In the Flesh, Season 2: Episode 2 – “Episode 2”
Written by Dominic Mitchell
Directed by Jim O’Hanlon
Airs Saturday nights at 10 on BBC America
That’s more like it. After a season premiere that was a little bogged down with trying to re-establish the world of In the Flesh, treading slightly too-familiar ground, “Episode 2” is an example of everything this series does right. It begins with a microcosm of a cold open, in which Jem wakes up from one of her nightmares about being attacked by rotters. Last week, we saw how Kieren uses towels to cover up the mirror in the bathroom, since he’s unable to look at himself without the make-up he applies. Now we see Jem use those towels to line her bed because of the sweating those nightmares cause. It’s at once emotionally-driven and cleverly executed. But In the Flesh also does its dark comedy extremely well, so having a pillow with a skull printed on it on Jem’s bed–essentially creating the visual of her sleeping with the dead–is a wonderful touch to lighten an otherwise heavy moment. Add to that the scene that immediately follows the credits, featuring her father trying to organize a French-themed last meal before Kieren leaves, and the balance of seriousness and tongue-in-cheek tones becomes wonderfully clear (Harriet Cains’ delivery of “What the fuck?” is just the best line reading ever).
It wouldn’t be In the Flesh, though, if Dominic Mitchell didn’t include some effective, emotionally-charged material to situate the extraordinary premise within a familiar and relatable context. While it’s not the center of “Episode 2,” one of the plots that really works for me deals with both Henry and Charlotte, characters at Jem’s school. There’s plenty of scenes with Henry that are simply entertaining, such as seeing him doped up on sheep’s brain (this really doesn’t seem like a sentence that should exist), but his pining over Jem is genuinely touching as far as adolescent romances go. It’s all too appropriate that he’s the person Jem winds up killing at the end of the episode, as that forces her several steps backwards in coming face-to-face with her own skeletons. And it ties directly to how Charlotte is used in the episode, since she’s the one who puts Jem into a position where she feels like she needs to do something to earn the commendations she received while part of the HVF. I thought that part of the story might have been going in a different direction–that Charlotte would connect with Jem because of losing someone close to her and having to deal with the aftermath within the family unit–and I almost wish it had, since I don’t know if Charlotte has much of a place now other than being a bit of a bully. But this season already has a slew of new characters, so it might be less important in the long run to focus on these two (though, that practically cuts off any development Jem might have at school sequences, which is a setting I was beginning to enjoy seeing her in).
“Episode 2” expands on some of the developments we got in the premiere regarding Maxine and her purpose in Roarton, on top of what’s going on with England’s attitudes towards rotters in general. A new act is put into place that requires PDS sufferers to give back to their communities for a period of six months before being allowed to be evaluated for re-citizenship. This prevents Kieren from going abroad and brings him closer to Simon, one of the Undead Prophet’s disciples. Simon isn’t quite as enigmatic as he ought to be or to the extent he’s portrayed to be, but this episode introduces the idea of him as a potential love interest for Kieren. There are certainly legs for that kind of story, but whatever is done with Simon, he needs to actively participate in events to avoid just being a mysterious figure floating around the series. This idea, though, of rotter community service should be a good excuse to draw out whatever it is his plans in Roarton are. All we know at this point is that those who arose in Roarton are special for whatever reason and that they play a part in the Undead Prophet’s plans. It’s also just a great adaptation of something like racial issues, which the series tackled to a lesser extent in its first season.
Beyond that, there’s some great layering to Philip’s story now that he’s working more closely with Maxine to run policies and procedures in Roarton. His one-night stand with Amy from last season wasn’t much of a plot point, but Mitchell extracts the most of it by sending Philip down a slightly obsessed path. There is some sort of underground club in the neighborhood where people can get a more intimate rotter experience, and Philip visits regularly for the girlfriend experience: a young woman dresses up like Amy and lies down to watch a film with Philip. It’s certainly creepy on one level, but it’s also simultaneously pathetic and sad in a way that creates sympathy for Philip. His scene with Amy later in the episode enhances that effect because of how polite he is in the face of someone who clearly has no patience whatsoever to deal with him. These kinds of interpersonal relationships are what made the first season of In the Flesh so strong, so I’m happy to see just about every significant character in this episode get something to do (the major exceptions being Kieren’s parents, who basically only get to feel upset about the idea of Kieren leaving). After a solid but relatively unremarkable start, “Episode 2” gets In the Flesh‘s second season rolling hard and fast. The extended episode order is already helping a noticeable amount by giving the story time to breathe in certain places and not having to rush through the details of anything having to do with the bigger picture of the series. After two episodes, this is already a season of television demanding to be viewed by the clever ways it crafts its story.
– Sean Colletti