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TV Review: Brave New World

16 November 2020
Appeared in BioNews 1072

With an increasing dependence on social media and technology to stay connected, it is not hard to imagine a dystopian future like that painted in the modern retelling of 'Brave New World', the nine part television series based on the science fiction novel of the same name written by Aldous Huxley.

When the book was published in 1932, Huxley imagined what could happen to society if the decadence of the roaring 1920s persisted into the future, with monogamy and family becoming things of the past. This modern interpretation also updated this concept with the introduction of no privacy through a futuristic contact lens - allowing society to form a living social network or 'social body'.

As a fan of science fiction, I am always eager to watch shows within this theme, and while it has been some time since I read 'Brave New World', certain elements of the book are still firmly implanted in my memory. In particular, 'Bokanovsky's Process' ie, the way embryos are treated differently to create different grades of humans (alpha through to epsilon) in an intelligence-based social hierarchy, and the brainwashing of citizens to accept their role in society. I was keen to see how these ideas were portrayed in a world where IVF is routine and CRISPR-genome editing of embryos a contentious topic (see BioNews 1033).

Visually impressive, with a star-studded cast, including Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sybil Crawley in 'Downton Abbey'), Alden Ehrenreich (a young Han Solo, in 'Solo'), Harry Lloyd (Viserys Targaryen, 'Game of Thrones') and Demi Moore (who needs no introduction), at first the show held a lot of promise but ultimately it failed to deliver.

The show is set in New London, a utopian society where everyone is happy and knows their place. A fictitious drug 'soma' that keeps their 'levels steady' fades away any emotion but happiness and is key to harmony, as are the many orgies that seem to happen every night.

Lenina Crowne (a beta+), works in a lab as an embryologist. Like all good betas, Crowne enjoys a party lifestyle, downing soma to numb any emotion that she may feel. However, Crowne is in trouble for indulging in a monogamous relationship with Henry Foster (an alpha +), when 'everyone belongs to everyone else'. Bernard Marx (also an alpha+) warns her that she needs to start embracing the ideals of New London, which is ironic given that Bernard is enjoying moments of privacy (also forbidden).

Together, Marx and Crowne journey to the Savage Lands where they watch shows that parody events such as Black Friday and marriage, turning them into grotesque reminders of the old world. After witnessing an attack, they flee with help from a savage called John and his mother Linda.

The remainder of the series focuses on the chaos caused by the trip to the Savage Lands. Crowne becomes increasingly disillusioned with her life, struggling to reintegrate with society after her experience in the Savage Lands and stops taking soma so that she can feel emotions.

Meanwhile, John experiences New London for the first time, enjoying the attention of being 'the next new thing' as a savage and unlike his book counterpart, embraces soma and orgies, picking people up by saying that they remind him of someone. It is not long until predictably, John grows tired of this lifestyle, and finds Crowne, ending up in a relationship of sorts and causing chaos around them.  

The addition of Indra, a living social network where everyone is connected at once to each other, felt very 1984 and reminded me of a particular episode of 'Black Mirror'. Perhaps this is where the directors saw the world going if we keep growing in social media consumption, where we eagerly devour everybody else's stories and focus on creating a polished version of our lives that only showcases our happy moments. Although after the majority of events in 2020, I am thinking that soma itself is not such a bad idea.

In a major deviation from the book, Indra and the destruction of the 'social body' technology by Indra herself through the introduction of John, is a central theme. The embryo treatment process that creates inequality is only touched upon, and far more detail is given in the book to this. The philosophical ideas that made 'Brave New World' such a scandalous book at the time (even getting it outlawed in some countries) are not really explored and I would have liked more time spent considering some of these themes and less time dedicated to orgies (there are a lot of them).

The ending felt poised for a second series, and missed the dramatic ending of the book, which I won't spoil in case you wish to read it. Whether or not they will get another season remains unseen. The show appears to have been cancelled already, which in my opinion is not surprising.

Brave New World
Sky One |  15 July 2020
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