Tuesday, March 19, 2013

In the Flesh

 A girl is in the supermarket talking to someone on a walkie-talkie to collect some caramel shortbread biscuits. I approve, if the world is ending I want ridiculously unhealthy food as well. Unfortunately her shopping trip is interrupted by a zombie eating the brains of a corpse. She puts two bullets in the zombie then limps away while the lights go out. She concentrates so much on the zombie behind her, she misses the one in front that grabs her. And chomp!

The scenes switches to the zombie struggling with a flashback in a medical room while a doctor calls his name, Kieren, until he calms down. He has a flash of him as a much dirtier zombie before it resolves on him – pale, with very visible veins, but much closer to human. The doctor comments on him having an involuntary memory is a good sign, his mind is rebooting; but Kieren has doubts about being ready. He worries about the medication’s side effects, the flashbacks but the doctor points out his worry shows he is ready – because he’s feeling again. And it’s better than the alternative if he didn’t respond to medication – they’re “taken care of.” The doctor with the most excellent bedside manner assures him his parents are eager to see him – he doubts it given that he’s a zombie and he killed people. Dr. Shepherd objects – he’s a “Partially deceased syndrome sufferer” and what he did in his untreated state is not his fault.

As he leaves, still pleading for more time, we see that Dr. Shepherd has a massive crowd of living zombies to see. Kieren joins another queue where he is given contact lenses to match his old eye colour – his eyes are currently pale blue, almost colourless.

Panning outside, we see graffiti saying “Beware rotters” and “god bless the HVF”, the landscape is very empty, buildings are abandoned, people missing and there are large, new graveyards wooden crosses rather than stone markers. HVF soldiers have a procession through the graveyard watched by a small crowd.

Slightly less grim, a couple are trying to sell a house when they’re interrupted by Jem, a young woman with loud music, and when they go to see her, a busy decorating scheme and an uncompromising attitude when it comes to being disturbed. I may steal her line when I need to tell people to fuck off as well. The couple assure the buyers that she doesn’t come included (aww, I’d so buy a house with a Jem). They mention the Human Volunteer Force as something that had disbanded, but it’s still going strong in the area – and they don’t want to buy the house, they want something more “remote.” As do the family who currently own the house.

As the buyers leave, the remaining couple, the Walkers, assume they have one too, a zombie child – and worry about bringing Kieren back to their house where it is (reading between the lines). Jem leaves the house and won’t hear about her brother coming home – she still wears a HVF armband.

At a highly secure PDS (Partial death syndrome) facility, Kieren is in a group circle talking about his side effects, his flashbacks and his guilt. Another zombie tries to argue against the guilt, trying to present it as a war, angrily objecting when the human therapist disapproves and then turns the conversation to the coming Sunday when they go home. Kieren is looking forward to seeing his little sister, aha… no.

That sister is at the local pub where she is greeted as a “Rambo” to get a drink with other HVF veterans – but no longer for free as they once did, much to the anger of Bill, the leader. Later, in a meeting room, he hands out patrol rotas for his HVF, he doesn’t believe that government that there are no more “rabid rotters”. Bill doesn’t care whether the Rotters are on drugs or not – and another HVF member claims there’s no way the government would put treated Rotters there –just in cities. He hands out new Walkie-talkies and tells them to report anything, while Jem is visibly troubled.

Back in the facility, Alex (the troublemaker) claims there were riots when treated zombies were first reintroduced, though the therapists deny it, Alex calls it lies and tells Kieren the living can’t be trusted. He gives Kieren the name of an "undead prophet” to look up when he gets out.  

Just to prove this is something you don’t want to do, Alex takes something which turns him rabid when the doctor checks him – he’s quickly tased and taken away.

That night Kieren and several of his fellows are loaded on an army truck and driven out of the facility. He awakes in what seems almost like a hotel room after another flashback dream, and puts in his contacts. Meanwhile, his parents have set off during the night to come meet him – and think the facility is much nicer and less of a prison than they imagined (possibly why Kieren was moved to this nicer “partially undead treatment centre”). Kieren also puts on concealing make up, covering his pale, veiny skin, before being lead out to see his parents.

It’s a very emotional, and very British meeting – his mother cries, his dad babbles about how well he looks and he stands in stunned silence.  As they’re lead out the Walkers assure the employee that Roarton, where they live, is now much less radical (since they can’t sell the house).

In that “much less radical” Roarton in the church and angry vicar rants against the zombies and allowing them back into the community. An MP who has attended is not greeted warmly and he tries to assure the crowed when medicated the zombies are fine but he’s heckled and one man asks what happens if they don’t take it or it wears off. They keep heckling especially since the government failed to send in troops during the rising (of 140,000 dead).  Roarton is the least tolerant of them all because it was the very first village that produced a defence force.

And it’s to this village that the Walkers are driving Kieren too, babbling away happily – but when they see a group of people they make Kieren hide in the back. And narrowly miss having to give one of the angry men from the church a lift. They’re free to return home – under the watchful gaze of a nosy neighbour.

