Synopsis: Following on from the pilot episode, reviewed separately, last week, brand new streaming service Peacock went with the plan to drop the whole series of its first big “Peacock Original”, its take on Brave New World (1932), the Dystopian heavyweight by Aldous Huxley. The set up is very Black Mirror-like, and the focus on the characters that inhabit the world. We take a look at what went well, what didn’t and discuss it in detail here, as one whole series. Creepiness, danger, and sex, lots of sex . . .
Following on from the pilot episode, the action shifts to The Savage Lands. This gave the show a different feel and introduced John as the central character. Those who’ve seen Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) will recognize Alden Ehrenreich John. His mother, Linda, is played by Demi Moore, who doesn’t have a huge role in things, as it turns out. Bringing two other main characters, Lenina Crowne and Bernard Marx (Jessica Brown Findlay and Harry Lloyd) to The Savage Lands, did work. It put two inhabitants of a perfect world into one of darkness and danger. It really allowed viewers to see the difference between the two worlds, and the aspect of voyeurism came through, as Lenina and Bernard saw sanitized versions of existence there, for their gratification. Things get ugly, a series of riots occur and Bernard gets badly injured.
Once they all get back to New London, things start to really pan out. The real story begins, and John is anchored as the main character. The series starts on a promising premise, to visually explore the world that Huxley created. John is new to it, and so he is the link to the viewers, who discover it with him. Only they don’t, at least not in the detail that was required. Whilst the series was always going to do some things very differently, and that’s not a problem in itself, there are crucial elements of the world that are not shown. Babies being grown in the hatcheries is one. This trope has been used by many others, including The Matrix (1999) and its sequels. The idea first came into the mainstream here, though, and it was a shame not to see there take on it.
Moving to more positive aspects, there are some great character interactions and slow-burning psychological and emotional scenes. Developments were handled well and motivations explored. Some of the sex-scenes were genuinely there to show the human value of emotions, and most of all, love. They were sex as rebellion and celebration. But there were many more that were only included to bolster shock factor and soon appeared obviously gratuitous. That spoiled the atmosphere and environment of the show, that had been built up well, before. What was great to see was representation, though. There was absolutely no differentiation even mentioned or suggested, between who was having sex, between genders. Yet, as usual, there was no gender neutrality or fluidity explored. This would have been a great setting for that to be a platform. Popularity wins again and the marginalized stay marginal. Further examples of this are the heavy focus on the policing of Lenina’s body and choices, and the majority of the sex scenes tastelessly becoming boob-fests. Typical focus on the naked female form. Nothing new or fresh, which was a wasted opportunity to make important changes in how the body is viewed, and sexual nudity used as a dialogue
By the end of the series, characters had undergone changes, discoveries were made, and heading into the last episode it was more clear what would go down. The developments came a little too late though, and what came relied upon was an over-egged finale, that simply used fast pace to try and make everything look more powerful. The real seeds weren’t planted early enough, for a huge arc to have a crescendo style impact. It was a rush to tell the end of the story, with a simplistic and boring explanation. It could have been great if it stuck with a slow burn, and maybe had a big cliffhanger. Maybe it’s because there was no certainty of a season 2, it meant the finale was fudged, the story’s climax simply tacked on. It could also have been that it was only ever aiming for mediocre. The masses wanted their soma. They got it in by way of a clumsy ending, plenty of flesh on display for flesh-sakes, and loud noise and action-packed sequences as a substitute for intelligent and carefully considered writing.
Characters & Acting
The show wasn’t without some good attempts at portraying the human condition, and a gifted cast, too. They could only ever be as good as the writing, which was lacking. Alden Ehrenreich’s John was a good depiction of rawness and brute attitude, at times. He handled the lead-role well and showed human frailty with skill and sensitivity. He smoldered when the scene required him to, and easily filled the screen. The love scenes with Lenina Crowne (Jessica Brown Findlay) were at times the exact combination of intense and deep that capture the realism of attraction on the camera. The two certainly had chemistry and were believable as the struggling to be together lovers. They did their best, but couldn’t elevate the show to greatness.
Harry Lloyd had what was potentially the most interesting and complex character. Lloyd did manage to grasp and show that Bernard Marx was internally within two worlds. His own, where he was constantly trying to deny his own urges for privacy and individuality, and that of inhabitant as an enforcer of the structure of society, and the person responsible for forcibly causing the oppression. What Lloyd expressed was the concealed pain that by denying his love for Lenina, he was causing his own limitations. Whist the actor was limited with what he could do, due to the script, when he broke out into a rage, during the fight with John, it felt genuine.
