In the fourth episode of the second series of In The Flesh, I DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW A SHOW CAN BE SO TENSE AND AWKWARD AND SCARY SO CONSISTENTLY. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch In The Flesh.
Trigger Warning: In addition to the series-wide warnings, I’d also like to add a warning for discussion of sex workers and shaming of sex work.
Seriously, I am perpetually in awe of this show. It is firing on all cylinders all the time, and this episode in particular is such a brilliant ball of anxiety and terror, and THERE ARE STILL MORE. The one thing that hangs over this particular episode is that pervasive sense of dread as we all wait for the other shoe to drop. We keep waiting for the videos to come out, for Phillip’s downfall, for Simon to see what Kieren’s life is like, and IT’S ALL SUCH A HORRIFYING DISASTER AND SO MUCH WORSE THAN WE EVER COULD HAVE EXPECTED.
WHERE DO I EVEN START WITH THIS EPISODE AND THIS SPECIFIC CHARACTER? I just want to reach through the screen and pull Jem away from Gary because this is not good for her. I imagine that there’s a comfort she feels when she’s with him, and it’s one that allows her to deny the very real shit she’s going through. If she can feel like she’s doing the right thing, maybe that’ll assuage her guilt. Except that Jem tried to be honest and to be held accountable for what she did, and LOOK WHAT HAPPENED. Gary is so wrapped up in his belief that he’s enacting some moral imperative that he can’t even see how deeply uncomfortable Jem is. He doesn’t see her reaction to his dinner story, and he doesn’t see her reaction to the brothel raid. And honestly? I don’t even think he would care. He’s self-absorbed, obsessed with the power that Maxine has given him, and his only interest is in reliving the glory days right now. It’s so jarring to me that he tells Jem that she needs to live in the here and now while he’s busy re-creating the past, you know?
Jem, my heart hurts. I just want her to have a friend who will actually help her, you know?
WELL. WELL HOLY SHIT. I was genuinely surprised by him here because I thought I had him figured out. He fit in so well with characters like Maxine and Gary because his motivation was so purely selfish. Each of these people is invested in maintaining current systems of oppression because it benefits them, not because there’s some moral truth or ethical imperative at work here. Gary enjoys the prestige that being in the Roarton Protection Service provides him. (I think I got that name right? Oh god, I CAN’T REMEMBER and I can’t Google it for fear of spoilers. This is now my life.) It reminds him of the same power he got being in the HVF. Maxine… jesus, I need to write a novel about Maxine because Y’ALL. Y’ALL. SHE IS NOT WHO SHE SAYS SHE IS AND I WILL TALK ABOUT IT IN A SECOND.
In Phillip’s case, we’ve got someone who maintains the oppression of the PSD folks in order to ascend the hierarchy of political power. It’s not a shocking thing to witness because it’s so unfortunately common in our world. But I feel so validated that the tiny moment in the last episode was exactly what I thought it was: Phillip realizing that what Maxine is selling is bullshit. But it’s important to note that up until the moment that Phillip is aware of how fucked he is, he was still willing to support Maxine. He thought he had destroyed Ms. Lam’s videos (I can’t recall if that’s her correct name either), and he would have lied to Henry’s mother if he could have. So while it’s very important that he does publicly stand up to Maxine and offer himself up for public shame, I think we have to acknowledge that it was only when he was in Maxine’s crosshairs that he understood just how horrible she is and how horrible her policies are. He knows she’s wrong, but it took him becoming the brunt of oppression for him to truly understand it.
Everything is so fucked up, y’all. That scene where the town publicly shames all those sex workers (THANK YOU FOR ACTUALLY CALLING THEM THAT) and their patrons is so horrifying. And like so many other aspects of this show, it’s both an in-universe oppression and one that’s represented in the real world, and fuck. It’s so awful to watch. I mean, I couldn’t ignore all the undertones of homophobia in it, you know? I’m someone that people have protested against because the kind of sex I have is unclean and impure!!! THIS SHOW IS TOO MUCH.
