Sunday, June 09, 2013

The Walking, Talking Dead

Watched the three-part BBC series In the Flesh last night, and was quite impressed. The series stars Luke Newberry as Kieren Walker, a sufferer of Partially Deceased Syndrome. This is the medical term for the zombie-like condition that has afflicted the walking dead returnees who terrorized England in their zombie-like state until a drug was developed that would return them to their more-or-less-normal condition. Of course, they're not totally normal: they still have their zombie-like pallor, their eyes look dead (requiring that they wear contacts so as not to disturb the normal population),  they can neither eat nor drink normal food or beverage, and any wounds they have suffered will never heal. Nevertheless, so long as they undergo their regular drug therapy, they regain their normal mental faculties and are able to co-exist with unafflicted men and women.

Of course, many members of society object to these "rotters," as they call them, returning to the world of the living--particularly since, in their zombie state, the rotters terrorized and brutalized the living. Kieren's sister, Jem Walker (played by Harriet Cains), is particularly bothered by his return to the family home; she was part of a civilian army called the Human Volunteer Force that fought to control the rotters before the medical treatment was developed, and she seems to hold a grudge (for reasons that become quite apparent as the three-part series progresses).

Kieren soon crosses path with Amy Dyer (played by Emily Bevan), a fellow rotter who refuses to hide her condition or her past. Soon they are joined by Rick Macy (played by David Walmsley), a soldier who was killed by an IED in Afghanistan, only to return as a sufferer of Partially Deceased Syndrome. Problem is, Rick's father has a deep and abiding hatred for rotters; however, he puts the hatred aside as far as his son is concerned. Instead, he tries to convert his PDS sufferer son to his way of thinking, encouraging him to hate the other rotters. Again, there is more to his hatred than meets the eye, as writer Dominic Mithell makes clear before the three-parter wraps up.

While the symbolism of the names is hit-me-over-the-head heavy (the town is Roarton, which sounds all too similar to "rotten," and characters have names such as Walker and Dyer), the story is much more moving and human than I would have expected. It's also refreshing that Mitchell chooses to reject many zombie tropes (Kieren and others are constantly trying to explain that the bite of a rotter doesn't transform a normal person into a zombie, stressing that "this isn't a movie!" when people say that they know it does, because they've seen it in the movies), while creating their own rules in this world struggling to come to terms with an undead population that hopes to be accepted into society. There are also intriguing glimpses into a PDS commune set up by a masked leader to allow the sufferers to form their own society, beyond the judgment and prejudice of the human race; this remains largely unexplored in the first three-parter, although I suspect that Mitchell will develop it further in the second In the Flesh series, which has already been green-lit by  BBC.

If you're not burned out on the entire zombie concept, give this series a try; it's an intriguing story with fascinating characters, and it manages to be intensely emotional without being maudlin.

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