IN THE FLESH Season Two Review: Life After Zombies Is Still No Picnic

     May 12, 2014


Last year, BBC America quietly aired the BBC Three series In the Flesh, a British take on the zombie apocalypse that was satirical, haunting and deeply affecting.  Spanning a mere three episodes (a la Luther or Sherlock), the series explored what happens after a zombie apocalypse is over.  In this case, the government has found a way to re-orient the undead back into the world of the living: a serum keeps them from wanting to devour flesh, and cosmetics give them a more lifelike pallor and eye color.  But those suffering from “Post-Deceased Syndrome” are not embraced by many, including sometimes their own families.

in-the-flesh-posterIn the new season, In the Flesh continues to follow the “second life” of teenager Kieren “Ren” Walker (Luke Newberry).  Hit the jump for what the second season has to offer, though beware of very minor spoilers if you haven’t watched the first season (bookmark this instead, and go to, where it is streaming for a limited time).

In the Flesh is such a surprising entry to the zombie genre because of its unique take on the undead (something that would later be echoed in the excellent French series, The Returned).  In the Flesh gives viewers the zombies we’re familiar with — flesh eating, dead-eyed, rotting — but infused that idea with another one: what if they could be normalized?  And what then?

In the Flesh‘s first season was nearly perfect.  It was deeply emotional with its characters, layered in terms of plot, but still gory.  In the first few minutes of the second season, all of these aspects come together in a difficult scene that expresses exactly how confused things are in Roarton and elsewhere.  While in the first season, the living had regained the upper hand, neutralizing the undead by turning them into the more acceptable sufferers of PDS, there are many within the undead community who reject these boundaries, including a figure known as The Undead Prophet.

While Ren seems to have moved on, initially, from that kind of radical thinking, his fellow PDS friend (and former hunting partner) Amy (Emily Bevan) has been spending her time at a commune for the undead, where she meets Simon Monroe (Emmett J. Scanlan), one of the “12 disciples” of the Prophet.  Simon begins challenging Ren’s acquiescence to existing as a living person (with his makeup and contacts), an idea which becomes less appealing as the the former Human Volunteer Force squadrons are still making life difficult for PDSers, even though their guns have been confiscated.

As Ren desires to run away to Europe (where the population is apparently more friendly to the undead), a new face comes to Roarton.  Maxine Martin (Wunmi Mosaku) is an MP who is extremely anti-PDS, and she brings a new, political layer to the show’s storytelling.  In addition to the emotions and prejudices within the small community, Maxine’s beliefs (like those of Vicar Oddie) are at odds with the undead denizens, who begin to feel threatened.  This all culminates with an increasing number of incidents where followers of the prophet take Blue Oblivion (a drug that makes them go “rabid,” i.e. on killing sprees), and attack the living, which makes them harder to defend emotionally.

in-the-flesh-season-2One of the best things about In the Flesh is that alongside its occasional frights (which are sudden, gory and effective), it gives a nuanced portrayal of the conflicts, big and small, that arise from this new world order.  Members of the community who seem welcoming and supportive of the PDS-ers often show another side when it comes down to brass tacks.  For Ren, it’s demoralizing.  For Simon and others, it’s galvanizing.  For Ren’s sister Jem (Harriet Cairns), a former member of the HVF, it’s confusing.  Though she loves and trusts Ren now (which took all of last season to ensure), she’s still haunted by her knowledge of his past, and the idea that he could revert.

The “Rotters,” as they are pejoratively known, are also beginning to face strange physical problems.  It’s just one of several mysteries that, like in the first season, In the Flesh sets up to run alongside its other drama, helping to drive the otherwise languid pace.  It’s one of the things that made that first season so addictive.  This time around, there are twice as many episodes, each lasting an hour.  It will allow for a deeper exploration of this strange, complicated world, and its many opposing sides.

In the Flesh remains one of the most innovative series on TV, giving a fair look to all aspects of a situation that, metaphorically, could stand-in for any number of human experiences.  As Ren’s dad Steve says, “I’m just letting it all hang out.  Saying what I feel.”  That’s exactly what the series does, and it’s a beautiful thing.

In the Flesh airs Saturday nights on BBC America.


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