The supporting cast included Hannah John-Kamen (known for her role in the sci-fi drama, Killjoys, and playing a villain in Ready Player One) as Wilehmina Watson, Kylie Bunbury as Frankie Crowne, Nina Sosanya as Mustafa Mond and Sen Mitsuji as Henry Foster. They all did what was asked, and none failed to make an impact. Again, they were limited by their lines and directing. Other than Sosanya, each was only really foils to the main stars of the show but did what was asked of them with skill and creativity. Sosanya was the “big presence” and it was only that she was written badly that stopped her from making a much greater impact, as she had the troubled and mysterious creator vibe down to perfection. John-Kamen gave a good performance as a barely held together sort, who didn’t take much unraveling at all.
CGI & Action
As discussed in the pilot episode review the show looked slick and cool. The appearance was of a sort of hyper-futuristic dulled down world, where the colours were only seen at night when the orgies were in full play. The costumes were carefully considered and gave the element of uniformity to the proceedings. This allowed for the quietness of the Dystopia to show, and really masked it as a Utopia. The decoration and pastille shades helped maintain that facade., The whole sets were really well planned and the hyper-stylization made it seem that every little detail was considered, and in many ways created an external version of the inner aspects of characters living in an emotionally sanitized world.
The show wasn’t without some good set sequences. Whilst they were at The Savage Lands is a good example. The fire-fight was exciting and it felt dangerous. The violence was sudden and jolting, and overall a great job was done in making these scenes. Staying with that early part of the show, the anti-gravity scene in the rocket-jet was also very well executed. Viewers really got to experience the floating droplet of blood via the character’s experience, and you had no doubt at all that you were deep into sci-fi territory.
Later in the series, John and Bernard’s relationship saw some good action played out. Their fight scene (and the punch that Bernard hit Henry with) was realistic and raw, with some good stunt work involved. It’s clear that Alden Ehrenreich is suited to action-based roles. Once he put the eye-implant in that was also seen in a different way, by viewers. The concept itself was done well and made to look like it had a sort of a mind of its own, as the wispy strand of it seemed to pull towards the eye when it was held near. That was a cool nod to the AI that was running everything maybe having developed its own “mind”. The effects generally were quite cerebral and looked smooth, often managing to make themselves a character of their own, dominating those who have been conditioned into thinking they couldn’t possibly live without it.
Overall and Incidental Music
What started strongly soon began to come apart. Sadly, you just didn’t care for the characters enough. In this sort of a show, that’s crucial. The problems were due to the writing being dull and not enough care for the basic motivations. The opportunity was there to really explore the depths of the contrasts between Dystopia and Utopia. That’s really one of the central themes of the book. It’s what makes the story Huxley wrote so nuanced and why it has lasted. Such conflicting ideas really help to show the troubling reality of human nature and problematic ways that it manifests in society. The whole crux was that the people Huxley created oppressed themselves, and kept everything in a spin. The show didn’t need to be a scene by scene remake of the book, but it needed to instill the themes and put the essence of them into the story. Sadly, it failed to do it a way that was engaging and original. It would be surprising to hear of a second-season getting the green light, but stranger things have happened in the brave new world (no apology offered for this thematic pun) of streaming sites . . .
The music used in the show was mostly well-selected and inserted; early on it was matched nicely with the scenes. This has become an important element for on-screen antics. The likes of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) — probably the film most responsible for re-invigorating the importance of soundtracks in sci-fi adventure — firmly showing what can be done with the right song, at the right time. Netflix’s Umbrella Academy also nailed it. Like other aspects of the show, the power of music chosen soon waned, and there wasn’t even one big memorable scene married to great song (perhaps ‘Perfect Day’ was as close as they came, but the scene itself was mediocre so the potential perfect marriage of action and sound not realized fully). Another example of what could have been; and of course, what should have been.
With many plans to bring Brave New World to modern audiences shelved over the years, including the most well-known one headed by Ridley Scott, Huxley, and sci-fi fans generally have waited and waited for a visual version of this seminal story. There’s bound to be many that are disappointed. That said, whilst the book has never been out of print and the influence of it continued to permeate through popular culture, this version may just be the nudge required for another production house to tell their version. Maybe on the big screen, this time. If they do, hopefully, they’ll do a better job and leave a better legacy than this version did. Peacock has failed to show its fanciful tail feathers in all their illustrious glory. If it’s to seriously compete with Netflix and Amazon Prime (it’s safe to say that soon Disney Plus will be the number one, once the MCU streaming shows hit) it will need to up its game and stop popping so many somas . . .
- Incidental Music & Overall6.6