In the second episode of the first series ofÂ In The Flesh, Roarton is further challenged when the town’s big hero suddenly welcomes back his son. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch In the Flesh.Â
Trigger Warning: Please see my review for the pilot for all continuing warnings. This one also has a warning for discussion of homophobia.
Holy shit, I’m so impressed, y’all. This is deliberately thoughtful in a way that I rarely see on television. Especially since it does something that isn’t common for fictional narratives that tackle social ills: represent theÂ actual marginalized group while using a metaphor to explore that experience.
I’ll talk about that later. Let’s get into the MANY things I have to say about this episode.
Parents and Denial
There is an unreal parallel taking place here, and it’s so rewarding to watch. Both Kieren’s and Rick’s parents are forced to deal with the return of their sons, and they cope with this in ways that are strikingly identical. Both families preserved the rooms of their children, which has an unintended consequence than what usually happens. Their sons actually get to return to their old rooms, and in them, there are visual reminders of what their life used to be. That’s particularly haunting in Rick’s case, since there’s a pervasive undercurrent of performance to his entire life back in Roarton. His room is littered with signs that he was a normal heterosexual teenager, but we know that’s not the case. And I won’t be surprised if we find out in the next episode that Bill knew his son was sexually and romantically involved with Kieren, which is why he was sent to Preston in the first place.
This episode then tracks the saddening levels of denial and compartmentalization that are taking place in both families. Kieren’s parents mean well; that’s undeniable. They’re doing their best to make Kieren comfortable, but it’s often through stifling ways that avoid ever facing the truth of their situation. By avoiding details or difficult questions, they can simply pretend that everything’s normal…. for a while. But it’s clearly not working for Kieren, and Jem can see right through it. Hell, she ends up being the first family member who is completely honest with Kieren, though I should note she does so out of rage of being banned from patrols due to Kieren.
I don’t want to deny that Kieren’s parents are doing what they can with an awkward situation. And when you compare what they’re doing with what Rick’s family does, despite the similarities, it’s certainly less violent. Still, I was completely shocked that Bill was so forthright about Rick coming home, and then continually surprised at how bold he was about Rick’s presence in his life. It wasn’t until Kieren and Amy went to the pub that I fully understood what was going on here: Bill did not consider his son a PDS sufferer. EveryoneÂ else was a “rotter,” including Kieren and Amy, but his son was special. It’s a particularly intense display of compartmentalization, and what’s even worse is that we can see Rick imitating this behavior. How long had he been doing this to cope with his condition? Or did he start it once it became clear that this was the only way he could integrate back into his society?
Wrapped into the complicated identity politics of being someone with PSD is Kieren and Rick’s sexuality. None of this is confirmed in terms of an actual identity, and given the vague spoiler I know, I won’t define anyone until they do. But weÂ do have absolute confirmation that Kieren and Rick fooled around before he left, and from what Kieren says when he argues with Rick in his father’s truck, there was a possibility that they were in love and that some sort of relationshipÂ could have happened if not for Rick leaving. When you look at the way people violently despise those with PDS, when you see how Bill talks about his son not being like the others, when you analyze the ways in which Rick remains in denial of what he is… it’s very easy to see how this metaphor works as one to describe homophobia. So it’s so goddamn satisfying to see thatÂ actual homophobia still has a place in the narrative, that actual gay/queer/bi characters are also part of the story.
My only hope, then, is that at some point we do get some sort of acknowledgment of how racism works in this world. That whole scene in the pub with the segregated area was a powerful visual metaphor, but it’s also something that’s heavily taken fromÂ actual racial segregation, you know?
ANYWAY, EVERYTHING HURTS.
BEST.Â LITERAL BEST. I’m so happy that she’s been introduced, that she plays such a huge part in this story, and that we’re getting the perspective of another PDS character that’s so radically different than Kieren’s. And sheÂ needs to be that way in order to affect Kieren as she does, which is not to say that she doesn’t have a story of her own. Even in this episode alone, we see how she slowly realizes the sort of world that Kieren’s been living in and how it utterly disgusts her. Of course, part of her infectious black humor and disposition comes from her ability to cope with her predicament. There’s yet another reference to the Undead Liberation Army, which I’m eager to see explored more, and I wonder how many other members of the PDS community have found comfort and solidarity in this movement. Where are they located? What is their goal aside from changing public perception of PDS?
Anyway, when Kieren meets Amy, it’s in the context of his first trip outside the home. This show has done enough brilliant worldbuilding that I was COMPLETELY TERRIFIED as soon as Kieren stepped into the outside world, and that sense of unending dread never really gave up for most of this episode. But then there’s Amy, who proudly walks about the world with a smile on her face, an appreciation for a second chance at life deep in her heart. AndÂ that is important to me because I realized when Amy and Kieren swapped their death stories, Amy was perhaps the first person to give Kieren a genuine, loving hug since he came back to life. That shows me that she’sÂ already a good friend after knowing him for LESS THAN A DAY. In LESS THAN A DAY, she takes him to his first highly public placeÂ and gets him to go see Rick. Does that go splendidly? Well… NO, NOT REALLY. She was so busy wrapped up in the joy of that theme park that she didn’t even see Kieren get chased away while slurs were hurled at him.
But I’m hoping she understands the sort of social pressure he’s under now that she’s actuallyÂ seenÂ it. My god, that scene in the pub was TOO TENSE FOR WORDS. Watching the growing disgust on Amy’s face gave meÂ life, particularly since she is literally the first person to ever openly challenge all of these people like she does.
There’s still some information I want to know about this world, and the hunting sequence at the end made me curious about specific details. HowÂ were the dead risen? Like… how did it start? Did it never spread beyond the initial infection? If containment is possible, does that mean you can’t spread it through bites, as is stated at the end when Dean is bit? If that’s the case, did burial procedures change post-Rising? Is there something people did to prevent people from coming back?
I ask this because there are so many fascinating implications to the final scene of this episode. It’s clear that the governmentÂ wants people to facilitate rehabilitation. 900 pounds for a couple of rabid undead is aÂ lot of money, so there’s an obvious incentive not to kill them. That clashes with the militant mentality of the community of Roarton, but even in just these two episodes, we’re seeing how certain prejudices are being eroded. Slowly, yes, and painfully so. It’s not going to be an overnight success at all, and the changes we’re seeing are on aÂ very micro level, person-to-person.
What Kieren does here is appeal to the economic concerns of Dean and Gary, but he makes the undead aÂ very personal thing for Rick, who was eager to impress his father and kill that father/daughter undead. It’s the only way he can make Rick stand down: he demonstrates the he and Rick areÂ just like them. No amount of guns or macho posturing or beer drinking will ever change the fact that they have PDS.
This is life now. And people are going to have to start accepting it.
The video for Episode Two can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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