In the third and final episode of the first series of In the Flesh, multiple characters confront uncomfortable truths. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch In the Flesh.
Trigger Warning: See the original review for all outstanding trigger warnings.
It’s kind of an immense what an achievement this is.
This episode feels every bit like a series finale, but one that had twenty episodes to develop. I’ll repeat what I said in the video below: In the Flesh has more character development in three episodes than most do in twenty. That doesn’t mean that this is a crowded show; it’s dense, and the worldbuilding is layered and nuanced. As I’ve said, there are numerous levels of commentary going on at the same time, and the show deeply respects the people on the screen. It’s an unbelievable thing because I don’t know of shows that get this good this fast, you know?
LET’S TALK ABOUT WHY THIS HURTS AND IT HURTS SO GOOD.
Even when I want to talk about the character development we witness here from LITERALLY EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER ON THE SCREEN, it’s all predicated on a misdirect. Yes, the vast majority of it matters and affects characters in ways that will inform future events. But it’s incredible to me that as we watch Rick’s mother grow alongside the Walker family (and even at the same time in one scene), we’re being tricked. We’re meant to assume that this is a universal growth, that each of these people are coming to understand PDS in a way that helps them move into the future. But it’s a mask for Bill, and I’M STILL IN PAIN BECAUSE OF IT.
Still, it’s important to acknowledge the stories that unfold here. Jem comes to see her brother in a new light while getting rid of her own misplaced guilt, and I love that she gets her own story instead of existing just for Kieren’s character development. It’s easy to see now why Jem’s surrounded herself with such anti-zombie rhetoric; it’s allowed her to feel like she is making up for not killing her own brother when she found him feeding on Lisa. But even that notion is complicated, isn’t it? It’s not like she wanted to kill him, and her actions allowed Kieren to come back. It’s something that Dominic Mitchell does with all the characters here: he doesn’t give them easy predicaments or easily solutions. Everything is deliberate complex because this world is incredibly complex. We can see that in the way he weaves multiple oppression frameworks within this story, and we can see it in the messy layers of emotional distress that these people feel.
This never feels exploitative, though. There’s that brilliant scene in the pub where Philip’s mom leads the support group, and it’s a fantastic example of how this show deeply cares about the people within it. It’s so amazing to me that we get this chance to see the mothers – all of whom are desperate to support their children within the hellish environment of Roarton – and hear from them about this experience. That doesn’t mean the show says they’re more important that PDS sufferers themselves, but they’ve got a vital voice within the narrative. This is particularly the case between Sue and Janet, since both women lost their sons initially because of Bill Macy. I’m very comfortable saying that this episode made it clear that Rick was sent away because Bill discovered a mixtape from Kieren. His homophobia tore both families apart, and now, Bill’s added a new form of oppressive radicalism to his beliefs. It’s the same terror all over again, and both mothers are aware of this.
But then this show gets a chance to do something most don’t: address the effects of suicide. It’s a fine line between shaming and empathy, and I think this episode does a good job putting the growth of the family and Kieren himself into a context that isn’t gross or offensive. Kieren comes to accept that his family truly wants him in his life as he is, which is so important, y’all. They accept his sexuality and his disease and his mind, all of it. THAT SCENE IN THE CAVE IS JUST SO MEANINGFUL TO ME. Who gets this chance? Who gets a chance to tell someone that they mean something to them, that their life matters, that they’re accepted for exactly who they are? When Kieren tells his mom that he’s afraid he’s in the same place he was back when he committed suicide, she doesn’t shy away from him. SHE ACCEPTS HIM AND TELLS HIM TO LIVE AND I’M SO FULL OF EMOTIONS, EVERYONE.
Because Kieren’s back, that means that his parents also have to accept that their need to sugarcoat the truth is actually harming their son. Part of the Walker’s growth surrounds telling the truth to each other, and as we see them grapple with the truth, they get better. When Jem accompanies Kieren to Lisa’s parent’s house, she gets to see that it is not her fault Lisa is dead, nor is she a failure for not killing her brother. When Kieren returns home at the end of the episode, he begs his father to be honest about how he felt when Kieren killed himself instead of allowing him to close himself up like he did the last time.
It’s such a raw thing to watch a person have an actual breakthrough like this. I started off feeling like I wanted to laugh as Kieren egged his father on, his mother and sister trying to stifle their own laughter, and then I WASN’T LAUGHING ANYMORE AND THIS IS TOO INTENSE WHYYYYYY.
It’s so weird talking about this show in any sort of analytical sense because I can’t just address one context. Watching Bill Macy’s denial loop around to what we get here is a terrifying thing, sure, and it’s important to discuss that sort of delusional thinking. But there are just so many other aspects to this story! There’s social commentary layered on top of Bill’s character development, and both Rick and Janet are a part of that. You’ve got the religious fervor angle, and as someone who grew up in a strict conservative household, this is too real. Actually, that’s largely why this is such a vicious thing for me to experience. I have written extensively over the years about what I’ve gone through as a queer person of color, and you know what? It’s here. It’s right here in In the Flesh, and I’ve never seen this shit on television before, at least not in this detail.
The rejection that Rick, Amy, Kieren, and Daz all suffer here is remarkably reminiscent of what I experienced. I know what it feels like when you’re convinced that your parents hate you for you are. I know what it’s like to have slurs thrown at you by random people in the street, or to be spit on, or to be kicked out of an establishment because no one wants to be around you. But it’s Bill’s story in this finale that hit the closest for me. It’s not a fun experience to have complicated feelings about your parents, especially when it appears that most of the people in your life have healthy relationships with their parents. That doesn’t mean that nothing is wrong, but I’ll always have mixed feelings about the people who raised me. Unlike Bill Macy, my parents had the chance to rectify what they’d done to me. Here, Bill believes the Vicar’s ridiculous prophecy about a second Rising, so he murders his son so that the “good” version will come back. Rick is gone, and moments after Kieren confronts him (WOW, THE RUDEST SCENE IN THE UNIVERSE, OH MY GOD), he’s shot by Ken Burton, the same man whose wife Bill killed in the first episode. And there’s this really eerie, jarring sense of closure. It’s done. These characters’ story is done. Rick and Bill are dead, Ken got revenge.
But it’s not over, is it? There are always survivors, and in a post-Rising world, even some of the dead are survivors. The Lancasters are surviving. With false hope, yes, but they’re still living. (That scene was a neat way to confirm what actually happened in the Rising and why there aren’t hoards of zombies everywhere: the disease doesn’t spread through bites, and only those dead prior to when the Rising started came back.) Kieren’s choice in that cave was to live, and even if Amy is gone (I ALREADY MISS HER OH MY GOD), he’s got a family who is willing to survive honestly. And that’s so important for him if he’s going to have a life in this world.
A second life, that is.
The video for this episode can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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