Monday, 18 March 2013

Brains Both Malfunctioning And Delicious

Well, that was interesting.  With the seemingly endless avalanche of recent zombie-themed fiction showing no signs of slowing, I suppose any real variation on the template is worth a look, and the idea that zombies really can be restored to coherency, albeit not life, is worth looking at.

The mechanism by which this could be done - in this case it's spinal injections of MacGuffin - leads to all sorts of questions, of course, but then the central conceit of zombie fiction is so absurd as to make detailed study of the idea pointless.  Besides, SpaceSquid's Fifteen Minute Rule applies here; nothing a work of fiction introduces in the first quarter hour should have its logic questioned; set-ups can be as mental as the writer desires.

So let's just run with the "recovering brainsaholic" angle.  What does In The Flesh look like it wants to do with the idea?

Spoilers below the fold.

The central metaphor here seems fairly clearly to be the treatment - in both senses - of the mentally ill in society.  Watching Kieren's parents picking him up from the institution where he's been brought back to coherency through both medical intervention and counselling, it's hard to come to any other conclusion.  The revelation that Kieren became a zombie following his suicide rather strengthens the analogy; his story could still end in tragedy even if he never attacks another human being.

If I'm right about what's being explored here, though, there are some major potential problems.  Depicting those suffering extreme mental problems as rabid animals is the most obvious one, but there's also the underlying idea that people like Kieren are ticking bombs, one missed pill away from carving up their families and neighbours.  It's too soon yet to see how this all pans out, so I'm noting concerns rather than pointing fingers, but there seems to me inherent dangers in putting together fiction on the central idea of "what if a given group of people really were as dangerous as they're sometimes made out to be?"  Clearly In The Flesh has its sympathies in the right place, but I'm not sure that will be enough.

(I'm also not entirely comfortable with the idea that southerners would respond to reformed zombies with kindness and legal protection, whilst us northerners would form religious cult/paramilitary organisations and start executing coherent, rational PDS sufferers in the streets. Still, at least the scenery reminded me of home.)

Aside from these concerns, which I'll be able to address in greater depth once the series concludes, I was pretty impressed in the main.  The idea has potential, there's plenty of different story strands playing out, and there seems to be an underlying understanding of the nature of hypocrisy regarding people's opinions on PDS depending on their own immediate circumstances that rings horribly true.  The biggest potential problem with the show is probably it's main character.  I've nothing bad to say about Luke Newberry's talents; he plays the distant and traumatised Kieren perfectly.  The problem is that distant and traumatised does not make for a protagonist easy to bond with.  That said, with only three episodes in the series, that may not prove to be an insurmountable problem.

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