If you took the themes of being an outcast “monster” from True Blood and combined it with the themes of life after a zombie outbreak from The Walking Dead, then removed the camp and action, respectively, you’d have the deeply dramatic and tragic BBC television series In the Flesh.
Despite little glimmers of natural humor here and there, In the Flesh is an often heartbreaking look at families struggling to accept and adapt to their deceased loved ones being “cured” of their zombie identity.
Multiple perspectives are explored, making it obvious how the entire series could be an allegory about society’s treatment of gays. There’s something wrong with them that needs to be cured. Some people are totally accepting while others think they are a danger that will bring down society. Families that embrace their loved one for who he is are targets of hate by outsiders. Witch-hunts are started to find and destroy those who are different.
The outcasts live in fear, hiding who they really are (makeup and contact lenses are the masks used to hide their true selves in this case). They also struggle to admit their true identity to themselves. Families go to support groups to cope with their loved ones being different. And parents even turn on their children and do awful things to them for not being exactly what they expected.
And then there are the activists groups. There are those who fight to protect the rights of the zombies. And naturally, there are an even bigger number of anti-zombie groups. Some are just militant haters who want to destroy anyone who is not like them, while others are in religious organizations that use God as an excuse for the disgusting hatred and bigotry in their hearts and minds.
All this metaphorical reading aside, our main zombie character is gay. But that’s not even the issue. It’s never about his gayness and the truth of his sexual identity isn’t even acknowledged until the final episode of the first season. His parents appear fully aware that he was in love with “the boy next door” before he died. As the show progresses, we learn of his relationship with the other guy and it is handled for what it is—a relationship. There’s never a “we’re gay” announcement, there are just two characters showing the obvious signs of their love for each other. It’s like, when you have zombies living next door, the gay thing really starts to pale in comparison.
Season 1 is only 3 episodes, each running 55 minutes long. We learn about how the zombies have been rehabilitated, our main zombie moves back in with his parents, and we see the contrast between families who embrace and love their child unconditionally versus a family that refuses to accept that their child isn’t exactly what they want them to be. Also, our main zombie has to come to terms with killing and feeding on someone he knew when he was first a rabid zombie.
Season 2 is 6 episodes long and becomes much more complex yet still reflects our own society. Zombies, the oppressed group, begin to come together and form their own force to fight back against the haters. And even they become divided, with some being aggressive, in-your-face extremists while others just want to live their lives quietly and be left alone.
And of course the haters, feeling their rights to be oppressors being oppressed, can’t handle what it feels like to be on the receiving end of oppression and start lashing out stronger. But there’s even a divide between them as a strong voice in anti-zombie rule comes into town and has a completely different agenda than the religious freaks.
Other real issues are given the zombie metaphor in season 2: being ashamed and bastardized for who you love; zombie equivalents of school shootings; cult brainwashing; terrorism; zombie fetishism and prostitution (zombosexuality?); and society’s lack of concern for children if they’re zombies. That’s a lot of societal dysfunction to portray, but In the Flesh nails it.
And finally, we have our main zombie, who scores a couple of gay zombie kisses in season 2. What’s so interesting about him is that he manages to be both sure of himself and proud of who he is yet somehow a desperate, fragile soul (well, maybe not soul since he’s a zombie) begging for acceptance, love, and understanding from the very people who are abusing him. It’s very hard to watch, especially when you know that there are young people out there today who are dealing with all these same momentous pressures and attacks from the very people they trust most in the world.
By the end of season 2, serious insanity ensues and some great twists are revealed. Through it all, the show manages to stay focused on just one small town. We’ll see if it is able to retain that focus as the plot gets bigger and more complicated.
Here’s Emmett Scanlan, who plays the gay zombie love interest in season 2: