Television

Published on June 22nd, 2014 | by JCDoyle

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Utopia Series 1 Recap

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I used to have a vision of Utopia, a full on Garden of Eden style paradise free from the trappings of modern life, that was until Dennis Kelly and his Channel Four program came along and stamped on all the flowers.

Utopia is a masterpiece of television and is definitely not for the faint hearted. The series follows a group of conspiracy fanatics who find themselves in the worst kind of nightmare.

The first episode introduces the main cast and quickly defines their characters, even Jessica Hyde feels like a substantial character by the end of the first hour and she only appears in the closing moments. Let’s have a quick roll call.

Utopia Grant

Grant felt left out with the trash

The Characters

First up we have Becky played by the deliciously Welsh Alexandra Roach. She is shown to have little patience and is lacking in some social skills: she swears her way through an interview for a PhD, but this is soon shown to be her uncontrollable passion for trying to understand The Utopia Experiments (The graphic novel which is central to the plot). It turns out her father died of a disease called Deels which is predicted in the Graphic Novel and she believes that by unravelling its mysteries, by meeting its creator, she might be able to come to terms with the death of her father.

Current Status: Unknown

The initial unbeliever of the group is Ian (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), a rather bland and rational IT consultant who still lives at home with his mother. When he first meets up with the Utopia enthusiasts he is nothing more than a sceptic observer but, after being framed for child abuse, his safe world crumbles around him and his reaction is to play at ‘action hero’ to hide his growing desperation.

Current Status: Unknown

Wilson Wilson (Adeel Akhtar) is the most obsessed of the group but also the most tech savvy. He has managed to hide himself away, wipe himself from the world with the aid of his computers and secret nuclear bunker. He’s also as crazy as a bag of frogs. Unfortunately for this hilarious character he is first to suffer at the hands of the shows brutal narrative. Wilson’s torture scene in the first episode is wincingly painful to watch and sets the bench mark for the continued brutal violence.

Current Status: Unknown but probably in a lot of pain

Young Grant is a conniving, devious little bastard but also one of the most likable characters in the show. His deviousness at the beginning lands the manuscript for Utopia 2 and is the only reason that they live as long as they do. It is also the cause of most of their problems. Grant is a modern day Artful Dodger and brilliantly played by Oliver Woollford.

Current Status: Unknown (there’s a bit of a pattern emerging)

Michael Dugdale (Paul Higgins) is a civil servant out of his depth. His Russian mistress is pregnant and that leaves him open for blackmail but his conscience gets the better of him and he fights back. Or maybe it’s just his selfish survival instinct taking over, either way he bumbles his way to the truth.

Current Status: (can you guess?) Unknown

utopia lee and arby

What do you mean you’ve sold out of The Wicked + The Divine?

Arby and Lee. They work for the Network, the villains of the piece, and are nasty from the moment they are introduced. Lee has a coldness to his nature that serves him when it comes to torture time but don’t get too attached to Paul Ready’s character, he doesn’t last long. Neil Maskell on the other hand massacres his way through each episode with an indifference that is chilling. He suffers from an obsession that he doesn’t understand and does what he is told without question. Well, maybe with one question, “Where is Jessica Hyde?”

Current Status: Dead and Unknown (possibly dead but we don’t believe that, do we?)

And finally Jessica Hyde. Fiona O’Shaughnessy is outstanding as the emotionless woman on the run. Her father created the Utopia Manuscripts, The Network, the Janus Virus and all the problems of the world. She has been on the run since she was four and saw her uncle brutally murdered at a young age. She is the yang to Arby’s ying, or more accurately, she is just more ying as the both have an uncompromising need to survive. She’s as detached and heartless as the Network hunters but she’s the heroine of the series, isn’t she?

Current Status: kicking someone’s arse no doubt.

utopia heading

The Story

Now all the players have been introduced, what about the plot? Well this is the story so far and this is the part where there are spoilers if you’ve not seen series 1. So if you intend to watch it, stop here and come back later.

