Utopia Series 2, Episode 4 (2014)
Written by Dennis Kelly & John Donnelly
Directed by Sam Donovan
Maybe it has always been there, and it’s merely me become awakened to its presence, but I have noticed a growing digging in of heels in political ideologies. Religious ideologues have always seemed to be a constant nuisance, and history has its fair share of political zealots who are willing to compromise moral integrity for “the cause.” These days I often see YouTube videos displaying members of the traditional Left/Right spectrum being downright criminal in their behavior and exhibiting a sense of glee in their transgressions against their fellow man. As a child, I felt a distance from the fundamentalist Christian upbringing I had, I never really bought the pitch that was being sold to me, so I’ve always felt a sense of disconnect from anyone who is radically attached to an idea. Utopia is a show about following that path of radical ideology and how detrimental it can be no matter “rational” or “reasonable” you believe your set of values are.
The cold open for this episode reminds us of the two major themes of series two and the dark avenues we’ll explore in regards to them. A man in Georgia receives a phone call that has him leaving his home in the middle of the night. He retrieves a canister from a woodland bunker and stores it in a hidden refrigerated compartment in his truck. The truck is left in an airport parking garage, and the man returns home where he kills his entire family and himself.
Later in the episode, we learn this has happened in four other locations and that this man and the others were Network sleeper agents. They secretly tended to canisters of the Russian flu which, when given the signal, would be placed in cars near airports. A second party will load these canisters into crop dusters and spray within a 35-mile radius. The positioning near major international airports will lead to the virus spreading across the globe at accelerated rates and justify the need for the Russian flu vaccine which carried the second protein needed for the Janus virus. If you remember from series one, the first protein is present in all manufactured food products.
Milner explains all this in what is her sales pitch to Wilson. While he’s been accompanying her for the last two episodes and even going out in the field with Lee, it’s not enough. Milner lays out the details of the Network’s activity, killing men, women, and children, and continually re-emphasizing the urgency of their agenda. It may seem that she is giving Wilson a well reasoned and fact-based speech but at the heart of this is an emotional appeal. She already knows everything there is to know about Wilson. Let’s not forget how thoroughly the Network mines the data of people in its sights. As much as Wilson would like to believe he is an analytical and rational person, he like almost all of us, succumb to emotional appeals much more readily than we would want to admit. When Milner was pitching to Carvel back in 1973, she does the same thing, starting with intellectual banter before feigning suicidal ideation. In many ways what Milner is doing with Wilson is something fundamentalists commonly do. They cannot admit their own doubt in the faith so they must break another person’s will so that their own sense of belief can be restored.
The Network reveals itself as a fundamentalist ideology in the food court pitch scene with a couple lines of dialogue. Milner presents Wilson with a mall employee who is another sleeper agent and when asked if he is afraid to die he responds, a confident grin on his face:
“I’m not worried about dying at all, I’m going to save the world.”
Wilson continues to question Milner, pointing out that there could be other methods with which to deal with overpopulation and she replies:
“We’ve been planning this for thirty years. If there were another way, we’d know.”
People will find reasons to devote themselves passionately to causes in their youth and then, possibly out of fear of realizing such a considerable portion of their lives was wasted, continue to cling to these ideologies in the face of mountains of evidence that they are wrong. Milner has shut her mind off to the possibility she was wrong decades ago. Even she admits the Network has killed innocent children in the name of the cause so for her to ever realize there was another way would mean that she would have to come to terms with the horrific atrocities on her hands. Milner will always believe her way is right merely to protect her fragile psyche.
Wilson is eventually brought before Ian’s kidnapped brother as the final stage of his test of faith. Milner makes sure the kidnapped and the two MI:5 guards watching him hear she is Mr. Rabbit to raise the stakes of the test. She informs Wilson that if these three people leave the location alive, then the great glorious plan to save the world would be at stake. Wilson must kill them to protect everyone else, to save the world. Milner reveals a more profound idea working here when she mentions that if taking Ian’s brother doesn’t bring him out into the light he has a mother they can kill too. These lead to the next sizeable thematic element being explored, the nature of family.
The Network’s entire plan is predicated on the destruction of biological families. The Russian flu virus is intended to sterilize 90% of the population at random and decrease the consumption of resources across the globe. In a later review, we’ll talk more about the fallacy of this view of population/resource control. For now, we’ll examine what Utopia is saying traditional and non-traditional forms of family units.
As with the Network, and all forms of ideological cults, they seek to be an alternative to a person’s actual family. Look at the way Milner speaks with Carvel and Wilson and the way Lee tries to court Petrie into coming back into the fold. They speak with gentleness yet a sense of firm control. They aren’t going to rage and scream, they are going to ask you to be reasonable, invite you to pity them, ask you to think about how they would feel. The Network is a dysfunctional manufactured family with past family members, like The Assistant who served Milner with undying gratitude. He’s killed off at the end of series one and never mentioned by her again. The same was done to Arby/Petrie by Conrad Letts in series one, admonished like a child when he began to question the nature of the work. The Network uses the conventional structures of a family to exploit vulnerable people.
The runaways (Ian, Becky, and Grant) for all their many many flaws represent a second manufactured family. They hold the roles seen in a nuclear family (father, mother, child) but they are bound together by shared experience and trauma. They are not without problems, as seen in the trust issues between Ian and Becky and Grant’s typical adolescent rebelliousness. In the runaways, we know what family might become in the wake of the Network’s success with Janus.
Another family present in the series are the Dugdales. We have Michael Dugdale, his wife, and their adopted daughter Alice. Note that this family is still not a biological one, but they also fill the roles in the nuclear family structure. The Network has literally broken them apart to keep Dugdale under their thumb. We see in this episode he is allowed periodic monitored visits with the offscreen agreement being that he fulfills the mission by making sure Corvadt manufactures the Russian flu vaccine. Only then will he be reunited with this family they have created for themselves.
Jessica Hyde has interjected herself into Dugdale’s life and has a series of awkward, uncomfortable attempts at everyday chit chat over breakfast. She is desperate in her effort to find love and empathy and sees that as possible through domestic life. Ian, being the only free and young male she knows, becomes her focus as a potential mate. Ian is also experiencing a quarter-life crisis of sorts, growing addicted to the covert and dangerous nature of life on the run. He’s going through the exact reverse of what Jessica desires. She wants to leave behind the experience of living on the run and settle into something comfortable and safe while Ian intends to live on the edge. He doesn’t know however that his brother has lost his life as a result of this thrill-seeking and even Ian ends up on the end of a gun barrel by the end of the episode.
Petrie lets go of his manufactured family to keep them safe, adding a new wrinkle to my questions last episode about what you would be willing to do for the sake of your loved ones. He tells them he will never be able to see them again and for one of the first times, we see this character break through the shell of passivity and non-emotion that was tortured into him by Carvel and the Network. Petrie is capable of a level of love and empathy his handlers tried to convince he was not. This also explains why, when Grant slips up that they have Carvel, Petrie goes into an automatic killing spree. Carvel is the root of his pain, and of Jessica’s pain. When the deal is complete with Lee, Petrie utters the familiar question of “Where is Jessica Hyde?” and manages to re-contextualize it. He’s no longer doing the bidding of the Network, Petrie asks because she is the only family he has left.