Years and Years Recap: Shakespearean Bleak The rise of Viv Rook and the fall of Stephen Lyons

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Summary

Lots to take in for this penultimate episode: it’s bleak, tragic and fast-paced. The acting is not much better, but the writing is tight enough to more than compensate.

This Years and Years Episode 5 recap contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.


It’s the second-to-last episode of Years and Years, and the two major events from last week are casting huge shadows over the whole episode: Vivienne Rook having become Prime Minister and the death of Daniel Lyons. Rook’s influence is felt by many of the Lyons family members, especially in the context of her housing policies; and Daniel’s death is simply inescapable, for the whole family, and not least Stephen.

Those shadows are established right from the start. There is a brief scene in which a radio commentator is declaring that Rook’s oration and election promises are meaningless, and then he is pulled out of the studio by police: how fascist can you get? We’ll soon see. And then straight after Christmas toasts to Danny, we see Stephen going to visit Viktor to make sure he knows that the whole family might accept and forgive him, but not Stephen. He considers Viktor to be a “horrible man” and declares that Daniel’s death was his fault.

From last week, I was expecting Viktor to have a larger part to play now; but disappointingly, he’s not much more than a pawn: the key story arc in Years and Years episode 5 is Stephen’s emotional decline, which leads to him wielding vengeful power like some modern Iago. We see in that early scene that Viktor is the target for Stephen’s growing frustration; and towards the end, Stephen finds the ultimate opportunity to act on it. Rory Kinnear turns into a marvelous tragic villain. Bear with me and I’ll fill you in.

There are a number of seemingly minor plot lines which weave politics, social and domestic issues together nicely in this week’s episode. Housing is an increasing problem; not just in terms of refugees, but the people displaced within the UK from flooding, due to “eighty days of rain”. Any home with a vacant bedroom is obliged by law to give shelter to the homeless; a scheme which Fran and Edith (now apparently a couple) are assisting with. Edith is using the job as an opportunity to ask around about “the disappeared”, as it seems not all the homeless are actually housed. Muriel refuses to put up extra people as her eyesight is deteriorating, though she has just enough savings to get the condition treated (and keeps her recovery quiet from the council in case she is obliged to house people). Rosie (now engaged to JonJo) cannot run her burger van anymore, as the estate where she lives has been designated a criminal “red” zone; and gradually we see fences and then guards appearing around the estate. (Think I mentioned fascists earlier?) There are frequent electrical blackouts, though no-one quite knows if they are due to the floods or terrorists or something else. Oh and Bethany gets a thorough – government sponsored – upgrade, synched to the cloud.

Each of these seem like little symbols of a dark future, and then it becomes apparent in Years and Years episode 5 that they all have a purpose in the plot too; some more than others, of course. The one bright scene in all of them I’ve mentioned is after Bethany’s surgery: following previous escapades, we can only wonder what the treatment means for her, but after a brief awkward scene between parents in waiting area, we see Bethany smiling her rare enormous smile. It was a big success and in being synched to the cloud, she is becoming more “transhuman”. She can make payments, take photos, open doors and carry out research without a keyboard or device of any kind.

More about the “disappeared”… Edith visits Viktor and asks what he’s heard about them: he’s picked up that they are moved to “Erstwhile”, but doesn’t understand what it means. She gets enough clues to embark on a little amateur espionage to find out more about the so-called Erstwhile sites and uncovers a connection between the camps and Vivienne Rook, with the help of Bethany, the techno-goblin, who can direct her to the right room via the cloud-based building plans. Edith’s health fails though, just when the security men are approaching and Beth manages to pull a power cut on the building, keeping her safe.

Stephen is clearly falling apart: he’s a bundle of nerves around family, and when he gets back in touch with old contacts for a job, he completely accepts their explicit disrespect for him. But still, he gets the job, on the basis that he will do what he’s told (a “monkey”) and accompanies his new colleagues to what he is told is a “think tank” about tackling the latest housing crisis. When he gets there, though, he finds it is actually an auction for services to manage the Erstwhile sites, and it is clarified that these are overflow camps for those who cannot be housed in residential spare bedrooms. Rook appears at the event and uses words like “concentration camps” and “genocide” just between those four walls, of course; though in a more private moment dreams of sailing away (except “they” would have her killed)… and in the process, Stephen discovers the depth of his naiveté. Stephen’s new employer wins the contract for two of the sites, and here it comes: Stephen is thus able to let out all his frustration on Viktor by getting him transferred to “Erstwhile site 4”. We see the poor sod being dragged out of his bed by security, we see Stephen’s short-lived indecision, and we also see Bethany watching his every (electronic) move, which – of course – Stephen seems to have forgotten about.

Years and Years episode 5 closes with the family gathering to scatter Daniel’s ashes, and Bethany’s distaste towards her father is obvious: she is very clearly wrestling over the right response to take. I prefer her when she’s smiling, but I’d bet she has a vengeful streak to match her mother’s. Can’t wait until the final episode next week!

Alix Turner

Alix has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. They cover a wide variety, including genre festivals, and especially appreciates wit and representation on screen.

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