In the Flesh, Season 2: Episode 4 – “Episode 4”
Written by Fintan Ryan
Directed by Damon Thomas
Airs Saturday nights at 10 on BBC America
If I’ve been missing some of the more character-driven moments of In the Flesh‘s first season during this plot-driven sophomore season, “Episode 4” instills nothing but confidence and satisfaction. And while these weekly reviews are meant to follow the through-lines in a season of television, they’re also individual and episodic. So, the first and foremost thing that needs to be said of “Episode 4” is that the dining room scene with the Walker family, Gary and Simon is simply brilliant. Putting aside some reservations about Gary’s character and his place in this season, the sequence is shot with an unusually high level of tension for In the Flesh, and the stories that both Gary and Kieren tell are brutally effective as a sort of capsule of what the series has been doing with its narrative. Massive credit goes to Luke Newberry for his delivery of an emotional story about his initial Rising. The performance is controlled but aimed with purpose and precision, Kieren nearly at breaking point throughout the whole thing. This isn’t quite the knockout scene that was the first season finale’s argument between Kieren and his father, but this one comes much earlier in the design of the season and acts as a huge transitional piece for where Kieren is likely headed in the final two episodes of the season.
That direction is somewhere guided by Simon, who is learning how to not bullshit with Kieren, since Kieren can see right through it. And now that Simon realizes Kieren is the First Risen, that relationship has added layers to it. In Simon’s phone call with the Undead Prophet, he looks upon Kieren and can only comment on how beautiful he is. There is, though, another level to that that I really hope Dominic Mitchell and his writing crew follow up on, because Kieren has as much potential to change Simon as Simon does to change him. Both characters need each other at this point, and even though the love angle is the easiest entryway, it’s working for me.
Especially because the fallout with Amy isn’t annoying, which I was certainly worried about. When she sees Kieren and Simon kissing, it’s a very subdued reaction she has, and instead of the whole thing inviting loads of unnecessary drama, she adapts quickly or at least numbs the scenario quickly through alcohol. Amy, whose personality is so big that it can sometimes be smothering, was probably the most problematic of the central characters up until this point. However, her reactions in “Episode 4” and decisions about how she wants to handle her situation boost that side of In the Flesh‘s story.
That has a lot to do with Philip, who has turned into an absolute legend. When series find unlikely heroes, it’s usually a joy to witness, and that’s certainly the case here. Philip hasn’t been an antagonist so much as he’s been a bit of a dunce working for the wrong side since the series started. He’s had likable and/or sympathetic qualities to him, the full force of which is felt in a series of scenes in this episode that have him doing the right thing off-screen (by telling Henry’s mom the truth, presumably) and by doing the right thing on-screen (standing up for the PDS sufferers and owning up to partaking in the brothel). Where that lands him is in bed next to Amy–the real Amy, not the one he’s been paying to be with. The pairing is wonderful, since the natural comedy elicited from the differences in their personalities works so well. This, more than any other romantic pairing in the season, is something viewers can really root for, which is so necessary in a series that is setting its sights on some serious, dark themes.
On a micro-note, this is the first time I’ve consciously noticed it, but the make-up team has both Jem and Philip looking rather pale, as if there is a comparison being made there between them and the PDS sufferers. Both are tied to undead characters in complex and thorough ways, Jem having been in the HVF and having Kieren as a brother and Philip working with the community service scheme and having feelings for Amy. If the visual effort being made there is to kind of blur the line between some of these characters as a way of emphasizing that they’re all still just people, I can get on-board with how on-the-nose that is. In the Flesh is good, if sometimes heavy-handed, with its visual metaphors, and I like the idea of Jem, especially, looking paler and paler as she continues to struggle with the Henry situation. Adding to that, Kieren is finally taking his color off (and Simon’s) and embracing his status as part of the undead, so we can only expect that paleness to take over Roarton.
– Sean Colletti