Last year, BBC America offered a different sort of zombie tale with the premiere of the three-episode miniseries “In the Flesh,” and on Saturday, May 10, it returns with six new episodes that take place nine months after the first-season finale.
Luke Newberry stars as introverted teenager Kieren Walker, who, isolated and depressed over a loss, killed himself — only to be resurrected on the day of “The Rising,” when all those who died in the year 2009 returned as brain-eating zombies.
This set off a war between the living and the undead, with roving bands of militia wiping out the zombies. But a drug was discovered that could halt the zombies’ deterioration and prevent them from needing to kill other humans to survive.
Along with many others, Walker — now considered a PDS (partially deceased syndrome) sufferer — went through rehabilitation and, with a daily injection of medication to control his homicidal impulses, was sent back to family in the village of Roarton in Lancashire, England.
With contact lenses to cover his white eyes and makeup to restore his pale zombie skin to a semblance of normality, he can now “pass” among the living.
Unfortunately, Kieren had already killed a girl in his hometown before rehabilitation, so his past constantly haunts him as he tries to figure out the rest of his life as one of the walking semidead.
“There’s no sell-by date,” says Newberry to Zap2it. “There’s no time limit. If I get shot in the back of the head, then that’s it, but until someone does that, I’ve got X amount of time. I’ve got as long as I want, and how do you plan your life if you don’t have a sell-by date?
“He has his routine. He gets up, puts his lenses in, puts on his mousse” — what Newberry calls Kieren’s makeup — “clothes on, and has to try to live. He didn’t want to live. He ended his life.
“He wanted out, and he got it. Now he’s got a second chance. He’s realizing so many more things, within his second chance, and he’s getting to face the demons that he couldn’t face in his previous life.”
While “In the Flesh” tries to play on themes of prejudice and fear of people who are different, the fact remains that these are zombies, not just regular humans, and they pose far more than an existential threat.
“That’s why,” says Newberry, “it’s a delicate balance between the undead and also being aware that there is a real danger there. One of the characters says, ‘They are one missed dose away from eating your brains out.’
“But at the same time, they are our family, they are our friends, our relatives. It’s a strange feeling of ‘Who are they?’ The audience doesn’t know. It forces you to really question whose side you’re on, what you believe in, really.
“Do you hate these people because that could happen? But you really fall in love with them, and therefore, want to protect them, I guess.”
Although Kieren has a good relationship with his loving parents (Marie Critchley, Steve Cooper), has repaired his relationship with his sister (Harriet Cains), and has a job at the local pub, he still dreams of leaving Roarton, which he always detested.
On the upside, his friend and fellow PDS sufferer Amy (Emily Bevan) is back to cheer him up, but she’s fallen under the spell of a new love, Simon (Emmett J. Scanlan), leader of the violent Undead Liberation Army. Apparently the fragile peace between the living and the undead is unraveling.
A government official (Wunmi Mosaku) is working to enact strict new anti-PDS laws; Simon is agitating for an insurrection; and some PDS sufferers, or “rotters,” as their foes call them, are abandoning their medication and attacking the living, causing the anti-zombie political party Victus to push for even stricter measures.
“There are so many thing slowing Kieren down,” says Newberry, “like having to take medication and vigilante groups and general oppression, and the politics side of it. He’s now being oppressed for being a PDS sufferer. He’s made his decision: ‘I want to move to Paris, start a new life, do things I never did.’ Like realize his talent for art — he’s an artist.
“Then new laws come into play … and he’s forced to reconsider.”
As to whether Kieren actually wants to live now, Newberry says, “He’s definitely grabbing life with two hands, certainly in the second series. He’s been through so much — the death of Rick in Series 1, coming back and seeing his parents and knowing what he put them through, he couldn’t do it again.
“He does want to live, yeah, but he doesn’t want to live in Roarton. That’s the key.”