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Saving Ourselves 

Tara Isabella Burton

Real love as rebellion in TV’s Brave New World

The most affecting scene in Brave New World, Peacock Television’s timely and intimate reimagining of Aldous Huxley’s 1932 dystopia, comes toward the series’ conclusion. The glass-and-concrete corridors of New London, a city of pliantly pill-popping, orgiastic, genetically-segregated, Internet-connected post-humans, are covered in blood. It is the result of an uprising of the city’s Epsilon class, encouraged, however inadvertently, by the outsider “savage” John (Alden Ehrenreich), who cares less for class politics than for his burgeoning relationship with Lenina (Jessica Brown Findlay), a member of the ruling class.

The Epsilons have stopped production on the city’s embryos, destroyed its storehouses of soma — the drug, equal parts ecstasy and Xanax, that keeps New London’s citizens’ all-­important “levels” intact. (Within minutes, the soma shortage has spurred suicides.) And, finally, the Epsilons have decided to take matters into their own hands. Echoing John’s vision of equality — “no one above, no one below” — they decide to start killing the Alphas and Betas, who have designed a system of spiritual and physical oppression.

In another, lesser dystopian saga — the kind ubiquitous in our pop franchises, from The Hunger Games to Divergent — this could be the thrilling climactic moment. In the third-act finale, our plucky heroes finally overturn the big, bad authoritarian empire, all in the name of the all-­important freedom, as John the Savage keeps telling the Epsilons, to choose. At times, the rough outlines of the plot — an adult Savage, secretly the illicit son of an Alpha, returns to New London from the Savage Lands, falls in love with a New London woman, and destabilizes the whole society in the process — seem to be leading up to such a simplistic ­conclusion.

But this Brave New World resists such easy answers. As it turns out, the destruction of the oppressors doesn’t solve the problem. The fault is not in some streamlined and ­artificial system, but in the contradictions of human beings themselves....

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Tara Isabella Burton is a writer in New York and the author of Social Creature: A Novel (Doubleday, 2018) and Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World (PublicAffairs, 2020).