Utopia – Series 1, Episode 3 (2013)
Written by Dennis Kelly
Directed by Marc Munden
The unofficial title for this episode? “Loss of Innocence,” as the episode opens and ends on children directly in the line of brutal cold violence. In fact, the opening scene of this episode received over 50 complaints and was aired just a month or so after the shootings in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. I would never argue that this start is meant to be light or easy to get through. The creators most definitely intended to unsettle the audience. And this is a weird wrinkle I have noticed in audience’s perceptions of media as of late. If the film or television show or other form presents an uncomfortable or unsettling situation, then it is immediately perceived as if the creator is explicitly endorsing a destructive action. This mindset is highly corrosive to understanding and appreciating art. The creator is not always reflected in the creation, most of the time not at all. If anything, the cold open of Episode 3 is the creator making an undeniable statement about the horrors of such events, particularly when we look at the turn for Arby in this scene, when he stumbles upon the child cowering in the gym.
Arby is a finally brought into focus this episode and reveals a lot about his own loss of innocence. We learn a little bit about the connection between Arby and mysterious Phillip Carvel that Arby was apparently turned into the sociopathic killer he is as a result of experimentation by Carvel. However, that final moment in the school has flipped a switch in Arby as he later confronts Conran Letts (Stephen Rea) about his childhood. Arby is given Alice as his next target, and it becomes immediately apparent he is not comfortable hurting children any longer, yet he lives in conflict with decades of psychological programming to receive and execute orders. He will eventually become one of the most compelling characters in the entire program, especially when we get to series 2.
Then we have Jessica and Grant’s road trip to recover the manuscript. Jessica is entirely playing Grant this entire episode. From her early morning pep talk, framed in the most beautiful haze of glowing light and camerawork that accentuates Jessica’s otherworldliness, to her plying him with mini-bottles of vodka to give up the location of the manuscript. The important note here is that Jessica doesn’t feel loyalty to any of these people she has seemingly rescued from The Network. Her goal here is to get her father’s work back in her hands. However, her arc really gets going when we end up at Alice’s house. Arby has Alice, and Jessica knows she will destroy Grant if she lets Alice die. So she gives up (part) of the Utopia manuscript to save Grant and Alice. These new people are bringing something out of Jessica that she hasn’t felt since her father was alive.
There are smaller notes of innocence lost. Most notably, Wilson Wilson has a little moment where he has to fire a shotgun into the head of an already dead man to cover up Millner’s execution of the assailant. Millner is introduced and quickly becomes a character in the know, she is entirely aware of The Network and eager to help Ian, Becky, and Wilson out. Her presence in the show will become dominant as we go on, one of the most important characters in the entire series.
Finally, we have Dugdale finally showing up The Network. There is the nightmarish like journey to the Shetland Islands where the civil servant uncovers the first stages of a conspiracy. The Health Secretary Geoff Lawson attempts to cut Dugdale off, but the episode ends with our intrepid everyman one-upping Lawson. Dugdale has started to figure out how to play The Network’s game and is going to do everything he can to stop them.