Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers from the first season of Years and Years, currently airing Monday nights at 9PM ET on HBO.
Between climate change and an unstable political landscape, thinking about what the next 15 years mat bring is enough to give anyone a stomach ache. And if you were hoping for a fairy tale ending, then Russell T. Davies’ drama Years and Years is probably not the series for you. As political unrest rages in the post-Brexit UK, daily life continues with three generations of the Lyons family taking center stage. People still celebrate birthdays, get married, and cheat on their spouses. The world may be ready to set itself on fire, either by an act of war or environmental factors, but the circle of life continues. One figurative and literal fire takes place at the end of the first episode when Daniel (Russell Tovey) ditches his nearest and dearest — including his husband — to hook up with a Ukranian refugee he met earlier in the episode.
The end of the world prompts this seemingly out-of-character act as straight-laced housing officer Daniel is quick to exit when his first conversation with Viktor (Maxim Baldry) turns from professional to flirtatiously tender. It is as if Daniel remembers he has a husband and flees. However, a spark has been lit in his heart. Later, when the United States launches a nuclear strike hitting an artificial island built by China, Daniel has a moment of clarity. He remembers his husband is a Flat Earther, propelling him back to Viktor. As an actual fire rages, Daniel and Viktor go at it in one of the makeshift shipping container homes. This isn’t a case of showing a quick smooch followed by post-coital bliss. As with Russell T. Davies’ work on Queer as Folk (the original UK series), A Very English Scandal, and Cucumber, this sex scene is raw and intimate. In this case, lust meets fear and it's quite the introduction for relative newcomer Baldry.
Among a cast of British acting heavyweights including Emma Thompson as controversial political figure Vivienne Rook, Jessica Hynes as political activist Edith Lyons, Rory Bremner as the eldest Lyons sibling, and the aforementioned Tovey, Baldry is the breakout star. For starters, he has a face you can’t stop staring at –- even Russell Tovey’s mother fancies him -– but being breathtakingly gorgeous doesn’t mean anything if the performance isn’t up to scratch. Thankfully, Baldry shines beyond his beautiful wide-eyes and touchable hair.
At the end of the first episode, it's unclear how much time the world has left and/or whether this is just a panic induced one-night-stand. When the world doesn’t end, Daniel ditches his terrible husbandand it becomes clear that Viktor isn’t just a fling. The chemistry between Baldry and Tovey, which is on display in the first episode continues to crackle long after the fire has been put out. A strength of Years and Years is that even when dread is at its highest and the anxiety feels unrelenting, Davies slips in moments of tender intimacy. A stroke of a foot sole where electricity was pumped in as a means of torture, an all-encompassing embrace and a kiss on the neck after months apart.
Balancing falling in love with fighting to exist is no small feat, but in this devastating performance, Baldry more tan delivers. With acting credits that previously included an episode of Skins and a long stint on British teen soap Hollyoaks, landing a role in a series of this caliber will definitely raise his profile, particularly as his struggle to return to Daniel (and stay alive) is at the heart of Years and Years. In Episode 2, Viktor is sent back to Ukraine after Daniel’s crappy ex tells the authorities that Viktor is working illegally in a gas station. This is essentially a death sentence, as if he stays in the place in which his parents denounced him, he will likely be tortured and probably executed because of his sexuality.
At times Years and Years feels incredibly grim, but even at its darkest — and there are still three more episodes to go — there is some semblance of hope to be found in how much these characters will fight for one another. Viktor isn’t naive -- he knows there's a chance it could all go horribly wrong. When Daniel tells him they will get him back after the deportation order comes through in Episode 2, Viktor’s voice cracks saying, “Yes, please.” With just two words, Baldry evokes a level of fear we have yet to see in this character and it is heartbreaking. Later, during a video chat with Daniel, he returns to upbeat because he’s escaped once before and he can do it again. As the world continues to spin, Viktor believes there is a way out. And Maxim Baldry himself seems set for big things over the next 15 years and beyond.
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Emma Fraser has wanted to write about TV since she first watched My So-Called Life in the mid-90s, finally getting her wish over a decade later. Follow her on Twitter at @frazbelina.