In the first episode of the second series of In the Flesh, Roarton’s progressive changes might come crashing down when a new face comes to town. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch In the Flesh.
Trigger Warning: Please see my first review for all triggers that carry over, and I’ll also add a warning for talk of racial oppression.
THIS IS SO GREAT. I STILL DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW THIS ISN’T THE BIGGEST SHOW EVER, IT’S DONE SO WELL. It’s like I’m watching the best-kept secret ever. Just… I know I’ve said this, but HOW IS THIS SHOW REAL.
I thought my predictions were fairly shitty, but hey, I was right about quite a few things right off the bat! It’s amazing to me how much worldbuilding happens here that’s subtle. We’re meant to learn things about how Roarton has changed since the last series simply by observing, and through context clues, we’re able to see how this village has moved towards acceptance. There’s a village-wide ban on guns; PDS sufferers are now integrated in schools; there’s far more support, both legally and emotionally, towards those with PDS; and Vicar Oddie’s congregation has shrunk to six people. SIX PEOPLE. We don’t need this spelled out for us. In the eighteen months since PDS people have been allowed back into the world, the world has changed.
Somewhat. And that’s the difficult part in analyzing this situation, since the show doesn’t make it easy for us to categorize anyone. It’s a complex beast, and existing prejudices are wrapped up in some traumatic experiences that have irrevocably changed people. If the events of the series one finale had not happened, would Ken have moved to the city? Would Daz have so wholly rejected the HFV and his previous bigotry? Would Amy have moved away, only to return with a disciple and a radical view of her own humanity? There’s a lot at work here, and I’m so thankful that the show is purposely complex about it. LET’S TALK.
I’m just so happy that she’s back. LET ME GET THAT OUT OF THE WAY. It’s brilliant, and her development alongside Simon’s introduction is incredible. I’m so fascinated by the furthering of the Undead Prophet’s teaching through her. It makes sense that Amy’s unapologetic acceptance of herself would lead to her work with the ULA, who are clearly interested in challenging stereotypes, bigoted assumptions, and restrictions placed on the undead. AND THERE ARE SO MANY AMAZING REAL-WORLD PARALLELS TO THIS GROUP. In American, you could easily see references to the Black Power movement that started in this country and took root in Oakland when the Black Power Party was formed here in 1966. (I LOVE MY CITY.) I am certainly ignorant to a British parallel to this, though, and I don’t want to do that thing where I’m all AMERICA AMERICA WE ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT. But the politics of the ULA could easily be a stand-in for immigration rights, anti-racism movements, or women’s suffrage in the early part of the 20th century, or the fight for gay rights, or ABOUT A BILLION DIFFERENT THINGS.
On top of that, we’ve got Amy’s personal relationship with Kieren, and it’s clear that she’s still interested in getting Kieren to accept himself. So there’s friction because of that; we knew Kieren was a lot more moderate about his own appearance and assimilation. Once you add in all of the ULA’s…. faith? It’s cult-like tenets? I’m having a hard time figuring out how to define the aspects of their beliefs that go beyond mere self-determination. To Kieren, it does seem like a religion, especially when they’ve co-opted terms like the “redeemed” or when they’re quoting Revelations, and he can’t divorce these things from their normally religious context. And I don’t think we’re supposed to either! It’s a direct parallel to what Vicar Oddie is doing, though they’re both using aspects of Christianity to engage with their world.
What’s undeniable is that while Amy’s chosen the more difficult path, she looks so goddamn happy, y’all. She’s happy with Simon, she’s willing to make a scene in order to fight for her rights as a person, and she wants the best for Simon. I JUST ADORE HER A LOT.
In a world that has so rapidly changed, though, how does a person maintain their identity? Amy has fully embraced her status as a person with PDS, but Jem doesn’t fit into the world anymore. She’s back at school and nearly four years older than all of her peers. (It took me a bit to understand why she was wearing a uniform and why she was talking about exams. I get it now! I UNDERSTOOD A THING.) But she surrounded herself with HVF ideology so much that she built an entire identity around it, and now that there’s no need for the HVF in Roarton (to some people, of course), she has to be plopped back into a “normal” environment that she doesn’t know how to navigate. She’s not cool anymore, she’s not the war hero she used to be, and all of the teenagers around her largely don’t give a shit about her past. She’s alone.
She’s also dealing with INTENSE PTSD AND TRAUMA AND IT BREAKS MY HEART. It’s bad enough to feel like you don’t belong, but her past is still haunting her, and it’s hard to watch. She was triggered within that grocery store, and she’s having nightmares, and to me, that’s a sign that she has no idea how to move on from a period in her life that defined who she was. She went through the Rising when most of us were in high school, trying to figure out who we are, so it makes sense that she’d take in so much of the Rising mentality within her. How is she ever going to get past that? It’s not a matter of prejudice, since she’s clearly quite supportive of her brother and other PDS sufferers. But she doesn’t know another life, yet she’s expected to live it.