NO, DON’T HURT AMY, DON’T DO IT. Am I thrilled that Simon/Kieren is canon? Yes, but I don’t want this at the expense of Amy’s happiness. I was happy that Kieren stood up for her, but there still needs to be an actual conversation, you know? Kieren has to let her go or break up with her or ANYTHING, and it is immature and rude of him to let this go any further with her. Obviously, she knows the truth now, and to add insult to injury, it appears that she’s developing a resistance to neurotripteline, which is horrifying and SHE JUST NEEDS A REAL FRIEND NOW. Is that going to be Phillip??? That’s such a weird thought, especially since Phillip’s got his own emotional issues to work out. Oh god, everything is a mess.
Kieren and the Lunch Scene
This whole show is full of phenomenal actors and actresses, but Luke Newberry blew me away with his performance in every scene of this episode. I love so much that while he’s attracted to Simon, he refused to buy into his cult status. He refused to be spoken to like he’s nothing more than a believer; he refused to pursue a romantic relationship with Simon unless Simon told Amy the truth; and he refused to engage with Simon further unless Simon started acting in a respectful way towards him. So I think that Simon truly is serious about his feelings towards Kieren because of what he chooses to do here: he puts on make-up and contact lenses so he can join Kieren at a family lunch on a Sunday afternoon. It’s such a fascinating chance for Simon to see what Kieren’s life is like and to see what sort of disasters and absurdities he’s had to deal with.
For someone as charismatic as Simon, I thought it was a huge deal that Kieren’s parents literally shocked him into silence. Simon is absolutely out of his element here. This is not a world he knows how to navigate. Of course, matters are made infinitely worse once Jem and Gary show up to eat. Y’all: HOW? HOW??? HOW WAS THAT SCENE A THING THAT HAPPENED AND WE WERE ALLOWED TO WATCH IT? It’s such an important moment for Kieren because he realizes that no matter how hard he tries, he can’t ever fit into this. He tries to make his parents happy, and yes, they try really hard to be nice and considerate. But it’s true that Kieren’s father lashed out once Kieren went “too far,” not when Gary, who isn’t part of the family, was super crude towards his own son. I get this SO MUCH, y’all. It’s so difficult to navigate this shit with family and friends because marginalized folk have to go through life feeling like they’re always on edge, so we expect those close to us to at least come to our defense when we need it. So it makes perfect sense to me that Kieren would be so furious with his father. He just wants people on his side, and Simon is the only person who has shown him that kind of support. Simon has shown him how to be himself, free from the restraints of this awful society, and THE BEST PART IS THAT THIS IS ALSO A METAPHOR FOR HIS SEXUALITY WHICH IS CANON AND NOT A METAPHOR AT ALL.
help me HOW THE FUCK IS THIS SHOW REAL
I can’t. I CAN’T. OH MY GOD, HERE IT IS, THE BIG TWIST TO EXPLAIN HER AND MAKE HER MORE THAN A ONE-NOTE ANTAGONIST AND I’M SO FUCKED UP. Who was she talking to in the Roarton Cemetery??? That has to be someone she knew, and her reference to it not being “too long” MUST BE A REFERENCE TO THE SECOND RISING. Her obsession with finding the First Risen is not because the government needs to stop the Second Rising, is it? WHAT IF SHE WANTS IT TO HAPPEN BECAUSE SHE CAN GET HER LOVED ONE BACK???? Y’ALL WHAT IF I MIGHT ACTUALLY BE PREPARED FOR A PLOT TWIST. Granted, I feel like the show has basically spelled it out at this point, but give me like… a third of a credit.
The First Risen
HAHDSFHJKASDFKL;JAFSDK ASFIAJKLASDF;LKASDF IT REALLY IS KIEREN AND I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT THE SHOW REVEALED THIS AMIDST A SCENE THAT WAS ALREADY RIDICULOUS AND TERRIFYING AND IT’S EVIDENCE THAT IN THE FLESH DOESN’T GIVE A FUCK ABOUT OUR FEELINGS.
I can’t do this.
The video for this episode can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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