Utopia (2013): Utopia: Episode #2.1
July 15, 2014 1:28 PM - Season 2, Episode 1 - Subscribe

Season 2 of dark conspiracy thriller Utopia kicks off at the height of the UK's late seventies 'Winter of Discontent'. The entire episode takes place in the late 1970s as we meet Phillip Carvel, Milner and the others involved in the genesis of the Network and Janus. Remember - the Network is watching.

Jumping back and forward in time, we follow Phillip Carvel as his experiments in human violence attract the attention of a young Milner, running an intelligence service within MI5 that seems to be answerable to no one.

Carvel has been experimenting on his own son, but has been too successful, turning the young boy into a near-catatonic mute. He goes to a ball where he meets Milner and, drunk, explains his fears for the Malthusian catastrophe he believes awaits humanity. Milner offers to kill herself in order to be part of the solution, but Carvel explains his alternative - sterility for 95% of the world population.

The Network works across the chaotic period leading up to the Tory landslide of 1979, with their hands visible in everything from Three Mile Island to a series of high profile IRA attacks. Milner puts pressure on Carvel to finish Janus, showing that she's prepared to sacrifice everybody from her own husband to dozens of scientists working in secret on the project. Jessica Hyde is born to Carvel and his wife, killing her in the process and Carvel flees with his daughter, terrified by his own invention. Re-captured by Milner, he is tortured, but escapes with Jessica with help from a mysterious man named Christos. He hides the Janus virus inside Jessica as they escape.

His mind broken from the torture and the knowledge of what he has created, Carvel is checked into a mental hospital by Krystoff under the name of Mark Deyn, where we see him making a beginning on the drawings that will become the manuscript of The Utopia Experiments.
posted by Happy Dave (9 comments total)
Q&A with director Marc Munden.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:31 PM on July 15, 2014

I found this series opener really difficult to watch; so little of the dark humour that permeated the first series was evident, and it felt pretty relentless. In particular, the scenes with baby Pietre...oy vey. I had to keep pausing it and going to do something else, they really upset me. Not so much bc of the bunnies, just at the way Carvel exploited and abandoned his son. (Incidentally, has it ever been specified what kind of field he's meant to be working in? I understand he's supposed to be a super genius, but why, if his speciality is presumably genetics, is he doing experiments to inhibit violence? And what kind of dumbass imagines that subjecting a young child to violence and trauma is going to inhibit those tendencies?! Ugh, I just hate that whole plot line.) And while I'm talking about beefs with the ep: why is Jessica so chill about all the shit going on around her? She seemed totally unfazed about her dad going round the bend, witnessing him brutally murdering a guy, and then going off with Christos to learn the art of war or whatever.

That said, I really liked that they went in such a different direction for this first ep, tying in so many historical events. I thought their casting of Rose Leslie for Milner was inspired. That scene where she's putting her husband into the bath to sober up, and then orders the bombing of the airplane in his earshot, as if to force herself to kill him! Incidentally, before that happened, I was waiting to find out that Becky was somehow their child, once I heard her husband's Welsh accent. I suppose that would be one familial connection too many.
posted by catch as catch can at 2:16 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have this on my list of shows I watch but don't enjoy. I fell asleep during a fair bit of the opening with the baby and had to rewind. It was kind of like a droll music video for a bit there.

Interesting that they chose to give us so much backstory, I can only assume it's because they didn't have as much compelling story left over after season one.
posted by Catblack at 2:53 PM on July 15, 2014

And what kind of dumbass imagines that subjecting a young child to violence and trauma is going to inhibit those tendencies

I think, although its not explicit, that Carvel had been giving Arby pills to suppress violence. When that made the child completely docile he decided to try and reverse the process in a rather... extreme manner. I also think he experimented on Jessica, which explains her unusual reactions.

Yeah as a fairly new father the neglect scenes were pretty hard to watch, especially Arby reaching for Carvel as he makes a break for it.

I'm not sure that including historical figures was a good idea. Airey Neave was a war hero and the first British man to escape Colditz. I think its a bit tacky to include him, and indeed the Diplomat who was also murdered, as incidental details. I can understand the attraction of adding these details, but it feels a bit unecessary to me. The usual suspects (Telegraph+Mail) have already made some noise about this, and I'm not sure they're completely wrong.

I'm not sure about prequels in general. They can be fun, but often they're just there for an "ah ha!" moment of recognition, rather than insight. I think however that learning a bit more about Carvel doesn't hurt, and for the most part I enjoyed this episode.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:10 AM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Catblack, why would you watch a show you don't enjoy?
posted by catch as catch can at 12:24 AM on July 16, 2014

Why would you finish a book you don't enjoy? Why would you eat a food you don't enjoy? Why would you keep smelling that bum on the subway's body odor if you didn't enjoy it? Why would you listen to a song you don't enjoy?

Because the show is on. Because you've started it and want to finish it. Because you are stuck there with it for a time. Because it's just a song, and the next song on the radio might be better.

Non-enjoyment of a thing doesn't mean you can't appreciate it.

Utopia is a strange duck, full of odd stylistic choices and unlikable characters. It's garish and slow moving at times. It tries with a small cast to get beyond that and tell an awkwardly ambitious story. It's cruel and violent at times, sometimes predictably so, other times unsettlingly so.

I like it enough to watch, but I don't find that experience particularly enjoyable. Why shouldn't I watch?
posted by Catblack at 4:13 PM on July 16, 2014

I'm not arguing you shouldn't, I was just curious about the idea that you have a whole list of things you watch that you don't enjoy. I don't feel I have nearly enough free time to sit through an experience (by choice) that I'm not deriving pleasure from.
posted by catch as catch can at 12:11 AM on July 17, 2014

Episode 2 thread here.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:16 PM on July 17, 2014

At that time there was a sense - at least on the left, though it was reflected in some stories in Private Eye, which was by no means a left-wing publication under Richard Ingrams - that MI5 and Special Branch and the security services were out of control. There were rumours of connections between them and Ulster Unionist groups and actual fascist organisations. There also are actual conspiracy theories about his death (that he was killed by MI5 because he had threatened to completely reorganise them). It has also been claimed that he intended to have Tony Benn assassinated should Labour have won the election. The Network plot is completely far-fetched, but at the same time is resonant with history.

I find the series' sociopathy strangely invigorating, and this particular episode quite extraordinary. There really isn't anything else like it on television, which is a definite plus.

Not one for rabbit-lovers, though.
posted by Grangousier at 7:18 AM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

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