It’s the calm before the storm as In The Flesh‘s second last episode explores what makes Simon (Emmett Scanlan) tick in a series of flashbacks.
Let’s bitch it out…Throughout the second series, Simon Monroe has been a driving force in the narrative, influencing both Kieren (Luke Newberry) and Amy (Emily Bevan) and bringing a wave of radical revolt to Roarton courtesy of the Undead Liberation Army. Until tonight we’ve never had a good idea about what drives him, so I was excited to see that he was getting the Lost flashback treatment.
Unfortunately my enthusiasm was short-lived as his backstory proves to be disappointingly mundane. Perhaps it’s just a familiarity with the tropes of television, or the fact that In The Flesh has telegraphed the majority of its significant plot developments this series, but Simon’s story simply isn’t that interesting. It’s quite obvious from the beginning that he’s killed his family and once we discover that his father is still alive, it’s clear that they’ll never be able to recover. This makes the “dramatic” moment when Simon’s father kicks him out in the middle of the night a foregone conclusion, and the same issue plagues Simon’s eventual entry into the ULA. It’s a common problem with flashbacks: we already know where the story ends so unless there’s something truly shocking or unexpected, flashbacks can feel like a narrative non-starter.
There are some interesting parallels that can be made between Kieren – the first Risen – and Simon – the first successful recipient of Neurotriptyline – which may explain why they’re drawn to each other. It’s also kind of interesting to see how Simon is recruited into the ULA, although I didn’t find the initial suggestion that the Undead Prophet is a hallucination very effective. There’s a reading to be made in the way that the ULA recruits its followers by preying (praying?) on their insecurities and social isolation (much the same way that the residents of Roarton are increasingly responding to fear tactics about PDS sufferers), but that doesn’t really get explored. Instead the Undead Prophet is presented as a pseudo-messianic entity that can cause power surges and change the lighting. It’s a problematically supernatural turn that doesn’t fit well with the otherwise grounded depiction of the world.
The parts of the episode involving Simon feel alternately redundant, obvious or agonizingly slow (he sits in a motel room for pretty much the entire episode!). Then there’s the suggestion that Gary (Kevin Sutton) has the skills to track him into the city and pick-pocket Simon’s ULA contact to secure Maxine (Wunmi Mosaku) the exact documents she needs to discover their plan. It’s laughingly contrived and convenient since we’ve never had any indication that Gary can do anything other than drink and patrol.
Move beyond the Simon portions of the episode, however, and 2×05 is actually pretty effective at setting up the finale. The long-simmering tension between Kieren and his parents that began boiling over last week during the awkward family lunch comes to a head as Steve (Steve Cooper) and Sue (Marie Crichtley) succumb to the same moral panic we’ve seen infect Roarton. I had to chuckle when Kieren is brought in front of the parish council to answer for the rotter attack on the GP because it is so in keeping with the illogical reasoning that we’ve seen this series. Any kind of reasonable individual would be able to spot the smear campaign and poke holes in the argument that Kieren was involved, but logic and reason have long since left town (around the same time the Give Back program was embraced). The slow escalation of Steve and Sue’s discomfort with their son, combined with the poor timing of his decision to stop applying his make-up and contacts, tips the balance. We’re now heading into the finale with Kieren at odds with every member of his family, including his sister, who barely registers in this episode but is being set-up for a dramatic role next week (that gun has got to go off, right?)
- We now have confirmation that Maxine’s actions are being driven by family matters. It’s not a child as I first suspected; it appears that the grave she’s visited is that of her younger brother.
- I particularly enjoy how the domestic drama in Maxine’s B&B plays out. Unlike Simon’s narrative, the expectedness of the mother-in-law ruining the finale of Sandra’s (Fiona Wuss) television program doesn’t diminish its comedic effectiveness. Plus, it unintentionally serves to provide Maxine with the information about the first Risen that she’s been seeking. The fact that we don’t see who Sandra identifies, however, suggests that it may not be Kieren. This should contribute some additional conflict in the finale as Maxine and Simon try to murder different individuals.
- Amy’s health spiral and her big date with Philip (Stephen Thompson) – Crazy Golf! – provide the episode’s most affective moments. Despite Amy’s desperation, there’s a sweetness to their interactions, particularly when Philip gets performance anxiety and misses his hole in one and Amy still gives him a kiss. I did feel that her euthanasia request was a little sudden given that she doesn’t know Philip that well, but it still plays out effectively. Considering how this episode is constructed around Simon’s flashbacks – wherein scientists use him as a guinea pig to find a cure for PDS – it’s possible that Amy has been cured and is becoming human.
- Just in case Kieren isn’t in enough trouble, he’s now in possession of Simon’s bottle of Blue Oblivion. Expect that to cause all kinds of problems in the finale.
- Finally, a government bureaucrat is responsible for coining the term Partially Deceased Syndrome because it sounds “manageable”. Yup, that sounds about right!
Your turn: how did you feel about Simon’s backstory? Did you find the treatment of the Undead Prophet and Simon’s recruitment effective? Do you think there’s any hope for reconciliation between Kieren and his family? Is Amy becoming human? And who did Sandra identify as the first Risen: Kieren or someone else? Speculate away below.
In The Flesh airs its second series finale next Saturday at 10pm EST on BBC America. Expect some carnage at the Winter Fete!