More touching family acting when he finds his parents have kept his old room. At the door Sue (the mother) is visited by Shirley a neighbour – who knows Kieren’s back (it was her who helped distract Kenneth so they wouldn’t have to give him a lift). Shirley’s a nurse and has volunteered to be a community care officer for zombies – giving their medication; she has a wonderfully understated way of referring to the rising (“a spot of bother”). She fumbles her way through giving Kieren his medicine (causing another flashback) while he explains what it does. Shirley also advises them not to go outside – his father protests about the law, but Shirley (in an excellent way) points out not everyone follows the law.

Shirley takes Sue aside and gives her a taser, something she has to do by law. She warns Sue of a drug called Blue Oblivion, it’s extremely dangerous and makes zombies dangerous. She also warns her not to tell Phillip (her son?) about Kieren – he works for the parish council, it would be dangerous.

Speaking of the parish council, we drop in on them and it includes Bill, the HVF leader and Phillip the clerk who, after speaking up out of turn against hallowe’en (people who just fought monsters don’t need pretend monsters at the door) is invited by the council head to speak privately. He wants Phillip to help him keep an eye out for reintegrated zombies – PDS – by watching his mother, who Phillip thinks still works for the hospice.

At the Walkers there’s an awkward family dinner – Kieren doesn’t eat any more – and Jem returns home. She refuses to come in the room until Kieren leaves – he does and goes to his room, to look through old photos.

Elsewhere Bill makes it harder for us to hate him by he and his wife having a birthday commemoration for their dead son, Rick.

And Phillip asks his mother, Shirley about the hospice – she lies and pretends to still work there. She goes to bed and he takes her laptop and tries to break her password – but she catches him and he stutters that he’s watching porn for his sex addiction. She tells him to scan for viruses when he’s finished. And yes, it’s awkward.

Kieren has another nightmare and wakes up to Jem standing over him, demand he prove that he’s her brother. He tells her a story of their childhood and she sits down in tears, accusing him of not leaving a note, he wanted to disappear after Rick died, blaming himself for him joining the army and dying in Afghanistan. She leaves, furious – but at him committing suicide now, not being a PDS.

When he’s alone, Kieren visits the website Alex gave him which includes an link about Blue Oblivion. It appeals to the guilt and doubt of the PDS and then talks about them being blessed with a purpose and that living cannot be trusted. Before it goes on, his dad comes in and he shuts it down.

Meanwhile the Vicar is meeting with Bill and says he has intelligence on “one of them” and begins a passionate, furious prayer that becomes a voice over while Bill goes home and grabs his weapons, so driven he scares his wife. Jem hears his plan to kill a rotter over the walkie talkie and runs home and warns them, hurrying out the back to get weapons from the shed (mum has a chainsaw. Seriously I would watch this show again just to see the woman in a cardigan with a chainsaw.) Mum takes back, dad takes from and Jem hides Kieren upstairs. They knock on the door – but it’s only to ask for Jem

She goes out with them and they drag a woman out of the house opposite (the nosy neighbour), while her husband, Kenneth yells furiously. Bill says he remember’s Ken’s wife, Maggie, as dead. Ken tries to claim a twin sister . He points a gun at her head and she screams and cries and begs. He stops and asks why her eyes look normal – she says she wears contacts and he tells her to take them out. She does… and he shoots her. They leave and Ken falls prostrate and crying over his wife’s body.

Jem comes in and Sue hugs her as she cries while Steven goes up to Kieren. Bill returns home and finds a soldier with his wife, Janet. They’ve found their son, Rick, in Afghanistan. Not his body – he’s PDS

The acting is… extremely good. Deep and emotional without being overwrought; meaningful and heavy without melodrama. The whole theme and feel of this show is powerful and almost exhausting in its realness. It’s not a light, easy or even fun show to watch – it’s heavy, it’s dark and it’s rich in nuance and shades and things unsaid.

I don’t know how well this show will travel – the emotional reactions, the behaviour, the interactions are all quintessentially English. There’s nothing confusing about it, but just the feel of it won’t have the same impact, I think.

The world building is rich with hints and suggestions, side references and implications – you get a really big picture of everything that happened, what everyone and everything is and the nature of the world without any need for an info-dump.

So it’s truly impressive in many ways. And there are interesting comments on how oppression and persecution works – like just because there’s a law against hate doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen.

Of course, the underlying issue here is that we’re using another stand in for oppression rather than actual oppression – and there are hints that parallel REALLYclosely to real world oppression (particularly the mentally ill in this case) that is at very least on the edge of appropriation and inappropriate comparison. It doesn’t help that said appropriation is happening on a show with very little in the way of minorities – the Black girl who was eaten and the doctor the only ones – before moving to rural England

It can still carry some good messages, some awesome acting and some very powerful scenes – but it needs to step back from drawing such close parallels.