January 29, 2020

Utopia “Episode 2.3” Review | Off the Beaten Path

Have any of you watched a show that had some recurring flaws that, while not big, just bugged you? Not enough to stop you from watching mind you, but enough that it dampens the overall experience. I like to think of it as like a minor splinter. Now, imagine how good it feels to pull that goddamn splinter out. For me, Episode 2.3 is the episode of Utopia that pulls out that splinter. If you’ve been following my Utopia reviews, you can probably guess what that splinter is. If not, that’s cool too, I’ll explain it shortly.

The Episode Summary  

Episode 2.3 starts with Lee in Ian’s office, trying to take something from Ian’s computer. Ian’s boss stumbles across this scene, understandable confused and wary. After a bit of back and forth, Lee rather messily kills him.  For the rest of the episode, Lee works with and antagonizes Wilson as they track down the forum group.

The forum group meanwhile continues to move forward under Pietre’s lead. Based on what Donaldson claims is the reason the Network must be hunting him down for, they seek the help of a young hacker. During this, Ian and Becky slowly start to reconnect and Pietre makes plans for himself. Later, they come to a startling realization; Anton is Philip Carvel.

Milner, growing desperate from lack of time and despondent over how broken Jessica appears to have become, gives the Network permission to essentially vivisect Jessica to find out the alteration of Janus. This plan goes awry when Jessica uses the transport to a surgical facility to escape. Floundering, Milner is unsure of her next step until she gets a fateful call from Ian, who tells her that Carvel is alive.

Lastly, Geoff continues to chafe at the orders he’s been giving, viewing them as career suicide. At Corvadt, Michael finds himself in a tough situation when a scientist/potential romantic partner Bridget comes to his office, seeking his help after she deduces that the Russian Flu vaccine is a forgery. He must then decide whether to bring her into the fold or cover up her discovery.

My Thoughts

Right off the bat, Episode 2.3 struck me as more interesting than Episode 2.2. While I’ll give Episode 2.2 a bit of slack for needing to set up the present-day narrative, it did feel a bit bloated. Some individual scenes made me question their necessity (i.e. half of Michael’s scenes). Like, some characters were re-introduced to the narrative, only to not have anything of value to do (i.e. Wilson). 

I still question how necessary these storylines are in the greater narrative, especially Michael’s. To me at least, Michael’s and Wilson’s storylines are still the weak points of the episode. That said, Episode 2.3 at least gave them some interesting interactions and dilemmas to deal with. I mean, just look at how much Lee antagonizes Wilson in just the most hilariously petty ways, from making endless eye references and puns to beating Wilson with a tire iron despite Wilson pointing a gun at him. Gotta say, I almost forgot how darkly comic Utopia can be when it wants to be.

Getting back to the matter of the necessity and efficacy of ongoing storylines, Episode 2.3 straight up performed a low-key miracle for me; it made Milner interesting and compelling. If you’ve been reading my Utopia reviews, you’ll know how I feel about Milner. Going back to my intro, Milner has been my Utopia splinter. If you haven’t (in that case, welcome new reader!) or just want a good recap, I have found Milner to be the consistent weak point of Utopia. Her presence made an entertaining mystery and conspiracy needlessly complicated, and the fact that everything seemed to go her way didn’t help much. Even Episode 2.1, which gave a very interesting look at Carvel’s and Milner’s intertwined lives didn’t wipe all those feelings away. Episode 2.3 changed that for me.

If I had to boil this change down, I’d say it’s because Episode 2.3 shows Milner is a fallible human being. Even in her best previous appearance in Episode 2.1, Milner is never shown to be off-balance. When she was in a bad spot, it was merely a deception. If she encountered a problem, it was solved with brutal efficiency. Episode 2.1 shows that this is because she developed a bit of an Ubermenschian god complex due to her world-changing ambitions. Episode 2.3 instead shows us that she is entirely human though.

