“Soma Red” caps off an uneven season with some big plot turns and a bloody rebellion, leaving things wide open for a follow-up if the appetite is there.
This recap of Brave New World season 1, episode 9, “Soma Red”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Despite being very character-driven throughout much of its first season, Brave New World episode 9 changes its approach, leaning into the violence and chaos of the uprising it has been teasing, and also indulging in some sci-fi twists and turns that make the show feel as though it has a lot more plot without necessarily a great deal more sense.
That said, I didn’t mind the deviation too much since it feels like a big cathartic exclamation point on the end of an up-and-down story that opens itself up to continuation but would probably feel complete if it was left as is. And most of the core characters ended up, I think, exactly where they were supposed to.
Bernard, for instance, becomes Director of Stability, finally a meaningful title for a man who has sought meaning and stability in titles, though it’s a cruel jape at his expense that pretty much as soon as he gets the office the whole place is turned on its head.
Naturally, Henry Foster being kicked in by the Epsilons – also a deserved, predictable fate for such a smug elitist – causes a fair amount of uproar which is immediately blamed on the Savage, and thus shouldered by Mustafa, who invited him in in the first place. But Bernard isn’t well-positioned to do anything about it, despite his new title, since CJack60 and all of the Epsilons have appointed John as their leader, who they expect to lead them into a utopia without caste or class or the underground living quarters where he’s currently being harbored.
John isn’t exactly keen on the idea of being a revolutionary leader, but he comes around to it eventually with a rousing speech against soma, which he claims is what has stopped them from feeling and thus from blaming their predicament on New London’s Alpha class. The choice is, ultimately, between happiness and freedom, and it’s an easy one to make. The Epsilons and Jack smash up the soma distillery, but while Jack would happily just call it a day there and elope with Lenina, who he apparently wants more than he wants payback, the Epsilons aren’t satisfied. Their rebellion is far from over.
One gets the sense that New London never would have recovered anyway. The lack of soma sends it spiraling into pandemonium, and Lenina is the first to detach her optic interface and tell Bernard to do one. Poor guy – he finally gets some real authority just as everybody has had enough of authority. His attempts to get Lenina on-side just feel desperate.
Bernard has a much better go of confronting John in Brave New World episode 9, mostly because he has a point. John had a hand in the Savage Lands rebellions and also the Director’s death, not to mention his involvement in the current chaos. Lenina echoes the same sentiment – wherever John goes, some form of disarray follows. But it’s hard to disagree with John that all he really did was encourage people to feel how they really felt, not how they were told to feel by oppressors who kept them strung-out and docile on drugs. When he bellows for the Epsilons to stop murdering people with their litter pickers, I got the sense that he meant it and that the situation had simply exceeded his control.
In that loss of control, I think “Soma Red” gets lost a little bit. There are a lot of messy, bloody scenes, lots of chasing and stabbing. Lenina has a confrontation with a reconditioned Frannie. And Helm, who has become, rather suddenly, a very integral part of the plot’s machinery, has a confrontation with Mufasa.
All the business with Mufasa and her supercomputer daughter has always felt a bit muddled, I think because it hasn’t been given enough priority, mostly making for little cutaway mystery snippets that created some intrigue but never made any concrete sense. It was obvious that Mustafa would eventually shut off her comatose Founding Father friends, but perhaps not that she would enlist CJack60 in doing so, and it was obvious that CJack60 would make use of Chekhov’s Metal Shard, which he has been lugging around all season, but perhaps not in slicing his own eye open. Either way, this stuff would have landed more concretely had the effect of it been more tangible, but even in its aftermath, Brave New World episode 9 plays really coy with the specifics of what actually occurs as a result of the machine being switched off.
Either way, Bernard wakes up on a cliff next to a gold box and is told by Helm that she saw a vision of him as a leader in a place where they feel everything – so it’s off to the Savage Lands they go, where all the good ideas for sophomore seasons live, one assumes. That’s very much the feeling one gets from these closing sequences of “Soma Red”, which allow for a bit of character contortionism and an ominous monologue to make clear that, yes, we can definitely wring another nine episodes out of this if needs must. Lenina is made the new Director of Stability, and the clear implication is that however the drastically reduced population of New London will live going forwards, it’ll be a fair bit more democratic. And John gets to live out his fantasy of rustic free living, though he’s living it out alone.
How long for is anyone’s guess. Brave New World made for an uneven season that was often surface-level in its messaging, and that it abandoned a lot of character focus to tee up a sequel left something of a sour taste. But some strong performances, lavish production, and a few good ideas kept this debut outing ticking along, even through its missteps, and of course there’s plenty of potential in the setting for a more daring and provocative story than these episodes dared to tell. For all its sci-fi trappings, this show, right up until the end, concerned itself with human emotions, impulses, foibles and fears; I hope if we do see more of it, it doesn’t become too automated.