Utopia episode 4 review

Utopia’s spiralling plot expands as the gang begins to fall apart in this week’s episode. Here’s Louisa’s review…

This review contains spoilers.

Episode four led us a little farther down Utopia’s rabbit hole (now complete with its own Alice, who, like her literary namesake, finds herself in a world of terrifying unfamiliarity). The forum group’s newest arrival bracketed the episode, which opened on her screaming, and closed on a retreating shot of the man she’d disembowelled with a sawn-off shotgun.

Utopia, we should know by now, couldn’t make it through an entire fifty minutes without providing a trademark ‘talking point’ act of violence, hence the eleven-year-old girl blasting a hole you could push a loaf of bread through in a man’s stomach. That aside, there was remarkably little gore in the episode, which saw figurative, not literal fractures forming in the forum gang.

Alice’s other narrative use was to introduce some clunky but apt parallels with Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment (the Key Stage 2 English Lit curriculum having evidently moved on from the days of Badger on the Barge…). Her hysterical homework essay appeared to telegraph a forthcoming debate on Utilitarianism and the greater good. Wilson said it himself in episode one: the world is overpopulated and resources are dwindling. What’s a little eugenics between friends if it means the continuance of humanity on the planet? Does The Network see itself not as evil mwahaha villains, but as morally superior Rodion-types doing what’s necessary for the survival of the species? Perhaps we should all bone up on our J.S. Mill for the final two instalments.

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This week’s story ratcheted the mechanics of Utopia’s increasingly complicated plot along in uneven jumps, the machinery lurching forward at some moments and sticking frustratingly on others. A narrative leap was made in terms of discovering The Network’s overarching project, but other developments ground to a halt while the gang were holed up in the atmospherically filmed derelict mansion.

Props to Misfits directors Alex Garcia and Wayne Yip by the way, for the eerily subaquatic feel of the abandoned house, helped in no small part by Utopia’s uncanny soundscapes. A threatening, rumbling drone is near-constant in most scenes, a malevolent buzz concoction of distant tube train, rolling wind, and white goods-hum.

Back to the story. One short bout of speculation and extrapolation and voila! The Network’s scheme was laid bare for the forum group: via food manufacturer Pargus, they’ve contaminated the food chain with the GCH09 protein, a vehicle for chromic potassium sulphate posing as Russian Flu, and are planning to use the Korvat-made vaccine to thin the human herd, potentially eliminating certain races as they go. At least, that appears to be the plan. With a couple of episodes still to go, anything could happen in the next two hours.

Jessica Hyde was still running around like Data on an Enterprise scavenger hunt, popping up where she’s least expected to tilt her head enigmatically and whisper something incomprehensible. Arby’s thrilled expression (was that thrill? So hard to know) as he felt her gun barrel against the back of his head was him at his creepiest, and their potential union is a delicious hook for the next episode.

A much less exciting pairing is the dead horse of Ian and Becky’s romantic relationship, which, were we able to Red Button which of Utopia’s plots to follow (what a hideous notion), would likely be playing to a tumbleweed audience. Having to watch Ian go all Meg Ryan-movie and list the things he likes about Becky while so many more interesting things are at hand is a cruelty too far.

Mid-Peperami, Ian remembered he had a brother this week, so not to be outdone by the rest of the gang in the secret-keeping stakes, toddled off to find him while disguised as a bin-picking tramp. Cue his rescue by Milner, the group’s MI5 ally. Incidentally, when Milner told Ian, “You’ve lost the manuscript”, she repeated the precise phrase Becky used in her clandestine phone call, prompting the question, is Milner listening in? Well, what kind of spy would she be if she weren’t.

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Despite The Network shadowing Ian’s brother with no fewer than three operatives, Dugdale somehow managed to make the return trip to Donaldson’s lab without provoking suspicion. His attempt to blackmail Geoff for the release of his baby mama was perplexing at best, considering what he knows about the people he’s up against. Donaldson too, with his plan to extort money from The Network, seemed to be a few pipettes short of a volumetric flask. You may as well try to blackmail air. Evil air.

Writer Dennis Kelly used Neil Maskell’s captivating Arby (or R.B., or Raisin Boy, or Piotr – very Dostoyevsky, the old ‘four names for one character’ trick) sparingly once again, delaying gratification on what seems to be his new alliance with Jessica Hyde. This week saw him uncover more about his abused childhood and turn his terrible question around on Letts. A rogue Arby, one suspects, is not something The Network wants working against it.

Speaking of Letts, is it me or has the power between him and The Assistant (James Fox) shifted? Since Letts was told to make the call that sent those schoolchildren to their deaths, he’s appeared more compromised than mastermind, while Fox’s character – a shadowy side line presence – is emerging as the one in charge. What’s the betting that The Assistant is the one with the Chinese symbol for a rabbit carved into his gut?

In other news, Wilson the psycho pirate (complete with cardboard eye patch) found out about his dad’s murder, and Becky’s suspected degenerative disease was more or less confirmed. Her panic at running out of her medication and inability to hold a cup of Fanta points to the loss of motor function, torqueing up her need to liaise with whoever is on the end of that phone.

The episode’s scattergun storytelling meshed with its theme of the group fracturing; they were all over the place, and so were we in this week’s erratic but involving instalment. Now there’s one potential Mr Rabbit down, and one in tow, how close is the group to reaching the beating heart of all this?

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

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