'Brave New World' Takes an Absurd Theme Park Tour in Episode 2 (RECAP)
[Spoiler Alert: This recap contains spoilers from Brave New World Season 1 Episode 2, "Want & Consequence."]
Brave New World isn't a perfect show by any sense of the word, but if you give me comedian Rich Hall presenting a Tim and Eric-style spoof commercial, then you're speaking directly to my soul. I can get on board with a show that doesn't take itself too seriously, which can often be the danger with these kinds of dystopian dramas. There were hints of humor in the pilot, but the second episode really leans into the goofiness, and it's all the better for it.
It's only right that Brave New World has a kooky sense of humor. After all, Aldous Huxley's novel began as parody, a tongue-in-cheek satire of the writings of H. G. Wells, who, let's just say, Huxley wasn't the biggest fan. Yes, the story of Brave New World is dark and scarily prescient, but it's also heightened sci-fi ridiculousness, with its orgasm-inducing movie theaters and hormone-infused chewing gum and Escalator Squash. Embracing the absurdity with a wink and a nudge is definitely the way to go; otherwise, you risk taking yourself too seriously, which can become laughable but for all the wrong reasons.
The majority of the laughs this episode come from Bernard (Harry Lloyd) and Lenina's (Jessica Brown Findlay) tour of the Savage Lands. They're like two honeymooners on vacation for the first time in a foreign land. Bernard complains about the hotel room view (it overlooks a pool of nude tourists), while Lenina eagerly flicks through a guide book, reading up on the strange "primitive" customs of the savages. "They let you touch the skin of an ancient one," she gushes. Lloyd and Findlay are a joy to watch here with a comfortable chemistry. Lloyd really hams up Bernard's stuck-up stuffiness, while Findlay brilliantly portrays Lenina's excited naïveté.
There is also growing romantic (or perhaps just sexual) tension between the pair. Lenina enthusiastically regales Bernard with descriptions of how "primitive brides" give their virginity to their partners on their wedding night. "What's virginity?" asks Bernard. "I don't know," replies Lenina after a perfectly timed comedic pause. In many ways, Bernard and Lenina are living out a sort of fantasy roleplay of a married human couple. All the talk of monogamy and saving oneself gets them both a little hot under their beige collars. "What if we can be different here?" Lenina ponders as she straddles Bernard on the bedroom floor. "It could be our wedding night," suggests Bernard, before both ultimately rejecting the idea as silly.
The next day, a chirpy tour guide takes them on a bus ride through the park, commentating on the sights like David Attenborough describing a troop of monkeys. "You don't usually see the females out like this in the daytime," she observes. Over at the House of Want, tourists scoff buckets of popcorn while watching hordes of shoppers charge a discount store in an act of unrestrained consumerism. "The annual day of Black," the guide refers to what we commonly know as Black Friday. Then it's onto the House of Monogamy to take in a wedding, "a ritual designed to confine the core values of their culture: ownership, competition, jealousy, and strife." I'm telling you, this show is funny!
Bernard and Lenina, gripped by the quaintness of it all, take their seats on the stand to watch the wedding ceremony. "The father gives the bride away," comments Bernard. "Why, doesn't he want her anymore?" remarks a confused Lenina. It's an over-exaggerated and offensive "white trash wedding" spectacle, performed by savages for the amusement of the tourists. There's the pregnant bride, played by Madysun (Lara Peake), the scorned lover, the illegitimate child, the shoot-out, and all the Jerry Springer theatrics. I suppose it's the futuristic equivalent to watching the Wild Wild Wild West Stunt Show at Universal Studios. And there are hilarious lines throughout ("Don't be monogamous with him, be monogamous with me!").
All the humor and frivolity nicely sets up the drama to come, because, suddenly, the fake shoot-out turns very real. The rebel savages rock up in their pick-up trucks and start unloading bullets on both savage and tourists alike. Bernard takes a shot to the shoulder in the melee, leaving Lenina to usher him to safety, running into the depths of the Savage Lands to escape. The rebels are on a mission, ready to start a war, if necessary, to deliver their message. "The outsiders took our land, but they didn't take our dignity," claims gang leader Sheila (Kate Fleetwood), in a sort of mangled Braveheart speech. According to the rebels, any savage that sells themselves out to please the tourists might as well be dead, which puts John (Alden Ehrenreich) in a precarious position.
John is just trying to live his life, take care of his mom (Demi Moore), do his job, and maybe marry Madysun if she'll give him a chance. But the rebels give him an ultimatum—either he helps them, or he dies. John tries to run from this fate at first. He tells his mother, Linda, that they should leave, drive out into the desert and never turn back. But Linda refuses, she is still hanging on for a hero, hoping that John's estranged father will return to whisk her to paradise. John is similarly knocked back by Madysun, who is too ingrained in the rebel uprising to take John's romantic gestures seriously. Much like Bernard and Lenina, John is also disconnected in his world, an other that doesn't fit.
These similarities are obviously intentional, as John is about to cross paths with Lenina and Bernard. There's even a brief connection before the wedding, as John notices Lenina enraptured by a dead bird ("Is this part of it?" she asks). Lenina, like John, is mistreated, despite her world supposedly being perfect. Throughout the episode, she's mocked by a dickish Alpha Plus teenager, merely because of her lower rank. This class discrimination is rooted from birth, as we see at the start when Lenina and her friend Frannie (Kylie Bunbury) observe children in a conditioning lab. The kids are taught their place via electric cattle prod, which Frannie finds hilarious. But this commonality is why we know John isn't going to hurt Lenina when he finds her hiding out in an abandoned apartment at the end of the episode.
The action, or lack thereof, going on back in New London, isn't quite as engaging as the Savage Lands' adventures. We're introduced to World Controller Mustafa Mond, played by Nina Sosanya (Killing Eve), who is great but given little to work with here. She investigates the balcony suicide, gathering all the Epsilon workers, the majority of which are clones, rows and rows of endlessly repeated faces. She wants to know who touched the deceased, to which the permanently perturbed CJack60 (Joseph Morgan) owns up. There's talk of a virus infecting everything (tragically relevant), and how any threat to the social body must be taken care of. It's substandard sci-fi talk, and some of the dialogue is toe-curling ("Virus, it's an old word, from before."). It almost feels inserted from a different show compared to the vibrant energy of the Savage Lands scenes.
However, I'm not going to hold that against an episode that is otherwise delightfully entertaining and zany. If this series continues to give me more Lloyd and Findlay and gold like "There's nothing more dangerous than live theater," I'll happily take 10 minutes of subpar sci-fi bunkum each episode in exchange.
Brave New World, Now Streaming, Peacock