Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Utopia, Season 1, Episode 1

Opening scene – a comic book shop, a radio with a new announcer telling us that food prices are sky rocketing and the government is urged to fix this, and 2 men looking for something called the “Utopia Manuscript” and willing to bash people in the head to get it.

I know some comic book fans who’ll do the same for early editions. So long as they can guarantee blood won’t get on the pages anyway.

They’re not all bad, they gas some innocent bystanders (ok said gas ALSO kills them but at least there’s less splashing involved – preserves the dry cleaning) and the very singleminded man talking to the manager not only wants the manuscript – which has already been sold – but also to know about a “Jessica Hyde.” Everyone gassed – including a small boy – they then break a gas line. I suspect everything goes boom.

From there we go to Becky who has a copy of the Utopia comic, describing it as having been written by Mark Dane – a delusional paranoid schizophrenic who killed himself after writing it, which Becky feels feeds into a conspiracy theory. Becky’s life changed dramatically from her previous career choice as a doctor when her father died of a long illness – and now she’s trying to convince 2 people to fund her research into the graphic novel. She isn’t the best saleswoman in the world, it has to be said (swearing at the investors is never really a good plan). Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t work and she goes home to her many photos of her dad and her carefully organised stash of pills.

Elsewhere we have Ian, checking out a website for true believers of the “Utopia experiment” and not doing the tedious work he’s required, which follows some not-so-witty sparring with his boss including the oh-so-clever insult of suggesting he sucks his bosses (Michael’s) cock.

Moving on again to Bejan, at home, checking pages that look like they’re from Utopia and logging on the same site as Ian, joined in the chat room by Grant, Wilson, Becky and Ian (who is new). Bejan tells them they’re chosen and he wants to meet – for he has Utopia part 2; which is apparently a Big Deal. They agree to meet at the pub after Grant protests meeting at Bejan’s house.

Grant seems to be 8 kinds of arsehole – but he’s also a child, unbeknownst to the rest of them and one who seems to have a pretty grim home life, judging by the passed out parent, the copious empty booze bottles and the salad cream sandwich.

Next character – there seems to be rather a lot – Michael (an at least semi-important man in the department of health, it seems), in a motel room with lots of booze and pills and someone’s sent him an ultrasound with “your Russian whore is pregnant” written on it. After an awkward conversation while he tries to convince his wife all is well and he’s at work, he gets a call from his blackmailer – a man who pimps out the pregnant prostitute. He is required to perform a “mission.”  This seems to give him some hope since he disposes of the booze and pills and goes to work the next day, though he’s a little distracted in his meeting.

Michael and his boss Greg go to meet with the head of Corvadt Biological services (a pharmaceutical company) trying to sell them boat loads of flu vaccine the department of health doesn’t think they need – especially with the food shortages (though he never speaks – his Assistant does all the talking). When he steps out for a while, the Assistant tells Michael he should make Greg take the deal – he should “make it his mission.” The boss reiterated – this is his fucking mission. Well that doesn’t leave much to doubt.

Unfortunately for him, Greg still thinks the vaccine is ridiculous and unnecessary. But Greg does notice how stressed he is and Michael puts it down to him and his wife just trying IVF and not being able to have children. Greg is naturally sympathetic – and doesn’t look at the paperwork he’s signing and fails to realise Michael has switched the paperwork.

Another colleague of Michael flags that the paperwork is for the Russian Flu Vaccine they were going to ignore and Michael tells her to go ahead, all stressed and confued.

