Utopia episode 5 review

Review Louisa Mellor 12 Feb 2013 - 23:00

Utopia is nearing its finale, and the paranoid conspiracy plot has finally been revealed…

This review contains spoilers.

In a week where food contamination has been the topic on everyone’s slightly nauseated lips, Utopia is looking horribly prescient. Luckily for us, the unwelcome guest in our food chain is just a few rogue hooves and manes, not a protein that, when combined with its evil twin, provokes a permanent and hereditary genetic mutation that sterilises ninety per cent of mankind. Good luck spinning that one, Jeremy Hunt.

On the topic of evil twins, those harbouring suspicions that Arby and Jessica Hyde were peas in a decidedly weird pod were vindicated. We learnt that they share a dad - the infamous Mr Rabbit (the Pietre/Peter/Jessica Rabbit gag not lost on our commenters). We’ll have to wait until next week’s finale to discover whether Carvel fathered the pair in the traditional manner, or whether “the truth” about their origin resides in a test-tube. With no talk of a mother, my money’s on the latter.

Episode five saw the gang still holed up in their derelict mansion, just another of the boons uncovered by Utopia’s locations team. Contemplating the planet eating itself against the fading grandeur of something once beautiful but now sordid is a job well done. It just wouldn’t be the same if this was all going down in a tidy semi.

The house makes a handy corollary for the Janus project’s corruption of medical science; something that began with the higher purpose of curing disease and prolonging life now being used to stop the human race in its tracks. Instead of evolving into the techno-magic of Star Trek’s sickbay, Utopia’s medicine has given up on man. Bleak stuff.

Coping with her Luke ‘n’ Leia revelation was the least of Jessica’s worries this week, haunted as she was by a recurring nightmare (one that took the form of a Tim Pope video for The Cure circa 1983). The siblings took a creepy trip down memory lane, filled with death threats, gun-pointing, and from Arby, unnecessary exposition. Because every wheezy breath that escapes from Neil Maskell’s permanently open mouth screams the words “I’m like this because of early trauma”, him actually saying it was surplus to requirements.

The lowest-point dialogue wise had to be Milner’s clunky “Yes Becky. It’s Deels”, a moment of Mexican Soap Opera subtlety in an episode of otherwise good performances. Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Adeel Akhtar were both convincingly desperate as pawns realising their hopeless position, while old hand Stephen Rea delivered his grave pronouncements on the future of man with enjoyable intensity. Keeping young Alice on the side lines after last week’s hysterics was a good move, though I had expected more to be made of the aftermath of her adventure with a shotgun.

The beautiful composition is still one of Utopia’s biggest assets. Pick a shot, any shot, and the chances are it could be repurposed as limited edition postcard to accompany the DVD, especially the tawdry Hopper-esque motorway café Arby calls his local.

Happily, the Becky and Ian romance was stalled in favour of proper plot development, of which there was plenty. It turns out that pretty much everyone’s working with The Network, whether by choice or coercion. Milner’s doing it because of her dying son, Dugdale’s doing it to give him, his wife, and his Russian prostitute a cushy way out of this mess, and Donaldson’s just after a pension plan. The Network have always known where the gang was hiding, but let them go about their business in the hope of recovering the manuscript.

Ah yes, the manuscript, from which everybody is searching for a different truth. Arby and Jessica want the truth about their origins, the forum gang want the truth about Mr Rabbit, and The Network want the truth about their genetic experiments. 

Having had the truth of those experiments laid out for us in no uncertain terms (it turns out that Dugdale and his wife’s C-plot IVF treatment held the clue to the true nature of the Janus project all along), you have to agree that Letts made quite a convincing case. Please don’t send me bad things in the post for saying so, but in the face of impending over-population doom, his extreme pragmatism appeared quite reasonable didn’t it? Didn’t it? Wilson Wilson agrees with me at least.

With just one more episode of Utopia to go, the draw-strings are gently pulling this lumpy sack of nastiness and paranoia to a close. The disparate plots have crossed over, the Assistant is now sitting in the big chair, and I don’t have a single clue how things will resolve themselves. “This might turn out nicely after all” said the Minister for Health at one point.

