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Years and Years - Episode 2 & 3 - Double Review

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Episode 2

The bomb has gone off. Trump is no longer in office, but Mike Pence has stepped in his place and is a mere puppet. Viv Rook is growing in popularity and people are simply carrying on as if nothing has happened, as if America didn't commit mass murder with the launch of a nuclear bomb. If you thought the first episode was grim enough, things aren't going to get better any time soon as Russell T. Davies' vision of a nightmarish future only gets darker and darker, and it's hard to imagine this show having a happy ending...

The decision to flash-forward multiple times in the series as we look at where the characters have reached in their lives is is a powerful one. Russell T. Davies has toyed with the idea of people forgetting major world catastrophes and just moving on before of course in Doctor Who, but there was always some timey-wimey reason to make people forget that the Earth had just been invaded by the Cybermen and the Daleks at the same time, or The Master had enslaved half the population and killed the other half. But here there's no reason, and it's haunting. Sure, people remember, but even a year later after a death toll of 45,000 dead, people are still talking about what happens next and sanctions against America are still just that, talk. And when they do happen, it leads to disastrous consequences. It's flashing forward through the 2020s and Pointless is still airing (one of the few bright sparks about the Years and Years future at this point), with Rook making her comments about what charity she'd give the money that she won to, putting on a respectable face. And then her golden moment comes - and it's clear that as history tells us, she's going to end up in charge of the country. Her "I couldn't give a fuck" attitude to politics is winning over the popular masses, and she leads her Four Star Party to a by-election victory after her predecessor is decapitated by a delivery drone, wasting no time in throwing her hat into the ring despite proclamations of respect and care for the memory of her predecessor.

Emma Thompson is putting in one of the best portrayals of the year at playing such a detestable figure, and this well cast drama is really getting the best of Davies' script.

The Lyons family are still the main centre of attention though as we catch up with them all in turn. Edith's pleas for climate control leads to a powerful speech, again - using Davies' trademarks of cutting closer and closer to the television set, allowing us to see people reacting to the events as if we're watching a dramatised episode of Gogglebox. Edith pleads desperately to a nation who isn't willing to listen "The world keeps getting hotter and faster and madder, and we don't pause, we don't think, we don't learn, we just keep racing towards the next disaster. And I keep wondering where we are going, when it's gonna stop?". She's hiding a more dangerous secret than she lets on, and her radiation exposure is something that her family inevitably finds out about, and it's devastating. Jessica Hynes is just another excellent addition to this cast that really make this shine as an ensemble drama. Russell Tovey's Daniel is still in a relationship with Viktor (Maxim Baldry), but there is no escape from the torment for either of them as he finds himself deported too quickly for Daniel to do anything back to Ukraine, where under Russian rule, his sexuality could put him at risk unless he "behaves discreetly." To make matters worse, Daniel's ex is still bitter at the terms that they left on, and was responsible for reporting him to the authorities for working.

Creating more tension between the Lyons comes in the fallout from the anti-American cuts that have fallback on the banks, which simply aren't any there anymore. It's worse than 2008 and sees the homeless crisis worsen all the more, with the latest to find themselves without a home being Celeste and Edith - played again brilliantly by Rory Kinnear and T'Nia Miller. The drama created when the family find themselves back together once again to celebrate Muriel's birthday reaches a tipping point in a different way from last time, and although there's a standout scene where the family dance around to Chumbawamba's Tubthumping, in a rare happy moment, it's a world full of dread.

It's one of the show's best achievements so far that even in a world full of despair, there is still room for all too fleeting uplifting moments.