In her very first scene, she laments how she has seemingly broken Jessica (her last link to Carvel), while Leah, a fellow Network leader, lambasts her for not making any progress in the last 5 months. After Jessica escapes from captivity, this is further amplified. She sends out Wilson and Lee with a previously unseen anxious haste. When Ian calls her and tells her they have Carvel, you could almost see the glimmer of hope return to her eyes (Geraldine James really earning her paycheck here). Despite this (or because of this shock), she still repeatedly slips up, likely planting the seeds of doubt in Ian’s mind about her trustworthiness. All of this on top of Leah lambasting Milner for her over-complicated plans and mistakes makes her more interesting to me.

This leads to the other main thing I wanted to discuss; the game-changer that Carvel is alive. This is unsurprisingly something that will dominate the narrative going forward. On top of that, it ties Episode 2.1 more thoroughly to the greater narrative. I mean, he’s the figurative keystone that binds all the threads of Utopia together. Plus, just imagine how hellbent the Network will be in seeking him out compared to the small fry of the main cast, especially before V-Day. 

For the one narrative throughline of the season so far, look at the change Carvel made to Janus. Knowing the change hasn’t been discovered and fixed after over 30 years still hangs over the heads of the Network leadership. With their other methods of figuring out the change (Jessica and the manuscript) are out of play, Carvel is the best option. And you know what? That’s just an option, there could be more game changers along the way. In a way, Carvel is both a keystone and a cipher.

Also, just consider the kind of character interactions we can see now the truth about Carvel is out. First and foremost, there’s Milner. I honestly half expect her to seek out Carvel just to be with him once again. It’s become clear she still has a thing for him, and that’s now tinged with layers of regret. In other words, we’re getting some kind of emotional reunion between the two. Even more so though, I want to see how both Pietre and Jessica react towards him. After watching him in Episode 2.1, it’s clear he failed both of them, Pietre especially. Because of Carvel, both Pietre and Jessica have been living lonely, sociopathic experiences full of violence and despair. Contrary to Milner’s adoration, I’m expecting a reckoning from his children. In other words, man we are in for one interesting emotional tapestry, all thanks to getting tied to Episode 2.1.  

One last quick aside, this is the kind of conspiracy thriller twist I appreciate. It doesn’t add more to the conspiracy itself (though this can change with time) but it does change the playing field for everyone.

Don’t worry though, my whole review here won’t be all about the developing and immediate Milner-Carvel drama. The rest of the main forum group also gets a fair amount to do. Ian and Becky’s relationship was also one of the main emotional through-lines of the episode. Sure, it doesn’t have a ton of bearing on the main plot. That said, the push and pull culminating in heartful declarations and apologies warmed my heart, which was immediately cooled by Donaldson spilling the beans about Becky’s whole secret arc in season one. With Jessica’s wild card attraction to Ian and her inevitable return, this is going to be one hell of a soapy ride. 

Speaking of Jessica, her whole escape was super exciting and satisfying, especially after what little she had in Episode 2.2. Also, I found her more terrifying in her school girl-esque getup at the end of the episode than when she was covered in gore and hanging out in a playground. That whole final scene reminded me of Helena’s and Sarah’s reunion in Orphan Black in the best of ways (sorry if I spoiled that for you, I just oftentimes think about Orphan Black when I think about Utopia).

In Conclusion

God, Episode 2.3 was an entertaining episode of Utopia. It both managed to add a kickstart of personal and narrative momentum to a season that was already in high gear while addressing some of the biggest problems I’ve had with Utopia since I started my rewatch. Sure, Episode 2.3 isn’t perfect by any stretch; it’s saddled with some rather thin plotlines that are given a touch too much screen time. That said, Episode 2.3 is up there with Episode 2.1 as my favorite episode of the season, and the following episodes have their work cut out for them to top it in quality.

My Recommendation: Highly 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.

View all posts by Joseph MacMaster →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *