In the Flesh is back for another season in post-zombie rising Lancashire, and already we've gone beyond the human-on-zombie prejudice. Two powerful factions have arrived in Roarton to upset the delicate balance in Kieren's undeath—and they both may put the town at risk.
The first three episodes of In the Flesh were a beautifully realized fairy tale about how difficult it can be to choose to stay alive. Kieren had to reenter his life with everything going against him: he killed himself after his boyfriend died in Afghanistan; he's suffering guilt over what he did while he was rabid; and anti-Partially Deceased Syndrome sentiment is high in the wake of the Pale Wars. But now that he has decided to remain undead, where does In the Flesh have to go?
Things in Roarton are, for the moment, stable if not ideal. Kieren has a job at the local pub, and even if the villagers aren't thrilled to have a zombie serving up their bitters, at least they tolerate him. Jem has reenrolled in school, although the fact that she's a bit older than the other students at the living-PDS integrated institution isn't helping her win friends. (Though she does have at least one admirer who jokes that he rose from the dead just so that he could get with Jem Walker.) Their father is trying to be a bit less anti-zombie, but he's still in deep denial about his son's flesh-eating activities back in his rabid days.
Kieren decides if he's going to get on with his life, he's going to have to get out of Roarton—get out of England entirely—and move on to Berlin or Paris or somewhere else that's PDS-friendly. His boss may be ready to hand him the keys to the pub and make a good show of disarming former HVF members before she'll serve them. His social worker may want him to take a political stand by staying in Roarton and forcing the townsfolk to become more accepting. But Kieren doesn't want to keep pouring pints for people who are barely polite to him, and a recent terrorist attack by the Undead Liberation Army—one that killed his kindly, thoughtful neighbor—makes his desire to leave England even stronger.
But there is a wider world out there, and it is beginning to encroach upon Kieren's village. First, Maxine Martin, MP from the, ahem, pro-life Victus Party shows up in Roarton ostensibly to offer her condolences for the death of one of Roarton's own. At first, Maxine seems to be a typical politician out of her depth. She sweeps into the pub, calling herself a "local girl done good" and hopes to drum up some anti-PDS sentiment when she mentions the ULA attack. "Doesn't think much of us, does she?" grumbles one of the locals to a friend. But gradually, Maxine comes off more and more as a pragmatist; her key argument against the undead is that they're one missed dose away from growing rabid. She's disgusted by Vicar Oddie's claims that the eradication of the first risen will lead to a second rising—and she's pretty handy with a power drill.
But there's more to Maxine than she's letting on; Vicar Oddie knows something about her background and she's keeping a particular eye on the PDS folk who rose in Roarton.
And she's not the only one. Sweet Amy returns to Roarton on some sort of mission from the Undead Prophet. At first, Kieren is delighted; after all, Amy brings some much needed joy and affection into Kieren's life. But her time among the "Redeemed" has added a dogmatic edge to Amy's undead human rights campaign.
The first season showed us that living humans have every reason to feel trepidation toward PDS sufferers even though some are needlessly cruel toward the undead trying to reintegrate into society. This season explores the reactions some PDS sufferers have in response to their marginalization. The lecture at the start of the episode tells us that the reaction of the undead is natural, but that doesn't mean it's not horrific. Kieren just wants to live his undeath in peace, but that doesn't seem to be an option.
Like Maxine, the ULA is particularly interested in Roarton, and Amy comes not alone but with her new beau, one of the twelve apostles of the Undead Prophet. Simon is one of those fellows who thinks you're not zombie enough if you wear makeup and contact lenses, and he and Amy decide to bare their pale faces in the local pub. The other patrons are visibly put off by the presence of two loud-and-proud zombies, but the real trouble comes from Gary Kendal, who wants to relive his glory days with the HVF, when he could drink for free and his mates wouldn't blow him off for a video game. When Gary and Simon face off, Kieren's boss—the same woman who handed Kieren the keys to the pub, who disarmed Gary in exchange for a beer—pulls out a gun, and when Kieren moves to stop her, she points it right at him. In that instant, Kieren recognizes that even the most seemingly tolerant of Roarton's living citizens still view him as a rotter, a realization that might just point him toward the ULA.
Kieren still has one bond among the living that will be difficult to break: the one with his sister, Jem. But Jem is having her own trouble in transitioning back to civilian life. She's dealing with PTSD from her time in the HVF, and perhaps even some guilt for sparing the rabid Kieren back in the supermarket. She may need to get out of Roarton as badly as her brother does.
I'm loving the more complex morality this season promises, where all sides have both their own internal justifications for their behavior and terrible deeds they're willing to engage in. But I'm also impressed by the small details that go a long way to building this version of the world, like the political campaign posters:
The artwork at Jem's school:
And the travel book with the PDS-friendly accommodations:
It all helps to create the sense of a country that is trying to adjust, but is still in turmoil, a place where it's still dangerous to be a zombie—and dangerous to be alive, too.