In The Flesh - Series 2 - Episode 2Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 18 May 2014 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
Reviewed by Tom Buxton

Written by Dominic Mitchell
Directed by Jim O'Hanlon
Produced by John Rushton
Broadcast on BBC Three, 11th May 2014
In increasing the episode count of their second season twofold, the In the Flesh writing team must have realised early on in the drafting process that the expansion would come at the cost of the more concise, tightly-woven narrative which made their original run such an instant success with its viewership. As pleasant as it is to be following the exploits of Kieran and the gang in Roarton for a further six hours, it’s simultaneously difficult to deny that some of the inevitable negative ramifications of the enhanced running time are beginning to come to light two weeks in, and coming to such a realization after having praised Season One to the high heavens (and beyond, given the death-transcending nature of the supernatural genre) was a melancholic moment for this reviewer.

Where should the blame lie for the gradual yet unequivocally notable drop in quality, then? Perhaps the metaphorical finger should be thrust in the direction of Dominic Mitchell, whose handling of the character who was seemingly intended to take centre-stage in his second script of the run is underwhelming to say the very least. Much as Harriet Cains visibly does her utmost to enrich her portrayal of Jem Walker during the additional screen time she is afforded this time around, the structure of Mitchell’s screenplay is such that her construct’s overall role in proceedings from a causal perspective (barring the episode’s tonally consistent yet somehow jarring climactic moments) is minimal.

Far from enabling progress for her previously compelling character arc, the vast majority of Cains’ dialogue depicts Jem as a walking cliché, whereby she appears to drop all loyalties towards her sibling at the moment she gains attention at school and in doing so reverts herself (albeit inadvertently) to a uncharacteristically shallow self-representation. As ever, Cains sells this transformation perfectly (indeed, we’ve yet to encounter a performer who isn’t ideally suited to their designated role on the show), but Mitchell can’t be forgiven for descending into well-trodden territory when the show-runner has generally maintained a subversive, refreshingly innovative approach to his script-writing in the past.

Such a fundamental shortcoming as this would be far easier to overlook if it represented the only structural and representational misstep of the season so far, but sadly, Episode 2’s issues don’t end there. Wunmi Mosaku’s troublesome MP Maxine Martin, for instance, may well be one of the most blatant structurally-subservient plot devices we’ve come across in recent years – rather than presenting any signs of becoming a layered and engaging construct who’ll take the series into unexpected territory (and lord knows, In the Flesh could benefit hugely from taking a walk on the wild side in weeks ahead if its creators hope to see it back on the air come Spring 2015), Maxine currently exists solely to place obstacles in Kieran’s path so as to ensure that the viewer can no longer question the protagonist’s motives for staying put in Roarton. Much as Mitchell would have us maintain the illusion that her presence ups the stakes for PDS-sufferers and in doing so moves us towards a more cinematic rendition of his supernatural conflict, the illusion itself will soon become a mere translucent shroud if she continues to simply antagonise the village’s reborn residents rather than contributing to the ongoing narrative in any meaningful manner.

It’s not all bad news, though. Whilst the seeds which are being sewn for the season’s climax are taking that much longer to bloom (this reviewer sincerely hopes that Emmett J Scanlan’s Simon will find new linguistic variations on his recurring assertion that to have “rise[n] in Roarton” is to somehow be “special”, else his character will grow old rapidly), they’re most certainly receiving a nutritional dose of water each week in order to ensure their eventual growth, with Jem’s startling act of manslaughter in the episode’s closing moments sure to have captivating moral consequences for both her own psyche (as if it wasn’t already fractured enough) and the Walker family overall. That the sequence depicting Kieran’s entry into an undead-exclusive rave was handled brilliantly by director Jim O’Hanlon didn’t hurt either, since the sight of the oft-socially inept character standing at the centre of a gathering which at once resembled both a Rocky Horror Picture Show-themed do and a standard student-laden club on a Friday night was amongst the most striking images of the night.

We’re left with an uneven instalment of tonally sketchy drama, one which likely marks the series’ weakest instalment so far. For the sake of the programme’s future, whether it be on live TV, a digitized BBC Three service or otherwise, this had better well mark the low-point of Season Two as well, since with just four instalments remaining until the already-slim viewership’s attention shifts elsewhere for the remainder of the year, Mitchell’s once-seemingly infallible series cannot afford to waste any more time in pushing forward its currently creatively dented narrative further than ever before, lest the critical tide turn out of its favour and rob the show of what credibility it still clings onto (the BBC evidently have faith based on their extensive marketing campaign, but Ripper Street and The Paradise are both fine examples of the studio’s not-so-occasionally rash approach to evaluating the need for further seasons). In the Flesh inhabits an industry in which a ‘kill or be killed’ mantra decides the victors and the fallen, after all, and if it continues on its currently underwhelming trajectory, Mitchell may begin to find his fans empathising with Roarton’s PDS-opposers in questioning the need for it to rise from the symbolic grave of its twelve-month hiatus in the first place.