Friday, August 15, 2014

Utopia, Season 2, Episode 6

Our ominous burger flipper from last episodes is waiting for a bus, with a nice social conscious woman talking about the environment and reduced resources while her small child has flu. Ominous guy counters her environmental sensibilities by the fact she has a child – 1st world humans are the greatest sources of pollution on the planet and how little her refusing to fly actually makes any difference next to that. Which turns into a calm explanation of how she should kill her child.

Uh-huh, well that’s the Networks viewpoint in a nutshell.

Pietre is in hospital with Jessica lovingly by his side. Becky and Wilson look on (Michael has taken in Grant; which isn’t going well since Grant is a deeply damaged, wounded kid who likes to play with knives). She has not even come close to forgiving Wilson though

Ian is still wanted for murder of his brother and now his mother is appealing on television for him to give himself up when Wilson and Becky arrive with the bad news. He’s spoken to Leah, and their man is supposed to go to various locations around the world to spread it in 5 different locations round the world. They have 90 days to stop him. But if he’s suspicious he’s to release the disease straight away, killing millions. They can’t use the Network’s resources to find him because of that – which means they have to find him. First step is looking at the people it could be (there are several dummies, like Paul who Wilson met) to see which one has disappeared so they know who they’re looking for.

Wilson continues to try and build bridges with the other two – they’re having none of it. They go to find Paul – and realise he’s still around so he isn’t the one. Wilson draws a gun – Becky and Ian are horrified, and even more horrified when Wilson assures them Leah can cover it up; he’s not worried about the morality of killing, just blowing the operation. Wilson points out they have no idea what to do or what the back up plan is with Milner dead (especially since with her dead who knows what will happen when people notice) – getting very agitated. Ian suggests breaking into Paul’s house – but they’re not killers.

Where they continue to see how much Wilson has changed from his time in the Network, how few lines he has. They do find a mobile phone which Wilson can get into with his former geeky glory (call back to season 1). They find a call from Gorsky, someone who has been involved before but is supposed to be dead.

Becky takes another of her pills – she’s running out, she only has 4 days left. And she does intend to commit suicide before she dies of Deels. She tells Ian it’s her choice. She’s also still having hallucinations of the murdered translator with the hole in his head.

Gorsky is actually in prison after going to utterly extreme levels to fake his own death (hammering out his own teeth and putting them in the head of a man he’d kill). They seek Gorsky in prison and he’s afraid – he trained the Janus operative, he knows who they are and that they’ll clear up loose ends. Like him. When Wilson shows he knows about Paul, Gorky gives him the other two names; but wants protecting. And no, he doesn’t think a police station is enough. Wilson calls Leah who has both Paul and one of the other men killed, leaving only Terrence.

Meanwhile, our ominous guy, Terrence, goes to see a network guy. This is not on schedule and Terrence says there’s been a change of plan. Terrence gets two of the locations  from the man (for the plague release I assume) – the only two he knows. Terrence then electrocutes him in his bath.

Jessica goes to her father who tries to retreat into Romany, but Jessica insists they need to communicate, to know each other. He switches to English, but Milner’s death has shaken him. Jessica cleans Milner’s blood off him. Then goes to Pietre’s room where Lee has sneaked in to finish the helpless Pietre off. There’s an interesting stand off between the two in which Lee says “nothing scares me, nothing in the world except him.” I think this is because he doesn’t know Jessica very well. Jessica convinces him to leave.

Alone, she tenderly shaves her brother while in the next room Wilson tries to grasp the idea that Anton shot at his own children, people he loves. It comes down to the cause again – when all the resources die love will mean nothing, desperate people do terrible things.

Terrence gets two more names from a disgruntled fish monger – and then shoots him. Well, he’s not disgruntled any more.

Leah leads a meeting and hands out files to everyone – reporting that Terrence has started killing people and the two recent murders. It seems Terrence is already implementing Plan B: kill them all and release the virus (we also learn that calling Jessica “dear” will lead to threats of having your face cut off. And since it’s Jessica, she means it). She also have a whole trolley of more files to examine.

