorough and cunning politician. Her machinations are some of the most compelling parts of the premiere – and as it turns out, she’s quite handy with a power drill, using it to take out a zombie in a scene that wouldn’t look too out of place in The Walking Dead (without the Northern England bed and breakfast garden setting, perhaps). Quite why Martin despises the PDS sufferers so much is unclear – but it’s a quietly menacing performance that I’m very much looking forward to see pay off.
On the other side of the coin are Simon and Amy – determined to eschew the make-up and contact lenses that Kieran cannot live without. Newcomer Emmett Scanlan is a magnetic yet slightly creepy presence as PDS campaigner Simon – his cult beliefs coming across as slightly sinister in a way – equally sinister is the way that Amy, the (after) life-loving friend of Kieran, is firmly under his spell, repeating his beliefs like a parrot and utterly thrilled to even be in his company.
Caught in the middle however, of the two sides, is Kieran. Luke Newberry continues his fine work here, creating the show’s most sympathetic and good-natured character – but who, like everyone else in the melting pot of Roarton, isn’t too far away from violence, as the scene where he physically attacks the pub thugs. It’s an act that initially appears slightly out of character for the mild-mannered Kieran – but as In the Flesh is very keen to remind us, appearances aren’t everything, and no-one is really on the ‘good side’ and ‘bad side’ – by episode’s end, it looks like Kieran has picked Amy and Simon – but will that choice come back to bite him when the inevitable clash between sides comes? It’s certainly going to be very interesting to find out.
By the climax of episode one, two main characters from Series One have bitten the bullet. Courtesy of some mysterious poison via the scheming Maxine Martin, the deranged Vicar Oddie has joined Ken in the great character graveyard in the sky, showing that Mitchell isn’t messing around with this series and there’s almost certainly more major character deaths to come in the upcoming series. The stakes have been duly raised, and anyone (even Kieran?) could die. Again.
Episode Rating: 9/10
In the Flesh returns with a strong opener that sets all the pieces on the chessboard for what looks to be yet another compelling, bloody series. The stakes are higher, the scope is bigger and more interesting characters are coming into play, and it all looks like it’s going to come to a bloody end at series close. Some elements are slightly more interesting than others – the Undead Prophet remains a slice of unwanted mythology in an otherwise grounded and fairly realistic story – but it looks like Series Two’s longer length hasn’t diluted its quality.