Spoiler alert. Obviously.
Last night, news broke that Utopia has been axed after just two series, which means Channel 4 viewers can now safely go back to watching The Paedophile Hunter, My Daughter The Teenage Nudist and other shows with names seemingly plucked from the Daily Star's subs’ desk in uninterrupted comfort.
If you’re one of the literally millions of people who didn’t watch it (viewer figures for season two were reportedly dire), Dennis Kelly’s primary-coloured conspiracy series was the best thing on telly by a mile in the nine weeks it ran 2013-14. Its cancellation represents a hammer blow for original UK drama. Stylish, provocative and superbly acted, it was that rare breed of British drama that dares to rear its head above the kitchen sink and truly run with an idea, playing beautifully into our paranoid political times.
What else? Well, the fiendishly inventive soundtrack by Cristobal Tapia de Veer is among the best ever heard on a television series. The Daily Mail thought it “malicious and obscene”, which is always a reliable indicator of something's lasting cultural import. It also stars Neil Maskell, one of the finest humans currently known to be in existence.
None of which is to say the show was perfect. The number of scenes that hinged on shocking acts of violence became a drag after a while – I get it, you’re edgy! – and you could say much the same thing about the ABSOLUTELY FOUL LANGUAGE. But Utopia succeeded – artistically, at least – where other homegrown dramas failed by blazing its own strange path instead of serving up pale imitations of American prestige drama (The Hour, Mr Selfridge) or Scandi-noir (BBC Two’s The Fall).
It’ll be interesting to see if David Fincher’s HBO adaptation, slated to air in 2015, can retain the original’s offbeat style. But frankly, I’ll eat my tinfoil hat if a better homegrown show turns up in the next 12 months. There's not much left to do apart from highlight the biggest questions that Utopia posed and will now seemingly never be able to answer.
Who Is Christos?
One of the show’s biggest enigmas is Christos, who mysteriously arrives in the second series’ bravura opening episode to rescue the young Philip Carvel. He subsequently gains custody of Carvel's daughter, Jessica, though his messy demise at the hands of Arby/Pietre had already been revealed in the first season. During the rescue attempt, Christos seems to be unacquainted with Carvel personally – why, then, is he coming to his aid? Does he belong to some organisation we’re as yet unaware of? What is the organisation and how is it opposed to the Network? We’ll never know, because you were too busy watching My Big Fat MormonTranssexual Benefits Cheat, you utter ignoramus.
Will Dugdale Risk His Family to Take Down the Network?
The continually shat-upon civil servant looks set to finally get clear of the whole rotten business in the final episode, until he is pulled back into the mire by a newly evil Wilson. But Dugdale has a potential trump card – a key handed to him by his late boss and tormentor, Geoff, which has the power to bring down the whole organisation. “This is a detailed confession of everything that I’ve been involved in... I’m getting out,” says the odious Network stooge, shortly before copping a bellyful of poison. “We’ll never be safe unless we bring them down. This is explosive!” Sadly, it now seems like a grenade that will never be unpinned.
What Is Grant Up to?
With just a stern ticking-off from Mrs Dugdale, Grant went from potty-mouthed pre-teen with latent homicidal tendencies to sweetly submissive angel. Either this is a seriously lame bit of plotting, or something else is afoot here. Note that, earlier in the same episode, Ian tells Wilson that once a person kills someone else, a line is crossed that there’s no coming back from. In Wilson and Milner’s case, that’s proves to be absolutely correct. But what about cherub-cheeked little Grant, who shivved his kidnapper (then believed to be Mr Rabbit) in episode six of the first series? Is he evil or does salvation await? Fuck knows.
Is Anton Really Carvel?
Bit of a nutty one, this, but if you can’t entertain at least one crackpot notion about Utopia, you’re not doing it right. An internet commenter points out that the actor playing the young Philip Carvel, Tom Burke, has a cleft palate. The older Carvel – OR IS IT? – is played by Ian McDiarmid, sans cleft lip. None of which sounds all that suspicious, until you realise that Dobri Gorski, the network affiliate played by non-clefty David Calder, was given what looks suspiciously like a cleft palate in the show for seemingly no reason whatsoever. Coincidence? Impossible to say.
Did We Actually Not Need a Third Series After All?
Kelly told Den Of Geek he had a third (and possibly fourth) series lined up for the show back in June this year. But could he have maintained momentum now that the Network’s secrets have been revealed? The second series was criticised in some quarters as being a bit light on plot compared to the first – how would a third run have avoided simply rehashing elements from the first two series but with a different set of baddies, i.e. Wilson and Leah, in charge?
Obviously, there’s a few other threads that series two failed to tie up – some may have been major, some may have been more incidental to the main thrust of the plot. Will Ian’s ignorance as to the true identity of his brother’s killer haunt your dreams? Did Jessica deliberately push Becky into attempting suicide? Would Becky have found out that Ian had sex with Jessica? Did anyone pick off Pietre at the hospital?
Hopefully we'll find out once the inevitable Kickstarter fund has reached its target.
More from VICE: