Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Utopia, Season 1, Episode 2

We open with a man removing what looks like the Utopia manuscript from an archive and posting it – all the while looking around nervously. And he’s squished by a very very big lorry. See, sometimes you’re not paranoid, they really are all out to get you.

Cut to the gang at the house and Jessica telling them they come with her or they’re all dead. She also knows who everyone is and takes the gun off Ian (by telling him it has the safety on – distracting him enough for her to take it. Though she points out most guns don’t actually have safety catches). That sorted she gathers everyone to leave before they all die (assuring Wilson she will take care of his dad – and yes she does know where he works, she has lots of creepy knowledge).

They escape out the back (Jessica considerably more gracefully than the gang) and sneak through someone’s home to avoid the CCTV. Into a stolen car and some backstory – in the 70s the Soviets had a scary scary bio-warfare programme. To combat it, the west set up “The Network”; a completely deniable, unaccountable group that could do things democratic governments couldn’t be part of.  Needless to say they did bad bad things. And it’s the Network that wants them.

And Jessica wants the gun so she can rob people – much to Becky’s horror. Jessica lays down their new lives – they need to change their appearance, they need to adapt, they need to abandon their own lives and they can’t use their money or anything else. If they can’t manage that, they’ll die. Simple as.

From there it’s a quick change of clothes and then finding a van (to help hide Wilson) and blowing up their old car. Which Jessica does with studied, professional coolness that is incredibly intimidating. She reveals to Ian that she hasn’t taken steps to protect Wilson’s father – she does what she must to survive even if they’re hard. Ian is just completely lost and freaked out

From there they go to an empty house – Jessica hacks airline companies to see when people are on holiday. Once inside she rigs up a trip wire alarm and tells everyone they always have to be ready to leave within 60 seconds. No baths, no showers – no time to worry about looking pretty she snarks – aimed at Becky. Becky and Jessica are clashing and it’s revolving a little around Ian (edges of jealousy). Becky demands Jessica explain more. Time for more exposition

2 men created the Network: Phillip Carville and “Mr. Rabbit” whoever he is. The Cold War ended, the governments left the Network but Carville and Rabbit kept going. When Carville wanted to leave they tortured him to make him keep working until his mind snapped entirely – to which he was dropped in a psychiatric hospital and became Mark Dean- the writer of the Utopia Manuscript. What’s in the manuscript – or some of it – is real (including BSE being the Network’s fault). And Jessica knows this because she’s Carville’s daughter and has been on the run since she was 4.

And Wilson’s on heroin for the pain of his eye. Well, it’s an opiate. Jessica wants to “find Utopia” with Ian – and leave Becky behind because she’s “not strong enough” and “not ready”. Which Becky is pretty pissed about, especially when Ian doesn’t back her up.

Ian and Jessica follow her trail back to Jack Tate, the man who published Utopia (and we saw go under the big lorry at the beginning of the episode).  Time to speak to Mrs. Tate, his wife, while posing as officials – which is when Jessica learns Mrs. Tate is a widow. But it’s ok – she does have papers they may want to see.

To which Jessica beats the old woman’s head in. This seems a little extreme to Ian but Jessica points out that the woman never once asked why they, posing as the police, were asking to see her husband – and pulls the gun Mrs. Tate was about to shoot them with. Mrs. Tate is Network – and by her gun she’s CIA, which is a nuisance since she’ll know nothing (Network people high up in organisations get their lackeys to do the dirty work).  Still, they tie her up for questioning under Jessica’s cooly-lethal threat of electrocution.

She is a CIA agent, and they suspected Mr. Tate of being a terrorist so took his real wife away. But before he died Mr Tate was visited by The Tramp (not “a” tramp – this is apparently important).

Arby is still looking for them and pulling off an awesome aura of creepy – and he arrives at the house of Mr. Tate to find the fake Mrs. Tate still tied to a chair which he casually takes in stride, quite calmly with his creepy, deadpan voice. She tells him what she told Jessica and then Arby shoots her.

Back with Becky and Wilson – Wilson is making something of a recovery, able to slightly see out of his remaining eye, but he’s worried about his father, especially since Jessica lied and said she’d bring him to them. He has Becky check on him via the net (teaching her how to be untraceable) and assures Wilson his dad is fine, though I think she’s lying. And Wilson knows Grant has the manuscript – he heard Arby and Lee talking; so next step is to try and track him down

Grant, is staggering around hungry and hurt after jumping from a high window. He squats in miserable places, continuing to copy the manuscript. One of the places he hides is in the grounds of a private school where he meets Alice, a girl his age who absolutely refuses to be intimidated by him (it’s pretty glorious actually) he shows her the comic and they agree to meet the next day. That night he follows Alice home, watching her family life then sneaking in when everyone’s asleep to take food. And to ask Alice if he can sleep on her floor – she lets him stay (and use her computer) if she gets to see the comic. Using the computer, Grant gets a message from Becky (using Wilson’s knowledge to make it obscure enough that anyone spying on them wouldn’t understand) to meet.

The next day Grant leaves the manuscript with Alice to hide.

