Episode two took us back to the present day with a sort of ‘where are they now?’ catch-up with all the characters. It was a table-setting episode more than anything, and a little slow as a result, but there were a few outstanding moments and, if nothing else, the aesthetic on Utopia is so unique and beautiful to look at that even a quiet episode is seared in yellow onto your eyeballs afterwards.
In the episode’s first third, most of the characters had retreated to the humdrum lives of people not caught-up in a massive conspiracy. Ian was back at his IT job, a disconcertingly older looking Grant was confined to a flat – unable to leave because he’s supposed to be dead – and Becky, suffering from Deels Syndrome, has been forced to join up with Donaldson, the self-interested scientist with a stock of the drug that helps manage the disease (Donaldson is played by a new actor, which is a shame, because Simon McBurney was great last series).
Wilson Wilson meanwhile was reaping the rewards of betraying his friends – a new job with Mr Rabbit, who pointed out that a person who is willing to side with the people who killed his father is a useful asset for those killers to have. Seeing Milner again made it obvious just what a great casting decision it was to have Rose Leslie play the young version of her; there’s a lot of similarities, both in appearance and attitude – though I guess the latter is a testament to Leslie’s acting as much as anything.
Michael Dugdale, the Scottish civil servant, is back with the bad guys, living alone in a massive house. Dugdale took Alice with him at the end of last season to start a family, so presumably she is being used as leverage by The Network to get him to do their bidding. Sitting behind a massive desk in an aristocratic office, Dugdale resembled Stephen Rea’s Conran Letts from series one, the conspirator we started off thinking was a big fish only to find out he was just another pawn.
Jessica Hyde is of much more importance to The Network, and is locked up in a cell being tortured, with Milner convinced she knows the alteration Carvel made to the Janus virus that was stored in her body. Jessica is as violently mental as always, killing her interrogator, and stealing the spring from his pen, which will presumably be used in an escape attempt next episode.
And then there’s Arby, or Pietre as he is now, the most interesting character from the first series. Neil Maskell, the actor who plays him, is incredible, and managed to make Pietre in series one a horrifying, child-killing monster before turning him into someone it was easy to sympathise with and actually like. The character was so iconic though, it could cause difficulties for the show. In an interview with The Guardian, Maskell said that while filming the new episodes he was ‘so worried that what I was doing was an impersonation of myself.’
This is a potential pitfall the show as a whole needs to avoid. The bright yellows, the ultra-violence, the style, the humour, the comic-book-cool characters; it needs to not become a cartoon, playing up to the hype and the image of the show people have in their heads. The temptation for the writer, Dennis Kelly, with season two will have been to focus in on the best characters and their most enjoyable elements; Pietre, say, and his slow, deadpan dialogue. Do this too much though, and they will become 2D cartoons.
Pietre’s new life – a family for the man who had no family – is disturbed after his former partner Lee arrives, back from the dead, to re-recruit him, in a very enjoyable, tense scene. Pietre is having none of it though, and coalescing at an abandoned mansion with the rest of the gang, he goes into awesome action mode, taking out some sharp-shooters and uttering cool lines. The Guardian’s reviewer pointed out the similarities between Pietre and Arnold Schwarzenegger from the first two Terminator movies – unstoppable killing machine to unstoppable killing machine working for the good guys.
I imagine some people will criticise this as corny or cliché, but I don’t have a problem with it myself. It’s all part of the unique aesthetic. There was one really well put together scene this episode: Pietre killed a shooter; told everyone ‘We need to run, all of us, now;’ some music kicked-in; we cut to an overhead shot of the characters running across a field; a pause in the music; and then the music cued back in, but kicked-up a gear. That was just awesome, like the ending to a Tarantino movie. It’s the type of thing that makes me audibly exhale in admiration, showy as it might be.
There weren’t many missteps in the episode. The humour was a little too over-the-top, especially the stuff with Donaldson and Kevin Eldon. And a lot of the hour wasn’t gripping, but this is effectively the first episode of the series so some build-up is to be expected. Series two should hit its stride from this point forward.
- The main theme tune has been remixed from last series. There’s also a new main theme which is pretty good, can’t find it online though.
- Strange to see Philomena Cunk showing up as Pietre’s wife/girlfriend
- Lee’s little wink at Wilson Wilson was hilariously cruel
- The scene in the mansion, with all the characters moving around unaware of each other, was excellent.
- This show is awful PR for scientists; they are all monstrous apparently, whether trying to sterilize the world or simply blackmailing sick woman or keeping people captive in their basements.
Utopia Reviews: Episode OneFollow @SquirrelCritic