Review of Utopia – Series 1, Episode 6
SPOILERS: Do not read this if you have not seen episode 6 of Utopia
In many well-constructed thrillers, the pay-off to the resolutions and revelations of the plot are often enhanced by the sense that the answers were hiding in plain sight all along. Over six tantalising instalments Utopia has carried out an elaborate magic trick, and as the curtain falls on the first series we are treated to an exciting ending that leaves plenty to be explored in the event of a second run.
Episode six is anything but boring, marking the point where character and plot development reach fruition in order to deliver an ending that fulfils the promises established all the way back in week one.
The first cases of the Russian flu have been reported. Grant is being blackmailed into giving up crucial information about the manuscript after being apprehended last week. Becky and Ian are forced to confront the terrifying inevitability of her illness, while the hunt for Mr Rabbit is now of highest importance. When Michael’s personal life takes a turn for the worst, he ends up side by side with the central group as they battle to prevent the imminent distribution of the vaccine.
The ticking time bomb to the dispersal of the vaccine is a technique used to great effect this week, upping the stakes for the characters and introducing a real sense of urgency to the scenes. The result is that every interaction and development throughout the episode feels as though it has been very carefully and purposefully incorporated.
While we have been drip-fed a number of surprises in past weeks, this episode delivers one shock after another and manages to do so without feeling forced. The big reveal surrounding Anya (Anna Madeley) is a perfect example of this. In hindsight her character seemed to be somewhat of an anomaly in the Utopia universe, a single cliché in a world populated by complex characters. The revelation that she was yet another spy was proof that you should keep your enemies close and your prostitutes closer, but on a deeper level demonstrated that every character in this story has something going on beneath the surface.
The extended running time of this episode means that each of the central characters gets their chance to shine. Alexandra Roach and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett give strong performances as Becky and Ian respectively. While it has been entertaining to act as onlookers to their budding romance, the development of Becky’s illness has deepened their bond and made their connection far more compelling. They are suddenly transformed into ill-fated lovers with limited time together, and both actors subtly convey this shift in their relationship in a manner that evokes our sympathy for them.
Michael and Alice’s pairing is another odd combination that makes surprising sense. Adoption may not have been on the cards for Michael, but his protection of Alice makes perfect sense in hindsight. She is arguably the vaccine to his ‘virus’ (his ability to excel at getting things abysmally wrong). His wife’s statement that he was a flawed man who would make a great father was a statement I scoffed at, but it proved to be exceptionally accurate.
Adeel Akhtar’s performance this week demonstrates that his character has travelled the furthest from home in both mind and body, and his battles with grief and his shifting worldview make for suitably dramatic viewing. His stairwell showdown with Jessica Hyde is one of the highlights of the episode, a savagely tense scene precisely because we identify with and care about the characters on both sides.
We’ve known that Jessica Hyde is a human weapon for weeks, but the final reveal that she is the key to the vaccine is a dark twist that opens up a whole new storeroom of story material to be plundered, if Utopia is granted a second series.
The final revelation of Mr. Rabbit’s identity is a well-timed surprise, and one that is paid off after a number of dramatic reversals that echo back throughout previous episodes. Geraldine James has been on excellent wise-cracking form as Milner, and is the cause of several payoffs this week, not least because of the convincing suggestion of her off-screen death in week five. The revelation that she is not only alive and well but is in fact the elusive Mr Rabbit proves conclusively that you cannot trust that anyone in Utopia has met his or her end unless you’ve seen their brain tissue or arterial spray spilled on screen.
While many of our suspicions are laid to rest, the episode is so open-ended that we can only hope Channel 4 makes the decision to give us more Utopia. Will Ian save Becky from her fatal illness? Can Wilson Wilson redeem himself after his betrayals? And what are Milner’s long-term plans for the virus?Tagged in: Adeel Akhtar, Fiona O'Shaughnessy, Jessica Hyde, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Paul Higgins, Utopia, Wilson Wilson
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