John continues to challenge New London’s status quo in “Firefall”, even as its pleasures become too much for him to refuse.
This recap of Brave New World season 1, episode 5, “Firefall”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
The Jacks wake up at the beginning of New World Order episode 5, in glass cubes, pumped full of drugs, tracing their identical reflections on the glass of their prisons so that their eyes resemble the big, sad ones of a clown. Mustafa Mond, veins protruding from her shoulder and chest, emerges from a pool of water — two extreme ends of the same closed-off ecosystem.
Lenina still wants to break free of this stratified chain, but Henry isn’t receptive to her ideas of rebellion. They can’t be monogamous. They must take their soma. But as Lenina leaves, she tosses her pill away, evidently detached enough from the rituals of New London to know what taking it does. In contrast, Bernard can’t pop enough pills. He’s comprised of nothing but those and excuses for John’s refusal to integrate with the social body. Mustafa is unhappy with his slow progress, and not-so-subtly suggests that Indra might provide a correction if matters aren’t dealt with. Bernard includes the late Director being John’s father on the list of his excuses, which Mustafa already knew about, but she thinks it’s best that John doesn’t know — of course, he already does.
Part of the problem with John’s initiation in “Firefall” is the fact that he can see what’s going on for himself. He refuses the optic, and when Bernard tries to explain how useful it is to determine peoples’ levels, he immediately identifies the levels of all the current onlookers with his naked eye. It’s that obvious, and Bernard’s ridiculous insistence that the Epsilons enjoy their work falls on deaf ears. John sees right through the illusion.
Lenina wants to fence off part of that illusion for herself, which Frannie thinks is — all together now — private and solipsistic. Lenina recognizes that Frannie feels the injustice of Lenina being allowed to the Savage Lands, and that she knows John, but when she tries to convince her not to take the soma, to let that feeling grow, Frannie doesn’t want to engage with it. They play a game that looks like a sci-fi cross between tennis and squash, and the rift between them continues to grow into a rivalry. Everyone leaves the court but them. Lenina wins and gives Frannie a parting burn that has her furiously popping more soma.
Soma seems to keep everyone on an even keel in New London, but can you have too much? Helm seems particularly strung-out on the stuff to an extent that even Bernard seems uncomfortable with, despite the fact he’s the one enabling her. When he goes to see her in Brave New World episode 5, he leaves John with a group of “banished” citizens who reflexively pop soma when they feel uncomfortable — which is basically all the time in John’s presence. Every time he questions the way of things there’s another click and rattle. Just as John offers out a lippy Beta Minus, Helm arrives and demands that they have sex, but Bernard, hilariously, explains how it’s something of an ordeal for Savages — quite right! But he promises he’ll attend her party later. If anyone seems liable to jump onto the rebellion train, I’m voting Helm.
Then again, with John’s influence, it seems like everybody can’t wait to bypass the “natural” order of things. He’s empowering New London’s underclass by giving them a voice and agency, a concept so alien to Bernard that he never even considered it before. They attend the party together, and just as John spots Lenina, Helm finds him and takes him upstairs. She explains the concept of Firefall, her latest party idea, but she’s stumped when he pushes her for what the story behind it really is. He tells a story of his own; Helm is riveted. So riveted is she, in fact, that she immediately jumps on him. Meanwhile, on the dancefloor, CJack60 continues to question his own existence, asking aloud why the Epsilons just clean up rather than cause the mess.
The culmination of Firefall the party is, of course, an orgy. But the culmination of “Firefall” the episode is an awakening for CJack60, an enjoyable party experience for John, and the pleasures of a good story — among other things — for Helm. But it’s Bernard who has the biggest revelation, again courtesy of John. When Henry arrives and humiliates him, John insists that he go back inside and sock him in the mouth. “If you let him treat you like you don’t matter, then you never will.” It’s as good a bit of advice as any other. Bernard lays him out in front of everyone and John holds his arm aloft in triumph, much to the delight of the onlookers, who drag John into the orgy, and CJack60, who smirks as he realizes that the option of just punching people exists for him, too.
Outside the party, in front of a projection of a looming Earth, Lenina asks Bernard why he punched Henry. But when she suggests it was John he realizes that it was, in fact, him. He made the decision for himself. They hold hands and she rests her head on his shoulder as Firefall begins in earnest, with glowing embers dropping from the roof, the party contained in a tiny stone of Mustafa’s Go board. The stone she thought was inconsequential matters most of all. She tips the board in fury.