April 7, 2020

Utopia “Episode 2.6” Review | Off the Beaten Path

Only twelve episodes in, and we’re already at the series finale of Utopia. This whole show has been one vibrant, harrowing, and violent ride, and Episode 2.6 is no exception. Despite taking longer than I imagined, it feels like Utopia has flown right by. Man, flaws and all I’m going to miss this show. Now, let’s see if Episode 2.6 is a worthy conclusion, or if it leaves us wanting.

The Episode Summary

Episode 2.6 starts with Terrance, waiting at a bus stop. He starts talking to a young mother and they talk about the environment. He then berates her for the environmental impact her young son will create, offering to kill him to help save the environment before leaving to find the canisters.

We then join most of the rest of the cast at a hospital. Pietre is alive but in a coma with Jessica watching over him and Carvel just wandering around. Becky, Ian, Wilson, and Leah discuss the nature of the plans to release the Russian flu; the primary protocol is to release the flu virus right before V-Day (in 90 days), while a secondary protocol is in place to release the virus in case the primary plan is at risk. The issue is, they don’t know the sleepers other than the one Wilson met, but they know who does; Dobri Gorski, Donaldson’s former professor and the man who trained the three sleepers, and despite reports of his death is very much alive.

The group then races against the clock to try and stop all the sleepers. After talking with Gorski in prison, all but Terrance are quickly dealt with, with Terrance also killing everyone who can incriminate him in his quest to enact the secondary protocol. After deducing where he will be (the parking garage where the British flu canister is hidden), Jessica and Ian manage to take him out.

 From there, the last remaining plot threads are largely closed. Becky, fearing her eventual breakdown from Deels, spends the evening with Ian before attempting suicide which Ian only manages to avert after learning a heart-breaking truth about her condition from Carvel. Michael, with Jen, Alice, and Grant in tow, attempts to leave the country, only to be put under constant surveillance and house arrest by Wilson. Wilson takes full leadership of the Network, launching a purge, carving the rabbit symbol into his gut, planning the V-Day rollout, and ordering the arrest of the forum group. Lastly, Pietre wakes from his coma.

My Thoughts

On the whole, I liked Episode 2.6. Moreso than Episode 1.6 in fact. One thing I liked about Episode 2.6 was Terrance and the threat he posed to not only the main cast but also to the world in general. From the very beginning of the episode when he gave that mother a truly terrifying Hannibal Lecture (check out TVTropes if you’re wondering what I mean by Hannibal Lecture), to the way he systematically sought out the canisters, killing everyone in his way, is positively bone-chilling. I mean, how scary would it be to have a man so intent upon killing you that not even being held in solitary at a heavily guarded prison facility can save you? Not even Pietre, a specially made killing machine, can provoke that pants-shitting terror Terrance does, which is saying something. 

Looking back on Episode 1.6, the driving threat wasn’t much of a threat. Sure, the Network was about to ship out the vaccine, but Milner herself took part in burning it all away. In a way, it removes the threat and all the tension about it in hindsight. Terrance enacting the secondary protocol is a totally different beast. I mean, even the Network leadership was freaking out about him carrying out the original plan after the truth of the Janus adjustment was revealed.

Speaking of the Network leadership, the other reasons why I liked this episode was capping off the developments of Wilson, Ian, and Jessica. Watching Episode 2.6, while Ian and Wilson work together to stop Terrance, I realized they were going down inverse paths with their character developments. Ian, with really only Becky left to lose, deals with becoming a killer with horror, seeing himself going down a path that can only lead to further death and destruction. Wilson meanwhile goes down a similar path. Unlike Ian though, Wilson commits himself to the same path that Milner walked so long ago, but now armed with the knowledge of how to avoid her many mistakes.

This is highlighted in two groups of scenes in particular. The first is when they’re hunting down Terrance after Wilson almost killed one of the other sleepers to Ian’s horror. They discuss whether one can come back from being a killer; Ian says no one can since killing can only lead to personal and emotional destruction, while Wilson says they can. It’s a small scene, but its meaning is profound. Later, we get juxtaposing scenes where we see this dichotomy play out. Ian, after executing Terrance, tries to spend time with Becky, saving her from an overdose in the process. Wilson meanwhile fully becomes Mr. Rabbit, planning out V-Day while starting an internal purge. I find these to great caps to each character’s development over the season.

I also mentioned Jessica earlier in terms of character development this season, and while her story and development doesn’t appreciably play into the Ian-Wilson dichotomy other than the love triangle, Episode 2.6 shows us just how much she’s grown as a person. 

