The HBO six-part series, Years and Years, is a dystopian drama of the near future that rivals “The Handmaid’s Tale” but with a focus on technology and financial crisis.
In Years and Years the viewer witnesses a 15-year projection of nuclear strikes, technology that allows sulky teens to project Snapchat-style filters over their faces, and concentration camps for refugees and dissidents in Great Britain.
The harrowing image of Vivienne Rook MP (Emma Thompson), as an outspoken celebrity business woman turned political figure à la Trump, divides the nation with her controversial opinions and policies. In tandem, a second parallel story of one family– the Lyons family–details the impact of an unstable world on their lives.
Beginning in 2020, three generations of the Lyons family watch the rapid change occurring around them due, in part, to the radical demagoguery of Vivienne Rook who eventually rises to power in 2027. With a mix of horror, confusion, and occasional glee individual members align with Rook or resist her autocracy.
In rapid-fire time-jumps from 2020 to 2035, Years and Years has Trump winning a second term as US president, Pence succeeding him and Rook seizing power and proclaiming policies in similar autocratic style in England.
In 2020 air raid sirens blast over all regions of the UK, with news that Trump has fired a nuclear missile at a Chinese island. Panic and misinformation spiral out of control.
In a series of unfortunate events, there is a financial crisis due to the collapse of an American investment bank. A compulsory national IQ test is administered to exclude low-IQ individuals from voting. Arrests and detention become the rule of law for refugees, homosexuals, and dissidents.
By 2027 the coalition government of Great Britain has collapsed, and Viv Rook becomes the Prime Minister, backed by unidentified corporate moguls. Countries become unstable with similar governments being put into place.
By 2028, Viv Rook promises freedom to her supporters but begins arresting her opponents, contracting with a giant corporation to maintain two “Erstwhile” concentration camps, intended as death camps with fascist oversight.
By 2029 attacks on journalists increase, and the BBC is forced to shut down, having had its charter withdrawn. Muriel Lyons, matriarch and grandmother, blames the family and global citizens at large for the rampant dictatorships worldwide. In one of the most powerful monologues (see video clip) in television this year, she eloquently tells her family that many small acts of indifference have had a snowball effect, creating the toxic environment everyone now lives in. Today perhaps? And so it now seems that there is little control the Lyons have over their destinies. The military isn’t storming parliament. The change is more insidious. Dictatorship creeps up on us very, very slowly, and yet with increasing speed, suddenly we are rendered powerless while ordinary life goes on.
Years and Years, through its flashbacks, forecasts the next decade-and-a-half with a pessimistic, quasi-nihilistic lens. A sum of the problems and anxieties currently playing out in Trump-land, this dystopia is a world-weary projection, resonant of a prequel to Black Mirror’s astringent tales.
Note: The sixth and last episode took me by surprise. The tone seemed off, shifting gears into much more futuristic science fiction. We’re being given fake videos with fake news, but this seemed to me like a fake ending.