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In the Flesh: Series 2 Episode 5 Review

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Reviewed by Rory McKay.

Simon Monroe, the charismatic and charming PDS cult leader, has been one of the show’s more mysterious characters this series – his reasons for his devout belief in pro-PDS rights never revealed. However, this week’s penultimate episode of In the Flesh’s second series pulls back the curtain on SImon’s past, revealing his motivations – and some intriguing additions to the show’s mythology.

This week’s episode is a rather grim one, showing some dire situations for all three of the show’s main characters. Kieran’s plot is an especially dark and saddening one – having finally found the strength to face his parents without his cover-up mousse and contact lenses, he’s rejected out of hand by his terrified family. Having started the series getting on well with his parents and sister, it’s somewhat depressing to see Kieran rejected again by everyone for simply existing – while it’s a little bit of a re-tread of parts of series one, Kieran going back to square one emphasizes how unjust the world has been to him.

But things get worse for Kieran, as he’s hauled in front of the parish council and told to confess about breaking into the GP surgery. The village council trial scene is a surprisingly chilling scene – the councillors’ refusal to listen to Kieran’s pleas and desperate desire to send him back to the treatment centre serving as a neat example of how far Roarton’s residents have fallen in their hatred of PDS sufferers. Luke Newberry continues his sterling work – Kieran rejection by everyone made extra heart-wrenching by Newberry’s performance. Kieran’s parents, previously comic characters to inject some levity into Walker family scenes, get some great material here too – Kieran’s father’s mindless belief that Kieran is indeed guilty because an authority figure said so showing just how weak he is. It’s a nice contrast to Kieran, who’s slowly breaking out of his mild-mannered shell and beginning to stand up for himself. Unfortunately, one member of the Walker family is almost entirely absent this week – Jem, after being given generous amounts of screen-time in previous weeks, barely shows up this week.

Amy, after last week’s intriguing hints at her illness, finally gets a compelling story of her own this week, as her rabid symptoms escalate to the point of Amy losing hope. Emily Bevan has always been one of the show’s strongest performers, and her performance as Amy finally gives in and begs for death is fantastic – Amy has always been a fairly cheerful character, so it’s interesting to see a more vulnerable and frightened side of her character as her cheery and smiley facade cracks. Her story also gets an extremely interesting payoff – on the brink of death, she discovers some of her senses are returning. It’s not explained further, but if the signs that Amy is becoming human again (or at least human-like) are true, it throws a grenade into the show’s mythology, and could lead to some very interesting stories down the road.

Simon, however, takes centre-stage this week in dual stories – one showing his time in the treatment centre in the past, and one showing his time in a cheap budget hotel in The City (which still hasn’t actually been identified) and receiving a terrible mission from the Undead Prophet – to kill the First Risen, who Simon unfortunately believes to be Kieran. The flashbacks showing Simon’s origins are some of the most compelling parts of the episode – adding new layers to the show’s mythology and showing a very different side to Simon. They also allow In the Flesh to revisit its horror story roots, with some genuinely creepy scenes in dark labs ripped right out of a classic horror movie. Guest star Steven Robertson (best known for playing the menacing villain Mr Rook in BBC Three’s previous fantasy series Being Human) is great as John Weston, the inventor of the drug that ‘cures’ the need for human flesh – but it’s Emmett Scanlan who dominates these scenes.

Simon has always been steadfast in his mistrust of humans and pride of his undead state in previous episodes – so to see the exact opposite of the present day Simon is an odd viewing experience – but nonetheless, Emmett Scanlan continues his excellent work, showing Simon’s initial (and somewhat ironic given his current mindset) fear of himself and desperate need for a father figure. His scenes with his father are the episode’s most saddening – Simon’s murder of his mother in his untreated state is a dark, dark twist that sheds a new light on his actions. His turn to the PDS sufferers is somewhat rushed – but his scenes with his father (John Magee turning in one of the show’s best guest performances to date in just a handful of scenes) are some of the most emotionally affecting of the series – mirroring Kieran’s rejection by his family for deeds he had no control over, Simon is kicked out of his house by his angst-ridden father left to fend for himself. Simon started the series as a fairly one-note cult leader, but the show’s excellent character development has made him perhaps the most interesting and vulnerable character in the show.

The three leads each get superlative material – but Maxine Martin is again somewhat sidelined – while her mystery inches forward (it’s revealed she has – or had – a younger brother), her scenes with the B&B owner elsewhere are mostly unnecessary and fairly irrelevant to the episode’s plot. However, the MP still receives an intriguing cliffhanger – she knows the identity of the First Risen, but is it Kieran? Or could it be someone else entirely?

Episode Rating: 9/10

In the Flesh prepares its characters for an apocalyptic finale in another excellent episode – with Simon sharpening a knife with Kieran’s name on it, Kieran’s transfer to the horror movie treatment centre imminent and Maxine Martin on the warpath, the finale promises to be a game-changer.

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