Episode 3

If the second episode had some (few) uplifting moments in it then it was pretty much a guarantee that things were only going to get worse. Rook's meteoric rise to power is sending shockwaves around the world in a country that's getting scarier and scarier all the time. The banks are going and people are angry, looking for something - or someone to blame and Rook has all the answers, appearing as the every-person, going as far as to dropping the f-bomb on daytime TV without fear of any consequence. She believes she has the voice of the people on her side, and in the world of Years and Years, she's right. Again by restricting her character to a background role - (one of the most plot-relevant background roles for any character on TV ever?) has really worked in Rook's favour, and her rise and its effect on the Lyons family is utterly devastating. It's 2026 - and the future isn't getting any brighter any time soon.

Bethany and Lizzie's friendship explores the abundance of technology that Davies has inserted into his show and it feels genuine and real. At first, the "transhuman" concept felt out of place and outlandish, but now it feels increasingly normal and fits in nicely with this world. Despite the horrors of everyday life - Bethany has ambitions to live forever, and her friend Lizzie wants to receive the latest tech upgrades too. Their shared interest brings them together, and Lizzie has a digital camera in her eyesocket. But it wouldn't be a progress without a danger attached to it in the world of science fiction, and Lizzie finds out the consequences of what could happen when something goes wrong whilst Bethany has her eyes opened to the world around her when they're exploited by Russians who want to use the trans-human obsession to their advantage. It's a credit to Davies that he's able to pull off this arc without losing the grounded 'realism' of Years and Years, and given what we've seen so far it's still safe to say he has plenty more planned for this arc.

Working conditions are getting worse across the board, with Rook proclaiming that nobody can celebrate Christmas anymore and no member of the Lyons family has an easy life. Having lost a million pounds during the financial crash and forced to move back in with the Lyons, Stephen has turned to work as a bicycle carrier with virtually no benefits - there is no pay for sick leave, no time for holidays and if the delivery takes over 60 minutes that means that Stephen won't even get the 50 pence for the parcel that he has been hired to deliver. Yet Stephen accepts this, with a hidden justification, he's become caught up in an affair. As if the lives of the Lyons family couldn't get anymore complicated, they all have their different views on politics too that are causing tensions at home and at the polls.

Rook is using her own television station to get across her message to the public from her home to theirs. It's a tactic that real life politicians have tried in the past, whether appearing in person or using it as a propaganda tool to get their message across (Fox News). But this leeway allows Rook to get around the rule that forbids campaigning on election day, as it isn't technically campaigning if she's just on television. Consequences don't seem to worry her at all, and given her success in the polls based off ideas that sound preposterous (removing the right to vote for people who pass an IQ test). She's dangerous and unpredictable, not afraid to go it alone. I hope if any politicians watch this show they don't try to draw a page from the Vivienne Rook playbook, as with each advance in power that she gets, the scarier her threat to the nation becomes. By echoing the future carefully - Years and Years falls more in line with the likes of The Handmaid's Tale than the optimism of Star Trek - it is going to get worse before it gets better. Even the Toy Story franchise can't escape a bleaker turn - Woody is apparently burned at the stake in Toy Story: Resurrection. I wonder how the Marvel universe is doing in this reality.

That looks to be the case for Daniel too, who learns that Viktor could be in danger. He's fled to Spain after being granted asylum, but it's clear that there are worry lines etched all over Daniel's face. It looks like he is going to have to go and get Viktor, and that could only put them in more jeopardy - especially as Daniel and Stephen's Dad has passed away, knocked down by a cyclist who is speeding to make sure that he makes his own sixty minute timeline for a delivery. Rosie is out of a job, and artificial food - apparently so far removed from meat that it's now considered almost acceptable for vegans - is being put into schools. It's called "Goldilocks."

The hyper-fast editing continues in this series with Murray Gold's bombastic score really makes the transitions between the time periods all the more epic in how they feel. The collaboration of Davies and Gold almost gives you a false sense of security - as if you're expecting The Doctor show up at the end at the series and wave her sonic screwdriver and put everything back on the right path again. But the fact of the matter is that - there is no Doctor coming to rescue the people of Years and Years. Life is only going to get bleaker. And it feels almost too real.

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