As an addendum to my long essay on the zombie myth and mental illness, the brand new (still running) BBC3 series In the Flesh is an interesting new take. It features “zombism” as a curable condition called “Partial Death Syndrome” and the series using the zombie metaphor to discuss issues like sexuality, civil rights and de-humanisation of the enemy that takes place in war (the series features an Afghanistan war veteran very prominently), in a more often than not slightly heavy-handed manner. It’s still very worth a watch. And really good.
Most importantly, and usefully for the discussion I am attempting to start is the central role that mental health plays in the show. The main character killed himself when his friend (it’s heavily implied there is a homosexual love there, perhaps unrequited – it’s not clear yet) left for Afghanistan. His younger sister is coming to terms with the abandonment she felt at his death, and this manifests as a hostility to everyone – her reanimated, healthy brother most of all. The show also depicts zombies who are “rabid”, i.e. not on the heavy drug regimen (mentioned later) as good at heart. There are flashbacks of the zombies as monsters eating flesh, but that’s it. It’s made clear they were driven by the need to consume, and even in a rabid state are shown to be no worse than animals – i.e. they kill to survive, not maliciously. At the heart of it they’re not monsters. In Episode 2 we even see a zombie not on any medication (so what is essentially the traditional zombie from other shows and films) dragging roadkill to a cave where he pulls it up to feed to a little girl who has turned, perhaps his daughter – perhaps not.
The most salient part of the mythos that Dominic Mitchell has added is the drugs that keep the zombies sane, and human. The affected need to take a daily regimen of powerful drugs that are administered painfully, in the back of the neck – straight into the spine. The scenes remind me very clearly of the early way we treated and dealt with victims of HIV/AIDs, and the rumours that spread about them. The most important bit about the medicine though, is the administration of the drugs. There is a port on the back of the zombies’ necks, presumably put they are cut there by the government scientists treating the affected. This port requires another person to give the drugs. Most often we see parents giving the drugs to their children, or spouses to spouses. It’s intimate and painful. It leaves you wondering about every new “zombie” you see in the show, who is clearly on medication – where do they get their drugs, and most importantly who is giving it to them. You see lonely zombies struggling with their lives, lonely – and you think…how do they cope? And the same question can be said today, in the real world, of the lonely.
The humanity and emotion of In the Flesh is its selling point.It’s very well written, superbly acted and just better than most other drama on British television. Watch iiiiiiiit.