In the Flesh: Series 2 Episode 3 Review
Reviewed by Rory McKay.
With Jem having just accidentally killed a classmate and Kieran slowly falling into Simon’s slightly creepy pro-PDS group, In the Flesh is heading down a dark path – but does it keep the quality up?
Last week’s episode had a couple of brief, uninteresting detours into the lives of Roarton’s other residents – but this week’s peek at the life of three residents managed to be a great story in its own right, as well as dovetailing nicely into the ongoing arc plot. The tale of Freddie, the PDS sufferer come home to discover that his wife had moved on with a new boyfriend, is the sort of story that In the Flesh does very well – providing somewhat darker and (far more interesting) twists on classic soap stories, and was told in a way that left this viewer wondering just who was in the right.
Haley’s struggle between her previous husband and her new boyfriend could have been a dull detour into full-on kitchen sink territory, but instead it’s a touching, very ambiguous way – newcomer Fintan Ryan (the first guest writer on the show, the previous five episodes having been penned by Dominic Mitchell) skilfully creates three very believable characters in surprisingly short screen-time, and actually succeeds in making them more interesting than some of the characters that have been around since series one. That the story ends in a tense, neat little confrontation between the rabid Freddie and Haley shows In the Flesh’s strange yet clever fusion of genres – In the Flesh doesn’t have the budget of The Walking Dead, but it still manages to make the most out of its slender BBC Three budget when it has the chance.
Kieran is slightly sidelined this week in favour of Haley, Amir and Freddie, but his dark path into Simon’s cult is speeding up as he’s shown the human cruelty he’s tried so hard to ignore – Luke Newberry continues to excel as someone whose previous beliefs are becoming harder and harder to believe. His docile manner in the surgery contrasted with Simon’s rage was a neat illustration of just how innocent and un-extremist Kieran is – it’s difficult to imagine him at any point going back into a rabid state and attacking humans, but Newberry keeps that undercurrent of rage and strong opinions tucked away under the mild-mannered demeanour of Kieran – it’s clear that Kieran does feel almost as strongly as Simon, but what makes Kieran interesting that seemingly, he doesn’t want to be angry at the humans, telling himself that there are still plenty of good people. The image of Kieran with one contact lense out is a powerful image of just how torn he seems to be between his previous friends, and his new friends.
I predicted last week that Jem would be heading down a similarly bad path after her murder of Henry – and true to form, this episode sees her spending almost all her screentime with two of the show’s villains (the episode’s end showed that while Gary is perfectly friendly to Jem, he’s not a very nice man to PDS sufferers and will doubtless be involved in any conflict towards the end) – it’s difficult to see a way back to the Jem we saw at the start of the series – the show’s efficient character development transforming the character we saw in episode one in a very short space of time.
Simon seemed a little less creepy last week, but his Biblical quoting (a nice call back to the start of episode one with his Bible verse) and fury towards the PDS mistreatment shows that Simon is a very shady character indeed – when he claims that he doesn’t lead people on, it’s hard to believe him. Emmett Scanlan remains a magnetic screen presence – but also a rather threatening one, his steadfast hatred showing that if he ever comes into conflict with Gary or MP Maxine, it won’t end well for everyone. Despite the threatening and creepy nature of Simon, Scanlan still remains charismatic, convincing as the cult leader who is bringing more and more – including Kieran – under his spell.
The episode’s end shows two very different romances blossoming – Gary and Jem’s kiss is a slightly odd and misjudged moment – it’s not really been hinted at before, and the apparent age gap makes it an odd, almost parental romance (the show seemed to be trying to convey a mentor-mentee relationship) – but it’s still an effective way of showing that Jem has chosen a side, and it’s a stance that could very well end up being her downfall. However, Kieran and Simon’s surprise kiss is a slightly more well-judged moment – those lingering looks from last week paying off – it also shows that Kieran has seemingly picked an opposing side too, and is becoming more and more enamoured with Simon – but is he playing with fire?
In the Flesh goes from strength to strength in an episode that effectively fuses its standalone tales with the ongoing arc plot. While some regulars – Amy and Maxine Martin – are somewhat short of screen-time and there’s a misjudged, out of the blue moment at the conclusion, the Walker clan’s choosing of sides is proving to be very compelling indeed.