Review of Utopia: Series 1, episode 2
SPOILERS: Do not read this if you have not seen episode 2 of Utopia
At the end of last week’s episode there was one question on everyone’s lips: Who is Jessica Hyde? This week’s instalment of Utopia goes some way towards answering that question but also raises several others.
Jessica Hyde arrives out of the blue with little fanfare, an emotionally neutered oddity reminiscent of Trinity in The Matrix, albeit a more foul-mouthed incarnation. Like the plot of this week’s story, she doesn’t dwell on past events but instead steers the group onto a new path, urging them to flee and reigniting their quest for the manuscript.
Utopia is a show that respects its audience and so we’re quickly given valid reasons as to why Jessica is of such crucial importance. Revealed to be the daughter of the author of Utopia and possessing a thorough understanding of the organisation that is pursuing them, she wastes no time tackling the difficult decisions the others are struggling to make.
Her presence instantly redefines the dynamic of the group. Becky, who seemed far more in control during last week’s proceedings, is suddenly knocked off her pedestal as the dominant female presence in their unit. Instead she spends most of the episode looking disastrous in a pink velour tracksuit – imagine the Pink Power Ranger having a hangover Sunday.
Another significant impact of Jessica’s presence is the effect she has on Becky and Ian’s relationship, creating a noticeable barrier between the pair. Last week’s aborted romantic encounter in Wilson Wilson’s bunker suggested the possibility of a relationship between them but Jessica’s arrival creates a ‘lust triangle’ that seemingly puts that in jeopardy.
While the team struggle to adapt and struggle with their personal differences, Grant battles with his sense of isolation – until he meets Alice, a meek schoolgirl who looks as though she’s never uttered a curse word in her life. Upon meeting the two youngsters shake hands. Be careful Alice, the last person Grant shook hands with lived to regret it. Despite their differences, Grant is almost as smitten with Alice as she is with the manuscript. The sweetness of their encounter is coupled with our knowledge that it probably won’t end well but it offers Grant a touching distraction from the horrors occurring around him.
With Wilson Wilson struggling to adjust to life following his recent interrogation, it falls on Becky to provide most of the comic relief. She is also the one who undergoes the biggest character change this week. She is initially repulsed by Jessica’s insistence that they rob shops at gunpoint in order to get the things they need to survive. By the end of the episode she can brandish a gun at a group of ‘intruders’ if she fears that they threaten the safety of her friends (albeit with a hand that trembles so violently it could only be caused by complete terror or be the coffee shakes).
In a smart twist towards the end of the episode, our heroes learn that one of their team has been communicating with them under a false identity. It’s played for comedic effect but only moments later the audience learns that we have been just as easily fooled by another central character. It’s a technique that’s prevalent throughout the episode: at one point the appearance of a grieving widow is revealed to be nothing more than a disguise for a cunning secret service agent.
Interestingly, by the end of the episode the most transparent character is Jessica Hyde. Her motives and connection with The Utopia Experiments are simple and easily understood. She always speaks her mind, sometimes with brutal effect. Instead it is the other characters that suddenly seem less trustworthy than they appeared on first sight.
It may open with a rather violent suicide but this week’s story doesn’t offer the same degree of aggression as last week’s episode. While it’s by no means a bloodless hour of television, it doesn’t feel as ruthless as last week’s torture scene, perhaps because none of the violence is directed at characters we’re rooting for. There are still sufficient offerings for gore junkies, including an excruciating murder carried out a stone’s throw away from a row of urinals. There’s even a slow motion shattering skull, which must look marvellous in HD.
But Utopia’s use of violence doesn’t feel gratuitous or forced. If this week’s episode proves anything, it’s that the strength of the series lies in its brilliantly realised characters.Tagged in: Adeel Akhtar, Fiona O'Shaughnessy, Jessica Hyde, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Paul Higgins, Utopia
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