This review contains spoilers for Years and Years episode two.
Where can you take a show after its first episode ended with one of the world’s superpowers launching a nuclear missile against another? The shadow of Hong Sha Dao looms large over the global economy, fuelling the rise of strongman-leaders and causing a global swing to the extremes of the political spectrum. Presidents Putin and Xi now hold their positions for life, and President Trump effectively rules through his successor – President Pence. Meanwhile the population of birds in the UK has fallen by 50% because the insect population has fallen by 80% of what is was thirty years ago, and chocolate has disappeared from supermarket shelves.
The Lyons themselves don’t escape the fallout. Sanctions levied against the United States have caused Celeste’s American employers to withdraw from the UK, leaving the Bisme-Lyons family in need of money. Meanwhile, Daniel has left his germ-denying, flat-earther husband for Viktor, the Ukrainian refugee with whom he fell in love during the previous episode. We also finally get to meet Edith, who has returned from Vietnam with a dark secret. Jessica Hynes, who famously compared Trump and Pence to a piece of female anatomy on live television, is excellently cast as a blunt veteran of many a crusade. Her presence serves as a reminder that the comfortable lives of the Lyons family can come crashing down at any minute.
And crash down they do. Economic sanctions against the United States create such weakness in the financial sector that it crashes completely and Stephen and Celeste lose their home. Even worse, the government refuses to bail out those who lost their assets, so it is more comparable to the financial crisis of 1929 to 2008. With the IMF warning of ‘a second great depression’ in the near future, it is a chilling prospect, brilliantly realised by Murray Gold’s racing score and Rory Kinnear and T’Nia Miller’s excellent performances.
More chilling, however, are events which strike Daniel (Tovey) and Viktor (Baldry). Most asylum seekers in the UK are not allowed to work unless under circumstances. Viktor, who has a degree in economics, is shown to be working cash-in-hand at a petrol station to keep busy. After Daniel’s bitter ex turns him in to the authorities, the Home Office deports Viktor back to the country where he fled in fear of his life. The UK home office has form in deporting LGBTQ+ people back to countries where their life is in danger because of who they love. A staggering 78% of applications for asylum to the UK based on sexuality were rejected by the Home Office in 2017, according to Reuters. Just as Viktor was accepted by the family and began to lay down his roots in his new home, he is tossed back into the churning whirlpool of European politics. What makes it even more disturbing – aside from how this has already happened and is happening now, and how easily a few bureaucrats are able to upend the lives of vulnerable people – is how Daniel and Viktor feels like a couple you could know. They could be your colleague who is worried their partner, who is from another EU country, will be refused residence in the UK after Brexit.
Meanwhile Viv Rook continues to climb the ladder of power after her failure to be elected in the previous general election. After a tragic (and hilarious) accident deposes the local MP for Metlock, she runs in the ensuing by-election as head of the Four Star Party. The name’s in-universe explanation is that the **** are a reference to the ‘little faux-pas’ which caused her notoriety, but it also serves as a subtle reference to Beppe Brillo’s Five Star Movement which won 32% of votes in the Italian 2018 election. Viv may have charisma noosing from every pore, but she doesn’t know much about the details of politics and international relations. If politics was not completely broken, her gaffe about Europe imposing ‘export tariffs’ would have ended her career and exposed her as a fraud. But Viv, being a populist in the mould of Farage and Trump, is able to turn her weakness into a strength. She may not know about trade, but she knows that children are being exposed to hardcore pornography on their phones and she has a plan to stop it. She sells herself on her ability to understand tangible problems that people experience every day: worrying about when the bins are going to be collected, when people will stop parking at the end of her disabled grandmother’s driveway, what their children are doing during all those hours they spend on their phones. It’s a simple message which resonates with Rosie, who is attracted to her unconventional style, and Edith who has become disillusioned with traditional politics.
Although the huge cast of Years and Years threatens to leave some characters behind – Rosie does not have as complicated a plot as the other siblings and Ruby is all but ignored – the characters who do have more screen time sparkle with Russel T. Davies’ signature wit and humanity. It will be interesting to see if the show with maintain this momentum or take a breather next. But no matter what terrible things this future will bring, so far it has been a pleasure to share it with the Lyons family.