While In the Flesh definitely focuses on Kieren’s view, I do appreciate that there are so many stories told through other points of view. But his story anchors the entire thing, and it’s important that what he observes over the course of this episode inspires him to finally up and leave Roarton. It’s fascinating to me that if you took away the PDS plotline, there’s something remarkably familiar happening here: Kieren is wondering how to escape his small village. He wants to go somewhere he’ll be accepted for who he is, and he knows a big city like Berlin or Paris will be kinder to him. WOW, IT’S SO EASY TO PROJECT ALL OVER THIS, Y’ALL. That was my SOLE INSPIRATION from age 14 – 19. I just wanted to escape Riverside, and one of the reasons I chose to go to school in Long Beach was because I knew there was a huge gay community there. I AM KIEREN, KIEREN IS ME. Why does this show know me so well.
But there’s so much here that worries me. I’ll talk about Maxine in more detail in a bit, but her appearance is certainly cause for alarm. But what about Kieren’s dad’s interest in Victus? (That’s what that scene with the radio broadcast meant, right?) And then there’s the scene in the pub, which absolutely demonstrated to Kieren that the horrific bigotry in Roarton is not getting better. It’s just bubbling under the surface. It never went away. Even worse, with the whole Victus / ULA conflict getting worse and worse, it seems inevitable to Kieren that his hometown will become embroiled in the same sort of violence. Plus, what’s with all that shit about Roarton being where the dead rose first? Gah, I’m so lost! I don’t want to believe that the prophecy Vicar Oddie spouts is true, but is there some weird supernatural basis to the Rising that we don’t know about? I still don’t know precisely how it started!
I just fear that Kieren won’t be able to escape this place, you know?
This is, admittedly, going to be a bit complex, so I hope you’ll try to see what I’m saying here. One of the things that impressed me so much about series one of In The Flesh is that it mirrored real-world oppression dynamics without appropriating them. Disabled people still existed and were oppressed, as were gay/queer people, and they were part of a narrative that contained a metaphor for their oppression as well. This is sadly not nearly as common as it should be, and as I wrote before, it has this effect of giving the stories of the marginalized to those who are privileged. Why does that matter? Because Western society at large has a problem with believing the experiences of marginalized and oppressed folk. It seems that the privileged have to hear it from their own kind before they believe us.
But In the Flesh has avoided that, and they’ve done an absolutely brilliant job of respecting the real-world implications of the various issues they’ve brought up: homophobia, ableism, suicide, depression, oppression, slurs, etc. However, I feel very, very strange about the casting for Maxine Martin, and I saved this section for last because I wanted to parse my feelings for her. I have no complaints about Wunmi Mosaku, who is electrifying to watch on the screen. But in this case, they’ve cast a black woman in a role of… well, a horrific bigot. It is so jarring to watch her give that speech about how PDS sufferers aren’t people because… well, she’s a black woman in Britain. Her own country used to not see her as a whole person.
The only reason I’m bringing this up at all is because this show is SO GOOD about oppression dynamics, so it’s really striking to see the writers make all of these references to real-world racial oppression, and then not actually address it within the show? (Sort of. I feel like there is an unspoken nervousness on the part of all of the white residents of Roarton when they see her, and I think that is actually some form of commentary on this.) Ableism, misogyny, and homophobia are absolutely real within the world of In the Flesh. It feels weird that this isn’t addressed, but I have to also admit that this is very well one of those cases where I say all of this and then WHOOPS, ADDRESSED IN THE NEXT EPISODE. So let me also say that I am totally willing to admit that I got this wrong. At the same time, I like to comment in real time so that folks can see how I’m reacting to what I’ve seen and that only. SO I RESERVE THE RIGHT TO LATER TELL YOU ALL I WAS TERRIBLY, TERRIBLY WRONG.
BUT MAXIME MARTIN. OH MY GOD SHE IS TERRIFYING AND SHE BASICALLY IS LETTING VICAR ODDIE DIE SO SHE CAN FIND ALL THE UNDEAD AND OPPRESS THEM AND OH MY GOD. I was so convinced that she and Vicar Oddie were going to form some horrific superduo, but NOPE. Look, when someone as prejudiced as Maxine tells you that your beliefs are too much, PERHAPS THEY ARE TOO MUCH, VICAR ODDIE. Y’all, I’m scared. I am so scared.
The video for this episode can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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