Utopia returns at a time most appropriate. Suspicion of the establishment is at an all time high. Parliament, it seems, is an unregulated hotbed of paedophilia, fraud and cover-ups. Newspaper editors are hacking your phone, BBC children’s entertainers are touching up your kids and the government is giving them all knighthoods. The world of the conspiracy theorist has come crashing into the world of the sceptic.
Episode one of this second series played up to this conspiratorial climate, mixing real-life events with the show’s confusing world of rabbit-holes and rabbits. It began at the beginning, as Jessica’s father, brilliant but slightly nihilistic scientist Philip Carvel, was recruited by the nascent organisation that controlled the world of series one.
I struggled a little to comprehend the timeline exactly, but it seems Philip began experimenting on his son – the future Arby – before hooking-up with Milner (played by Game of Thrones Rose Leslie), the Mr Rabbit who heads-up the bad guys.
Except they are not bad guys yet. The episode made an effort to portray Philip as the destructive one, championing the Nazi-esque philosophy of selecting a stronger race to survive the release of Janus, and the population control that comes with it. Milner instead cautioned restraint; that’s not what we do, she admonished.
Philip though forever alters his son’s personality – turning him into an animal killer who frightens his own mother – as part of his quest for a utopia. And soon Milner and the rest of the organisation catch up to his level of cruelty. It’s the danger of self-certainty; of powerful people who know what is best, who in their own minds can do no wrong because their cause is a great one. We’re not quite at the stage were our rulers are trying to chemically poison us in order to stop us from reproducing, but a certain leader might spend an entire year propagandising us about a foreign dictator and his weapons of mass destruction, to get us to support his neo-con ideology. Or, an elitist government might force through reform of a benefits system which results in the suicide and death of disabled people, and not hesitate from their course because they just know that their cause is right.
Not to get overly political, but, as I said above, Utopia is airing at a very fitting time. The current government of the UK is awfully elitist; their self-certainty is absolute. There is a thing called the Nudge Unit that is very influential on our current government’s policy; it involves psychologists subtly influencing the behaviour of the masses in order to get them to do the right thing. A filter on your ISP connection, for instance, might be turned on by default, to get people to stop watching porn. Or you may be prompted to register as an organ donor every time you renew your driving license. In one famous Nudge experiment, a small image of a fly was painted on a urinal to get men to piss in the right spot.
All quite innocuous, but altering people’s behaviour without their knowledge or consent is problematic. And who gets to decide what the right behaviour is anyway? And what happens when those people get too much power; when their certainty becomes concrete, when they decide that sacrifices must be made for the greater good?
Utopia is a type of science-fiction, and science-fiction, like satire, like many forms of fiction, seeks to expose the truth via exaggeration. Nobody is trying to mass poison the nation, but powerful people secretly fucking with our lives to fulfil their ideal of what the world should be? Utopia is a mirror worth looking into.
Milner and her buddies soon find such power too tempting, and start altering British democracy. Richard Sykes – a real ambassador killed by the IRA – is actually assassinated, we find out, by Milner, as is real-life politician Airey Neave, whose role in the show is a ‘nauseating new low in broadcasting,’ apparently. Milner seeks to benefit from the glorious uninterrupted rule of Margaret Thatcher, as her organisation’s tentacles reach out for the total domination of the first series.
Milner goes fully into the darkness with the killing of her husband, an addict whose recklessness is endangering the operation. She then killed Philip’s pregnant wife, to try and push him towards completing Janus, but instead pushes him away and ultimately towards madness and incarceration in a mental asylum.
In the episode’s closing scenes, a captive Philip was freed from Three Mile Island – the show again drawing from real life – and before escaping he injected Jessica with Janus – unable to destroy his life’s work but unable to release its awful power. As he ran through the power plant’s corridor he glanced back at an abandoned Arby, arms outstretched. There aren’t any heroes here, and no cartoon villains either. The world of Utopia is exaggerated, but complex, and in its exaggeration there is a lot to ponder.
The aesthetic of the first series was one of the show’s strong points, and it is back again here, subtly altered. The yellows are still present, but the Utopia title is red now, and the episode, set in past, used some showy framing to make things a bit more unique.
The music, composed by Cristobal Tapia de Veer, is outstanding. The theme to the first series was such a striking composition, and quietly appeared a little this episode, though it mainly used a new, equally haunting piece.
Series one of Utopia was possibly the best British show to air in recent years. I put it at number one on an end of year list, above the American dramas which have ushered in a new wave of intellectual, stunning, artistic television. British TV has always been good at one-off dramas though. Were we struggle is in continuing series. I’m looking forward to watching the next five episodes of Utopia series two, in the hope that the UK will have in it a rival, finally, to what is coming out of the United States.
- This blog has been on hiatus, because I have less free time. I came back for Utopia, and hope to cover future episodes, either one by one or another article or two throughout the series; not totally sure if I’ll be able to. Good to be back though; hope some of you readers are still with me.
- There’s an outstanding Adam Curtis article on Nudge Theory and its influence on politics. Read it here.
- Hopefully the humour will be back next episode; in a show as dark and violent as this, humour is a very necessary element, and the first series used it well.
- The directing and cinematography was in large part what made Utopia great; I’ll hopefully talk about that, and its use of violence, in other articles.
Utopia Reviews: Episode TwoFollow @SquirrelCritic