The UK’s spiral into uncertainty and chaos accelerates as the Lyons begin to pick sides
The Years and Years continue to pass by in this second episode. The drama from former Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies drama picks up six months after the dramatic end of Trump’s Presidency in Episode One. In fact, it takes us midway into President Pence’s first term. That may seem a shocking thought to some. But in the context of Years and Years the horror is that the ‘America First’ policy is working just fine. For America, that is.
Because Trump’s decision to launch a single nuclear missile into Chinese territory has paid off, it’s revealed. 45,000 people are dead but none of them Americans. China has backed down and conceded to the demands of the United States. The world, recoiling aghast at the attack, has imposed sanctions but have only imposed a self-inflicted wound. “We may as well be putting sanctions on ourselves” as Stephen says at one point.
The characters this week picking their way through a post-Apocalyptic landscape after all. But surely few viewers would have expected it to. The nuclear attack does however, cast a long shadow over events. The world economy begins to crack and splinter under the strain, while the public are still traumatized by the night the world almost died.
The Lyons family’s lives continue to be turned upside down, with job losses, deportation orders and radiation sickness
And once more we see this new world through the experiences of the Lyons family. As with most Russell T Davies dramas, the dizzying range of characters has settled down in Episode Two. And Blogtor Who, at least, found their names and relationships somehow absorbed between episodes. It means Episode Two feels as it’s moving at a slightly more relaxed pace. And gone is the need for quite such intense concentration on who’s who.
In the economic slow down, Celeste has lost her job as an accountant – already largely supplanted by artificial intelligence anyway. On top that, Stephen’s work in the banking sector is also suffering. As a result they’re needing to sell up and move out of London, where these days it’s £12 for a cup of coffee. The public housing department has been privatised and bought up by Viv Rook’s company. Making her, to his disgust, Daniel’s boss. While for Edith, who was last seen so close a nuclear blast she could see it on the horizon, seems doomed to suffer the most direct consequences in the years to come. Oh, and worst of all, chocolate is now near on impossible to import into the UK.
More personally, Daniel must face the consequences of a decision made in the face of apparently certain death. He’s now happily living with Viktor and all seems rosy. But his (soon to be) ex-husband isn’t ready to forgive his humiliation. And his revenge kicks off a chain of events with consequences for everyone.
As the rebranded ‘Viv’ continues her rise to power, Years and Years presents a smart illustration of how voters fall under her spell
Against all this, Rook’s steady rise moves closer to the centre of the action. She makes her first genuine appearance in our characters’ lives as she runs in a by-election in the constituency.. (A by-election caused by a wonderfully RTD moment involving an MP, the launch of a drone postman, and some awfully sharp rotor blades). And she steps up the machinery for her manufacture of outrage. Rook somehow turns a story about her six year old granddaughter being allowed a smartphone, and being found watching pornography on it, into a reason to vote for her.
Russell T Davies zeroes on precisely on what makes the best demagogues. The ability to take their own personal failings and inadequacies and project them. To convince everyone else that they’re as small and petty and mean as she is, and, illogically, that therefore only she can elevate them. And so her lunatic plan to try and extradite the CEO of the company that made the phone, rather than take responsibility for her own family’s shoddy child-rearing, gets the audience standing and stamping their feet.
The spiky and funny Rosie Lyons reveals a darkly sadistic side, reveling in the misfortune of others
Davies’ plot is no less canny in its examination of how different people respond to Rook’s rise. In the case of youngest Lyons sibling Rosie, this isn’t an entirely pleasant journey.There’s a genuine sense that for all the spark and humour she showed last week, it was only a superficial surface to a truly nasty piece of work. A side of her that Rook has tacitly given her permission to give voice to.
Her response to learning that her Stephen and her nieces have lost their home and all their money is to cackle in Stephen’s (virtual) face in front of the whole family and revel in his misfortune. And when she’s cheering Rook on, there’s an almost hungry gleam in her eye. Like she doesn’t want to see Rook win because she thinks she’ll be good for the country, but because she thinks the carnage will be fun to watch.
And yet, Rosie is a wheelchair using single mother of mixed race children with non-British fathers, who presumably receives at least some benefit payments. There’s a definite sense that, by the end, Rosie’s story will smack of Adrian Bott’s iconic line “‘I never thought leopards would eat MY face,’ sobs woman who voted for the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party.”
All this and transhuman cyborgs too…
More surprising, but much more sympathetic, is how Edith falls under Rook’s spell too. Edith has fought the good fight for decades. “We’ve been saying there’s thirty years to save the rain forest for ten years; that there’s thirty years to stop climate change for ten years…” and is just tired. She’s beaten. The world is dying and it’s too late to stop it. She took her boat within five miles of a mushroom cloud to try and make a difference and stop the madness. And nobody cared. Rook’s offer of simple, immediate, drastic solutions is seductive.
Daniel, meanwhile, is the perfect depiction of the intellectual liberal who simply can’t believe the nightmare unfolding around him. He cajoles Rosie about voting for Rook – “Don’t you dare!” And he expresses frustration at the idiocy of people falling for her routine. He even calls her “a monster” to anyone who’ll listen. But he offers no alternative, and no understanding of what’s driving people into her arms.
It’s perhaps deliberate that the most sane thing about this crazed new world is Bethany, Stephen and Celeste’s elder daughter. After all, she’s only turned herself into a cyborg with a phone implanted into her hand. Now as adult, just about, and working in the data mining industry, the multi-generational message of Years and Years may well wind up being that only she is equipped to navigate the madness.