Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What I Am Watching: In the Flesh, Vikings, Orphan Black


Some would say zombies are played out.  I would say that is used as an excuse when they meant to say they are bored of typical zombie fiction.  They want to see something new, beyond the usual running and getting caught. The Walking Dead added the soap operish, the humans are worse than the dead, concept but for the most part, zombie fiction is B-grade typical.  So, along comes this British series which is post-apocalypse, as in after the zombie apocalypse.  The dead have been fought and the dead have been.... well, treated.

When I first heard about this, I was rather annoyed.  You see, I am tired of zombie fiction that is about infected victims of a disease, not the walking dead.  Oh, 28 Days Later did it well with their ultra-angry fast zombies and the game Left 4 Dead is still the most compelling zombie game ever created, but in general I prefer my dead, dead.  But what has wowed me about this series is that they were truly dead, in the ground, dead.  And yes, they are being revived.  If the virus or whatever is raising the dead to a walking growling state, then the drugs the British government are using return the zombified dead to a more living state.

But the series, at least in the first episode I have seen, is about the extra bits around zombie fiction: what happens after, how do people return to "normal", if the dead are back in society, how does society feel about that.  There are the vigilante zombie fighting Human Defence Force, finding it hard to adjust to their previous lives and retaining a deep seated hatred of the "rotters".  The sufferers of the PostPartially-Dead Syndrome are not quite the living they once were -- their bodies have rotted, their skin is pale and their eyes are completely fucked up.  So, they wear makeup, contacts and take daily injections of a drug that keeps their brain in a human state.  But it also reminds them of the atrocities they committed.  And thus, in rural England, everyone has to learn to live together.  We shall see if they can.

On the other end of my favourite genres, we have the swords and shields of Vikings.  My first assumption was that it was going to run along the lines of Spartacus: Blood & Sand or as we called it, Blood & Boobs.  Luckily, I was wrong.  Its a rather small story (and you know how I like compact story telling) about a Hold in Scandinavia that has been raiding the east (Poland, Lithuania, western Russian steppes) and pretty much playing the area out.  But Ragnar Lothbrok has other plans -- the west, England and the European states.

The other Holds have not gone west because they don't actually know the secrets of sea travel, having probably just run their longships along the coasts of the countries they raid.  But Lothbrok brings forth a rough sundial / compass, rumors of lands of riches and a little bit of magic in a "sun stone" that can pickup the sun even in the darkest of skies.  But before he can go, he has to either convince his Earl or complete his own ship.  And gather a crew.  And overcome their fears that there is nothing but dragons and the edge of the world out there.

I rather like this show, with its grim Skyrim feel (well, duhh) and honorable protagonist.  But remember, they are vikings so it is about killing foes and stealing their riches.  Still, Ragnar's sense of honor is the key element as he stands up to his corrupt Earl, defends his family and even treats his English monk slave with some decency.  And then there is that haunting opening, tuned to "If I Had a Heart" by Fever Ray, of an obviously failed raid with burnings longships and sinking bodies.  Foreboding is the least of it.  No boobs yet.

Orphan Black is from BBC but a Canadian-American co-production, meaning we get it aired simultaneously in all three countries, eliminating the need to torrent it the next day.  Its obviously Canadian (for better or worse) and actually set in Toronto.  And its about cloning though the first episode basically only hints at it, assuming you have seen enough scifi to fill in your details.

Sarah arrives in Toronto on the train and immediately sees something strange -- a woman who looks exactly like her.  Then the women steps in front of a train.  So that was the Go Train delay that month.  Sarah is not the most honest or likeable person, so she grabs the dead woman's purse and breaks into her house.  Sure, she's curious as to why the woman was so familiar but really, she just wants the money and nice clothes.

I am not sure yet.  Sarah is fascinating, the product of the adoption system with her flamboyant token gay "brother" and abusive boyfriend, who actually seems to be a character instead of a cliche.  I am pretty sure the series is going to be another character making bad choices, currently in vogue in almost every show, but it has a tenuous possibility of transcending the typicality of most Canadian productions.