As the Lyons family tries to come to terms with Daniel’s (Russell Tovey’s) death, Viv Rook (Emma Thompson) struggles to govern and the UK is ravaged by floods, here’s just five anxiety-inducing things from episode five of Years And Years
The past week’s news cycle has mercifully brought a mental image that has haunted our dreams more than the conclusion of episode four of Years And Years, with its tragic death of Daniel Lyons. Thanks, of sorts, then to the thought of ‘Gove on coke’. Just picture that for one second: a pub in the late Nineties, a pack of braying journalists, the man who will become secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs comes bobbling towards you, eyebrows pulled as high as a botched facelift and a quiver full of questionable opinions. Shudder.
But sure enough, last night’s penultimate episode of the near-future dystopia came storming back with a fresh batch of concerns, pushing the wannabe Prime Minister thankfully out of the front of our minds. Here are the five things that are scaring us the most.
1. The truth behind populism is exposed
It’s easy to see how she got there, the scenario is playing out in front of us right now. At the moment we seem to be faced with a kind of politics of passive aggression. With no clear leadership on the right and a lack of effective opposition on the left, the parties are actually united in their message – a veiled threat that, “If you don’t vote for us you’ll get a (delete as applicable) Corbyn/Johnson [let’s face it that’s what we’re looking at] government. Is that what you want? Do you? Do you?”
Little wonder then that faced with clowns to the left of them, jokers to the right, the electorate ditch the major parties for anyone clever enough to give them a clear message, no matter what that message is. Vivienne Rook delivered heroic soundbites, proudly proclaiming the brave and bold new society that will stride into the future.
But the truth is she’s talking loud and saying nothing. Policies? Not really. Planning? Er, yeah we’re on it? Long-term strategy? That’s a long-term goal, we’ll get round to it. As the economy and infrastructure crumble in the face of incompetence she is forced to turn (or maybe she planned it all along) to a system of control, surveillance and corruption. Personal freedoms are curtailed, Rosie is imprisoned in a designated criminal ghetto, Viktor’s human rights cease to exist and public services are tendered out to the most venal, mercenary humanity-vacuums in the country. More about those top lads later…
2. The country has lost all compassion
Heartbreakingly Viktor hasn’t found home as we’d hoped at the end of the last episode and he is interred in a detention centre. The Lyons family are standing by him though, apart from Stephen who projects all his grief and anguish into anger at Viktor. But after 80 days of rainfall and dirty bombs exploding in Leeds and Bristol, the UK faces a refugee crisis of its own.
The Blitz Spirit – that defining trait of British backbone – so fawned over by the Viv Rook’s of this world, has been beaten out of us by 2028. There is no uniting in the face of a common enemy here and divisions only deepen as families have to be forced by law to accept our fellow countrymen and women. Faced with such a lack of compassion Viktor is now at the bottom of the pile with the country at breaking point, leaving him in a truly chilling position. Again, more on this later…
3. Will tech put a price on humanity?
Bethany plugs herself into the Matrix and it’s awesome. She’s like a superhuman who can see and feel everything and it makes her feel whole. She, in effect, gains a new sense that we haven’t even got a name for and it brings her “absolute joy”. But at what price?
Well, on a monetary level she’s now owned by the government. On a human level, her consciousness has been fundamentally altered without us knowing the full repercussions. She scoffs at her dad for wondering what happens during a blackout, but what happens when she can’t plug into global satellites, and see the entire world all at once. What will happen to her “absolute joy” if her wifi goes down?
Plus the other question is, now that she is owned by the government, can they actually see what she is up to when she helps Edith break into the archives and discover the truth behind The Disappeared? Is she unwittingly putting her own life at risk?
4. Facts have ceased to exist
Woody, Stephen’s old school mate is a piece of work, he really is. We feel we’d be doing a disservice to Toerags everywhere by branding him that. But alongside the greed, sexism, boorishness and lack of basic human emotion, perhaps the most dangerous thing about him is his refusal to believe anything that doesn’t suit his world view. He even dismisses the Hong Sha bomb as fake news – didn’t happen mate.
Conspiracy theories swirl all the way through this episode. Who is behind anything and everything? The Russians, the Chinese, ISIS? Hell even Vivienne, with tearing eyes, hints at someone or some organisation pulling her strings – a mysterious “they” who “would have me killed”. As someone who relied on deepfakes for her campaign, she has courted this erosion of trust to her own end. And she still is. It’s very convenient for her to have idiots like Woody not questioning their opinions, not analysing what they believe to be true, blindly following, because that erosion of trust leads to an erosion of empathy, kindness and conscience, which means it’s then very easy to make…
5. Good people become evil
Esrtwhiles? No, concentration camps. Vivienne Rook, doesn’t even try to dress them up as anything different. She even justifies them with a sense of nationalism and pride – they were a Great British innovation after all – knowing that no one in the room is going to disagree. To them, they are a logical conclusion.
Comparisons with Nazi Germany are obvious in her final solution, but also in how ordinary people can be led towards atrocity. Stephen’s betrayal of Viktor comes at the end of a long chain of events – economic ruin, humiliation, self-hatred and the death of his brother all contribute to his actions. He is not all bad, just weak and desperate. When preyed upon by unscrupulous people in power this presents a genuinely lethal combination and he revels in what he sees as avenging his brother’s death. He has become a willing cog in an inhuman machine. The fact that Bethany knows about his complicity in murder means that his days are numbered. We can only hope that there can be some sort of shot at redemption for Stephen and the country as a whole, before it is too late.
So on to next week and the final episode. There’s still a few things we can take as comfort going forward: pubs still look like fun places to hang out, as long as you avoid the sleazeballs, Celeste and Muriel remind us how love and kindness in the face of hardship can still flourish, as does the opportunity to get hammered with your girl gang, even if booze now costs the earth. Plus, as a brand based on print publishing we can’t help but be a bit gladdened by the fact that paper makes a comeback, even if it’s a bit, well, “Papery”.
All we need now is the real news to come up with something so terrifying that it takes our mind off the episode for a week…
Oh look, that didn’t take long.