July 7, 2020

Utopia “Episode 2.5” Review | Off the Beaten Path

Oh man, I’m seeing a pattern here with season two of Utopia that I can’t believe I haven’t noticed before. Namely, the season has been following some rather similar plot beats as season one but also has had a similar quality from episode to episode. This revelation slapped me in the face with once we got the big twist of Episode 2.5 (which I will cover more in-depth later in the review), and soon everything fell into place (I mean, consider my thoughts on the qualities of Episode 1.4 and Episode 2.4). That said, I think Episode 2.5 is a damn fine episode of television, and I’ll tell you why.

The Episode Summary

Episode 2.5 starts with a man, known as Terrance, working the counter at a fast-food joint, accosted by a drunken customer for messing not getting an order to his liking. Later, we see Terrance at his home, printing out news reports of all the familial murder-suicides from Episode 2.4 and prepping a go-bag for some mission involving all five agents.

From here, the storylines are fairly intertwined, with everyone essentially heading to the British countryside to find Pietre, Grant, and Carvel. The first to follow the trio is Jessica with a captive Milner. Jessica tracks the trio down using the phone she planted in Ian’s jacket (which Grant is now wearing), and there are reunions abound. First, there are the reunions involving Carvel, with Carvel snapping into lucidity when he immediately recognizes Jessica and Milner. Then there’s the sibling reunion of Jessica and Pietre, which despite some initial aggression on Jessica’s end turns into a friendly reunion.

For the rest of the forum group, the action starts with Becky and Ian unsure how to proceed. That inaction disappears though once Ian learns that not only is his brother Ron dead but that he’s the main suspect. After the initial emotional turmoil subsides, they cover their tracks at their hideout and head to Michael’s. There, they are arrested by a police force led by Wilson, who’s taking the reins of the Network in Milner’s absence. The forum group gives Wilson and Leah the “truth” according to Carvel, Ian and Wilson head to highlands, knowing that Carvel’s adjustment is worse than they feared while Michale and Becky rescue Jen and Alice from captivity.

In the highlands, Carvel reveals to Milner the adjustment he made to Janus; he changed it so that only the Romani people will be largely spared. Not only that, he found that Janus changes the molecular structure of the Russian flu vaccine, making it useless, which means that hundreds of millions will die from the Russian flu once it’s released. From there, before and after some surprise casualties, Milner issues the order to go ahead with the release, setting the stage for the series finale.

My Thoughts

Man, there’s a lot to talk about with Episode 2.5. Just to get these points out of the way, there are a fair number of things Episode 2.5 did to either improve upon or just straight up patch up Episode 2.4. For one, Episode 2.5 built on the espionage plot of Episode 2.4 and made it better. While I didn’t like the espionage bit involving the sleeper agents going out of their way to destroy everything about their cover lives, I found Terrance to be better, more in line with what sleeper agents should do. Plus, Terrance feels like a good villain for everyone to try and stop in the finale.

For my other sticking point of Episode 2.4 that was largely fixed here, I’m glad they’ve clarified Carvel’s mental state aka he has dementia with brief periods of lucidity. While I’m not quite sure if this is truly accurate for people struck with dementia (I had a great aunt who died of Alzheimer’s, and Carvel’s is different enough to her condition to give me pause), it’s at least reassuring he isn’t obfuscating senility.

Ok, now for the stuff solely related to Episode 2.5 that I liked. First, I’d like to talk about the acting on display. Specifically, I want to talk about Nathan Stewart-Jarrett aka Ian. For the most part, Ian has been on the lower end of the spectrum in terms of main characters I cared about (I mean, how often have I brought him up during these reviews of Utopia). But man, this episode gave Stewart-Jarrett something to sink his acting teeth into besides being the straight-man of the ensemble.

Compared to season one where he just kind of went along with increasing incredulity, Ian has been thrown through the wringer. I mean, his breakdown at the beginning of the episode along with his general “fuck this” attitude afterward was something to behold. I’m hoping we get some more performances like this in Episode 2.6, cause man was that entertaining.

Another thing, related to Ian, that I liked about Episode 2.5 was Wilson. Man, Wilson is just becoming a straight-up boss as his face-heel turn continues. This episode puts his arc this season into context; not only was Milner bringing Wilson further into the fold, but she was grooming him for a leadership role, likely to replace her late assistant. And man, does he step up in Milner’s absence.