Finding that Ian and Jessica didn’t return overnight, Becky decides to take a bath in a fit of pique. Of course, that’s when the trip-wire trap is triggered. She goes downstairs and holds the family, returning from holiday – at gun point while wearing a towel.

Jessica, meanwhile, explain the Tramp to Ian – he’s a scientist who got out of the Network and now monitors them secretly. They find him and he promptly punches Ian in the nose before they both catch up with him. He spills about part 2 (after Jessica threatens him, adding “there are no sides, there are people who help you and people who don’t”). Apparently Carville (Jessica’s dad) was working on something called “Janus” which the Network now has – he doesn’t know what it does but it sounds sciency awful. And Tate believed “it was the end” and then committed suicide. The Tramp intended to get the manuscript to a woman in MI5, one who opposes the Network – Millner (all told under protest with a lot of threat). She sends Ian to get them a vehicle, and doesn’t trust the Tramp. Why didn’t Tate just give the manuscript to him to pass on? He says he’s on her side – and she strangles him. And that’s one of the more graphicly awful strangling scenes (yet still without being gruesome) I’ve ever seen.

She justifies herself to Ian, if she can find him then so can the Network. And all it took to make him reveal Milner was a threat. He is still horrified that she just kills someone because it’s convenient and she wonders why he is being “odd”.

She thinks he’s the odd one.

In the house they find Wilson ransacking the place – the family of four are tied up in the garage. Ian may be the only one who isn’t odd. But Becky says they tied them up and ransacked the place so it looks like a burglary – Jessica praises her for doing the right thing, exactly the right thing

Becky goes to her meeting with Grant with Wilson warning her he’s a city trader, therefore a cock (they don’t know he’s a child). She’s a bit surprised when Grant appears – more so when he hugs her and starts crying. She takes him to the van with Wilson who protests “you said your girlfriend was a super model and you owned a Porsche” to which Grant replies “yeah, I got ambitions.” Ok you have to give the kid a point for that.

Becky goes to a phone and tells whoever she calls that the manuscript exists and the boy knows where it is

At the house they just left, the family of four is found… by Arby. Who asks them where Jessica Hyde is – and gets out his cylinder of deadly gas.

At the ministry of health, the blackmailed and beleaguered Michael who is worried by the amount of pressure the department is getting over the unnecessary Russian vaccine; he goes to new boss (and Network agent) Geoff and points out the loop hole that would let them out of the contract. Of course Geoff isn’t a fan of that since Corvadt (the firm behind the vaccine) also appears to be Network. Michael desperately wiggles for the out but Geoff overtly refers to the blackmail threat of Anya – the Russian prostitute Michael got pregnant – and repeats his orders – they’ll hide the loop hole.

For added stress, Anya calls him that she’s being watched and she’s scared. And a journalist, William Paye, catches up with him warning that his life is in danger – which rather shocks Michael. Doubly so when William makes it clear if he wanted his story he’d report on the pregnant Anya (wow, did he announce this to the whole city?)

Michael continues to panic about the select committee investigating, finding the loop hole and generally destroying everything – but Geoff tells the very stressed man to calm down and do nothing – all will be well.

And the next day? There’s an outbreak of Russian Flu, a lethal outbreak. A virulent, lethal outbreak that has led to the Shetland Islands being quarantined. Michael is now considered a hero for getting the vaccine. That’s not very reassuring to Michael since this flu has killed people and he’s now kinda, sorta responsible for those deaths – or involved. He goes to the journalist William but he’s panicked as well – he thinks he’s being followed. He tells Michael to get a sample of the vaccine to a doctor in Sheffield, Donaldson. And that “it’s starting” whatever “it” is.

Michael goes to Corvadt for his sample, nervous as hell but insisting he wants his sample, he’s entitled to one, he can have one, they’re contractually obliged to provide one. While the news in the background reports that William, the journalist, has been murdered. And the suspect for the death is Anya – the Russian prostitute pregnant with Michael’s baby. Michael’s freak out nor reaches epic levels – and the nice Crovadt person asks after Michael’s wife.

Ok that’s new – I’m used to these conspiracy shows giving us lots of questions and no answers for episode after episode after episode. And then Utopia arrives and has vast exposition of the whole conspiracy in episode 2! That’s a really new way of doing this and intrigues me

Of course there are still lots of questions to ask about what the Network is up to and if they can stop it – assuming they can stop it – but we have a foundation on which to build the mystery rather than endless reams of mystery week after week. I like it

I think Jessica is a fascinating character – on the run since she was 4 years old. She’s so cold and hard and incredibly well acted – I get a full load of ruthless creepy off her, excellently portrayed. I was concerned that we were going to get some massive antagonism between her and Becky – but it ended up flipping that at the end, with Ian being the one who hasn’t fully realised what they need to do to survive now

There’s a lot of excellent acting on this show – Grant really does show both his hard edged roughness and aggression but also his pain and vulnerability - it’s really well done. And Arby? Just that monotone way he asks after Jessica Hyde is chilling. You know he could keep asking it robotically over and over.

The combination of excellent acting, good scenes and general theme really creates the atmosphere that makes this show. The creepiness, the paranoia, the sheer enormity of what’s after them. But it’s not just the grand meta scenes – even smaller scenes like Jessica strangling the Tramp are full with emotional impact.