When we first met her at the end of Episode 1.1, she has an emotionally stunted, sociopathic woman-child, hardened by years of living on the run. Here, we see her opening up to others, even acting compassionately. She tends to Pietre, shaving his beard and protecting him from Lee. She cleans Milner’s blood off of Carvel, even after he shot Pietre. The one that truly struck me though was that when she had the chance to tell Becky about her affair with Ian, she doesn’t. Instead, she gives Becky some advice, not born out of malice but out of a sense of sympathy born of experience (sure, this could be disputed, but after her how she’s been acting this episode I’m inclined to believe she wasn’t malicious here). Honestly, I thought Jessica was going to spill the beans to Becky, so the fact she didn’t floored me in a way.

Sure, Jessica still has that hard edge. I mean, she laid a trap and largely took down Terrance. He only reason why she didn’t deliver the killing blow was that Ian was the only one present who could stop Terrance the moment before he launched the virus (she arrived on the scene a few moments later). That said, the fact she’s acting empathically at all is a momentous change for her.

That all said, there were some flaws with Episode 2.6. Some were born out of the writing gap that has plagued this season, others were born out of this becoming a series finale only after it premiered instead of by design. Take a wild guess what my big writing issue with Episode 2.6 was? If you guessed “anything to do with Michael”, you are correct, you win an imaginary gold star. Episode 2.6 has left me with the feeling that not only Michael but Grant and Geoff were just completely wasted this season. 

It makes me disappointed (aka parent mad) that these characters didn’t get anything interesting to do. I mean, Michael was just around, Grant got more and more annoying as he’s trying to become like Pietre and Lee, while Geoff’s whole schemes just felt like window dressing. I mean, Michael was made the head of Corvadt, and other than a diversion in Episode 2.3, this doesn’t even get brought up. Maybe this was going to be a bigger thing in season 3, but we’ll never know, so what we’re left with is just an empty storyline. At least Geoff gets some closure at least, which not even Grant (annoying little shit he is) and Michael get.

My other main issues with Episode 2.6 revolve around the fact that the episode became a retroactive season finale. Like, Episode 2.6 ends on one hell of a dour note. The whole cast outside of the Network has either been arrested or essentially forced into slavery. Within the Network, Wilson has become Mr. Rabbit and based on his plans could become even more effective (aka ore terrifying) than Milner ever was. The only ray of hope we as an audience have was that Pietre woke up from his coma after everyone else in the hospital was arrested. Like, Utopia wears its cynicism on its sleeve, but I think that if Kelly knew this would be the final episode of the show it wouldn’t end on such a dark cliffhanger.

My other issue with the episode being a series finale was how Becky’s storyline ended. We last see her, alive but barely so after attempting suicide by overdose. What makes this such a gut punch is what Ian learns from Carvel in just the nick of time. Namely, that Becky isn’t suffering from Deels after all. After testing the “thoraxin”, Carvel found that what she’s been taking is merely a mild opiate mixed with caffeine. In other words, she’s just suffering from heroin withdrawals. It’s a true gut-punch since it means that Becky has been subjected to untold suffering and abuse from Donaldson the whole series for nothing. It’s a deeply cynical end, and there’s no chance to reckon with it and grow, there’s just pain. 

That said, I don’t hold any of my finale related complaints about Episode 2.6 against Kelly and the episode against them. To me at least it seems like the plan was to build off these and other plot threads of the season (like reckoning with the Janus change) in season three. Sure, these open threads are disappointing. I bet this will sour many a watcher’s opinions of the show as it often does in these situations (aka shows canceled on a cliffhanger). To me at least, it’s unfair to judge a show for these cliffhangers and loose threads when they don’t get the chance to tie them off. I mean, if we discount most shows that end this way, the vast majority of TV out there, good TV at that, would be straight up ignored. As painful as they can be, we can only accept the endings as they are and move on, knowing it’s the journey that matters.

In Conclusion

So, how does Episode 2.6 stack up not only as an episode of Utopia but as the series finale? I’d say what it does well it does well in a satisfying fashion. The capping of the character growths of Wilson, Ian, and Jessica was emotionally satisfying, and the driving action of the episode with Terrance was much more thrilling than the warehouse arson of Episode 1.6. Out of my complaints, mostly they dealt with issues I’ve had with the season as a whole (namely the wasting of Michael and Grant), and the ending knowing it’s an ending that wasn’t meant to be final. On the whole, I’d say Episode 2.6 is a fine conclusion, capping off the thrilling ride that was Utopia.

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.

View all posts by Joseph MacMaster →

Leave a Reply

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