The fourth episode of In The Flesh sees characters attempting normalcy and finding the fit uncomfortable.
Let’s bitch it out…
One of the joys of watching In The Flesh is the slow, mounting sense of dread / anticipation. It’s clear that things are headed for an epic blow-up and, much like a slow motion car-crash, all we can do is sit and watch in horror. This latest episode continues to build the anticipation as the truth about Kieren’s (Luke Newberry) status as first Risen comes out in one of the most awkward TV meals in recent memory, while poor put-upon Philip (Stephen Thompson) takes a stand.
The episode really belongs to Philip, whose actions at the PDS brothel come back to haunt him when the news of the establishment is brought to Maxine Martin’s (Wunmi Mosaku) attention. Ever the opportunist, Maxine immediately recognizes the potential to rally the people of Roarton around a moral issue and, in the process, further her own agenda. With the tightening of regulations in the Give-Back program and the launch of the Roarton Protective Service (which is immediately seen for what it is: the HVF under a new name), Maxine is capitalizing on the fear and discomfort of Roarton residents. With her recent gains, it’s no surprise that Maxine works so aggressively to silence dead Henry’s mother, Sylvia (Kate Wood). You can almost see Maxine irately thinking “this woman is trying to hijack my narrative!”
Philip’s own struggle makes for a compelling narrative. Unlike last week‘s more stand-alone plot, we’ve known Philip for a long time so his story resonates much more strongly. The fact that he’s also a sympathetic loser doesn’t hurt either; the romantic torch he carries for Amy (Emily Bevan) could have easily come off as gross but the way Thompson plays Philip makes the crush endearing. This is pretty admirable considering he’s visiting a PDS prostitute as a proxy for his real object of affection. And yet by the time the truth about his actions come to light, Philip’s plea for tolerance in front of the brothel and his bus-stop encounter with a drunken Amy only make us yearn for some kind of happy ending for the downtrodden public servant. It’s nice that despite the looming doom on the horizon, Philip and Amy end the episode in a happy place.
The same can’t be said for either Jem (Harriet Cains) or Kieren. The aforementioned family lunch at the Walker residence is so uncomfortable that it’s nearly squirm-inducing. As soon as Jem and Kieren began making ill-advised romantic decisions last week, it was clear that their diverging paths would clash. Jem’s struggle to keep things together after killing Henry Lonsdale (Charlie Kenyon) has prompted a regression of sorts and I’ll admit I’m personally disappointed* that she hasn’t considered how her new romance with Gary (Kevin Sutton) would affect her brother. At some point the truth about Jem’s actions will have to come to light, but until they do, her PTSD and bad decision making are only going to worsen.
*The fact that I get legitimately upset about the actions of the fictional characters on this show is either deeply unhealthy or a testament to its ability to create engrossing drama (More likely it’s both)
Kieren’s storyline mirrors his sister’s downward spiral. Much like Philip, Kieren is a deeply sympathetic character, even though he’s very clearly repressed. The gay parable that dominated series one has been muted in series two in favour of larger political themes, but Kieren’s pre-lunch argument with Simon (Emmett Scanlon) about being “normal” is a nice call back. Even after two series, Kieren clearly does not have his shit together and his self-hating nature has often prompted him to tow the line. His request that Simon put on appearances for the Walker lunch lays this out fairly clearly. Kieren’s so desperate to avoid making other people uncomfortable that he’d rather compromise his own beliefs. This makes his outburst at lunch both exceptional and cheer-worthy; it’s a moment that’s been building since his plans to escape Roarton were dashed in the premiere. The fact that the writers use Kieren’s breaking point to reveal that he is, in fact, the first Risen is wonderful. It underscores the scene with a sense of tragedy: Kieren is finally being true to himself, refusing to cow to social niceties and advocate for himself (which is exactly what Simon has been preaching), and in doing so he unintentionally provides information that makes him a target for the larger conflict to come. We’ve been waiting for confirmation that Kieren is the figure that Simon and Maxine are searching for, but by having the truth come out this way the writers have turned something we’ve been expecting into something much more tragic.
- Shirley Wilson (Sandra Huggett) prescribes a new drug, Neruotrypsin Plus, for Amy after her symptoms worsen. This B-plot has been percolating since the second series began, though it’s not entirely clear what’s happening. Has Amy actually been taking the regular prescribed Neruotrypsin? (Everyone else, including Simon, appears to be fine) Or are these symptoms the result of continuing usage of the commune’s weird cocktail? Some online comments believe that Amy is becoming human again, which would be a pretty dramatic revelation considering the battles lines being drawn between PDS sufferers and humans.
- The events at the general practice when Simon’s followers freeing rotters didn’t really work for me. Not only is it unclear why the building is locked during the middle of the day, but the subsequent attack on the receptionist goes completely unaddressed. I find it hard to believe that no one would have discovered this before the evening’s rally. Obviously the attack will come out next episode, but its timing and impact didn’t really fit in here.
- I particularly enjoyed it when Maxine’s hypocrisy when she angrily suggests Sylvia won’t “accept the facts” and then promptly comes up a completely fabricated story for Philip to tell. Although she remains the most broadly drawn character on the show, Maxine remains an enjoyably hissable villain.
- Steve Walker (after Kieren describes his dislike of the Give-Back scheme): “That’s the workplace for you.”
- Man on the council (after Maxine begins talking personally about Roarton): “When did she become we?”
- Kieren (when Steve asks if Simon likes lunch): “It’s definitely in his top three meals we don’t eat.”
- Kieren (berating Gary during the epic Sunday lunch): “It’s not that funny, but you can sit there and listen to the story like we did.”
- Dean (when Jem asks why Maxine wants everyone at the brothel rally): “In case tarts attack? I dunno.”
How did you feel about Kieren’s revelatory rant at lunch? Are you disappointed in Jem? Did the GP scene bother you? Are you happy that Philip and Amy got a happy moment? Is Simon more or less trustworthy not that he’s reported that Kieren is the first Risen? Sound off below.
In The Flesh airs Saturdays at 10pm EST on BBC America