Warning: This post contains spoilers for the HBO mini-series Years and Years, which you really should be watching.
The Lyons family of the BBC and HBO miniseries Years and Years remembers a time before the news happened to them. A time when the news was but a buzzing backdrop to their more interesting personal lives.
That time has passed. The last instance when a character changes the channel from the news comes in the pilot, when young Lee Lyons (Callum Woolford) switches from a news broadcast to cartoons. Then America drops a nuclear bomb on China, and from then on, the Lyons family is forever glued to the increasingly urgent TV broadcasts. In last night's devastating — and absolutely ground-breaking — episode, the news becomes something for the Lyons to live through, not just something to watch. Considering the storm of mourning that swept Twitter, Danny Lyons' (Russell Tovey) shocking death while attempting to cross the English Channel also made viewers reconsider their own relationship to current events.
Ironically, considering what happens to them, Danny and Viktor Goraya's (Maxim Baldry) meet-cute is facilitated by the migrant crisis. Danny is a married government official working in emergency housing. Viktor is a refugee fleeing Ukraine, where he had faced persecution for his sexuality. By the end of the first episode, they get together. By the start of the second, they're the darlings of Years and Years. I would have watched an entire series called "Danny and Viktor Cuddle."
But domestic bliss doesn't last. When Viktor is deported back to Ukraine, the men find themselves playing a vastly unfair game of geopolitical chess against a powerful opponent: the unfeeling state. What they want is simple: To be with each other, to share the couch with the rest of the Lyons family. And what they want is made impossible by the same forces that are currently pushing so many people away from their homes.
In last night's episode, an increasingly desperate Danny launches his final mission to smuggle Viktor out of mainland Europe and into Britain. It's ill-fated from the start. When Viktor is booted from the luggage compartment of a bus crossing the border between France and Spain, the men are forced to improvise from the original plan, then improvise again. Danny gets his
This is just to say, Danny and Viktor were never supposed to get on that tiny, overcrowded dinghy crossing the English Channel. Like the rest of the passengers, all of whom were people of color fleeing, the men were pushed to that position, crowded at the edge of a boat, as a last resort. No one volunteers for an apocalypse scenario.
Originally, the scene was supposed to unfold differently. "When I pitched the show to the BBC, it was Viktor who died. But before I wrote episode 4, I realized I’d got it wrong, that it should be Daniel who died," creator Russell T. Davies told RadioTimes.
Years and Years is a show about the Lyons family losing their immunity to history. Things that had been happening to other people (read: marginalized people, poor people) are now happening to them (read: privileged people, ensconced in a first world country). Considering Years and Years' thesis, Daniel dying, not Viktor, is the only outcome that made sense for the show.
In Years and Years, what has happened to countless asylum seekers happens to a Westerner. According to a comprehensive study collated by the Dutch NGO United for Intercultural Action (UNITED) in 2018, over 35,000 people have died trying to get to Europe; over 27,000 of those drowned at sea, including in the English Channel. Will it take a show like Years and Years to force people to really feel for those migrants, those people, who ultimately just want what Danny and Viktor did — a place to safely call home?
For Davies, forcing audiences to empathize with the news was the point of Years and Years. "We imagine that drowning in an escape from one country to another is something that happens to other people. It could never happen here. When that toddler, Alan Kurdi, was washed up on a Greek beach, we all wept and said things must change. We must change. The world must change. Nothing changed. The problem gets worse and worse. And closer and closer," Davies told RadioTimes. The "problem" has officially hit home for the Lyons family.
Years and Years has been billed as a dystopia, but that's not quite right. It's a family drama projected into an all-too-plausible future. "Remember when the news was boring?" Stephen Lyons (Rory Kinnear) jokes, before he finds out about this brother's fate.
Many of Years and Years' viewers likely still find themselves in Stephen's place — joking about the old days, but still slightly insulated from the new days. We watch broadcasts of ICE rounding up migrants, or death tolls in the Mediterranean rise, then escape into an HBO mini-series. But there may come a time when we can't turn off the TV, because it's happening to us.