Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Utopia, Season 1, Episode 6

The radio announces more outbreaks of the Russian flu and more people beginning to panic and flood GP’s surgeries while the gang gathers up their things ready to leave – and Jessica Hyde dramatically joins them. She has the manuscript which she gives to Wilson. It has everything in it – the experiments, the murder victims – all of it.

Of course, the gang aren’t especially pleased with her given her actions last time they saw her. To which she responds, in classic Jessica style, that she needed to set a trap. They were bait. “I’m sorry, let’s move on.” An apology with all the sincerity of a celebrity who just dropped slurs on twitter. Becky wants to chew her out some more but Jessica is far too goal orientated for that – specifically she wants to know where Grant is and where the pages she gave to him are, especially since those pages contain the real name of Mr. Rabbit.

While Wilson analyses the cryptic pages, Jessica loses her shit and starts tearing the place apart looking for the pages until Becky delivers an epic slap down of “killing Mr. Rabbit won’t make your father any less of a cock.” The verbal battle escalates a little until Alice hands over the pages – Grant isn’t that good at hiding things. Now she wants them to find Grant.

Which is looow on Jessica’s priority list. She and Becky continue to snap at each other, she wants Wilson to hack GCHQ and find someone of the name “Leton” who may or may not be Mr. Rabbit but he’s all distracted because he’s not entirely on their side any more.

Grant is, of course, in the Network’s hands, being questioned by the Assistant. He has Grant’s pictures he drew of the comics including the cryptic page of Janus with all the random numbers which he thinks is an essential protein code – unfortunately Grant didn’t finish it, they need 3 more 5 digit numbers and they need Grant to remember them. Seemingly impossible, but the Assistant is quite willing to lay on the pressure –including footage of Grant’s mother to show they’re watching her.

They leave him the laptop of his mother’s every activity while he struggles to remember. He manages to dredge up one number but his pleas that he can’t remember any more are ignored. Left alone again he takes apart the lap top.

And Michael and Jen have taken Anya in – and taken over her medical care (and Michael is still in the guilty dog house, naturally) and not entirely happy to see his boss, Geoff, being hailed in the news as the country’s saviour with his department’s brilliant forward planning over Russian Flu. Especially since the vaccine has been hurried through and is going out the next morning.

At work there’s a little snag to that – before the vaccine can be released it needs to be independently tested and analysed by, well, Michael (Geoff can’t do it because politics may motivate him, it has to be a civil servant). Geoff has the team –Michael’s job is to sign it off without questioning. Awww, Michael can’t wash his hands of the whole thing.

Becky does meet up with the nasty Dr. Donaldson to make it clear she is never going to help him again – she appeals for the medicine she needs as one last plea to whatever shred of humanity he has in him. Of course, he throws them in the lake, no humanity detected here. Back at the mansion, with Ian, she worries about whether Deals has started – or if she’s just imagining it and stressed. Ian promises to stay with her but she recites the awful symptoms of Deals and doesn’t think she wants someone to watch her endure it all. Instead she talks to Alice about the cryptic code page.

Meanwhile Wilson easily hacks GCHQ (he’s contemptuous of the security) but has to cover his tracks – so that means trawling through lots of databases he’s not interested in so he’ll be taken as a UFO conspiracy theorist. He also tries – unsuccessfully – to get Jessica to leave him alone so he can contact the Network, she’s a hard woman to get rid of. He almost gets a message off to the Network – just as he gets a result and has to delete the email.

The result has a reference to “Letan”, his name is redacted and changed on all official documents – but they missed the footnote (see, I love this – because it’s so real. How is a conspiracy discovered? Simply by finding the mistakes that people will make – and there will always be mistakes. It has a realness to it that adds so much context).

Knowing Mr. Rabbit was on this committee (on weaponised genetic research) they print out the committee’s pictures. 18 people, 14 men, 7 of which are dead or incapacitated. Unfortunately, none of them recognise any of the 7 men – so Jessica decides to kill them all.

Michael goes to see Anya – and is attacked by Ian who points a gun at him. Michael tries to protest his innocence – and offers to help them find the vaccine.  Michael quickly calms down the panicking Anya and gives Ian the address of the warehouse full of vaccine; Ian, intelligently, demands he bring it up on googlemaps to confirm there is actually a warehouse at the location. He offers to get them inside, to help – and then Anya grabs the gun and smacks them both down. Then she calls the Network; in a perfect English accent.

Oh I did not see that coming! Cue sputtering guppy-fish reaction from Michael. When she turns away, he pulls the rug out from under her – literally – and then rushes her and hits her in the head and she smacks her head on the glass table. She looks pretty dead. Ian leads the shellshocked Michael out before the Network team arrives.

Ian and Michael return to the mansion just as Jessica and Becky are having another fight – Becky accusing Jessica of being too emotionally attached. Everyone panics a little about Michael. He tells them about the warehouse and he recognises one of the pictures they have up – Conran’s assistant, the man really running Corvadt.

It looks like they just found Mr. Rabbit.

Grant, in his cell, fills in another number and buzzes for the Assistant. He hides a piece of sharp metal he removed and bent from the lap top. But he doesn’t  use it.

Back at the mansion, Jessica is determined to go and hunt down Letan in broad daylight – which everyone tells her is foolish and, no matter what she says, at this late stage won’t stop the warehouse of Janus vaccines going out. There’s another stand off, Ian refusing to hand over the gun and Jessica threatening more violence when Alice – she has impeccable timing that child – calls them over to where she’s been examining the Manuscript.

Spreading out the pages, she has found a pattern – lines and dots that go from one page to the next – together forming a molecular diagram. The structure of Janus. The real Janus, not just the vaccine test. Everyone leaves while poor Michael tries to praise Alice for being so clever, aww bless (Alice is, indeed, very clever – clever enough to know when she’s being patronised). Michael justifies why he handed over Grant to Alice and Alice talks about her mother and finally breaks down. They sit and talk and Michael holds her

Becky catches up with Jessica and tentatively talks to her about what she saw in the manuscript – Carver, Jessica’s father, experimenting on her. Jessica’s method of comfort is revenge and yes she is confident it will make her feel better.

Ian and Wilson write out everything they know about Janus, put it in an email and plan to send it to a whole load of dignitaries (who will promptly ignore it). But Wilson tries to talk Ian round – they have a future of billions of people being born into poverty, massacring each other over water and meagre resources; what if the Network is right? Ian won’t respond to it and tells him to send the email – he does. And Ian intends for everyone to take the email seriously once they burn down the warehouse. (I think that’ll mean you’ll be upgraded from “crackpot” to “arsonist crackpot” personally).

His next tactic is to go to Jessica and go with her to take out Letan – not Ian, Becky, Michael and Alice to burn the warehouse. After all, the Network killed his dad and tortured him – he has as much reason for revenge and Jessica does.

On the Warehouse run they coach the slightly inept Michael on how to threaten his way into a building. He enters with his Department of Health credentials, heads to the security room, draws his gun – and is tackled by a man in black body armour with a much scarier gun. Outside in the van, Alice, Ian and Becky are also ambushed by the black op guys. That didn’t go to plan.

Jessica and Wilson infiltrate their target easily – but as Jessica squats to pick an internal lock, Wilson grabs her gun. Jessica is shocked but Wilson confessed to saving Conran and stabbing himself because the Network is right. Jessica adamantly refuses to give up the manuscript – all she has left of her father.

Back in Grant’s cell, the Assistant tells him that the numbers are wrong – Grant protests that they are right, but one of the other numbers that he drew is wrong. The Assistant comes closer to see – and Grant stabs him in the neck with his sharpened shard of metal. Go Grant!  With The Assistant dead, he uses the lap top to tell the person following his mother to stand-down.  And on Mr. Letan’s body he finds the scarred Chinese character for Rabbit. The mark of Mr. Rabbit.

The lift rings and Wilson whirls to shoot the person – Jessica strikes and stabs him and takes the gun. Leaving him on the floor, she and Grant are reunited. And Grant reveals he killed the Assistant – they leave, leaving Wilson behind.

Back at the Warehouse the gang are all bound and gagged and Milner arrives. MI5 agent Milner. She pulls a silenced pistol and Michael begs her (they ungag him for some reason) not to kill them in front of Alice. Milner sends Alice to the next room and tells her not to run or hide – and then shoots the guard. Looking rather exasperated about the whole thing. She releases them and Ian is shocked “you didn’t kill us” to which she responds, utterly perfectly “Christ, Ian, what do I have to do to convince you I’m on your fucking side?”

They douse the vaccine filled warehouse with petrol and burn it. The whole place goes up in a ball of flame.

Regroup at the mansion – to realise that Wilson is gone. One sleepless night later and Ian and Becky also have sex without alcohol or anger (an ongoing theme). The next day they wake and Jessica remarks that no-one came – the Network must have known what they did and where they are, but no-one came. Ian and Becky plan a month long visit to a remote part of Scotland – how long Milner said they needed to be off the radar before they could return. If she has the Manuscript, Milner can end the whole Network.

Alice goes with Michael – since she’s all alone and he and Jen are so desperate for a family (I think he might want to consult Jen about that). Much to Grant’s disgust (though he’s going with Becky and Ian until the holiday is over). He and Alice say their goodbyes.

At the station, Ian goes to get tickets and Becky collapses in a seizure. The first symptoms of Deals.

Jessica goes to see Milner, they meet for the first time; Jessica’s a little panicked to be in the official building – on surveillance and everything – but Milner is very reassuring. Milner plans to use the manuscript  and then destroy it –which Jessica isn’t happy about, since it’s her only connection to her father.

