This review contains spoilers.
Even if the facts do point towards its carbon footprint-reducing efficacy, few TV shows would be prepared to advertise the eco-friendly benefits of cutting a toddler’s throat. But then few TV shows share Utopia’s delight in saying the unsayable, and fewer than that boast its brutal clarity about what a fucking mess we’re all in.
Even as an exercise in reductio ad absurdum, Terrence’s opening monologue on the selfishness of creating first world humans was a thrill simply because no-one else on TV is saying it. That’s the boiled-down explanation of Utopia’s attraction: it’s simply unlike anything else. There’s violence and comedy and weirdness and philosophical dilemma elsewhere, but not in this combination and certainly not gift-wrapped in such a stylish package. Where else on television would a character be chatted up by her own bloody chip-wielding hallucination and that not even be the episode’s most memorable, disturbing scene?
That honour goes to the self-mutilation of Wilson Wilson, who responded to being repeatedly told this week what was and wasn’t ‘him’ by becoming someone else – specifically, Mr Rabbit. In Utopia’s soundest proof of its central idea that people are capable of anything given the right – or wrong – circumstances, conspiracy theorist Wilson eventually became the thing he’d started off fighting against. That eye-patch should have tipped us off that he was destined for comic book super-villainy from the get go.
Episode six was less an ending than a eventful pause in Utopia’s story. Or perhaps a rewind. With the Network still planning to push ahead with V-Day (albeit following a smaller, more controlled flu epidemic), Wilson still on their side, Jessica back in custody and Dugdale’s family being newly watched and threatened, not a great deal seems to have changed since the beginning of series two.
So what has moved on?
The Carvel family has been reunited. Milner, Lee, Donaldson and Geoff are now dead. Wilson is Mr Rabbit. Becky isn’t dying of Deel’s. Ian – like Grant and Wilson – is now a murderer. And, to enter the grounds of pure speculation, Jessica might well be carrying his child. We also know more about Janus than before (namely that it stops the flu vaccine working, and will leave only the Roma people fertile). That’s a fair bit of progress for just six episodes, even if this elliptical finale appears to have pressed reset on a few things in its pitch for a third series.
One reason Utopia’s stylish thriller deserves another outing is its willingness to jump into the ring with such an unconquerable opponent as global overpopulation. Series two didn’t have an answer to beat it, of course not, but it was still in there throwing punches and getting us invested in the fight.
If it didn’t have a solution to overpopulation, then did the series draw any conclusions on the subject? Yes, if I’ve read it right – one that’s simultaneously optimistic about humanity and pessimistic about our chances. In broad strokes, Utopia teaches that human attachments will stop us from ever behaving with true pragmatism. We’re too attached to our families and our lives to sacrifice them for the greater good. When those things are under threat, our principles go out of the window and we do what we must to protect them. Just as, given the means, the most committed socialist would pay BUPA for their child’s life-saving operation, and the most dedicated pacifist would kill to protect their own, our principles and ideals are just guidelines until the exigencies of life demand otherwise. In other words, love really will tear us apart.
The Network’s coldly logical solution to overpopulation was repeatedly disrupted by the selfishness of love. Milner loved Carvel, and so kept him and his children alive despite their attempts to foil her plans. Arby was redeemed by love for his family this series, but he forfeited his role in the bigger picture once he made protecting them his priority. Carvel loved his daughter so much he planned an ethnic genocide solely around keeping her alive. Humanity’s best quality – love – gives rise to its worst – selfishness – and the combination of the two will be our undoing, says Utopia.
Considering all that, it’s perhaps understandable that these past two episodes haven’t been packed with as many laughs as usual. As we watched Ian, Becky and Wilson each step over a line in the finale (killing Terrence, attempting suicide, and becoming Mr Rabbit) the comedy was kept to a minimum. Only Jessica’s threat to cut off Leah’s face and Becky’s “Lord of the fucking Rings” speech provided momentary cheer.
Though a great deal did, not everything in this series worked. Bringing Carvel back from the dead doesn’t yet feel as if it’s paid off in the way it promised to, and unless the plan is for Jessica to be pregnant should a further series be ordered, then the Becky/Ian/Jessica love triangle added little emotional heft. In such packed, eventful episodes, not every character could be allotted enough screen time to satisfy Utopia’s attentive audience – Wilson’s transformation felt rushed, and are we to trust Grant’s instant capitulation to Jen, or has killing really changed him?
All that amounts to is the simple fact that we need another series to see how this plays out. Channel Four then, please can we have some more?
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.
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