Rosie moves forwards with her usual smile, Edith is a tough sister and a stoic, Stephen and Celeste’s story reaches a turning point… and Daniel and Viktor’s story has a shocking climax.
This Years and Years episode 4 recap contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Years and Years Episode 4 is so different from last week’s episode: more attention is paid to the plot, with minor dramas giving way to steadily bigger ones, rather than to quiet character development. Nevertheless, we see some surprises here and there in how the Lyons family respond to each other, as the tone of the story steadily darkens.
Rosie (Ruth Madeley) gets herself some independence from the gig-economy that Stephen seems so bound to: with the help of a grant and her gran, she buys and kits out a burger van. At the same time, she gets herself a new boyfriend in the form of the pleasantly dim Jonjo (George Bukhari), who helped her source and set up the van. Edith (Jessica Hynes) has a quiet word with Jonjo, to make sure his intentions are good; Jessica Hynes doesn’t convince me here: I accept her playing a decidedly tough woman, but not an aggressive one.
Stephen (Rory Kinnear), meanwhile, is still having that affair with Elaine (Rachel Logan, known from a number of UK soap operas). However, the day comes that Celeste (T’Nia Miller) finally has enough of ignoring it: she goes to pick Stephen up from one of his paid blood tests, where he’s had an odd reaction, only to find that Elaine has come to pick him up too. When they get home, fabulous Celeste tells the entire family about his affair, in sharp, angry detail, and insists he leaves. Naïve Stephen reckons she has no right to tell him that, as it’s his family’s home… but gran Muriel takes Celeste’s side for once and agrees he must go. Yet Elaine doesn’t want him around much either. Stephen has learned the hard way that he took both women for granted.
And so the main event of Years and Years episode 4, regarding Daniel and Viktor. At the start of the episode, the two announce their engagement, and that Daniel (Russell Tovey) plans to move to Spain to be with Viktor (Maxim Baldry)… and straight away, we discover that the political landscape in Spain – and indeed all over Europe – has changed and again Viktor is displaced. So Daniel engages the help of Edith’s friend Fran (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) again, and heads to Spain in person to bring him home: Daniel’s dedication is obvious. There are several attempts to get Viktor first out of Spain and then specifically back into the UK (whether legally or not), which take up a good deal of the episode: smuggling him in a van (almost caught at customs), buying black market identification (which turned out to be a costly scam) and finally space on a boat.
Yes, a boat; as in “boat people”, as in people smuggling, as in bodies washed ashore. In this case, Years and Years episode 4, the small dinghy is overcrowded, containing at least twice as many people as it should, many pushing others – or others’ belongings – off the boat. Viktor tries to persuade Daniel they should get off, but he is adamant they can do it: it’s just a few miles across the Channel. But after a scene of struggling passengers and a little dramatic music, viewers are presented with Daniel, and many others, lying dead on a British beach. It’s an incredibly shocking scene, because of the wide view of the beach with police assessing the scene; because of Daniel’s lifeless face; because of Viktor’s very palpable shock; and of course because of everything they have been through.
Viktor has been cherishing Daniel’s front door key for all this time, so at the end of Years and Years episode 4, he heads back to Manchester and his late boyfriend’s home. He calls Daniel’s family, but it takes a while to get through their gossip and bickering… he has to tell them that Daniel is dead (he had no ID on him) and sums up their previous few weeks’ experiences, concluding that he has come home, but asks them all, painfully, “is this home?” For me, that was the moment that meant I couldn’t hold back tears; sure, like the previous scenes, it was manipulative writing, but I felt for him: Baldry is clearly an excellent actor, and Viktor was clearly both lost and bereft. Fortunately, all of Daniel’s family put down the phone and came dashing over to support him, though he seemed too shell-shocked to realize.
Oh, and in the background to all this, Viv Rook (Emma Thompson) is now Prime Minister, not voted in by meritocracy, but by compulsory voting. We’ll see what changes she brings to the country… But the key message of the show so far is that events and changes that appear to have nothing to do with everyday families can and often will have an impact, like it or not: the banking crisis, technological progress, the rise of the far-left or far-right overseas, ripples spread and are felt all over. Yes, this is a “message” show, and it does increasingly feel like a pamphlet in soap opera form, due to the miserable and unlikeable characters, undemanding writing, and the microcosm of society in one group. But it is still pretty effective and engaging.
I understand the death of Daniel Lyons – a major character – will be a pivotal point in the story, and it will be interesting to see what ripples spread from that incident. It’s interesting too to read that Russell T Davies was originally going to kill off Viktor. One of them was clearly doomed from the growing couple’s bliss they had: that doesn’t belong in a soap opera! Our central gay couple (a prerequisite of a Davies series) is now defunct, though there are others with ambiguous identities which will probably crystalize through the remainder of the series. But I have no idea what else to expect: we had a bomb at the end of the first episode, a major death at the end of Years and Years episode 4… how could the Years and Years series end?