Wilson tries again to rebuild bridges with Ian – and sounds him out on what he thinks about killing, whether a killer can ever come back from it. Ian thinks not – and looks at Milner and even Grant as proof of that

Meanwhile Michael goes to a secret meeting with Geoff. Geoff is getting out after the Network pretty much discarded him. He hands him a key to a confession and evidence, as soon as Geoff flees to Brazil, he wants Michael to expose the whole Network. Michael asks about Geoff’s family who are going to be quietly kept safe – and Michael wisely asks about his own before hitting Michael, knocks him to the ground and begins beating him. I sit back and quietly applaud. Michael is clear – Geoff got him into this mess, Michael isn’t getting him out of it

Especially since they’ve co-opted the Network.

Back at Michael’s home, Garth is still having issues and has a lot of contempt for Alice’s school work – it doesn’t stop bullets and in Garth’s world that’s what he needs. Michael was at a loss what to do. Jen is not. Jen has authority. Garth brings the knife down and apologises to her.

Jessica and Ian also have an awkward moment when Jessica wonders why Ian didn’t tell Becky he slept with her and whether he wants a quickie in the cupboard and Jessica doesn’t see the point of long term commitment with Becky, what with her dying and all. But this is interrupted by Becky having a revelation about the person who connects so many of the dead Terrence is hunting – Gorsky. Looks like he was right to be worried.

Terrence gets there first – and he very ingeniously and horrendously kills Gorsky. Leah and team arrive and assume that Terrence has the last location. Which Leah thinks is good: because they have a rough idea where he is going to unleash the virus first. (And if they don’t then “we are all very fucked, dear.”) Ian goes to Jessica and appeals to her to join them at the car park; though she’s reluctant to leave Pietre.

Terrence goes to the car – parked by one of the operatives we saw earlier in the season – and collects the flu virus. He starts to drive away – and Jessica fires at him, repeatedly (but doesn’t kill him? Must be bullet proof car). She does break a window and he crashes. She shoots the car several more times, but Terrence isn’t in it.

Terrence has made a run for it and looks quite worried (to be honest, I’d rather have angry velociraptors with flamethrowers chase me than Jessica Hyde). He tries to shoot at Jessica on the stairs, slowing her down. He runs to the roof, heading to the edge to release the virus – and is surprised by Ian. Who stabs him, apologising as he does. Terrence still pulls the virus out of his bag and starts to crawl to the edge. Ian tries to talk him out of it until he’s finally forced to shoot him. Jessica joins him as a pool of blood collects.

The gang gathers – except Leah and Wilson, looking on.

Later while resting, Becky’s Deels hallucination acts up. Ian hugs her and she tells him she plans to commit suicide today. She asks to spend her last hours with Ian… he agrees.

At the Dugdale household, Garth is a much better behaved kid. Michael, Jen and the lot of them are going to leave the country, aided by the Network, to start a new life. Michael meets with Wilson who confirms they’ve picked up the rest of the virus – and then it all starts cracking. Because Wilson (and Leah) were on board with Janus. They wanted Janus, they still want Janus – they just drew the line at hundreds of millions dying for it… but they could release the virus in isolated villages where it is unlikely to spread which will still serve to encourage vaccination.

And to implement this plan, they need Michael back in charge – which means his family is, again, threatened with death and Michael is going to be watched all the time to ensure he complies. Michael protests it’s not Wilson, it’s not him (the same thing Becky and Ian have both said to him as well) and Wilson says “I don’t think I am me, not any more.”

Geoff, thinking he got away with the money, is killed – the scene staged to look like a suicide.

Wilson calls in Lee and throws him the spoon that was used to torture him and points a gun at him. Lee laughs it off, like before when Wilson had him at gun point, he doesn’t think Wilson will do it – he needs a reason to kill and revenge isn’t enough. He says “this isn’t you Wilson” and Wilson shoots him.

Becky and Ian share her last day and are all fun, Jessica applauds Ian on doing so well. Jessica presents her own awkward goodbye…  but she also laces into Becky for what she’s doing to Ian, how watching someone you love die is a terrible thing. Ian is out getting a drink at this time and runs into Anton who tells him the medicine Becky is taking actually doesn’t help her – it’s a hallucinogen. It’s why she’s been seeing things. Her shakes and tremors were just withdrawal. Yes Becky has the genetic mutation for Deels, but there’s no reason to think it has triggered

Ian hurries to Becky – only to find she’s taken the drug to kill herself while he was gone. Ian tries to resuscitate Becky, while Wilson carves the Chinese character for Rabbit into his torso.

Ian succeeds in resuscitating Becky – as goons kidnap them all.

