NBC’s Peacock streaming service launches next month, and the jewel in the crown of its initial offerings is undoubtedly Brave New World, an ambitious adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s classic 1932 dystopian novel. The full trailer for this Peacock original series is finally here, starring Alden Ehrenreich as Huxley’s antihero, John the Savage, who finds himself struggling to adapt when he is thrust into a utopian society.
(Some spoilers for the book below.)
As we reported in April, Brave New World is set in the year 2540, in the World State city of London, where people are born in artificial wombs and indoctrinated through “sleep-learning” to fit into their assigned predetermined caste. Citizens regularly consume a drug called soma (part anti-depressant, part hallucinogen) to keep them docile and help them conform to strict social laws. Promiscuity is encouraged, but pregnancy (for women) is a cause for shame. Needless to say, both art and science (albeit to a lesser extent) are viewed with suspicion.
“Every discovery in pure science is potentially subversive,” Resident World Controller of Western Europe Mustapha Mond tells the novel’s antihero protagonist, John the Savage. “Science is dangerous; we have to keep it most carefully chained and muzzled.”
John is the illegitimate son of a high-level government official, born and raised on the Savage Reservation, where people still give birth, age naturally, and generally represent the opposite of the World State’s carefully controlled ideals. His only education has been the complete works of Shakespeare. (The novel’s title references a line by Miranda in The Tempest.) When John and his mother, Linda, find their way back to the World State, he initially becomes a cause célèbre but struggles to adapt to the new social mores. Specifically, he falls in love with a young woman named Lenina Crowne but can’t deal with her promiscuity and sexual forwardness. He ultimately isolates himself from society in hopes of purging himself of “sin.” Things don’t end well for anyone.
In the April teaser, we met Beta-Plus Lenina (Jessica Brown Findlay), dropping a tab of soma and partying with various potential sexual partners, as occasional paramour Bernard Marx (Henry Lloyd) looked on with jealousy. And we got a glimpse of Savageland, as Linda (Demi Moore) urged her son John (Ehrenreich) to return with her to New London. We also saw gender-swapped authoritarian Mustapha Mond (Nina Sosanya) lecturing a group of acolytes about the danger of asking questions or welcoming new ideas: “A virus enters a cell. That’s how it begins.” Also gender-swapped: Bernard’s friend Helmholtz Watson, a professor at the College of Emotional Engineering, is now Wilhelmina “Helm” Watson, played by Hannah John-Kamen.
The new trailer gives us a few more details and hints of things to come. It opens with Lenina dropping a bit of soma, while Bernard’s voice introduces us to the supposed utopia that is New London. Everyone is happy, everyone knows their place, there’s no hunger or violence or pain—you get the idea. “I’ve always wanted that for you,” John’s mother Linda tells him. Much of the remaining trailer is devoted to John’s reaction as he struggles to adapt to New London. “All you have to do is connect,” he is told, which seems to involve a special kind of contact lens that wires into your eyeball.
Everyone is connected, all the time, which means no one is ever truly alone, which doesn’t seem to suit John at all. He’s present but apart, observing but not engaging, and he doesn’t seem to like what he sees. “You know I’ve been watching you people,” he says at one point. “If this place is so perfect, why is everything upside down?” We see Bernard leaning over a dead body in this otherwise ideal city, so John has a point. The only bright spot is Lenina, who finds herself drawn to the savage, and he to her. John is clearly having a disruptive influence on New London, something that does not go unnoticed by those in power. “We need to stop this before it goes too far,” Mond says.
Back in April, I wrote that “while Peacock is relatively late to the streaming scene, the series looks like it could be a winner for the fledgling service.” I stand by that impression. The series is visually striking and has a stellar cast, and showrunner David Wiener looks like he has imaginatively updated the technological details of Huxley’s novel for the 21st century. Brave New World debuts on July 15, 2020 as part of the launch of the Peacock streaming service.
Listing image by YouTube/NBC Peacock