‘Brave New World’ Ratchets Up the Soap Opera Drama in Episode 7 (RECAP)
[Spoiler Alert: This recap contains spoilers from Brave New World Season 1 Episode 7, “Monogamy and Futility, Part 1”]
Brave New World is a lot more soap-opera than sci-fi, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The show’s slick undercurrent of humor has kept it from teetering off into unintentional self-parody. But this episode, more than any other so far, leans heavily on the soapiness. It’s definitely the most CW-like episode we’ve seen—a bunch of sexy young folk with their raging libidos and romantic escapades; it’s more akin to a futuristic The O.C. than, say, the dystopian bleakness of a Black Mirror.
The majority of the episode centers around the brewing love triangle between Lenina (Jessica Brown Findlay), John (Alden Ehrenreich), and Bernard (Harry Lloyd). John and Lenina have grown increasingly close but are keeping their relationship secret. Lenina is afraid of inciting Indra’s wrath by daring to be monogamous with the savage, while John is at least semi-concerned about hurting Bernard’s feelings (though Bernard would claim not to have any). The pair sneaks away for a couple of hours each night, only Gary the Gamma (Matthew Aubrey) aware of their midnight trysts. They have sex and cuddle and dream of a life for themselves, far away from Indra’s prying eyes.
John tells Lenina he loves her after she returns his makeshift Walkman (he really misses music). “Do I say it back to you now?” asks Lenina, still coming to grips with these new emotions. And she does, though she’s unsure if she did it right, which should be the first sign for John that Lenina doesn’t quite know the gravity of what she’s saying. For a Beta Plus conditioned in the ways of the World State, Lenina is not made to love on a human level. She’s programmed to love the primal pleasures of life, sex, drugs, and, well, not rock n roll, but wordless synth-pop. Despite her feelings for John, she still has her Beta duties to perform. Therein lies the conflict, and the romantic drama of the episode, as John finds that a “normal” relationship is not natural in this environment.
It all comes to a head at an exuberant garden party hosted by the Arch-Community-Songster, the man responsible for New London’s nauseating synthy soundtrack. “Have you heard of music?” he asks a less-than-amused John. (There’s another funny music moment when Bernard listens to John’s Walkman for the first time, playing Lou Reed’s Perfect Day. “People put words in music?” he asks, quizically, seemingly baffled by such a revelation, “…I find it distracting.”) John is only attending the party for Bernard’s sake, sort of a last hurrah. He is tired of being leered at and everyone expecting him to be the wild, roaring savage, especially after the staged fight.
The party culminates in a game of Hide and Go Seek (or Hide and Go Sex to be more fitting), where Alphas hunt down Betas and, yes, unsurprisingly, have an orgy. But this time, the orgy takes place in the muddy swamps of a forest, so it’s different, you see. “Don’t you ever want it to mean something?” John asks Bernard before explaining the concept of dating—meeting a girl, taking a car ride, listening to music, and figuring out if you want each other. That, to John, is more fulfilling than chasing a girl in the woods and having sex in the foliage. “If it happens, it’s because you chose each other,” he says. “You earned it.” It’s ludicrous to Bernard, who scoots off after two animal-print-leotard-wearing young men.
It’s all fun and games for Bernard, but not for John, who, during the hunt, sees Lenina having sex with another man. Lenina could never understand how much it hurts John because she isn’t taught about monogamy. “I want you to stop,” John tells her, which is kind of possessive sounding. But even if Lenina wanted to stop, she says that Indra would know and she could be reconditioned, or worse, banished. John welcomes the banishment. “We could live there together,” he says. But just as Lenina doesn’t understand the ways of John’s world, he doesn’t get hers either. Lenina is sacrificing a lot to be with John. For 22 hours a day, she is the best Beta Plus she can be, just to have the secret two hours with John. “It’s either this or nothing,” she tells him.
This sets John off on a jealous pity party; he mopes around listening to Perfect Day on repeat, growling at passers-by (much to their excitement), and spends his nights at the bar—a bar that doesn’t even serve beer. But in his rage, John sparks something of a rebellion amongst the Epsilon workers. He lashes out at them. “You’re not happy, you’re on drugs!” he yells in their blank faces. “People are not supposed to live like this! You’re supposed to want and choose.” There is momentary silence until it’s broken by the sound of CJack60 (Joseph Morgan) smashing a glass against the floor, mimicking John. Suddenly, all the Epsilons are up on their feet, hurling glasses to the ground.
John isn’t the only jealous one, though. Despite rolling his eyes at John’s talk of dating, Bernard is actually intrigued by the concept. And so, he asks Lenina out on a date. Sitting in a spaceship overlooking an ocean view, like a couple at a drive-in movie theater, the pair reminisce about their time in the Savage Lands, and how Bernard wishes he acted differently during their almost-hotel-fling. There’s some funny and sweet stuff here until Bernard is effectively put in the friend zone. And when Lenina starts unconsciously humming the tune to Perfect Day, Bernard realizes what’s been going on between Lenina and John.
Rather than end the date, Bernard goes on a power trip, taking Lenina back to his apartment and paraphrasing John’s words of how a date is supposed to end. “This is the part where we decide if we’ve earned each other’s sexual connection,” he says. “Whether we are worthy of touch and deserve to be loved.” It’s a mood-killing power play by Bernard as he tells Lenina he finds her “worthy.” But it’s also a test. I suppose part of him still hopes he has it wrong and that maybe Lenina really wants to be with him. Despite her reluctant yes, Bernard knows he’s not wanted. He yells at her to get out, and, unlike his usual self, he throws his soma away, instead indulging in his sadness, kneeling on the floor and crying into his sofa.
There is a lovely contrast between Bernard and John at the end here. Bernard wants to feel his emotions for a change, whereas John wants to turn his off. John can’t cope with the hurt and jealousy anymore, and so he decides the only way he can continue in this world, and with Lenina, is to give himself over to the system. He goes to see Helm (Hannah John-Kamen), who promises she can make him feel any emotion he wants—and cover up any negative feelings he might be experiencing. After avoiding it all this time, John finally agrees to have an optic interface inserted into his eye.
In the broader scheme of things, this world is falling apart, as Henry Foster (Sen Mitsuji) finds out when he visits an unhinged Mustafa Mond (Nina Sosanya). Mustafa has entirely lost a grip on things, or, as it turns out, never really had control to begin with. She and her research team created Indra many years ago, but now the machine is in charge—a machine that takes the form of the Controller’s daughter Jane (Sophie McIntosh), just to make things extra tense. According to Mustafa, Indra will never stop reaching out and correcting until it fulfills its purpose, its directive. And that directive, apparently, is death. I almost expected a dun dUN DUN sting before the credits rolled.
This episode lacked the energy and some of the creative flourishes of previous installments and perhaps tipped the scales a little too far into soapiness. But it’s still held up by some fantastic central performances and well-timed, tension-breaking humor. And, to be honest, if I had the choice, I’d take an episode of love-triangle soap-drama over the sci-fi killer computer every time.
Brave New World, Now Streaming, Peacock