In the Flesh
By: Carlos Uribe
In the Flesh is a show about a zombie trying to readjust to society after he has been cured from his rabid state.
Spoilers Ahoy! (Including very vague spoilers on The Walking Dead and Warm Bodies)
The zombie genre has been pretty popular lately. One of the most popular televisions shows currently on the air is The Walking Dead. The Dead Island and the Left 4 Dead video game series have managed to sell well. The upcoming blockbuster film World War Z is based on a bestselling novel about the military response to the zombie threat. The zombie genre has been really popular lately and this is where In the Flesh comes in. It's a show about zombies but after they had found a cure. They managed to get rid of their rabid, flesh-eating state so that they could be re-integrated into society. This is a world that had survived the zombie apocalypse and was now re-adjusting to the aftermath. The idea for a zombie cure is always a promise in the genre. The Walking Dead's first season revolved around the hope that the government would find a cure for the disease and everything would go back to normal. When this hope was crushed, they meet an old man on a farm who keeps a group of zombies in his barn because he believed they would find a cure one day. He saw them as human beings rather than the undead. The third season itself had a leader of a town who kept his small daughter because he couldn't accept her loss. He employed a scientist who was trying to study the zombies they encountered. In other words, The Walking Dead is filled with people who are always hoping that one day the monsters trying to kill them will become humans one day. These people will likely always be wrong on that show as society has completely collapsed. Not all zombie fiction is so grim as the movie Warm Bodies was all about how a zombie managed to remember how to feel when he fell in love with a human female. The movie was based on a novel. Warm Bodies was less interested in exploring how society would cope with this cure and more in how it came to be. In the Flesh is interested in what happens after they have been cured. It becomes a pretty great show even if the social allegories are a little too on-the-nose at times. Like, seriously, a character should have noted how the treatment towards the zombies in this show by the humans is often how people discriminated against people of a different color back in the sixties. Although at least they have some justification in this bigotry as these were creatures that were literally trying to destroy their society just a short while back. Which does add a nice layer of complexity to the issue.
The actual plot of In the Flesh generally went through three stages. The first episode was largely setting up the characters and the world. The problem with most of the first episode is that a lot of the drama was rather dull. There were hints of what was to come and the world-building was appreciated but I was ready to write this off until the end. The end suddenly snapped everything into place as the bigotry that had been building throughout the episode exploded in a public execution in the neighborhood. It was exciting and it hooked me in for the rest of the mini-series. The second episode managed to maintain that momentum as it continued to build. It managed to also start paying off on the emotional beats that the first episode had set up and by far was the strongest episode of the three. The final episode was a create climax as a lot of the plots came to a head. The second episode was stronger overall but the emotional moments in the third episode were extremely powerful. It's surprising how moved I was by the scene of where the mother revealed that she was in a depressed place before she had met her son's father. The scene where the father is given permission to confront his son was also pretty fantastic. In other words: In the Flesh is one of the rare shows that can have great zombie scenes and emotional moments that work because of it's strong characters. It's basically the show that the Walking Dead has been trying to be all this time: a character drama. It succeeds because it took the whole first hour to introduce us to most of the characters. With that said, the mini-series doesn't wrap everything up at the end. It's left open-ended for a second season that has been ordered. It's a bit frustrating not having closure but I'm absolutely excited about having more episodes because this was a pretty good mini-series.
The characters in In the Flesh were all pretty strong. The protagonist is Kiernan “Ren” Walker, a zombie who has been cured from his rabid state. He now has to adjust to returning home even as he deals with the guilt of having killed people while in his state. His return to his parent's home is fraught with trouble due to family issues and the radical town that is resisting the integration of zombies. The family issues were created by Ren before he had become a zombie. He had committed suicide after his best friend (and possible lover) went away for war. He became depressed, killed himself, and awoke from the dead. He's a trouble protagonist but he's written well that he never drags down the proceedings with too much brooding. He might not have been the most lively character but he was a compelling one due to how he had died. If he had been killed any other way then I don't think he would have been as interesting. His suicide basically added a whole layer not only to the family dynamics but also as a way for the series to explore his state of mind when he had done it. What's best is how the reveal that he had killed himself was only hinted at first before it actually slowly came. It was delivered at just the right time. As for the radical town, he becomes a sort of a leader for zombie civil rights when he starts to make people realize that they shouldn't be killing rabid zombies but sending them off to be treated. It's noteworthy that he wasn't the zombie in the best position to do so: his best friend was a decorated war hero that was accepted into the community despite his undead state. The best friend refused to accept who he was until the very end which meant Ren had to stand up for himself and others. This need made Ren a strong protagonist who took action. This is Ren's story so this was important and stopped him from ever allowing his depression to dominate his character.
The side-characters of In the Flesh might have been different in their level of subtlety but they were all pretty complex. The antagonist of the mini-series is Bill Macey, the head of the militia group the town formed to deal with the undead. He's pretty vanilla in the first episode as he's basically a bigot who seeks to retain his former glory as leader of the militia group until his son comes home from the war as a zombie. All of a sudden, he becomes a fascinating hypocrite whose willing to accept his son as a member of the family while rejecting every other recovered zombie in the town. His son, Rick, struggles with having to do what his dad wants and what he actually wants to do. The only lead antagonist remaining at the end of the show is Vicar Oddie, who uses his position to keep the town's hatred focused and alive. A small character who plays a large role at the end of the first and third episode is Ken, a pretty good character who undergoes a small grief and revenge plot. The only zombie other than Rick and Ren is Amy. It's interesting the different viewpoints offered by the show from the zombies themselves. Rick refuses to accept who he is until the end while Amy completely accepts it to the point where she sees her state as a blessing. Ren lies in the middle. He's never in denial that he's a zombie but he's not willing to excuse what he did while he was rabid as merely trying to survive. His mother and father are strong characters as they try their best to reintegrate Ren into the family even as they resent him for his suicide. As for Jem? She's a character who uses the town's bigotry as a shield for the betrayal she feels from her brother's death.
In the Flesh is a strong drama. It has some pretty great exciting bits that would belong on The Walking Dead. Whilst that show can only pretend to be a character drama, In the Flesh can actually dare to call itself that because it was. It set up the rich characters, their relationships, and the world within the first episode. It built up the narrative, the tension, and the emotional moments until they almost all reached a climatic finish in the final part. The three episodes weren't just about a town struggling to adjust to zombies living in the town but also the personal journey of a family trying to deal with a son who had torn them apart when he took his own life without any regard to them. In the end, it was a pretty powerful mini-series and one I recommend watching. The Walking Dead might be the more popular show but In the Flesh eats it alive when it comes to quality.