The finale of Russell T Davies’s Years And Years served up a slightly less terrifying version of the future than we’d feared, but there was still plenty to think about
A collective sigh of relief then from fans of Years And Years
Having parsed current events through the prism of our myriad anxieties we’d started to view the show as some sort of documentary, a real version of events sent back from the future to warn us of our mistakes – the Marty McFly to our George, making sure we kiss our mum at the Enchantment Under The Sea dance lest we get wiped from our family photos.
In this, the last episode of the series, there was a shift in tone. The cautionary notes became more heavy-handed as the drama that unfolded headed just far enough over the horizon that we can no longer make it out from where we’re standing.
This didn’t make it any less effective, though. Here are the five things that are still playing on our minds after the show’s finale.
1. We need an economy that values people, not things
It seems patronising to say this, but so did the big speech that grandma Muriel gave at the start of the episode. ‘Here we go,’ we think, ‘Nan’s two wines deep, chill out it’s not our fault the world’s gone to shit.’ But she is right, obviously. The drive to create ever more cheap goods and make our lives more efficient has created an economy which – we don’t really like to admit – benefits us at the cost of lives and livelihoods elsewhere. As Celeste casually drops into conversation later on, accountants are consigned to history, along with travel agents and referees. No one is safe from this all-consuming, dehumanising machine, it needs to be reprogrammed otherwise more people around the globe will die in sweatshops and we will all be left without a job.
2. Populism is no match for people power
You can’t please all the people all the time. Giving some of the electorate what they voted for without compromise will always lead to tension and with a government based on empty promises and zero policies Viv Rook’s UK starts to resemble a police state. Faced with this the Lyons clan and the rest of the world start to finally take action. Rosie breaks down the gates to her estate and Edith opens the lid on the death camps. In the end a gun was no match for an angry crowd of people with right on their side and a good phone signal.
3. There is essential good in all people
The death of his brother still haunts Stephen and despite him losing everything else in his life this is what consumes him. As we mentioned after episode four, it is part of what led him down the path of betraying Viktor. However, as Celeste, Edith and Bethany are planning the downfall of the Erstwhile sites (all while still protecting Stephen), he has been planning on releasing the information himself and then taking his own life. This is not to be his final act though and in turning the gun on Woody and taking the fall for the leak of info he achieves some level of redemption. Was he a bad man? Maybe. Was he a coward? Yes definitely. Was he weak and vulnerable and grieving deeply for his brother? Yes, all of those, but in the end he does find the strength to fight back and do the right thing, like the rest of his family.
4. What has become of Viv Rook?
So ends the reign of the Four Star party, a corrupt regime, toppled by the people who voted it in. So what next? “An even bigger monster is waking up inside its cage,” says Edith quoting the powerhouse that is granny Muriel. “Beware the jokers and the tricksters and the clowns,” says Muriel, “They will laugh us all to hell.” BoJo, we’re watching you.
But the conspiracy theory hinted at in episode four – that there is a “they” secretly controlling things behind the scenes, is elaborated upon when we find that a (pretty poor) lookalike has taken Viv’s place in prison. So, what does this mean for the future of politics? Is it so broken that we can never truly trust whoever is in power? And who then, is behind it all? The Russians? A shadowy Bond-like organisation of super-criminals? Aliens running a planetary version of The Sims? Wherever she is in the world, Edith is determined to find Vivienne and get some answers. That seems eminently possible since…
5. Edith now appears to be some sort of god?
By the year 2034, Edith is a national hero and the first to have her consciousness put into the machine, a brand new form of life, one that can see all and has cheated death. That sounds pretty omnipotent to us. In Yuval Noah Harari’s recent bestseller Sapiens A Brief History Of Humankind, he cautions on the dangers of our development into “Self-made gods with only the laws of physics to keep us company, we are accountable to no one.”
But in Edith we have hope. If she is some sort of god, she trusts that whatever she is, she is more than just the sum of all the code, all the facts, she is Love. If that’s the next stage of the evolution of the human race then that’s a pretty good place to start.
So, why was Years And Years so effective?
The show was, at its heart, a kitchen sink drama about a normal family negotiating its way through turbulent times. What made it so chilling, so effecting and so terrifying was the ease at which we can extrapolate current events – climate change, Brexit uncertainty, the rise of populism – into the vision of chaos the show presented us with. The news bulletins proclaiming the end of the BBC and an outbreak of deadly monkey-flu were scary enough, but perhaps more unnerving were the commonplace pieces of chatter between the Lyons’s that you only seem to overhear, the reality of daily life underneath the clamouring headlines: there’s no more chocolate. Food banks have closed down. A bottle of wine costs 56 quid. Sorry, a bottle of wine costs what?!
But there is plenty to take, even just from this last episode – starvation might be wiped out by our new chestnut-tasting agitated bacteria, being trans is just a part of everyday life and Viktor finally comes home to a family who loves him.
Because essentially the Lyons family are just doing what we are all trying to do, what all our families have been trying to do for centuries. Whether that’s dodging plague rats in medieval times, avoiding having your fingers chopped off in a Spinning Jenny during the industrial revolution or taking 11 jobs in order to negotiate the gig economy, the aim is basically the same. It’s not an animal survival instinct, it’s much more human than that. It’s called muddling through. We’re all just trying to muddle through. And muddle through we will.