Utopia: Episode 2 (2013)

Spoilers and speculation ahead:

 

At the end of episode one, our recurring question of “Who is Jessica Hyde?” seemed to finally be more clear, but we don’t get to that right away. Episode two of Utopia starts in the same shocking fashion as the previous episode. Just in case we all forgot the crux of all the show’s intrigue, a sought after manuscript for a second volume of an infamous graphic novel called the “Utopia Experiments” makes another appearance. If you recall, the book was written by a man who supposedly not only predicted the future, but went crazy and killed himself because of the first volume. Could it be a coincidence, or is the group of assassins seeking the book a dead giveaway that the pages of loose paper are more than they seem? This time we see a man looking at a hidden copy he has stored in his cellar, away from the prying eyes of a nondescript vagrant rummaging through trash nearby. After pulling up boards from a secret walled stash, the man wraps his find, places it in a post box, and nonchalantly jumps in from of a large truck on a highway.

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One of my biggest unanswered questions from episode one was the relationship between the health civil servant storyline and the graphic novel. I assumed we would have to wait weeks to find this out, but luckily this was explained (somewhat) within the first ten minutes. It seems that an organization was created in the 1970’s to stop bio-terrorism from the Soviet Union. Dubbed “The Network”, this organization answered to no nation and was left to get their job done by any means necessary. We can surmise that the graphic novel somehow predicted something to do with the network since we learn of the author’s connections to the organization. In the previous episode, we also found out that Becky’s dad died of a manmade disease called DEALS and the genetic code for DEALS was imprinted into the pages of the book. We find out that the two unconventional assassins that have followed around the main characters are in some way associated with “The Network” – we finally have a sliver of a clue what the over-all plot of this story is!

The cinematography is strong in this episode as well as the first, and even the small touches like a yellow camera filter used on most outdoor scenes, gives the show an otherworldly, almost unsettling, feeling. The saturation doesn’t make the show look purposefully old, like some other productions try to do with yellow filters, but it makes grass greener than normal, the sky brighter, and anything yellow REALLY stand out. I’m not sure if this is just a nod to the fact that the show’s logo is a simple yellow title card, or if there is some other meaning hiding in the background. General color theory holds that yellow is the color of sunshine. It’s associated with joy, happiness, intellect, and energy. This seems in stark contrast with the themes of the show other than the name “Utopia”, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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The inclusion of Fiona O’Shaughnessy as Jessica Hyde is a welcome addition to the cast as her robotic, distant, and unfeeling nature really helps to offset the eccentricities of the rest of the cast. She’s like a cross between La Femme Nikita and Linda Hamilton’s character from Terminator. You can tell that she’s been out there running from “The Network” for years and has become a master manipulator in the race to stay alive. She hardened, has little empathy, and trusts few people. Her character has a mysterious past we learn a little about involving her father’s position in all of this. You see, Jessica’s father was originally named Philip Carvel – the man who originally helped start “The Network”. Carvel ended up in a psychiatric ward where he was given a new name – Mark Deyn – and started drawing as part of his art therapy. I bet you can see where this is headed: Deyn was the man who created “The Utopia Expiriments”!

Episode two of Utopia seems to have all the answers, but I wonder if we can take the Wilson Wilson view in all of this: This all seems well and good, but what if the whole thing isn’t this simple, I bet this is merely a cover for the real conspiracy within. Aside from that, they did tease us with another whopper of a question – Who does Becky work for? She’s been at odds with Jessica since day one, and for the most of the program I assumed it was just catty girls being catty girls as usual. Towards the end of the episode we see her slip into a payphone and inform someone that she has Grant and he knows where the manuscript is…..dum….dum…DUM!

 

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Onward to episode three!

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Utopia: Episode 1 (2013)

The Question is: “Who is Jessica Hyde?”

In America, Channel 4 is normally known for their exported edgy comedies such as Spaced, so it’s cool to see buzz on the internet happening for Utopia, a new conspiracy thriller from Dennis Kelly. My Facebook page was alight with messages of people talking about this show today, so I figured I better take a look at it. While Utopia seems to lack the tried and true science fiction trappings of other shows, I’m going to look at it for this site as it seems to be cut from the cloth of a show like The Prisoner or Twin Peaks – too weird to be just a drama in the strictest sense. According to the main Channel 4 website: “The story follows a small group of people who find themselves in possession of a manuscript of a cult graphic novel called Utopia, which is rumored to have predicted the worst disasters of the last century. This leads them to be targeted by a government organization known only as ‘The Network’, whom they have to avoid in order to survive.”

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First and foremost, Utopia is not for the kiddies! There is gratuitous cursing, brief nudity, torture, and blood, tons of blood. The very first scene, involving a group of killers ransacking a comic book store, immediately got my attention for its audacious, almost Tarantino-like, murder spree. The cinematography alone, as it concentrates on pooling blood around a man’s head, definitely shows that this isn’t your typical TV drama. In fact, a lot of the cinematography in this episode seems to be similar in nature to another recent UK show, Steven Moffat’s Sherlock, that isn’t a criticism either, as I love how both shows look.

The cast includes a few familiar faces such as Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as Ian, who previously appeared in Misfits, Paul Higgins from The Thick of it as Michael, and Alexandra Roach as Becky, who previously appeared in minor roles in The IT Crowd and Being Human. The cast also includes Fiona O’Shaughnessy as Jessica, Adeel Akhtar as Wilson Wilson, Neil Maskell and Paul Ready as Network assassins, and finally 11 year old Oliver Woolford as Grant, a juvenile delinquent.

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As of episode one, I have very little of a clue as to what’s going on! Shows like this like to pile on many layers of seemingly unrelated plot points, only to swoop in at the end and tie the whole thing up. We established that the main plot centered on a group of comic enthusiasts and their passion for an infamous graphic novel that led to its creator’s suicide. At a near 180 degree change, the secondary plot in the episode includes a high level Health Department civil servant named Michael and his troubles with a blackmailer. He’s at wit’s end, and near the breaking point from being used up as a cog in the government machine. I’m not sure how his dealings with a Russian flu vaccination and Tamiflu reserves tie in with the main plot regarding the comic, but I’m incredibly interested to find out. As long as we don’t have mystery upon mystery with no payoff ala ABC’s Lost, I think the revelations will be exciting.

I’m definitely intrigued with what episode two has in store. Since this has (so far) only been commissioned as a six part miniseries, I assume that the revelations will be fast and if the rest of this show is any indication – crazy. I know that the show may go completely away from being anything related to a science fiction show, but six episodes shouldn’t be too much for this site as I’ve covered horror and other genre TV. With all the lines blurring in these anyway, it’s hard to tell how it will go!

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