In the Flesh premiered on BBC Three in March 2013. We visit a Britain that survived a zombie apocalypse. A drug was developed to cure the undead of their brain munching cravings. The “partially deceased” must now re-integrate into society. Luke Newberry gives a heartbreaking performance as Kieren; a shy teen zombie who wants to feel normal again. Unfortunately, he’s trapped between traumatized relatives and revenge-hungry townsfolk. I adored Kieren and hated watching him suffer.
Things improve for the lad in the second series. The cast grows but Kieren remains the moral compass. He stands up for himself and his friends. Even when he’s threatened by government officials and rebel zombies. The over-the-top villains and contrived plot turns were off-putting. Yet I remained invested in Kieren’s fate.
Triggers and spoilers abound in my recap.
Series One (2013)
Scene One: Home Again
DOCTOR: Wake up Kieren. You’re a Partially Deceased Syndrome sufferer. Take your daily meds and you’ll remain sane. You’re free to go.
KIEREN WALKER (A sad zombie twink): But I killed people
PARENTS: We forgive you. Come home.
MILITIA SISTER: I’ll never forgive you. You ate my best friend.
KIEREN: I’m sorry.
MILITIA SISTER: Okay. I forgive you.
PARENTS: See? Everything’s fine. Now hide in the closet so our neighbors don’t shoot you.
KIEREN: Is this a metaphor?
Scene Two: Neighborhood Watch
EVIL MILITIA LEADER: We can’t let rotters in our community. Let’s kill ‘em all.
(Evil Militia Leader kills Zombie Mrs. Chekhov. Mr. Chekhov will remember that.)
KIEREN: Hey militia! The army is paying for unharmed zombies. Turn in the rest for cash.
MILITIA: Okay. We like money.
EVIL MILITA LEADER: Stupid queer rotter. Pacifying my militia with logic and compassion.
Scene Three: Star Crossed Lovers
EVIL MILITIA LEADER: Meet my soldier son. Who is definitely not a zombie.
SOLDIER SON: Sure dad. This head wound is just a fashion statement.
KIEREN: When you died, I couldn’t take it.
SOLDIER SON: You shoulda gone to college. Gotten outta this town.
EVIL MILITIA LEADER: Kill that rotter, son. It’s not people.
SOLDIER SON: No dad. He’s me boyfriend. Sorta. We didn’t put a label on it.
EVIL MILITIA LEADER: You’re not my son.
(Evil Militia Leader kills his Soldier Son. Mr. Chekhov kills Evil Militia Leader.)
Scene Four: Family
KIEREN: I’ve lost him again. Mom, Dad, I’m sorry that I killed myself.
PARENTS: We’re sorry we didn’t acknowledge your sexuality. Or leave this conservative town. Or get you therapy.
KIEREN: What a bleak way to end a series.
Series Two: (2014)
Scene Five: Travel Plans
KIEREN: Goodbye UK. I’m flying to Paris.
EVIL MP: Nope. Zombie terrorists are on the loose. I’m revoking your citizenship and your passport. Now wear this sign so people can identify you as a zombie.
KIEREN: Is this a metaphor?
Scene Six: Love Triangle
MANIC PIXIE DREAM ZOMBIE: Kieren, meet my new boyfriend!
ZOMBIE MAGNETO: Join us in the zombie revolution!
KIEREN: I prefer respectability politics.
ZOMBIE MAGNETO: You’re cute.
(Kieren and Zombie Magneto kiss.)
Scene Seven: Danger
EVIL VIGILANTE: Respectability? Rubbish. I’ll show them what you really are.
(Gives Kieren a drug to make him rabid. Townsfolk shoot at him.)
ZOMBIE MAGNETO: Kieren’s the first zombie. If I let him die, he’ll trigger a new rising. BUT I CAN’T!
(He takes a bullet for Kieren. The drug wears off.)
KIEREN: Aw. You do love me.
ZOMBIE MAGNETO: I guess I do.
Scene Eight: Your tax dollars at work
EVIL MP: We must kill the first risen! A new rising will revive my dead brother!
(Stabs Manic Pixie Dream Zombie. She bleeds and dies?! Townsfolk taze the MP.)
TOWNSFOLK: That’s enough lady. We’ve partially overcome our prejudice.
KIEREN: Forget Paris. I’m staying here with my family and my boyfriend.
(Townsfolk bury Manic Pixie Dream Zombie. Sketchy government agents dig her up.)
MANIC PIXIE DREAM ZOMBIE: How am I still alive? And why do I have a pulse? There’s your cliff hanger.
It’s a Metaphor
I’m just a person who didn’t want to do any more harm.Kieren Walker, In the Flesh
Homophobia. Xenophobia. AIDS. Mental Illness. Grief. Zombies can represent whatever social anxiety you wish. In the Flesh touches on these issues without forgetting that it’s a horror fantasy.
The show found a clever way to cut costs. Zombies were asked to wear flesh colored makeup and eye contacts to hide their pale features. Kieren only showed his true appearance at key moments on his journey to self-acceptance. The supporting characters, living and partially deceased, had compelling arcs of their own.
The show won a Bafta award and received positive reviews. The writers left the door open for a third series. But BBC budget cuts led to its cancellation. I was initially upset but I’ve come round. The nine episodes make a satisfying watch. And it’s nice to see Kieren end up in a place of relative happiness and acceptance.