Utopia Series 2, Episode 5 (2014)
Written by Dennis Kelly
Directed by Sam Donovan
We cannot experience the trauma of others, and in turn, they cannot suffer our trauma. Words are never sufficient enough to convey the profound psychological and emotional wounds an especially traumatizing experience can cause. This, in turn, leads to a breakdown in communication, which can begin as minor and eventually escalate into violent conflict. While Utopia is about a vast global conspiracy on its surface, the series is actually exploring ideas associated with multi-generational trauma. In the first episode of this season, Milner makes mention that she has witnessed genocide firsthand. Eventually, we learn Philip Carvel is a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust. The horrific things seen and experienced by these people is what led to the founding of the Network and the development of the Janus virus. But there’s is not the only trauma present in Utopia, and their ignoring of other generation’s traumas has led to the dramatic conflict of the series.
Becky and Ian set the stage for an exploration of trauma in this episode. Becky just watched the Romanian translator get murdered by Petrie. As she is searching for information on how to dispose of the body, she comes across a news story detailing the murder of Ian’s brother. The Network has, of course, reframed the narrative so that Ian is blamed for the death and nationwide manhunt is on for him. Very quickly we see how neither person can adequately comfort the other to alleviate their inner turmoil. Later on, Wilson makes an attempt to reassure them both by highlighting the fact that now all three of them have lost someone important (Wilson and Becky lost their fathers and now Ian, his brother). This is met with a look of shocked disgust by the others present. And it works to emphasize that even if two people have experienced loss or abuse or any other sort of traumatic event they cannot fully understand each other’s very personal perspective and modes of processing. They can relate to an extent but, you are often told when given professional advice about helping a grieving loved one to never say something like “I know how you feel.” That is impossible to do and serves to unintentionally diminish the profound suffering the grieving person is going through.
There is a minor bit of phobic trauma that is introduced in a slightly lighter segment, though light in Utopia is still pretty bleak. During the rescue attempt of Alice and Jen Dugdale, they need to climb down a wire attached to an exterior wall from a few stories up. Alice mentions she has a fear of heights and in a comic exchange Dugdale and his wife discuss this reveal, how it was something they never knew about their adopted daughter, and if she can overcome it. Alice says she can’t. What we see next is a display of spectacular empathy. Dugdale adjusts his plan to accommodate his daughter’s phobia. They escape, and the family is safe, for now. It’s important we see this compassionate understanding because it will run counter to what is the main plotline of this episode.
Petrie abducts Carvel and Grant, taking them to a remote location in the highlands. He remarks at one point that he was trained at a facility in the area while searching for one of the bunkers to hide in. This is the sit of Petrie’s trauma, where the torture at the hands of his father was weaponized by The Network for their benefit. Petrie insists that the three pose as three generations of family (grandparent, parent, child) if they cross paths with any hikers. This frames their interactions in a new light. One of the first most poignant moments is Grant’s sense of happiness when Petrie says he will pose as his father. This is something Grant wants. Additionally, Carvel refuses to speak directly to Petrie but will talk to Grant as if he is his son. Through Carvel and Grant’s dialogues, Petrie is able to learn more about his father’s motivations.
If we step back, we can see three generations of a family marked by very personal intimate trauma. Carvel is a victim of the Roma genocide during World War II. Petrie is the product of his father destructively processing that trauma and try to erase one of the fundamental elements of humanity. Grant is the product of Petrie’s blind adherence to a violent, unflinching ideology; witness to many bloody tragedies. These three are caught in a struggle of experiences, unable to communicate the severity to each other. Jessica shows up with Milner being held at gunpoint, and we see a parent-child dynamic already. Milner attempts to flatter Jessica by talking about her strength and resolve. Jessica reads this as phony right away and leads Milner on to reunite this whole dysfunctional family.
Everything culminates in a classically dramatic finale. The starkness of this rural landscape adds to the epic timelessness of this moment. It feels like something out of Shakespeare, a family caught in a never-ending spiral of cruelty through the ages. Carvel makes his greatest reveal: the Russian flu will not be stopped by the vaccine. In his research, he discovered that the proteins in Janus cancel out the serum’s ability to prevent the flu. This means billions will die with the protection doing nothing. The Network will commit genocide. Knowing this he made a tweak to Janus against Milner’s wishes back in the 1970s that no single ethnic group or nationality be held above others. He chooses to protect his people, the Roma, mainly Jessica from suffering infertility. His twisted love for his daughter has led him to condemn all other peoples of the world to extinction.
Now we get back to the corruptive nature of fundamentalist ideology because, when confronted with this new information and having the ability to call off the release of the Russian flu, Milner says to commence the operation. She explains that she is merely in love with Carvel and wants to see their child together (Janus) come to fruition and shockingly he seems to right there with her. Carvel critically shoots Petrie, forcing Jessica to flee with her brother. Carvel and Milner embrace to await oblivion. Grant resurfaces and kills one of the original architects of his trauma, Milner. She dies in the arms of her long-lost lover.
Throughout this episode we glimpse, Terrence, one of the sleeper agents charged with the release of the Russian flu virus around the globe. He lives everyday life as a fast food worker, subject to the verbal abuses of customers. We see Terrence enduring this abuse, but when he goes home reveling in the secret knowledge that he is one of three possible people who will bring about the mass culling of the human race. The slight smirk we see reveals the revelry he has in this secret knowledge, that he sees himself as superior to the plebs that habituate his restaurant. Terrence will become a central figure in the final episode of the series, the main antagonist who is pushing the conflict forward. But Terrence’s point of view is limited in the plot by his location in relation to the other characters and metaphorically by his blind adherence to the ideology.
Only one more left!