Episode 2 of Utopia, the true opener to the series, takes us back to more familiar territory as it reunites the gang. Ian is back in his office job, bored enough to consider stapling his own tongue, Grant is living with him under cover and hating it, Becky’s still being blackmailed by Donaldson, and Dugdale is as cowardly as ever and involved with the Network’s 'vaccine'. But it’s not all back to basics; the great opening with Arby (I’ll stick with calling him that for now) walking through a suitably surreal suburban street instills us with the familiar sense of dread associated with him and his yellow bag, resembling a twisted smiley face. Much like the show itself, the bag hides its dark contents behind a bright outward appearance (or is that too film studies-y?). He walks into a house, meets a young girl, opens the bag and… pulls out a cuddly penguin. It seems Arby is “turning over a new leaf”, now incongruously a family man concerned about his eating habits, making a change from his diet of two breakfast fry-ups. As the others go on the run once again, he becomes the new Jessica Hyde; he's like a wheezing, waddling Terminator, with lines like “come with me or you’ll all die”.
The purpose of the first episode becomes more obvious, as we see Milner’s cold exterior demeanour beginning to slip for the first time. All the sacrifices she’s made for what she believes in emphasise her complete dedication to the cause, yet now, with the knowledge or her younger years, we see an odd kind of relationship between her and Jessica. “What have I done to you?”, she asks her in the cell; it seems she’s not just being kept alive for information, but because she’s all that’s left of Carvel (supposedly). Speaking of which, I’m not quite sure how removing a brain would get out information. I’m no neurobiologist, but I’m pretty sure brains don’t work in the same way as USB sticks. With the reveal that the virus has made her infertile, there’s some suggestion about how that might affect her; not that she’d be the most reliable mother, as she says herself, but the brief shot of her in a children’s park in Episode 3 suggest that idea may be explored more.
The cinematography continues to be astounding, with it being even more evident now we’re back to the standard widescreen format. The exterior shots are particularly beautiful, with saturated green and purple fields contrasting with the bright blue skies. The pyramid prison is another highlight, with the cage window looking out to the clouds feeling particularly dreamlike. It’s also worth noting the great and strangely compelling soundtrack, which in this scene is vaguely orchestral and just as weird, and variants of the main theme punctuate the most sinister or exciting moments. There are also a fair few moments of comedy to undercut the action; the long tracking shot of Donaldson trying to run away from a gunman while handcuffed to a man having a heart attack is absurd yet fitting, and darkly hilarious - it’s not Utopia is death isn’t part of a punch line.
After the more introductory second episode, the story really kicks off here. The old mysterious man from the first episode is apparently revealed to be Carvel. I’m not sure how keen I am on the idea if it is really him, but we’ll see how it goes. I suppose it would add some emotional depth, especially concerning Milner. The actions and motivations of characters continue to be one of Utopia’s most interesting aspects; there are those involved with the Network, who are doing it based on their beliefs (including Wilson), Arby ironically doing it to keep his surrogate family safe, Becky to stay alive and Dugdale out of cowardice.
Meanwhile, it turns out Arby isn't as much of a born again hero as he once appeared, but his motivations to look after those he cares for are still surprisingly after everything we’ve seen him do. After being with The Network for what I assume is his whole life, it’s likely he’s never felt any kind of kindness; despite coldly killing the hacker and his family in this episode, it’s maybe not so abnormal that he’s capable of affection. Speaking of the hacker, he was probably the weakest part of the episode. The obnoxious teenage computer genius borders on cliché by now, and although his inclusion didn’t add much, it was redeemed slightly through what looked like actual hacking – something pretty much unseen on screen, mainly because a bunch of letters on a black background isn't nearly as entertaining as a funky, colourful interface.
Now that we’re at the half way point of the series, it seems to be shaping up to be just as good as the first. With many questions yet to be answered, we’ll see if it can sustain the same quality in terms of both writing and production - but if one thing for certain, is that it’s unlike anything else on TV.