Still here? Okay,

During the Cold War an organisation was set up to create biological weapons to counter the threat of ‘the Soviets’. The organisation, called the Network, was set up by Philip Carvel and Mr Rabbit. When the world’s governments started to back away from the Network at the end of the cold war, the two men continued their work until Carvel decided he could take it no more. He eventually lost his mind and was admitted to a home for the mentally ill where he drew the Utopia Experiments, a graphic novel full of secrets and predictions of the future.

An unfortunate group of conspiracy fanatics end up with the only copy of the manuscript for the second Utopia Experiments but the Network want it back. Everything starts to go wrong for them as they are hunted by the psychopaths Arby and Lee who have a tendency for detached violence and occasional eye removal.  Just as things seem like they can’t get any worse Jessica Hyde turns up and the crazy is notched up a level.

Unable to ever return to their old lives, Ian and Becky are forced to face the terrifying reality of life on the run.  Jessica and Ian torture an undercover CIA agent, go visit The Tramp and learn about Project Janus and Ms Milner. Grant befriends a girl named Alice who he leaves the manuscript with and then meets up with the rest of the group.

And then it’s mass murder at school time. Grant is framed, Milner is found by the right people and Alice is found by all the wrong ones. The group hide out in a derelict manor house, attempt to understand the second manuscript and fret over the possibility of a new disease and cure that only works on certain genetic traits. People die, there’s some backstabbing, drug dealing, torture, school girls shooting guns, more torture, backstabbing, situations turn sour, hostages are taken, a spot more torturing and basically shit hits the fan. As we head into the finale an attempt to stop the lethal drug from being distributed is set into motion and a warehouse is set on fire as the group move in to assassinate Mr Rabbit before they all cave in on each other and more violence is exacted upon the guilty and the innocent alike as the distinction between the two dissolve into one seething pool of madness. And of course

He tore his eye out with a spoon!!

Basically, the Network hatches a plan to spread a disease that will infect the entire country but they have a vaccine already to distribute. The vaccine however is worse than the disease as it turns out to only work on those deemed worthy enough to survive. A civil servant and a small group of random people find out about this and are dragged through the ringer in their bids to, at first escape the Network and then to bring it down. Through it all Arby the cold hearted ‘specialist’ hunts down Jessica Hyde who is also trying to fight against the Network. It turns out she is the daughter of one of the founders of the organisation and creator of the graphic novel The Utopia Experiments which is at the start of it all. It also transpires that everything was designed to bring her out into the open and into the hands of the Network because she is what they have been searching for ever since her father went crazy, she is (or contains) the Janus Virus.

utopia JH2

Safety Catches are only for films and television.

There are two things to note about the series, outside of the script and the amazing performances by every single one of the actors. The first is the award winning music. Cristo produced a powerful, unrelenting score for the series. There is a rhythmic heartbeat through the collection of electronic scratches, squeals of agony and the moans of human desperation. Silence is used when it is needed, for the most harrowing moments but in the rest of the scenes the music is a disarming tool, a distraction of seemingly unconnected sounds. The main theme, which is refrained throughout, has an unnerving comical element, like a clown coated in blood.

The second is the colour. As a visual aspect it’s obviously important but vary rarely in television is colour used so vividly. Huge, sweeping fields of colour flood the screen creating unnerving and unsettling images in almost every scene. They say a picture speaks a thousand words so, this:

utopia scene 1

And this:

 utopia scene 3

In conclusion: the first series of Utopia is a fast paced, web of intrigue and violence packaged in a horrendously beautiful container. The actors are brilliant, the story is gripping and by the end you’ll be begging for more, which is lucky because the second series starts in July and there are even rumours that HBO and David Fincher are currently working on an American Version.

 

 

JCDoyle

JCDoyle

Lover of comics and Art and Sci-Fi in multiple media. Currently teaching my kids the ways of the Geek (while protecting my first editions)
JCDoyle

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