Review of Utopia – Series 1, episode 4
SPOILERS: Do not read this if you have not seen episode 4 of Utopia
The central characters in Utopia are on a journey, and while I fear they may not like the end destination, this week’s episode is a fascinating study of their descent into darkness.
It is probably the series’ bleakest episode to date, and while some fans may not be receptive to an episode that’s light on laughs as well as Utopia’s signature eye candy, it ultimately wins you over by detonating a number of devastating secrets in swift succession.
The hunt for Mr. Rabbit and the manuscript remain the central driving forces of the series. Wilson Wilson, Becky and Ian struggle to adjust to the responsibility of caring for the recently orphaned Alice. Jessica Hyde and Arby are desperate to locate the manuscript and now act and think eerily similar. Meanwhile Michael Dugdale’s attempt to use some stolen evidence as leverage backfires, with severe consequences for his home life.
Utopia’s characters are the heart of the series and the reason its fans keep coming back week after week. Episode four is an unexpected reward for the time we have invested in them, a strong showcase of the gradual character development that has been taking place and an example of the subtlety of the writing and acting. In episode one, the central group debated about comics and conspiracy theories over a few pints of beer. Three episodes and several pints of blood later, they’re in the middle of nowhere having a debate about child murder.
‘We’re just like them now,’ says Becky. It’s an epiphany that is shared by the audience, the unexpected realisation that they’re no longer the obsessive group of geeks we fell in love with.
While the slow burn of this week’s events may not appeal to those who preferred the urgency of earlier episodes, it ultimately succeeds by delivering a tragic, game-changing final 10 minutes. Wilson Wilson (the comic centre of the show) has been noticeably subdued since the bunker scene in episode one, and his violent, torturous impulses towards the end of the episode are all the more unnerving given our knowledge of his past sufferings.
While it wasn’t pleasant watching the most light-hearted character wrestling with his demons, Adeel Akhtar’s layered performance brought the character’s moral dilemma to life. The episode is undoubtedly at its finest in its closing moments as the most unexpected character carries out a brutal execution, surprising in the moment but in hindsight, foreshadowed throughout.
Alice’s breakdown offers Grant the opportunity to demonstrate a softer, more sensitive persona. It’s impressive that he has moved in the reverse direction to his companions, becoming positively angelic in comparison to the prankster we met a few weeks ago. I’m still not totally convinced by his Goth disguise (I for one would have suggested hiding his identity by dressing him in drag), but he’s surprisingly effective as the most innocent and vulnerable member of the group.
Out of all Utopia’s characters, Michael is the most powerless. In his unenviable position as the Judas of the piece, Michael’s 2013 success rate to date includes unwittingly assisting in a 21st century genocide and knocking up a prostitute behind his wife’s back. At least that’s two items to strike off his resolutions list. Paul Higgins is on top form this week, effortlessly portraying Michael’s neurotic mindset, while managing to make a rather spineless character somewhat likeable.
Ian, so far the dramatic iceberg of the show, is beginning to reveal his depths, and his hunt for his brother in homeless attire begins as an amusing diversion before evolving into an exploration of the long-term consequences of their involvement with the manuscript. His romantic meal for Becky was surprisingly sweet, and proof that true love can survive anything (including the impending apocalypse or a meagre food budget).
While it stretches credibility that the group are able to find such nice digs with ease, the locations remain eye-catching and worthy of study, with numerous works of art hinting at the emotional and mental state of the characters. Utopia could be subtitled as ‘The 21st Century Guide to Successful Squatting’. A potential tie-in book for the series, along with the Utopia Experiments: Part I publication my heart craves.
While childhood was the unifying theme of last week, this episode does a commendable job of pulling together several themes concerning family. At this stage, most of the principle characters come from fractured family situations. Wilson Wilson’s discovery of his father’s demise is the final example of this, and his reaction to Becky’s betrayal hints that it will not be long before the recently formed Utopia family is also scattered. Is Becky’s secret caller a relative of some kind? And how long will it be before the virus is unleashed upon the masses?Tagged in: Adeel Akhtar, Fiona O'Shaughnessy, Jessica Hyde, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Paul Higgins, Utopia, Wilson Wilson
Recent Posts on Arts
- Friday Book Design Blog: The Ariel Poems, and other seasonal pamphlets
- Children’s book blog – Ask the illustrator: Rebecca Cobb
- Piggott's post: Jacobson, Heller and reflections on "real life"
- Ric Blackshaw tells us Scrawl about his street art enterprise
- Children’s books for November: The Something, The Imaginary and Eren
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter