Well, In the Flesh isn't wasting any time in tearing at our heartstrings. This episode dives into post-traumatic stress disorder, school violence, self-loathing, veteran underemployment, illness, and indentured servitude—and that's all before the final, shocking moments.
It's no surprise that Kieren doesn't make it out of Roarton, but what keeps him in town is pretty awful. The Victus Party has instituted a PDS Give-Back Program, forcing PDS sufferers to perform labor to "pay back" the damage they did when they were rabid. Forget all of the maxims that the doctors and social workers made PDS sufferers drill into their heads: Victus wants everyone to blame PDS sufferers for what they did in their rabid state, including the sufferers themselves. There's even a creepily cheerful DVD in which PDS sufferers act pleased about their indentured servitude. I suspect Simon is correct when he claims that the program will have no definable end; they're just going to keep all the PDS sufferers working without pay for as long as they can.
But Maxine isn't just looking to keep the risen in line; she's also very interested in what happened during the actual Roarton rising. She's trying to figure out precisely when each PDSer rose. When she circles Kieren's picture on her wall, does that mean that she thinks that he's PDS Patient Zero? And Maxine isn't the only one trying to figure out what happened on the night of the rising. Simon is interviewing all of the PDS sufferers in town, trying to figure out just what happened that night.
One of the effects of the give-back scheme is that it throws all of the PDS sufferers together and gets them talking, and we get a sense of the emerging counter culture. Some of it involves kids not being smart, doing drugs that make them temporarily rabid to give the other kids at school a scare. Some of it is perfectly ordinary, like letting loose at a zombie rave and getting high on sheep brains.
We finally understand what makes Simon such an effective apostle. When he rolled into town, he seemed like some sort of undead hipster, but he makes an effort to bond with Kieren. He likens the feelings of bleakness that drove him to do drugs to the hopelessness that drove Kieren to suicide. And at the rave, he has a heart-to-heart where he makes Kieren feel like he's part of a family, that if all else fails, at least Kieren will have Amy and Simon to lean on.
Things may not be that simple for Amy, though. She's suffering from seizures, which the doctor blames on the homemade medication she took at the PDS compound. But is that really it? Could Amy be developing a tolerance to her drugs? Or could something have been deliberately placed in the compound's medication that would eventually alter the neurochemistry of PDS sufferers?
The undead aren't the only ones still adjusting to the new status quo. After his one-night stand with Amy last season, Philip has graveyard fever, refusing his mother's attempts to set him up with a nice, living girl and instead seeing PDS prostitutes at night. Bust his activities haven't gone unobserved. And former members of the HVF are finding themselves underemployed, although Gary has gotten himself a cozy job guarding the border fence—something that definitely won't lead to tragic accidents. No way.
The saddest plot line of the night, though, goes to Jem Walker, who is still having nightmares about her time in the HVF. Her sweet PDS classmate Henry tries to prove how cool he is with her HVF past by asking why the Human Volunteer Force isn't included in their politically correct history book on the rising and announcing to everyone that Jem was a war hero. It doesn't win him a date with Jem, but it does earn Jem a seat at the cool girls' table—where the "R" word ("rotter," not "rabid") is flung about freely and the girls make fun of their undead classmates by throwing out stiff Frankenstein arms and groans. Jem finds herself desperate to cling to this tiny bit of acceptance, but it doesn't last. When one of the PDS kids snorts the blue rabid powder—triggering a moment reminiscent of school shootings—Jem is shoved out into the hall with a machete and wets her pants. It turns out that she likely killed the rabid father of one of the girls on that night in the grocery store, that very night that terrorizes her dreams. She figures that Jem pissing herself in front of a single rabid is good payback.
When the rabid student returns to normal before he can reach Jem, it's a relief less because Jem is safe than because Jem isn't forced to kill one of her classmates. For a moment, it seems that a senseless tragedy has been avoided. But just as Kieren finds comfort in Amy and Simon, so does Jem find comfort in Gary. He assures her that her fear is normal and takes her with him to patrol the fence. Jem is so eager to prove herself after her humiliation at school that she chases down a PDSer and kills him before Gary can catch up with her. But the PDSer isn't rabid; it's dear Henry on his way home from the zombie rave. Just minutes ago, Henry was babbling about how he was going to marry Jem and now here he is, dead by her hand.
Last season, In the Flesh dealt with people who actively hunted down and killed medicated PDS sufferers, deeming their presence an offense to the living. Now we're dealing with the unintended tragedies that can happen when you treat a set of people as less-than, as inherently dangerous. (And why it's transgressively appealing for some PDS sufferers to feel dangerous.) At the same time, it's hard not to feel sympathy for Jem as a veteran of war who has been offered no tools for transitioning back into polite society. And things will only be worse now that she can't confess what she's done to the people closest to her. The Walker sibling bond was as strong as ever, but as the failures of society drives a wedge between them, things are bound to get much worse for both of them.