Review of Utopia – Series 1, episode 5

Alex Straker

utopia 300x225 Review of Utopia – Series 1, episode 5

(Channel 4)

SPOILERS: Do not read this if you have not seen episode 5 of Utopia

Five down, one to go. After weeks of physical and psychological torture, paranoia and mass murder, the fifth episode of Utopia begins with an intense opening and doesn’t let up from there.

With the finish line in sight, the sense of urgency that was missing from recent instalments has been injected again, and the result is an episode that is heavy on exposition, light on blood, but genuinely emotionally satisfying.

It all hit the fan at the end of last week’s episode, when Letts (Stephen Rea) ended up in the custody of the central group moments after Alice brutally murdered the man she held accountable for her mother’s death. As expected the Utopia family has splintered to pieces this week, with Jessica Hyde and Arby (or rather RB) forming an unexpected double act in pursuit of the manuscript. The group’s questioning of Letts, initially introduced as a Guantanamo-style interrogation, quickly exposes the cracks in their respective viewpoints. Meanwhile, Michael’s family life takes an unexpected turn.

While there is a lot of information to absorb this week, the success of the episode lies in its ability to seamlessly pull together several of the key players, effectively stitching the separate story strands into a cohesive whole. For an episode that explores the issues around a global population approaching 7 billion, this week’s episode reveals better than any other that the world of Utopia is surprisingly small. This is an asset rather than a drawback, allowing the audience to see and anticipate the consequences of certain characters finally being forced to confront one another.

As it turns out, these oil and water exchanges work rather well. Away from the gothic surroundings of his foreboding office, Letts seems surprisingly powerless in the hands of our heroes. Similarly, the embittered scientist from last week’s episode steps out of the guise of a minor character and is revealed to have a murkier, more prominent position in this story than we expected. This late in the game, it’s impressive that Utopia’s background characters are as fully realised as its central cast.

If Utopia is opening up a debate about the big questions surrounding the future of humanity, it demonstrates its maturity by refusing to give easy answers. After weeks of running away from those pursuing them, Wilson Wilson, Becky and Ian are at their most interesting this week, with each championing a different but equally believable stance on the eugenics plan. Is it a crime against humanity or is it the answer to long-term survival?

Alexandra Roach’s performance of Becky is suitably emotive this week. Roach has done well to maintain our empathy despite hints that she had a secret motive, but the revelation of her illness adjusts our view of her, turning her into the most tragic character to date. Her reaction to the sight of Milner’s son’s illness is one of the most touching moments, and only makes her adamant refusal to trade the manuscript that much more impressive. It’s interesting that Becky’s dramatic redemption coincides with the corruption of Wilson Wilson’s character, whose troubling ‘self torture’ scene is an interesting reversal of his sufferings in episode one.

While it’s true that most of the characters demonstrate a shift in power or status this week, the highlight of the episode comes from the pairing of Jessica Hyde and RB, a duo that seemed so unlikely and yet works to dazzling effect. Their early scenes are a hilarious demonstration of monotone comedy and their interaction in the cafe is one of the most humorous encounters of the series. That the characters can explore such comedic landscapes only to delve into weighty issues of parental abuse is a testament to the versatility of the actors involved.

This week’s visuals conduct a dance between darkness and light, where even primary colours in the Utopia world seem to be at war with one another. Although it’s not overtly expressed, the continual interplay between red and blue throughout the episode hints at the choices the characters have to face. Will they take the red pill or the blue pill? And which side will they find themselves on?

Ultimately, the episode resonates because the series is brave enough to raise big questions. Last week’s episode hinted that genocide was the objective of the company, so the eugenics twist is a far more interesting, 21st century issue to explore.

Is Grant the next character to be tied to the torture chair? Will Michael realise his mistake before it’s too late? And what would be the impact of destroying the manuscript?

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  • torjs99

    My review: Looks pretty, ultimately empty

  • Jonix

    Letts is played by Stephen Rea

  • Joe Hughes

    Great review. I like the Utilitarian debate. Is it okay to rob 90% of the people of the Earth of their ability to reproduce if it means the prevention of mass starvation and the possible extinction of the race?

  • Chris Riot Tapes

    Surprised I haven’t seen anyone call it what it is, a prequel to “Childrem of Men”.

  • VicTheBrit

    Well, it is the “painless” solution instead of the alternative. Kudos to Kudos for promoting this potent story…

    The “breeding like rabbits” whinges here and elsewhere is proof that many people are sitting on both sides of the fence.

  • VicTheBrit

    Party pooper. Perhaps Coronation Street is more in your line…?

  • torjs99

    very troll…

  • Nobby Clarke

    We know, it says so in the article above, and in the credits at the end of each episode. Not sure what your point is?

  • MoodyKitty

    At the end credits, while they were trying to flog the obligatory box set, I clearly saw SERIES 1 on the box. So I take it we will have an unsatisfactory conclusion as the storyline will become steadily dragged into a series 2. The sounds of barrels being scrapped as a slapdash tenuously related storyline not by the original author is plucked from thin air.

  • margaretwilde

    Arby’s wrenching, exquisitely acted message of comfort and love from beyond the grave to his more fortunate sibling was so profoundly moving as to be almost unbearable. This engrossing, complex serial will stay in my thoughts a long time.

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