‘Brave New World’ Takes Aim at Clout Chasers in Episode 6 (RECAP)
[Spoiler Alert: This recap contains spoilers from Brave New World Season 1 Episode 6, “In The Dirt”]
I previously commended Brave New World for its exploration of over-medication, but it’s also worthy of praise for its satirization of trend-chasing and disposable pop culture. This episode has great fun mocking a generation of selfie-taking, clout chasing, celebrity worshippers, the type of people who jump from fad to fad to keep their Instagram followers ticking upwards.
John (Alden Ehrenreich) is essentially a celebrity in New London. The people fall over each other to be in his presence, gawking at him and salivating over his savage stories. Everyone rocks the latest fashion trend, a “black eye” called The Foster, a reference to the punch Henry Foster (Sen Mitsuji) took from Bernard (Harry Lloyd). Edginess and popularity are the names of the game; it’s like those Instagram influencers who pose for photos in Chernobyl. It’s all about the most controversial and sexy thing on the market, and right now, that’s John, with his embellished tales of savage thuggery—the rugged anti-hero who fought off wild gangs to be with the woman he loved.
People eat John’s stories up like they’re soma, and he indulges in the rewards, the sex, the attention, the celebrity. In many ways, John fits right into the social body. Those around him benefit too, like Bernard, whose access to the savage brings him an air of importance, even if he is very much the popular kid’s sidekick. This is why it’s crucial for Bernard for John to continue to play his part, be the untamed, brutish savage people want him to be. But John is tired of telling the same story night after night to a bunch of materialistic sex addicts. While he partakes in the pleasures, John doesn’t want to forgo his humanity altogether or entirely switch off his emotions. He still longs for something more than the simple gratification of the World State’s caste system.
And so, John takes off again, into the night, where he bumps into an equally discontent Lenina (Jessica Brown Findlay). John encourages her to come with him, break free of her routine for once. Lenina is hesitant; those kinds of things are just not done. “It’s your conditioning,” says John, throwing her own words back at her. Taking the tease as a challenge, Lenina decides to go with him, hopping on the Epsilon train to the outskirts of the city, past the wheat fields and beautiful rural scenery. It’s somewhere Lenina has never been before—she didn’t even know it existed. She’s angry, and rightfully so. “Why have I never been here?!” she yells, years of frustration manifested in a scream. There is so much she hasn’t seen or done, and John offers her a chance to experience them.
Meanwhile, Bernard has again lost track of his savage, which is concerning for two reasons. Firstly, it’s embarrassing, because Bernard promised to bring John to Henry’s induction ceremony. Secondly, and perhaps worse for Bernard, it negates his importance. The neurotic councilor apologizes to Henry for John’s absence, excusing it on “what the savages call ‘morning sickness,'” which is a great line. Henry doesn’t appear to care; in fact, John not being there is a good thing for him. It means people may finally begin to tire of the celebrity savage and stop wearing the Foster eye makeup. Henry tells Bernard that John isn’t trendy anymore, therefore, neither is Bernard, and he should get back to doing work that is more “his level.”
Bernard might be a snivelly try-hard, but at least he isn’t a complete asshole like Henry. Therefore, you do feel a slight sense of sympathy for him, despite his pathetic desperation. And, trust me, Bernard is really desperate. He makes a rambling speech about his heroic efforts in the Savage Lands, once again referring to the “autocar” drama, which is becoming one of the show’s funniest callbacks. He tries appealing to the group’s base desires, talking of the violence and blood and murder. But the dinner guests just stare at him blankly. “Let me start again,” he says, before switching to his best authoritative voice, “I was in the Savage Lands…” Lloyd is truly fantastic in this role, and it’s tremendous to see him as a major part of a big-budget show like this.
Helm (Hannah John-Kamen) tactfully lets Bernard know that his moment of glory is over. People move on fast in this world. If anything, Bernard should count himself lucky he even had a semblance of gravitas for a short while. “People want new things because they hope it might be the next big thing,” explains Helm, who is constantly churning out new feelies to appease the masses. “They want bigger, hotter, harder, faster. We have to give it like that because they might realize it isn’t new at all, just the old thing but more of it.” According to Helm, the worst thing is people becoming bored and being alone with their thoughts. “People don’t want to be small; they want to be big,” she states, before having the idea to feature giants in her next feely.
Bernard, however, also has a moment of inspiration. He realizes what people really want. “They want to be savages,” he says as if everything in the world suddenly makes sense. “They want to feel what it’s like to be free from themselves.” Helm shoots Bernard’s theory down as ludicrous, knowing that it’s becoming dangerously close to heresy. “That’s what you want, Bernard,” she says, which is also true, to be quite honest. Helm tells Bernard that the savage trend is over. In fact, “John,” she says, “isn’t really much of a savage at all.” He isn’t particularly violent or barbaric, only in the exaggerated stories he tells. “He likes sex and soma like everyone else,” Helm notes. “There’s really nothing that savage about him.”
Helm is right; it’s only what others project onto John based on their prejudices and stereotypes. John is actually smart and kind and thoughtful, as we see during his trip with Lenina. He chats to the Epsilons, which shocks Lenina, who is conditioned not to converse with the worker class. “They’re just people,” John reminds her. It’s all a little too much for Lenina, who struggles with her inner conflict, part of her wishing she stayed in the Savage Lands. But John tells her she can be anything she wants right here, even under Indra’s watchful eye. They roleplay as the last man and woman on earth, just the two of them, in their little house by the lake. And as they embrace, naked beneath the stars, they are connected, not to everyone else, just each other.
But back home, John still craves the attention, just as Bernard does. When Bernard tells him that people are bored of him, John scoffs. There’s a hilarious argument where poor Gary the Gamma (Matthew Aubrey) ends up like a confused child caught in the middle of bickering parents. However, as Bernard clenches his fist to fight, John realizes what is happening. The two men brawl as their fight transmits around New London via Gary’s optic interface. It’s like PPV pro-wrestling, providing the blood and guts people expect from a savage (and set to a pulsating Justice soundtrack). John plays into it, telling Bernard to hit him and inciting the action by saying he slept with Lenina (he later lies and says he made it up). Suddenly, John and Bernard are the most popular boys on campus again. “Bernard, you dirty little genius,” Helm whispers to herself.
All the drama between John, Lenina, and Bernard is sparkling right now. The trio is really coming into their own as characters. And the script almost always nails the right tone between soap-opera seriousness and tongue in cheek humor. Helm is an enjoyable character, too, with her increasingly ridiculous feely ideas (and Hannah John-Kamen is from my neck of the woods, so I’m always happy to see her doing well). I’m also pleased to see the spoof commercials are still a part of the show (the romantic “Red Soma” being the highlight of this episode).
The only part of the show I’m not feeling is the side-plot with World Controller Mustafa Mond (Nina Sosanya) and her battles with the sentient world computer. Here we learn that Mustafa is one of the original creators who built the Indra system, that her real name is Jane, and she might possibly be human? There are remnants of old London buried beneath the new city, where the other OG scientists lay comatose, plugged into a sort of Matrix-like simulation. One of them is Elliot, who bears the same face as CJack60 (Joseph Morgan), supposedly the man many of the Epsilon clones were based on. Elliot sits on a simulated beach, begging Mustafa to give up her control and join him. It’s all a bit late-season Lost for my liking.
Brave New World is at its best when it keeps things light and relies on the relationships of its characters. It’s much more interesting when it focuses on the human condition rather than robots and omniscient computers. Thankfully, the series leans more towards the former than the latter, and I hope it stays that way.
Brave New World, Now Streaming, Peacock