In the wake of Warm Bodies, there is a fair amount of criticism toward this recent, wholesome approach to the un-dead. In the Flesh may not please die-hard zombie fanatics and attract similar criticism; however, I personally found it a positively interesting approach and thoroughly enjoyed the first episode. It was a well-balanced hybrid of drama, horror and comedy with nudges to generic traditions, ticking all the boxes - I can't wait to watch the next two installments.
Kieran Walker is a Partially Deceased Syndrome (PDS) sufferer, in the latter stages of rehabilitation. After daily medication (to prevent turning 'rabid'), group therapy sessions and progress meetings with a doctor, he is safe to return home to the Norfolk village of Roarton. Here, we are treated to various dystopic shots of barren landscape, derelict buildings and "missing" posters, all reminiscent of the abandoned London sequences in 28 Days Later. These are nice subtle signifiers of the tragedy that ensued post-zombie apocalypse, the causes of which remain undiscovered. In Roarton, we are introduced to Kieran's mum, dad and angsty sister, Jem. She belongs to the Human Volunteer Force (HVF), a group of self-appointed soldiers who protect the community, exterminating all "rotters". Despite government induced protection laws on the PDS sufferers, the HVF are adamant that "Rotters are rotters, drugs or no drugs" and will continue to protect Roarton by any means. This PDS/HVF binary provides the episode with its emotional tension (one that will no doubt cover the entire series) – who should Jem side with, her PDS suffering brother or the totalitarian HVF in which she is respected?
Her loyalties are tested in one of the most chilling sequences of this episode. The HVF get word of a PDS sufferer living in the neighbourhood so they soon grab their weapons, ready to exterminate. Believing it to be her brother, Jem decides to warn her family so they can hide Kieran and prepare for an attack. However, the HVF instead visit an elderly neighbour, Maggie. In a moment of unforgiving brutality, Maggie is dragged into the middle of the road. After a brief toy with her emotions, she is shot in the head. It is a tough sequence and proof that the HVF are not really the heroes of Roarton after all. Also, it's another shining example of how zombies are brilliant vehicles to highlight the horrors of humanity.
As I have already mentioned, some may dislike this addition to the zombie canon. It is a large step away from the soulless flesh eaters we are used to seeing. However for me, it is a welcome take on the genre. The PDS sufferers are handled in a clever and effective manner; with creative nods to zombie traditions. Vacant eyes and gormless shuffling feature throughout, paying homage to previous zombie creations. There are also one or two nice gory moments to provide some horror.
The narrative trope of rehab is also a welcomed development. Group therapy, campaign posters (see below) and community nurses for the PDS sufferers are well integrated into the plot. Side note - it is oddly entertaining to see a would-be horde queue in an orderly fashion, waiting to see a doctor. It is the small details that make all the difference.
On a final note, Luke Newberry as Kieran Walker is absolutely brilliant. His performance is incredibly emotive and I can't wait to see how his character develops over the next two episodes.