Episode 1 of Utopia did a very good job of setting up the characters, story and atmosphere of the series, and episode 2 continues in the same way, keeping the story moving and developing the story it is attempting to tell in a satisfying way that’s already got me hooked.
Ian, Wilson and Becky were shocked by the sudden appearance of Jessica Hyde, but she immediately assumes control, making it clear to them that their lives are in danger and that she’s the only person who can help them (although she stops short of saying ‘Come with me if you want to live’). Becky in particular is reluctant to believe anything Jessica has to say, something that isn’t helped by Jessica seeming to bond with Ian more than her or Wilson.
After some prompting, Jessica explains that they are being chased by people from The Network, a secret government organisation that lost control of itself. She explains the history of The Network, revealing that the man who wrote The Utopia Experiments wanted to leave, but was held captive until one day escaping. He had a daughter who escaped with him, and she is that girl. So not only are Ian, Wilson and Becky on the run from The Network, they are on the run with the girl that The Network is searching for. The four of them are forced to go on the road, with Jessica holding up a small clothes shop for money and a change of outfit for everyone (Becky’s dislike for Jessica grows when she picks out a neon pink tracksuit for Becky).
This episode begins with a man putting a parcel into a letter box and then stepping in front of a truck on a motorway. He becomes a significant part of the puzzle of Utopia as Ian and Jessica visit his home because of his connection to The Network and the graphic novel. Jessica flashes a badge as she pretends to be a detective, and the man’s wife lets them into the house. But Jessica suspects something different, and is correct, as she discovers that the woman is actually a CIA agent (she finds out after cracking her over the head and finding a gun in her handbag). At this point it becomes clear that Jessica will do anything to get the answers she wants, and she ties up the woman and threatens her with electrocution if she thinks she is being lied to.
Neil Maskell’s hitman is again quietly terrifying again in this episode. He just keeps appearing to stalk people and question them, and after Jessica has gotten the answers she wants from the CIA woman and left, he arrives to find out what information was given up, before calmly executing the woman and moving on.
Another performance I’m enjoying is that of Paul Higgins as civil servant Michael. He’s giving a very different performance to what he did in The Thick Of It, as a man whose live is being manipulated by people with more power than him, and who have assets everywhere, meaning that he can’t escape his mistakes. He’s been forced to push through the purchase of a vaccine for Russian flu, and when a colleague has resigned and it looks like he’ll be forced out next, Russian flu mysteriously breaks out in Shetland, making the vaccine purchase suddenly into a brilliant piece of forward thinking. He’s also approached by a journalist who warns him that his life is in danger, only for that journalist to be murdered, with two senior party colleagues (played by James Fox and Stephen Rea) altering him to this, making it clear that he has no way out.
It’s not yet clear how Michael’s story is connected to that of Jessica, Ian, Wilson and Becky (they are later joined by Glenn, the boy who has The Utopia Experiments manuscript, but leaves a copy of it with a girl he meets [which I’m sure will result in her getting a visit from Maskell’s hitman]), but it seems certain that they will somehow collide in future episodes.
This episode ends with Becky making a phone call to what seems to be the people chasing her and the others, marking her out as a double agent. If she is a double agent, she’s very close to getting the graphic novel back into the wrong hands, leaving you wondering if Jessica will figure her out before its too late.
Utopia is developing very nicely; the acting is very good and all the angles of the multi-stranded plot are interesting and compelling. I continue to be impressed by it.