In the Flesh, Season 2: Episode 5 – “Episode 5”
Written by Dominic Mitchell
Directed by Alice Throughton
Airs Saturday nights at 10 on BBC America
When In the Flesh expanded its world at the start of this season, it gained two significant characters in Simon and Maxine. For the most part, Maxine has occupied a generic antagonist role, which is not meant as a criticism. I think viewers probably tend to gravitate more towards villains they can relate to, but there’s something to be said about the power of a character who is just quintessentially bad. Maxine works as someone the audience can hate and root against. On the periphery, there’s still story to be filled in about her dead sibling and what exactly her intentions are with the First Risen, but she’s only given hard evidence that she’s someone there to cause the protagonists agony and stress–and she’s extremely good at it. Simon, though, has been portrayed as someone more morally ambiguous. Not quite a hero, he’s at least shown some heroic qualities in terms of his leadership and willingness to do what needs to be done. “Episode 5” paints a much clearer picture of who he really is by going into who he once was.
Leave it to this series to find the most heartbreaking narratives possible. Last season, the reveal that Kieren had killed himself and that that might complicate his transition back into the family he consciously left behind created one of the most devastating and ingenious stories I’ve seen in recent television. When we learn that Simon killed his own mother in his untreated state, the gut-punch isn’t quite on that level, but it makes Simon’s character about a thousand times more interesting and tragic. All of the flashbacks work incredibly well, which–in and of itself–is impressive. To have a penultimate episode structured like this when the finale has to address several important questions (and ones that don’t necessarily have to be related to Simon) is both somewhat daring and unexpected. Visually, though, it works beautifully, the most notable example of which is when we switch from bedroom shots of a younger Simon to the present day Kieren. For two characters whose motivations have been highlighted as similar-but-different, “Episode 5” draws them closer together as concepts if not as people. Yet, those details, like how both characters’ fathers really aren’t handling the respective situations well, are still obviously linking. Simon’s path from being the first responsive patient to being one of the Undead Prophet’s disciples goes by a little too quickly on the screen, but all the logical steps are there.
What Simon does now, however, is complicated by several things. Obviously, his feelings for Kieren play some role even though they are not clearly defined yet. More importantly than that is the question of who really is the First Risen. After last week’s episode, the feeling was clearly Kieren. Now, Maxine is shown exactly who it is while the audience can’t see, but since Amy is beginning to feel again, we have to assume it’s her or that it could be her. There’s little to go off of in terms of what being the First Risen really means for that person (for the Undead Prophet, the First Risen is the key to the Second Rising). So, if somewhat unusual qualities come along with that or if there’s some slight biological or physiological differences, that puts more weight on the person coming to terms with that identity. Ideally, that is the direction and that being the First Risen isn’t simply a title a nothing more. And if the Prophet seems to think that the First Risen has the power to start the Second Rising, one must wonder if that can happen without that person having to die–or if it can happen at all.
In any case, Amy’s scenes in the episode are just as effective as anyone else’s. Her game of crazy golf with Philip is disgustingly cute before veering into the melancholic. Philip doesn’t see the point of playing the game if it never ends, which can just as easily be understood as a description of life–one in which PDS sufferers are stuck in an endless, pointless game until they decide to remove themselves from it. The Amy-Philip pairing has been an absolute delight in such a short amount of screen time. Based on what we’ve seen, I’m not so convinced that Philip would have actually gone through with killing Amy or else there is a part of that conversation that we’re not seeing–one in which there’s a kind of “If you really care for me, you’ll do this” vibe. Just putting Philip into that position, though, is difficult to watch. How he fits into the PDS plot is really just tangential through Amy right now, so if she does end up being the First Risen and takes on a bigger role there, I wonder what use In the Flesh will have for Philip. Regardless, I’m still hoping he has something to do with removing Maxine from power in the finale because of how poorly treated he’s been by his misguided values and mentors.
– Sean Colletti