This Utopia review contains spoilers.
Of the many riddles we’ve been set by Utopia’s Sphinx-like second series, one is yet to be asked: what’s Lee’s story? Episode three belonged to Paul Ready’s hit man in the acid yellow suit, but unlike Arby and Jessica, we still don’t know the first thing about his origins. Some mysteries, we suppose, need to be saved for a potential third series – if, that is, Lee survives for that long on Arby’s shit list.
The sharp-suited psycho opened the episode by committing the most unfazed, unflappable TV murder since Lorne Malvo left our screens. Lee’s soft-spoken, genial approach to villainy is pure Utopia; comical, nasty and unsettling. Never one to rush, even with a gun pointed at his head or a victim spurting like Monty Python’s Black Knight all over his crime scene, he ushered us nastily in to an episode that felt closer to series one than the previous instalment.
With the gang back on the run, rippling with suspicion, and batting away the swarm of question marks flying around their heads, this was Utopia as we know and love it. The difference this time around is the change in player positions. Wilson Wilson is now sitting uncomfortably in Arby’s former seat, while Arby – right down to stealing some of her lines – is the gang’s new Jessica Hyde (or at least pretending to be until he can trade them all in for Tess and little Amanda).
Crucially, Team Manuscript now includes Philip Carvel, who’s the key to Becky’s disease, and likely the only person who knows what adjustment he made to Janus before it goes on global release. If only Carvel could remember how to do anything other than shuffle around like Gandalf with a hangover, they might actually get somewhere.
Carvel did speak enough English this week to prophesy imminent death at Grant after watching some telly. Which precise part of the shark-cat-Roomba-duckling combo tipped Carvel off that Janus was about to be deployed we don’t know. Be honest though, who hasn’t watched a viral cat video and been struck by the certain realisation that humanity is doomed?
Ian and Becky’s romance aside (I moaned enough about that emotional cul de sac in series one to start again here), the episode’s one weak link was the gang’s visit to the rent-a-hacker teen. Obnoxious young members of hacking collectives are the Sonic Screwdriver workaround of cyber thrillers. Need a riddle solved? Cue some frantic tapping by a spotty youth with more keyboards than Rick Wakeman and hey presto! There’s your answer. I can’t have been the only one shrugging when that particular throat was cut.
The decision to show the corpses Arby left behind but not the act itself was perhaps aimed at keeping our fondness for his character intact. Series two Arby is doing it all for love, double-crossing the Manuscript Gang to get back to his blissful suburban holiday as a step-dad plumber. Will the Network ever let him skip off into the sunset with his ready-made family? It’s not looking hopeful.
What it is looking is beautifully manicured. Every one of episode three’s meticulously designed scenes contained something tying it to the series’ trademark yellow and blue. From Joe and Lee’s clothing to the desk chairs, folders and office lighting in the opening scene, from the scrollwork in the hospital corridor Jessica was being wheeled down to the blue denim jacket of the man watching her leap to freedom from that yellow hospital waste van, the attention to detail was exquisite. When Marc Munden’s camera lingered on the same colours in the chequerboard of the police car parked outside the gang’s temporary hide-out, the effect of the yellow and blue became clear: it makes each frame of Utopia feel as if it’s in a state of constant emergency.
Dugdale’s plot this episode underlined Utopia’s point about the compromises good (well, averagely good) people will make to protect themselves and their loved ones. Once loveable scientist Bridget had sniffed out the vaccine’s hidden protein, she had to be – in Arby’s words – neutralised by the Network. Poor geeky Bridget was one of the series’ more regrettable executions.
(Speaking of the cut-throat organisation, was that boozer in which Geoff met the blonde-bobbed kingpin a Network-exclusive hang-out? That at least would explain the background drinkers in blood-splattered overalls. And where else but somewhere run by an international syndicate of evil would serve you a croissant with your pint?)
The episode closed with Dugdale confronted by a disguised Jessica after she’d done her best Sarah Connor impression to escape from the brain-slicing hospital.
Now at the halfway point in Utopia’s second series, we’ve been given a tangle of mysteries to unravel. “We ought to be working on the bigger question here” said Donaldson this week. Which one’s that? Is there a cure for Deels? What’s happened to Dugdale’s wife and Alice? Is the Network actually going to release Russian Flu for real? Why has Carvel returned to England? Did Christos’ rebel group help him? What adjustment did he make to Janus? Take your pick…