In The Flesh was one of the most exciting surprises of 2013, so it’s a great pleasure to welcome it back onto our screens for Series Two. With an expanded series (six episodes rather than last year’s three), there might be some cause for, if not worry, then very mild concern that some of the intimacy and pacing of Dominic Mitchell’s kitchen-sink zombie drama might have been lost. Going by this first episode, that very mild concern is groundless. We are right back in Roarton, and it feels like we never left.
Which is exactly what has happened to our PDS-suffering protagonist Kieren (Luke Newberry). His situation in Roarton might have improved, as his relationship with his sister Jem (Harriet Cains) is essentially back to normal and he does at least have a job at the local pub, but he needs to get out. There’s a great sense of tension in the air as those who have grown to accept the PDS sufferers (Partially Deceased Syndrome, in case you forgot) are sharing space with those who still want absolutely nothing to do with them. The landlady might say she’s ready to give him the keys to the place, but her customers are clearly unhappy about ordering a pint from a zombie.
If anything, the level of support that Kieren does have makes the anti-PDS sufferers more of a compelling presence. They now have a sense of being wronged to go with their predisposition to hatred, most obviously seen in Kenneth Cranham’s spiteful Vicar Oddie, now preaching to a much smaller congregation. He’s the first point of contact for one of the series’ new arrivals: Maxine Walker MP (Wunmi Mosaku), representing Victus. This anti-PDS party has been making great strides across the nation, and this first episode shows us just how resourceful and committed Maxine is to the cause.
Even returning friends bring complications. Dead-and-proud Amy (Emily Bevan) is back in Roarton, and she’s brought along her new boyfriend Simon (Emmett Scanlan), who happens to be the twelfth disciple of the Undead Prophet. The fragile atmosphere of harmony that comes from everyone doing their best to ignore a problem comes to a head when these two, who refuse to wear contacts or cover-up, come to a town where some people still carry guns, wear combat gear and would shoot a PDS-sufferer in the head if they thought they could get away with it.
In short, there’s no shortage of drama, both old and new, for Kieren to face. Newberry’s excellent turn as the fragile but big-hearted teen continues to impress, and he’s a great focal point for Dominic Mitchell’s writing. The first series made no bones about what it was about, and this first episode shows that the blend of kitchen-sink drama and social commentary is still very much present and correct.
Some of the problems Kieren faced in the first series may have been overcome, but he’s still in the same place with the same people, and Mitchell manages to hint at national problems while keeping the focus local. The opening sequence is utterly gripping, throwing us back into the world he created before we’ve even had time to draw breath, but his love for the characters keeps things grounded. Kieren’s journey is still the centre, as Simon and Jem appear to nudge him towards taking a stand that he clearly finds distressing. There’s a conflict coming, and he is caught in the middle.
This first episode is both a welcome return and an exciting sign of things to come. Each of the new plotlines feels completely natural, from Jem’s difficult return to school to the mysterious, charismatic Simon’s mission in Roarton. In The Flesh is still confident, gripping and moving, and it’s great to have it back.
In The Flesh Series 2 begins on 4 May on BBC3.