As a huge fan of the zombie genre (and as someone who may or may not own a crossbow), I was excited to dig into yet another zombie series. I do, however, typically have low expectations for shows or books that have appeared so late in the post-apocalyptic craze. It’s hard to be surprised anymore, because truly, there’s only so many times you can be shocked by rampant, sudden, and senseless casualties that are signature to any proper apocalypse.
In the Flesh isn’t post-apocalyptic so much as its post-post-apocalyptic, already making it unique among other narratives. The BAFTA-winning series deals with what happens after the chaos of a war against the living dead has settled. This does not mean that all the zombies are gone from the world, because the dead have not been eradicated, but rather assimilated. That’s right, this British narrative stands out because rather than capitalizing on killing zombies, it gives us their stories. The characters I instantly loved were zombies redeemed and dealing with their second life.
The central story is about formerly deceased teenager Kieren Walker, played by Luke Newberry, now given a second chance at life through the war-ending treatment given to all Partially Deceased Syndrome Sufferers (the politically correct term for zombie.) He’s no longer a rabid, brain-hungry monster–he’s just a pale, cold, dead-eyed kid trying to reintegrate into his intolerant, rural hometown of Roarton. Add in all the emotional issues of coming back to a family that thought he was gone forever, facing what he did in his untreated (rabid) state, a Daryl Dixon-esque sister, and a shady undead legion with terrorist plans and Kieren’s life becomes a roller coaster that I never wanted to get off of. I found that with this show, you come for the zombies and stay for the drama.
The drama in itself is unlike other zombie stories in that this is a show that genuinely makes the characters fully face the consequences of their actions. Naturally, Rick from The Walking Dead must live with the burden of the lives, both living and undead, that he’s taken, but In the Flesh shows the true effects for such actions. Instead of becoming numb to the killing, violence, and gore with occasional nightmarish flashbacks, the residents of Roarton are constantly struggling to bear the weight of the people they hurt in a very realistic way. What undeniably marks In the Flesh as a series apart is the realism. The show simply doesn’t hold back when it comes to touchy, real life issues that would arise in such a post-post-apocalyptic world. No stone is left unturned as the story digs into everything from PTSD to necrophilia. The characters, down to the neighbors with nary a single speaking line, are fleshed out and 3D. It’s difficult business making audiences accept the supernatural as normal while still remaining serious, but In the Flesh more than succeeds in doing so.
The supernatural aspects of the story are new and mysterious to those used to the typical lore of zombies. There is no worldwide infection or virus creating the undead beasts. In the Flesh refused to follow the usual formula for an apocalypse and did what no zombie story that I know of has yet done: they built a better zombie. Actually, the PDS Sufferers are closely related to the classic idea of a zombie; they rose from their graves and have an insatiable hunger for brains. This is similar to the zombies of the filmWarm Bodies expect that without their medication, the redeemed undead could go rabid at any moment. It’s hardly mentioned as to why the Rising happened at all, how people dead for two weeks could suddenly dig themselves out of their graves to go on a rampage, but the idea of a Second Rising, of another horde of bloodthirsty corpses, makes tensions rise throughout the measly nine episodes.
Seeming to go along with the British tradition of remarkably short seasons, but thankfully long episodes, In the Flesh spans a three episode first season and a nine episode second season. The last episode, complete with a hefty cliffhanger, aired last June on BBC Three, a channel that has sadly been axed and turned into an “online only” channel. This leaves fans of the show, myself now among them, wondering about the fate of In the Flesh. The showrunners have assured fans that they have plans for more episodes, but it’s just a matter of where and whether or not they will be aired. Fans hope for the best, because they say that the show has given them the best.
In the Flesh brings new life to the zombie genre, not going along with the world-weary survival story we’ve come to expect as a given to any story mentioning the undead. It has a narrative that horrifies you in unprecedented ways and goes boldly where dark humor has refused to go before. In the Flesh is what the zombie genre needed, something that went beyond the survival story.
Haven’t we all wondered how the world would recover after the zombie apocalypse? How does the human race recover from that? And what if the zombies were not killed, but cured? In the Flesh unflinchingly provides those answers. Hopefully it can provide more answers and continue to surprise me in the next season, should it be renewed.
In the Flesh, an exception to a genre I thought I knew everything about, is a zombie story worth a Third Rising.