Years and Years comes to an end, bringing us all the way to 2034 for a surprisingly hopeful ending. Yet, it still sends a warning from the future – the next monster is always just around the corner.
Russell T Davies believes in people. The good and the bad. It’s a paradox that runs through much of his work, not least his time on Doctor Who. He never doubts the capacity of human beings to do terrible, brutal, needlessly horrible things to each other. Yet he never seems to lose faith that, ultimately, humanity is merely waiting for the opportunity to be its best self. Years and Years finally holds true to this core tenet. And it ends with an episode that restores the balance between the worst and the best of us.
Appropriately, in fact, at times this week, the events feel like they could have been plucked straight Doctor Who 2005-2010. Edith and her merry band don’t turn the tables on Rook’s black-clad heavies with guns or bombs or knives. (Well maybe with a little help from a bazooka). Instead, her weapons are information and faith in people doing the right thing. The pivotal moment feels like it’s only lacking David Tennant grinning impishly as he takes down the Blink network with the sonic screwdriver.
This final episode seeks both provide a rousing, air punching Doctor Who style resolution and to acknowledge a more complex reality
And as a brilliant an episode of Doctor Who as this would have been, the effect is a little jarring. After five episodes of dependent on public distraction and apathy, the resolutions here all hinge on the British public doing the right thing. The rifle-toting guards of Erstwhile 4 mock and jeer that nobody will care about goes on in the camps. And it’s got to be said they make a convincing argument based on the series so far. But the mechanisms of the state – the police, Parliament, even the BBC, all shudder back into life to get things swiftly back to normal in response to Edith’s broadcast. And it all feels a little easy.
Perhaps realising that himself, Davies takes steps to give us both the rousing final battle against Rook and a far messier version of events. For instance, while it transpires that by 2034, the Lyons family have some small level of fame for their role in the events, Edith is quick to dismiss it. The Rook regime, she reasons, couldn’t possibly endure anyway, and too many people were secretly kicking against it from within. The Lyons family’s fame then, comes from happening to number someone from the camps, a woman who led an assault on one of them, one of the enhanced hackers who spread the word, one of the whistleblowers who’d been collecting evidence from within, and one of those who torn down the Red Zone fences. But each individual Lyons was simply one of dozens involved in each effort. (“There were about forty whistleblowers,” sighs Edith).
This episode belongs to Anne Reid’s Muriel, as she skewers both her family and the audience for the road to Hell they’ve paved with their ambivalence
Meanwhile, the episode is expertly topped and tailed by speeches by Muriel about the state of the world. Between them, they essentially sum up Years and Years in two dynamic performances by Anne Reid. The first points the finger of blame at every single one of us. That collective responsibility means all of us are to blame, not none of us. But the last speech is not much more hopeful. Because as Muriel, points out, the next monster is always just waiting around the corner.
It’s this sense of messy irresolution that allows this optimistic ‘happy ending’ to co-exist gracefully alongside the rest of the series. Are the whispered conspiracy theories that Viv Rook somehow escaped justice after all true? Was she really acting alone or was she the pawn, as she once implied, of some foreign power or private interest? The Erstwhile camps may be closed, but with chunks of the UK still heavily irradiated, the climate still collapsing and China and the United States have gone mad, how is Rook’s replacement going to deal with them without resorting to her extreme “some might call this ‘genocide'” solutions? We’ll never know the answers to those questions.
Because the world is always in upheaval and history never ends. The world has just arrived, as Muriel would describe it, in another pause. Another brief respite of sanity as it holds its breath and readies itself to plunge into the next abyss.
In the end, Years and Years repeats the question it’s always been asking. Which we all should be asking every day. What next?
It’s this uncertainty that, in his typical lyrical style, Davies sums up in a single metaphorical image. And we leave the extended Lyons family, on the edge of their seats and holding their breath. They look towards Muriel’s battered old Senior unit, with one thought in their minds… what happens next?