Dominic Mitchell’s In The Flesh has come to the end of its short, thee-episode run, but it has made quite an impression in that limited space of time. The story of the dead being returned to the small village of Roarton continued to sideline its genre trappings to address issues of depression, denial, prejudice and teen suicide, and the central conflict was very much an emotional one.
Following Rick (David Walmsley)’s refusal to shoot the feral zombies at the end of the last episode, Bill Macy (Steve Evets) is more determined than ever to get his son back on his side and separate him from the rotters. The only way that Bill can see this happening is if Rick kills Kieren (Luke Newberry). Meanwhile, Kieren is finally finding some peace of mind, having come clean to the parents of his victim and finally reconciling with Jem (Harriet Cains). But with Rick listening to his father and the chirpy Amy (Emily Bevan) deciding to leave Roarton to pursue ‘The Prophet’, this new day isn’t going to last.
The final episode of In The Flesh made it very clear that Dominic Mitchell is far more interested in his characters than his zombies, with this week focusing on parental responsibility and the trauma suffered by people who were left behind. Bill’s stubborn denial that his son could have anything in common with Kieren and the other PDS-sufferers comes from a fear that his son could be anything other than exactly what he wanted him to be. Even when ‘PDS’ is painted on his house, the idea that his son might have changed just doesn’t occur to him.
It’s not until Rick confronts his father, having removed his make-up and telling him that he can’t kill his best friend, that Bill realises that the person in front of him isn’t who he thought he was. Tragically, he isn’t prepared to live with that version of his son, and his murder of Rick is a horrible shock, made worse by the fact that his blind belief in Vicar Oddie (Kenneth Cranham)’s rhetoric makes him think that a better version of his son will rise again. He’d rather wait for a better model than the one who’s already come back from the dead once.
But the heartstrings were mostly being pulled by Kieren’s parents in this final episode, as his mum Sue (Marie Critchley) attends a support group for the mothers of PDS-sufferers. Critchley gives a superb performance as Sue explains her anger at her son for abandoning her when he did and blaming him for the way their family subsequently fell apart. The later scene in the cave, in which Sue explains to Kieren that she had also contemplated suicide when she was young, is beautifully played by the two actors.
There are still moments here, as there have been throughout the series, that lean at little too far towards melodrama and hammer the point home when a lighter touch might have done just as nicely. One of the most effective moments this week was the quiet act of mercy, shortly followed by the quiet act of revenge, by Ricky Tomlinson’s Ken. The actor hasn’t been used much, but he’s been brilliant every time he’s appeared on screen.
However, the commitment of the cast means that we aren’t pulled out of the moment even in the biggest emotional scenes. In The Flesh knows exactly what it wants to say and it makes its message clear. Even characters like Amy, who do bring some humour to the proceedings, aren’t exempt from having to confront the prejudices of others. The fact that the big final scene of the series is set in the Walker family living room as Kieren forces his father to confront his feelings about Kieren’s suicide speaks volumes about the show and Mitchell’s mission statement.
It’s frustrating that we’ll have to wait and see if there’ll be a second series of In The Flesh. Bill’s storyline may have been wrapped up, but there are still plenty of loose ends to pursue and characters to explore. We still know very little about Vicar Oddie, and it’s difficult to believe that Amy’s pilgrimage will turn out as she hopes. But, whatever happens, In The Flesh has been excellent and it’s been great to see a genre show take on difficult issues with such commitment and heart. Dominic Mitchell’s story certainly merits a second series. Fingers crossed.