Somehow Geoff, I doubt it.

Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.

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Considering that they advertised the dvd release with the subtitle season 1, It may be a safe bet that Utopia will be returning for another series. I just hope we get a resolution next episode

With you on the fact that Gatehouse from the Shadow Line (as he will forever be to me) has a point. Overpopulation really is the biggest problem we face. Seems to be a peculiar trait of (human) intelligence to assume that for every problem there is some corresponding solution which will leave feathers un-ruffled the world over. Not that I condone Gatehouse and his people's solution, just saying. Between this and Black Mirror it's nice to have some intelligent drama that probes those difficult issues. Now all we need is for some high-up commissioning editor to say 'hmm, that Chris Morris guy hasn't done any telly in a while...'. On a side note, thought the Luke/Leia thing was a bit obvious a while back (I'm probably not the only one there). Still, it felt logical and satisfying all the same.

Maybe the strongest episode so far. Great character development and performances all round. And it's so good to see villains with an intelligible cause - even one of the protagonists was turned. That's a degree of subtlety you barely ever see, in film or TV.

Its not overpopulation that is the problem, its over consumption, which isn't exactly the same thing. The world could support a couple of times more people at the average African's level of existence. It could only support about a quarter at the avergage American's existence. Gatehouse is choosing the second option.

Actually, good point, there's a subtle distinction there which I missed, thanks for the feedback

I feel it's currently being stretched a little too thin. A second series would be good with an entirely new cast, and set-up but with the same tone and look.

This and Black Mirror are magical tv programmes. Good on you channel 4!

Villains nearly always have an intelligible cause in good drama. If anything, 'complex' villains are now the norm.

I've no idea how this will be resolved in an episode. I also have no idea what the whole Mr Rabbit subplot is about.

Can anyone tell me the actor that arrives in a car by the lake to give Becky the drugs she requires for her disease, who wants her to give him the manuscript to sell to the network. Thanks

I agree, there's definitely more which could be taken from this universe, but it wouldn't (and shouldn't) be with the same cast. I assume it'd be something set years later when the world is coping with the aftermath of this series, either with 95% being sterile, or the resources running catastrophically low through over population.

It's Simon McBurney - also to be seen as the wonderfully named Dr Atticus Noyle giving Liev Schreiber a "checkup from the neck-up" in the the remake of The Manchurian Candidate, and as Oliver Lacon in the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy movie.

and the bishop in Rev

If the tone of the show so far is anything to go by then the virus will happen and the vaccine will be used and any future series will be about the descent into this new 'Utopia'.

For a show about overpopulation, they have created a very underpopulated feeling. Outside the main cast you don't see a lot of other people.

Part of me still thinks that the sterilisation plot might be a red herring. Letts was very loquacious about it, but he's obviously as much of a pawn as most of the others; maybe that's just what he's been told/done...

Am loving Utopia, but one thing seemed off to me: in the opening scenes Letts described Janus as being something that causes a change that is "permanent and hereditary" and the "purpose of Janus is to sterilise" - but how can sterility be hereditary?

If you where a super double hard Mr. Rabbit whose terribly clever, wouldn't your send people looking for a bloke? It's got to be Milner.

Deels was the 'heriditary' piece of the Janus project. Seeing that becki had inherited deels from her father, who worked at Covact was a successful test of the amino acid.
But I think that Janus isn't the half of what's to come. The amino acid directly affects cell division in fertility.

It might be something much, much worse. Hence the need for the manuscript. And the missing pages Grant hidden.

slight mistake in the review, Jessica and Arby's dad isn't Mr Rabbit, but Dr Corvell. Corvell and Rabbit were partners back in the day, before Rabbit turned on Corvell. My money is on Rabbit being The Assistant, and since this episode was full of family connections (Jessica, Arby, Rebecca, Milner, Dugdale, the sterilisation conspiracy) I think that the Minister is Rabbit's son.

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