Utopia series 2 episodes 1 & 2 spoiler-free review

News Louisa Mellor
6/24/2014 at 7:58AM

Utopia’s second series will satisfy and surprise fans in equal measure. Here are our spoiler-free thoughts on the first two episodes…

Utopia’s stylish, surprising second series opener makes few concessions for newcomers; everything it does, it does for its fans. That’s your first nudge to catch up on series one before the second run starts on Channel Four in mid-July.

After some pleasing disorientation, the first episode places its audience securely back in the world of The Network and Utopia’s unwieldy central dilemma: what should humans do about impending bloodshed caused by overpopulation?

The Network’s answer to that question was the first series’ hidden conspiracy, and it’s one Utopia hasn’t finished wrestling with yet. Series two gets stuck in to the philosophical scrap immediately, staging ethical debates between characters asking the difficult questions.

Dotted amongst the speeches on moral philosophy, there are moments of poetry from writer Dennis Kelly. Human beings are living on “ancient sunlight” and one character is in “brain love” with another. Elsewhere, there’s troubling simplicity in a line like “Why not choose?” from one jaded scientist, alongside the sardonic pithiness of “Malaria’s doing a great job. Leave Malaria alone”. Foul-mouthed and deeply funny, Kelly’s second series scripts are every bit as entertaining as his first.

The key scenes of the first episode are two-handers for new arrivals Rose Leslie (Game Of Thrones, Downton Abbey) and Tom Burke (The Musketeers, The Hour), both strong additions to the cast whose characters shade some colour into series one’s emptier outlines. The first episode of the new run adds much-needed depth to the drama’s main players. It’s an exercise in empathy and blurring previously black and white areas into grey.

Not that there’s ever much grey in Utopia’s world. Director Marc Munden’s stunning landscapes, otherworldly colours and eerie framing is all back, alongside a new content-driven aesthetic. It’s stylish, unnerving, balletic and quite beautiful – each shot a page in an arty catalogue for high-end dysfunction.

What criticism there was of Utopia’s first series that wasn't a reaction to its violence tended towards accusations of style over substance. Kelly’s debate-laden scripts provided an armoury for those happy to defend it against the charge, but even if they hadn’t, when something has this much style, who cares whether it's substantial?

Also back in full force are series one’s stars, Arby (and the sense of stomach-in-mouth dread accompanying Neil Maskell’s every appearance on screen), and Fiona O’Shaughnessy’s ethereal Jessica Hyde. As the recent trailer revealed, The Utopia Experiments gang - Becky, Ian, Grant and co. are also all present and correct.

Old faces return and new ones are introduced against a backdrop of provocatively gory deaths and atmospheric weirdness. By the end of episode two, the battle lines have been redrawn and everyone’s in just as much danger as before. 

This second series shows Utopia’s deliciously nasty heart beating robustly away. We can say frustratingly little without ruining its surprises, but rest assured, it’s not only as good as series one, it’s better.

Utopia series 2 starts on Channel 4 in July. The first series is available to watch on 4oD, here.

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