Working with Leah, he just takes the reigns of the Network, and he does it with panache. I mean, how boss was it when Geoff stupidly tried to blackmail the Network, and Wilson sees straight through it. That “is there anything else you want” line at the end of that scene with Geoff was on the nose, but goddamn that was a great line. It honestly makes me sad that we haven’t gotten more out of Wilson this season, especially as he’s becoming the most interesting and entertaining character out of the whole cast.

Speaking of Wilson, this brings me to another point I want to talk about; all the reunions, both big and small. On the smallest scale, we have Michael reuniting with Jen and Alice, and those three rejoining the greater plot. We also have Wilson reuniting with Ian and Becky, which just goes to highlight how much everyone has changed since they last saw each other in Episode 1.6. Despite how great that reunion was, I think the reunions that defined Episode 2.5 was the joint reunion between Jessica, Milner, and Carvel.

Giving another quick shout out acting-wise, Fiona O’Shaughnessy played the conflicting emotions of Jessica well when she finally met the man who experimented on her and abandoned her. From when she was about to stab her father to death, then eventually just embraced the man, it was a truly emotional moment. It’s definitely a tearjerker of a reunion, especially in hindsight once Carvel shoots Pietre, his own son, to protect Jessica from the monster he created (while they’re having a lowkey positive reunion themselves) despite Pietre not creating any kind of threat.

This reunion was an interesting counterpoint to his reunion with Milner, which wasn’t as emotional, but more like two close friends meeting for the first time in a long time. Despite the years, they immediately resume their old dynamic aka their Ubermenschian feedback loop, which feels like it’s in overdrive to make up for lost time. It’s more subdued but just as believable as his heartfelt reunion with Jessica. One thing these reunions had in common was that they immediately brought Carvel back to lucidity, which I thought was a nice touch. It highlights how important both Jessica and Milner are to Carvel, but each in their respective ways.

These reunions lead me to the last positive thing I want to mention about Episode 2.5 aka the twist. Here, while Milner and Carvel are reconnecting, Carvel outlines the changes to Janus. First, Janus will sterilize not randomly, but completely except for the Romani people (makes me wonder about Jessica in particular, seeing as she’s Romani but infertile). Second, the alteration has led to a change in the shape of the proteins related to the vaccine, making it useless. This means that regardless of the vaccine, the scale of casualties from the flu (made extra deadly mind you) will increase in magnitudes, from only to some thousands to potentially hundreds of millions, and will lead to the Romani people inheriting the Earth.

Safe to say, this twist is quite the twist of the knife. Not only that but even with this knowledge Milner gives the order to commence, figuring the hundreds of millions dying sooner and painfully rather than slowly and peacefully has no bearing on the end result. What’s more, Grant kills her before Wilson can make her rescind the order, dooming the human race to a painful death unless they can find Terrance in time.

The twist is strong on a thematic level, building up from the setup in Episode 2.1 and further elaboration and reiteration in Episode 2.4. It’s both a great cautionary tale of truly cold Utilitarian logic and shows the danger that individuals who have abandoned their humanity pose despite their claims of acting in humanity’s best interest. It plays into the dynamic Milner and Carvel have found themselves since that fateful first meeting at the society party over 30 years ago; when they decided to play God, the individual no longer matters. Based on Wilson and Leah’s reactions to this when they found out about the potential casualties of the Russian flu, I’m wondering how other members of the Network, those who maintain shreds of humanity, will react from their overarching goal going from Children of Men to The Stand in the finale.

If there’s one complaint I have with Episode 2.5, it’s once again Michael’s storyline. Granted, this is a smaller complaint than I normally have about his ongoing story, since he has legitimate stuff to do this episode for once, namely saving Jen and Alice. That said, the fact this is only happening now after a season of not doing anything solidifies my current displeasure with Michael’s season two story arc. Either they should have written him out of the story, or they should have played into his new role at Corvadt much more than they did, cause it feels like he’s being wasted this season, which is a damn shame.

In Conclusion

So yeah, I very much preferred Episode 2.5 to Episode 2.4. From some series-best acting from Ian to Wilson becoming the most interesting character to the various reunions both big and small and the now Utopia standard episode 5 twist, Episode 2.5 was firing on all cylinders. In a way, this episode made me realize that Utopia has followed one quality trend; the odd-numbered episodes are the best ones, while the even-numbered ones are generally weaker (I mean, look at my reviews for the 2nd and 4th episodes of each season. Let’s hope Episode 2.6, the series finale of Utopia avoids this and goes out with a bang rather than a whimper, if only to build on the promise here in Episode 2.5.

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.

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