In his hospital bed, Pietre wakes up.

Another season of Utopia is done and it did what it did best – compelling moral conflict. More than the relationships, the drama, the action or even the acting (which is stellar), this show is made by its moral questions and the conflict the characters go through

It’s all underpinned by that underlying question – what do you do when disaster looms? And one thing Utopia is clear about, through a hundred subtle hints, is that disaster is coming. Utopia is a world where resources are gone, wars are brewing over the few that remain, shortages are starting – disaster will happen and it will happen soon. What is the solution? Because one of the difficult elements to deal with Utopia is that no-one actually has a solution, no-one has a counter plan beyond Janus. I think that’s emphasised in this episode when Terrence confronts the woman in the bus station – her environmental concerns which she clearly cares about are not remotely sufficient to counter the scale of the problem.

That’s a haunting message through Utopia because while Janus is horrendous, no-one is suggesting an alternative. You see that and you see why Phillip, Milner, Leah, Terrence and Wilson (despite all the Network did to him) decided to go ahead with Janus. This makes these characters, in a twisted way, principled (if not moral) which contrasts sharply with people like Lee and Geoff who are using the Network for much more selfish motives.

Of course, this moral quandary also comes with a powerful message about how those moral lines move –how the “line we will never cross” gets crossed and what that does to you. I think this is what makes the first episode of the season so important because we saw a young Milner and Phillip and their own decline (or should I say “descent” throughout that episode). It has been epitomised throughout with Milner’s grief and determination. And, of course, Wilson has lived it in truly excellent form – Wilson is not the man he was, not even close.

But in some ways it also suggests how arbitrary those lines are. Wilson is willing to kill people, willing to kidnap and murder people, willing to see thousands die from the virus – but racial selection and millions dying from the virus are where he draws the lines. Where are these arbitrary lines? Why are they drawn there for him and Leah – and how soon before they move again?

Of course, Ian brought his own excellent arc of despair and moral decay – he sets lines, very firm lines and he strongly believes that killing isn’t something you can come back from. And then he kills.

All of this excellent, really deep conflict is sold by the truly amazing acting quality this show has, it really brings it home along with their excellent characters and relationships (Garth and Pietre was a wonderful combination).

I also really like how the Network was done this season – especially the weaknesses it showed. We saw the problem as its resources became stretched, we saw the difficulty of controlling the fanatics when you wanted to turn it back, we saw the problem of all the information being stored in Milner and we saw how easy it was co-opted due to the sheer secrecy of the organisation. The Network is vast and powerful – but it’s not omnipotent.

I have some issues though. I’ve mentioned mental illness on this show before and it still applies, Jessica, Pietre and Phillip/Anton are all mentally ill for plot reasons – to keep them ominous or confusing, unpredictable and scary. And while the Carville siblings are really terrifying (excellent acting) it relies a lot on the idea of mentally ill as dangerous to sell that. We still actually do not know what their motives are – moral outrage over Janus? Revenge? Family? Why are they doing what they’re doing? There was characterisation there, but I think their mental illness was more of a tool than part of it. I’m also dubious about Grant whose depiction of a damaged, hurting struggling teen trying to deal with what he’d experienced seems to be magically cured by a good talking to from Jen. And Becky who has spent two seasons dramatically dealing with terminal illness, struggling with it, being manipulated by it and deciding on suicide as a way to avoid a terrible death, asserting her agency – and then it’s all just removed.

We do have POC who are major characters, co-protagonists even, and largely free from stereotype. Ian is many things, but they don’t really follow stereotype, though he uses stereotyping to his advantage on one occasion. The same applies to Wilson, he’s not a good character or a perfect character and he has his flaws, but his flaws don’t match stereotypes.

We also have a lot of women with a to of competence, strength and leadership – Becky, Jessica, Milner herself, even Leah.

Like the last season, we still don’t have any LGBT people.

This show also has a major problem with appropriation – the holocaust imagery of Phillip, the fact that he is a Romany unleashing racial genocide – well, I’ve spoken about it when it happened – it’s gross and not something I can ever stomach when you flip oppressor and victim.

There’s also the murder in the first episode – the murder of Airey Naeve. Airey Neave was a real politician, he was murdered and it (obviously) wasn’t by the Network, he was killed by the IRA. He has living family. It’s not ok to rewrite the story of an actual murder, especially when there are still grieving relatives of the deceased around.