She is left alone in Milner’s office until she can bring herself to let go. On Milner’s desk is a rock. The same ancient stone her father gave both her and Arby. And she remembers the photographs of the committee of 18 – 14 were men. 4 were women. One of them was Milner.

Milner is Mr. Rabbit.

Jessica runs for it, ending up on the roof after dodging guards. She blocks the door and takes out the manuscript and sets it on fire.

At the station, Becky manages to send Ian and Grant off on errands then runs for the train while they’re distracted. She gets on the train alone.

On the roof, Milner breaks through – it’s just her and Jessica. Jessica asks about the Assistant – apparently a man so dedicated to the Network he carved the scar into himself. Jessica is confused – Milner helped burn the vaccine; but the vaccine was unknown, it may not have worked without the genius of Carver, Jessica’s father. Sacrificing the vaccine to get Janus was worth it. Jessica mocks her – she burned the manuscript!

But the manuscript isn’t Janus. She doesn’t want the manuscript – she only wanted that because Jessica would bring it. She is Janus (and from the beginning, Arby’s questions haven’t been “where’s the manuscript” it’s been “where is Jessica Hyde?”). Milner shoots Jessica in the leg so she can’t jump. Janus is in her blood.

Check. Mate.

Well, damn I didn’t see that coming. That is perhaps the most masterful portrayal of a supreme manipulative plot I’ve ever seen. That was pretty damn awesome.

The whole conspiracy nature of Utopia was so incredibly powerful and creepy – not just secrets that were revealed constantly, each stage being a more horrific reveal than the last – but by the end simply knowing who to trust. Who has been compromised? How much? How have they been? Donaldson compromised – then Michael, which way is he going? Then we saw Wilson wavering and finally fall – but Anya? Who saw Anya as a plant? And was Becky going to be corrupted by Donaldson for the sake of her health? Then Milner? Milner was Mr. Rabbit all along?

By the end I was waiting or Alice to turn round and pull a gun – aha, another Network plant!

And this added to the overall horror and shock of the whole season. Part of it through violence, part of it through epic revelation, part of it through the power of the characters – there was an ongoing shellshocked nature to the whole season that had incredible emotional impact

And that emotional impact was huge. The acting was incredible – from the deeply damaged Arby and Jessica, both of them being both incredibly pitiable and incredibly creepy by terms. The suave detachment of the Assistant. Becky, Ian and Wilson’s conflicts over their losses, the decisions to make, their relationships, their moral degradation, the question of what is right, transitioning from being normal people to living a guerrilla lifestyle on the run with a mission to pursue.  Then there’s Alice and Grant – especially Grant – the nuance and levels to that character, tough but vulnerable, hurting but streetwise, seeking understanding but ultimately untrusting. The acting, the characters truly made this show.

And if they didn’t, the directing would. The scenes with their little background snippets from radio and television (including that nice foreshadowing of the food shortage). The music, the pauses, Arby’s breathing, the timing – the emotional theme and setting were better than just about anything I’ve seen before

And then back all that up with an evil worldwide conspiracy that MADE SENSE. One that made you sit down and think and have lots of uncomfortable thoughts about what they were saying and why. The threat of overpopulation, the fact the human population will crash when resources run out anyway – it’s an incredible powerful and an extremely difficult think to sit and think about; and wonder “what would I do if I were Wilson?” And it was important that it WAS Wilson who made that choice – Wilson who lost his father, who was tortured, who lost his eye; who had more reason to hate the Network than anyone. He wasn’t bribed like Donaldson, nor did he need medication like Becky – but from just agreeing with their cause, he turned making it so much more of a powerful statement.

Two of the main characters were POC and they had complex and involved storylines of their own –perhaps less so than Jessica, but that’s questionable. Wilson may have been the most neglected but then he was involved in the greatest moral quandary as well – I think it was well done.

Becky and Jessica struck sparks a lot, partly that sets off my “women can’t get a long” radar beeping, but at the same time it showed Becky as been relatively brave in that she was willing to challenge Jessica more than Wilson and Ian who, at times, were less confrontational (but, again, not necessarily because they’re weaker; Ian has been directly threatened by Jessica more than any other character and, equally, seems to be the most in agreement with stopping the Network; while Wilson doesn’t confront because he’s playing his own game with his own conflict).

And then there was Milner herself – an awesome character and villainous in a completely non-tropey way. I liked Anya as well, even if she did end up dead, simply because Jen and Michael were treating her like a walking incubator, assuming because she was Russian and a sex worker they could control her – but she had her own power and role; though she only came into them after casting off her identity as a foreign sex worker.

Unfortunately, despite quite a large cast of characters (according to IMBD, 17 named characters in appearing in 4 episodes or more) there wasn’t one GBLT person.

I am extremely impressed by Utopia –it was an incredible miniseries. I hear they’re bringing out a season 2 which I’m conflicted about. I like the story so obviously want it to continue, but with the revelations and twists of this season, I’m not sure how you can follow it.