July 9, 2020

Utopia “Episode 2.2” Review | Off the Beaten Path

And we’re back to our regularly scheduled Utopia programming! While Episode 2.2 is the second episode of the season, it’s the one that kicks off the greater plot. Sure, the mysterious changes to Janus introduced in Episode 2.1 do indeed play a role in Episode 2.1, but Episode 2.1, as good as it was, felt more like a back door pilot episode for a more classic espionage story. As such, the episode Episode 2.2 most resembles is, unsurprisingly, Episode 1.1

Both episodes are thematically similar. While Episode 1.1 is thematically about the destruction of one’s previous life, Episode 2.2 is about how people are brought back down. So, does it stack up? The answer to that is that it’s a perfectly whelming episode of Utopia.

The Episode Summary

Since Episode 2.2 is a return to the present day (5 months after Episode 1.6 to be exact), we also return to the main cast and their stories. The episode itself is bookended by Jessica’s story. It starts with her in a Network prison, under the joint supervision of Milner and her new interrogator. The episode also ends with Jessica in prison, but now her interrogator is dead and she has some tools for escape.

We also catch up with the forum gang. Ian has returned to his normal life as an IT worker, the only source of excitement in life is his ongoing search for Becky. Grant, still believed to be dead, lives with Ian but is becoming antsy at being cooped up for so long. Eventually, Ian finally finds Becky, so he and Grant head out to find her.

Speaking of Becky, she has spent the last five months acting essentially as Donaldson’s goon in exchange for thoraxin. After Donaldson (now played by Michael Maloney) convinces her not to kill herself, they seek out, Dr. Bradley, a professed expert of Deels to get his work (so Donaldson can write a better book than Bradley’s). This quickly turns into a kidnapping, and they find the source of Bradley’s knowledge on Deels; an eastern European homeless man named Anton (played by Darth Sidious aka Ian McDiarmid).

On the Network side of the story, we get some quick character glimpses. Wilson is alive and well, more or less under Milner’s wing. Michael has been tapped by Geoff to run Corvadt after the company was bailed out by the government. Even Lee (aka the hitman from Episode 1.1) is revealed to be alive but in a much-weakened state; he has suffered permanent nerve damage in his chest from the bullet wound, making his left arm and lung useless. Lastly, Pietre, living the last five months as a normal guy in a loving relationship, is coerced back into the game by Lee for one last job; to assassinate Donaldson.

My Thoughts

So as I mentioned in my intro, I felt that Episode 2.2 was a perfectly whelming episode of Utopia. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad by any means. Like Episode 1.1, it’s primarily concerned with setting up the ongoing plot for the season, along with bringing us back into the lives of the main cast we’ve followed from the beginning. It’s similar enough to Episode 1.1 that you can easily read it as a pilot 2.0 episode, which isn’t exactly breaking new ground. To me at least, it just feels a bit plainer after how out there Episode 2.1 was. But enough about that, what makes Episode 2.2 work and doesn’t make it work.

Again, this episode is primarily concerned with bringing us back into the lives of the main cast. As such, depending on who’s introduced, their reunions, and what their situations are like make or break this episode. Out of the main cast that’s reintroduced, I found Pietre’s story to be the most interesting. In case you forgot, we last saw present-day Pietre in Episode 1.5, back when he briefly teamed up with Jessica to retrieve the manuscript and revealed how connected they are (aka how they’re siblings). 

Here, we find Pietre living the life he’s always wanted; a normal man working a blue-collar job (he’s a plumber), living with his girlfriend Tess and her young daughter Amanda. That is until Lee, seemingly back from the dead, forces Pietre back into the life he’s wanted out of for so long. It’s a great thematic counterpoint to Ian and Grant, who itch to find excitement in their lives.

The scene also has my favorite shot of the episode (I’ve made it the article photo). It starts with a long shot of Pietre walking down the road towards a fork. This to me represents the paths in life that he has taken since we last saw him (note how his good life is on the right side). Since we see him carrying the bag, we don’t know what he’s going to do, so when he gives Amanda the toy from the bag, we know Pietre’s turned a corner. It reminded me a bit of Terminator 2 before we know Schwarzenegger’s Terminator is a good guy.

The only thing better than that reintroduction scene is Pietre’s first reunion scene aka his reunion with Lee. I’d go as far to say it’s my favorite scene of the episode. If there’s anything about this episode I love, it’s some of the great character moments and reunions that populate this episode. And you know what? This scene was firing on all cylinders. 

Lee shows up out of the blue, and they have a reunion dinner that becomes incredibly tense. This dinner highlights how they’ve changed since they last interacted back in the pilot. Lee keeps calling him Arby, to Amanda pulling out the dental gas canister from Lee’s bag. It’s also a well-acted scene, especially once Tess and Amanda show up while Lee is over. I mean, look at how on edge Maskell’s body language is compared to Paul Ready’s smug ease. Hell, when Lee finally pulls the gun out, it was almost a relief to me.

But enough of this one particular scene, what about the rest of the episode? Well frankly, some of the other reintroduction scenes and general character scenes are more interesting than others. Ian and Grant’s, for example, is fairly tame. While the Episode 2.2 plot takes them to interesting places, it starts essentially where they started back in Episode 1.1. In other words, this plot was the most beholden to the status quo. Safe to say, I wasn’t fully feeling this. Granted, I understand why they did this on a thematic level, but still.

For another example, out of the four scenes Michael is in, we could have cut two of them (the one where he arrives at Corvadt and when he makes a microwave meal for himself) and not lost anything. I’d go as far as saying that scenes like these are the things I liked least about Episode 2.2, especially for how they messed with the otherwise tight pacing. In fact, I would have taken those Michael scenes and made them additional scenes involving Becky, Donaldson, and new arrival Anton, which was much more entertaining in general.

Speaking of Anton, he’s probably the most interesting character we’re newly introduced to.  Besides Pietre’s whole storyline, Becky and Donaldson’s whole story was the most fun. One of my favorite moments is when Donaldson, fleeing from the SWAT officer chasing him down, resorts to dragging Bradley, handcuffed to Donaldson and freshly dead of a heart attack, across the floor. It’s one of the most darkly comic things I’ve seen, and I was howling with laughter.

What’s more important to that whole story is Anton. Right away, we know he’s responsible for Bradley’s in-depth knowledge of Deels, and that he’s a homeless man from somewhere in Eastern Europe. But you know what, I expect this man will be a central part of the plot going forward due to his sheer mysteriousness. Out of all the new plot points that will play a role in the greater narrative (the alterations to Janus, Pietre working with the forum group, everything related to V-Day, Michael running Corvadt and Geoff’s professional dissatisfaction, and Wilson working with Lee to name a few), the stuff relating to Anton strikes me as the most interesting.

In Conclusion

To wrap things up, I thought Episode 2.2 was a fun, if somewhat safe, episode of Utopia. It featured some great character scenes, both during their general reintroductions to the greater plot and during the inevitable reunions. It also laid the groundwork for future plot developments (Anton and Pietre’s new family for starters) while building off of the stuff introduced in Episode 2.1 (the changes to Janus). While slower and more whelming than overwhelming, it makes me excited for what’s to come.

My Recommendation: Recommend

Joseph MacMaster

Writer extraordinaire in progress who hangs out with the Chicago Film Scene crew. I screenwrite for my fellow CFS filmmakers. I also write TV and movie reviews, and am a co-host/main writer of the Chicago Film Scene: Live! podcast.

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