In The Flesh: Episode 2Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 March 2013 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
Reviewed by Tom Buxton

Written by Dominic Mitchell
Directed by Jonny Campbell
Broadcast on BBC Three, 24th March 2013
After a rather rocky start with its premiere episode last week, In The Flesh had a difficult job ahead of it convincing this reviewer to maintain interest in its second instalment. Thankfully, there's a lot of fresh material with compelling emotional dilemmas posed to the viewer in episode two. Far from recycling many of the tried-and-tested concepts of reintegration as the first episode did, this second outing proved far more convincing in its portrayal of the consequences of being undead.

The introduction of partially-alive army veteran Rick (David Walmsley) into the fold at Roarton was certainly a major contributory factor to the success of this week's episode. Indeed, Walmsley brought us perhaps the most realistic depiction of a human being's reactions to life beyond death out of the three lead stars, with Luke Newberry's Kieren and to some extent Emily Bevan's Amy appearing far more like broad stereotypical "zombies" in comparison. Viewers with relatives in the armed forces were certainly forced to contemplate how they themselves would react to such a revelation as Rick's partial survival, and pursuing this avenue inevitably meant that writer Dominic Mitchell struck stronger quality territory than anything referenced last week.

On top of that, the increased focus on those PDS sufferers still infected with the rabid nature of the 2009 riots enhanced the compelling narrative on show here. At first, it seemed as if we were just about to get yet another Dawn Of The Dead and 28 Days Later-esque portrayal of mindless, corrupt beasts in the zombies who sheltered in the woods, yet once the hunting team from Roarton appeared to dispatch these undead nightmares, things took a very interesting turn for the more diverse. Perhaps it was a tad obvious that Kieren would end up placing himself between Rick's rifle and the innocent infected child, but there was plenty of dramatic effect when young adult viewers were forced to consider what their own reaction would have been in such a harrowing situation.

Despite those narrative and character improvements for In The Flesh, though, there were still a number of crucial elements that worked to the episode's detriment. First and foremost, the appearance of Kieren's old hunting partner Amy Dyer onto the scene wasn't quite used to its fullest potential. Bevan's portrayal of the character felt over-exaggerated and thus unrealistic at best, and at worst the portrayal mirrored the nature of the character, feeling like a tiresome and needless inclusion in both Kieren's life and, indeed, the episode as a whole. It didn't help, either, that Harriet Cains wasn't on strong form as Kieren's sister Jem - while the antagonism that the character shows towards someone she truly believed dead is realistic to an extent, the lack of any meaningful confrontation in the Walker family to explain the effect that Kieren's demise has truly had meant that Jem's role here felt forced and unwarranted.

However, worse than those cast missteps was the general sense that there's still little in the way of a driving force for the show. Sure, we had a few more interesting developments in the story arc this week, and some smaller moments such as Ken's silent, depressive stare from the window of his home after his wife's murder were handled beautifully, but they didn't compensate enough for the fact that next week's finale will either have too much content to cover in an hour or will leave everything feeling rather unfinished. Perhaps the BBC has already covertly commissioned a second season of In The Flesh to allow more space for creative scope and further moral dilemmas, yet that seems quite a hopeful assumption to make in light of the scrapping of quality supernatural drama Being Human from BBC Three's future drama roster.

Indeed, it's difficult to know whether to leave the proverbial elephant-ghost in the room alone now, because time and time again, when it comes to evaluating the success of In The Flesh, there's a lingering sense that the fifth and final season of Toby Whithouse's finest drama that preceded this was far stronger in every sense. Were this quality margin to have been created by the fact that Being Human was further along the line, then it might be forgivable, yet really it boils down to the fact that the cast and narratives we're seeing here feel bare and insubstantial compared even with the opening season of the adventures at Honolulu Heights. Boy, did the first run of instalments for Mitchell, George, and Annie have its fair share of missteps along the way, yet it remained a consistently charming and lovable series throughout, and that sense of innovation and charm feels worryingly absent in the case of this would-be successor.

Make no mistake - In The Flesh's second episode was leaps and bounds ahead of its immediate predecessor in just about every department, which was at least a pleasant surprise. Nevertheless, there's still plenty of work to be done if the writer and his production team want their finale to leave anywhere near the kind of satisfying legacy that Being Human did. Perhaps the miracle will occur, perhaps not - either way, this reviewer can credit episode two with being a compelling-enough watch to prompt followers to stay tuned for the final episode.