Russell T. Davies finishes his latest drama with closure, redemption and sci-fi silliness. I really wish he hadn’t.
This Years and Years episode 6 recap contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
I feel like I should apologize at this point: having covered Years and Years for the last few weeks, as a piece of contemporary light drama, wittily constructed by the well-loved Russell T. Davies, I very firmly lost patience with him and his preaching early on in Years and Years episode 6. The condescension finally overshadowed the series’ plus points: do we really need all these speeches to hammer home the social messages? But hands up: if we keep watching shows like this and asking for more, then yes, it’s all our fault.
There’s no denying that Gran Muriel’s speech about collective responsibility was well written, I’m not disputing that. But it stands out against the soap opera setting to such an extent that it comes across more like propaganda than even the “concentration camps are bad, m’kay” moments last week. There’s no denying Davies is good at propaganda, but that’s not what I switched on my TV for. But hey, at least it was obvious. And the speech was nicely broken up with some earthy insults (such as Stephen’s new boss being named after an erection).
Anyway, speech done, the story of Years and Years episode 6 kicks off, with Bethany confessing to Edith (Jessica Hynes) that she knows where Viktor (Maxim Baldry) is and couldn’t tell on her Dad in case the government-sponsored cloud capability is ripped out of her. From here on, a two-pronged strategy is planned: one to rescue Viktor, especially before the monkey flu can get him (Erstwhile 4 is where the infected are sent); and another to remove Stephen’s name from the evidence.
Edith utilizes her grassroots activist network and Fran’s (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) practical contacts. They get a message to Viktor that they’ll be going in to get him on a certain day and to be ready. They turn up with a food delivery truck, and he’s ready…
Meanwhile in Years and Years episode 6, Rosie (Ruth Madeley) is trying to sell her food van (yes, there’s some unsubtle mirroring going on) because the red tape has completely strangled her business. Part way through the transaction, she’s called away because the estate gates have been closed early, meaning her kids will be shut out all night. With the help of adorable Lincoln, she uses the van to knock through the gates, with a crowd of locals cheering her on.
Back at Erstwhile 4, Viktor gets in the truck, but one of the guards clocks them before they can leave. Viktor offers to get out, but as Edith assures him, the plan is about more than just him: it’s about starting a war (against the government in general, presumably). Fortunately, it’s not just those in the truck waging this war, but a little crowd that’s snuck in with weapons and smartphones. One of them shoots the towers that block phone signals in the area of Erstwhile 4, and thus the war can begin: Edith, Fran, and countless others broadcast videos of the refugees at the camp, and the videos spread to “everyone” via Bethany (Lydia West) and her transhuman colleagues.
In order to get Stephen’s name cleared from the management of Erstwhile sites, Celeste (T’Nia Miller) has talked her way into a computer-based job in his firm. However, getting past the credentials has proven more difficult than it looked, so she’s still at it when Stephen storms into the office, having seen Edith’s face on TV. Cue confrontations, Stephen figuring out Bethany’s part, figuring out Celeste had played him to get a job, figuring out she’d known everything and then waving a gun around. Celeste is much more clueless than she looks and assumes he’s planning to shoot her… But it turns out the information security was Stephen’s own doing: he was keeping it all safe until the day he could send it to the police, with the intention of shooting himself straight after. But his nerve (and Kinnear’s acting) falters in talking to Celeste; then slimy Woody stumbles in and presents a more deserving target.
So there we have the main story of family against government concluded, with Edith collapsing and wondering what comes next. What comes next is a truly naff and unnecessary sci-fi epilogue. It’s five years later, and Edith is being interviewed in a lab prior to her mind and thoughts being downloaded onto water (presumably to make sure they’ve captured everything). This is not Cloud Atlas, this is the Doctor Who cutting room floor. It’s saccharine, hasty and laughable.
I honestly regret wasting these six hours on Years and Years, having given it plenty of benefit of the doubt, and I’m glad to read there won’t be a second season. I was nearly gagging with the heroic righteousness towards the end, the redemption, forgiveness and requisite mention of love.
One more thing to mention, before I turn to something more rewarding. Although many people have praised the treatment of “strong female characters” throughout this series, there was a moment in Years and Years episode 6 which brought home to me just how condescending their treatment actually is: essentially we are presented with plucky women breaking barriers, and when Muriel called “good girl!” to her granddaughter on the TV screen, that summed it up for me and turned me right off.
The message that any family and any individual can make a difference is a valid one, of course; and fortunately Edith mentioned in her closing scene that there were many whistleblowers against the camps, not just her family. But this was a dreadful way to deliver the message, especially as it became more of a joke at the end. I liked seeing the tribute to Davies’ late husband at the credits, of course; but placing it straight after images of Vivienne Rook running away, and Edith talking through the ether was simply disrespectful. Fingers crossed those who are ready to hear such a message are more receptive to this series than me.
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.