The 4 “chosen” make their way to the meeting in the pub – Ian cutting work and meeting Becky and Wilson and awkward small talk commences. Grant being… a troubled child, engages in some attempted car theft before breaking into Bejan’s house – expecting him to be away at the pub. Grant has to hide because Bejan is still there – and so is Arby and Lee, the not-very-nice-men from the comic shop in the beginning of the episode and Arby has a gun pressed against Bejan’s head. He has a very one track mind, Arby, and he asks about Jessica Hyde. Lee collects the manuscript – Utopia 2 – and Arby drives Bejan out of the flat at gun point, onto the balcony – and over the railing. While they’re outside Grant steals the manuscript – but he gasps in shock when they push Bejan over and is spotted. Lee gives chase (Arby doesn’t ruin is creepy serial killer stalk) but Grant easily escapes; but leaves a blood sample behind.

Back at the pub, Wilson seems to believe some pretty whacky conspiracies much to Becky and Ian’s amusement – but Wilson brings up the “Utopia” conspiracy that Becky kinda, sorta believes. Ian just likes the comic because he thinks it’s a pretty awesome comic, Wilson calls them a gateway to reality and many other confusing things that don’t really make sense. And then the pub calls time, still no Bejan, still no Grant – so plan B, go to Wilsons and drink until they cannot feel their legs

I approve of this plan

To Wilson’s, past his eccentric father than their interesting banter, upstairs to find Wilson has made paranoia a fine art (he has vast amounts of technology making him completely untraceable on the net and he has no paper trail) and they all get well and truly blathered in his nuclear fallout shelter. Yes he has a nuclear fallout shelter. Wilson passes out and Becky and Ian clumsily, drunkenly make out. Or try to. This may be the first truly accurate portrayal of completely blathered attempted sex ever on TV. They both collapse into giggles when it’s clear that Ian is far far too drunk to get an erection.

The next day Ian finds a note from Wilson telling him he’s gone looking for Bejan and that Becky has left. Wilson goes to Bejan’s flat to find it a crime scene. Detective Reynolds tells Wilson it was suicide and that Bejan had a history of depression – Wilson denies that but Det. Reynolds tells him they have medical records.

Grant makes his way to his school after spending the night hiding by a rail line.  The headteacher tries to talk to him because the police are involved in an incident about “a man being hurt” – police who turn out to be Arby and Lee. And Arby offers him a sweet – just like he did the boy he gassed in the comic shop. Grant jumps out the window – using a tree to break the considerable fall – and runs for it.

Ian goes to work and some (apparently) real police arrest him – for raping a child under the age of 13, much to Ian’s shock. He’s taken to the police station, processed and his solicitor encourages him to plead guilty – Ian protests his innocence but the solicitor tells him they’ve matched his DNA three separate times. On to police questioning, complete with photographs – and lots of incredible tension, it looks like Ian has been incredibly well framed; until Ian’s brother arrives. Ian has an alibi, he was at a wedding when the crime took place with an inordinate number of witnesses.

The police release him – but Ian is still considered a suspect , much to his brother’s outrage.

When Ian gets home he calls Becky – she was arrested on charges of child pornography and spent the night in a cell.  She tells him about Bejan’s suicide and asks him to go see her.

Ian goes to her house and Becky reveals some of the conspiracy about Utopia – and Mark Dane, its writer. Apparently he was a model patient when at the mental institution – but he became violent when they tried to put him on a drug made by the company Corvadt. She found researcher who found a disease called Deals Syndrome – similar to Huntington’s disease. Except with zero genetic history in the family; it just popped into existence in 1986, which is rather importance. The researcher assumes it was a man-made disease and checked all patients for a common link – all the patients had worked for Corvadt. Ian doesn’t see the connection – so she shows him a picture of the genetic mutation that caused Deals syndrome – and it’s exactly like one of the pictures in the Utopia comic. A comic that came out in 1985, and this particular mutation didn’t exist until 1989.

Ian freaks out a little and Becky tells him she knows all this because her dad died of Deals syndrome.

Wilson looks up Bejan’s medical records with his hacking skills; what he finds surprises him and he rushes to talk to Detective Reynolds in the street, off the record. He points out the discrepancy in the code of his medical records – how his entire medical history (including claims of being depressed) was written in the last 2 weeks. Reynolds doesn’t listen and is rather irritated at Bejan hacking government databases – but he lets Wilson go and tells him to go home.

When back in his office, Reynolds looks up the medical records again – and checks Wilson.

That night Grant is in hiding, living on biscuits and looking through the Utopia manuscript. Ian spends the night at Becky’s (sleeping in a chair). And Detective Reynolds, walking outside at night, runs into Arby who promptly stabs him in the neck. Nasty, but he’s good at staying clean while slitting throats.

Wilson has a terrible morning when he opens the door and finds Lee, Arby and Arby’s big gun on his doorstep. They take him to his nuclear fallout shelter and handcuff him to a chair. Looking at all his paranoid equipment, Arby decides (after establishing some tension with him and Lee over the manuscript being stolen by Grant) Wilson may know something, or why hide? Wilson promises to co-operate while Lee describes how his torture technique involves eyes – and chillies and sand and bleach and a spoon. Arby, being a one track record, wants to know where Jessica Hyde is. Lee tortures Wilson while Arby keeps asking about Jessica Hyde. When Lee gets to the bleach Wilson starts lying, making up information about her since he knows nothing and claiming ignorance isn’t making them stop. When Lee removes Wilson’s right eye with the spoon, he and Arby agree Wilson doesn’t know anything. He has all the paranoid equipment because he… likes it.

Michael finds his work place in mild uproar as the contract has got out and all and sundry can’t believe the Department of Health is going to waste so much money on something so pointless. The woman who questioned him the day before tells Michael that Greg is losing his job while Michael shifts all blame on Greg. She’s not happy, not at all.

Geoff now takes over, stepping into Greg’s job. He talks to Michael and confirms that he wrote the contract and got Greg to sign it – though Greg is responsible he did tell Geoff he was sure he was signing a different contract. Michael denies everything. Tangentially, Geoff asks Michael about his wife (implying his worry over the IVF may have caused a mistake) before saying “mission accomplished”

Mission – dum dum dum.

Michael goes to a room to meet Anya, the Russian prostitute who he got pregnant. She cries and holds his hand to her stomach, apologising. He holds her.

In the fallout shelter, Arby leaves to return to wherever he came from and leaves Lee to sort out Wilson – but first Lee goes out for a cigarette, leaving Wilson alone. As part of his paranoia preparation, Wilson earlier told Becky and Ian how he can get out of handcuffs – which he promptly does. When Lee comes down again, Wilson has a gun pointed at him; but Wilson can’t see. Lee tries to sneak up on the blind Wilson – and Wilson shoots him.

Ian meanwhile, has tracked down the comic shop where Bejan bought the Utopia Manuscript and he and Becky head there. But the place is closed, checking with the neighbouring shops confirms that everyone inside is dead in an apparent “gas leak”. Which is when they get the call from Wilson asking for help.

They go get him and Ian carries him into Becky’s car; with lots of panic about the gun and Wilson’s missing eye. Wilson just says to drive - no police, no hospital or they’ll be found. They go to Becky’s and she does what she can to help Wilson’s remaining eye (she is a medical student) but she still think he needs a doctor.

There’s a loud knocking on the door – time for fear and paranoia. Wilson comes out, with a bandage over his eyes, carrying a gun which, wisely, Becky takes off him. She hands it to Ian and opens the door – and we meet Jessica Hyde.

Well that show hit the ground running! Lots of gritty, lots of atmosphere, a heavy dose of horror and a whole lot of tension. That’s a well made show with extra gritty. Did I mention the gritty? Because it’s extremely gritty.

And I know absolutely nothing and want to know everything! And that’s hard to pull off with a mystery show.

As to the rest – first episode, we seem to have 2 POC and 2 women among the main, core cast though it's early to decide more than that. Grant's living conditions and poverty are a definite comment on class. There’s not much more I can judge at this stage - but it has Got My Attention.