Posted on January 17, 2021
TL;DR: I liked the American version better, but both are insidious in their ability to make you empathize with the villain and question the behavior of the protagonists.
Spoilers for both versions of Utopia after the jump.
Utopia, in both its incarnations, has been infected by the zeitgeist of the poisonous times we live in. More than any other piece of genre entertainment, this story treats human life as having zero value and the loss of it with even less recrimination.
The only property I can compare it to are the high body count movies like John Wick and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, but there’s a difference there in that the characters losing their lives, except for the actual villains, are nameless and often have their faces covered to further depersonalize them. Their deaths have all the emotional impact of shooting a videogame NPC.
The characters being killed with such airy disregard in Utopia don’t just have faces, they have names, and lives, and stories. We get to know them and to like them before they’re done away with in mass casualty events.
And they’re also being brutally tortured, a process we are given the opportunity to witness in sickening detail.
Now, this makes it sound as though I didn’t care for either Utopia, but that’s not the case. This story is so intricately woven and the conspiracies so layered, it can’t help but be compelling. And when you finally discover the secret of the conspiracy, for once, you’re not disappointed.
This is where spoilers start dropping like hot wax, so jet out of here if you haven’t watched the entire series (either or both).
Most of the time, the villain of the peace wants money or to destroy the world or rid the planet of the plague of humanity. Not only have we seen it before, it also makes it easy to unequivocally root against them. The plan in Utopia is to reduce the global population to a manageable one billion souls without killing anyone. Mr. Rabbit’s nefarious scheme is just to inject everyone in the world with a vaccine that inhibits reproduction in all but 5% of the population.
After ten generations, the population will be back to full fertility and I guess it’ll be up to some sort of world government to keep the number at one billion because, as we’ve seen, humanity loves making new people more than taking care of existing ones.
This makes utterly perfect sense. Of course, I say that knowing full well I’ve already had my kids and I’ve got my grandchild so my opinion on this is more chicken than pig when it comes to making breakfast.
But still, think about it: Pretty much all of our problems boil down to over population to one degree or another. Or at least they would be solved by radically reducing the number of people on the planet.
Global warming? Resource depletion? Pandemics? Wealth inequality? Poverty? Genocide? War?
A shrinking population has a surplus of all resources except one: people. The one guaranteed way to make human life more valuable across the board is to stop producing so much of it.
If Mr. Rabbit is not evil then the motley crew trying to stop him must be the villains. Not really. Making the ends not matter allows Utopia to do something we’ve had trouble with in the past: focusing on the means.
And this is where I begin to choose the American version over the British one. In the UK, they focused very little on the villain. It’s a shadowy network of government functionaries who do little more than sit around saying, “Wut wut!” a lot. I think this is probably a comment on the banality of evil especially when hosted by large organizations.
In the American version, we have the villain embodied in John Cusack’s cult leader scientist. He’s much easier to hate because his means are just extraordinarily cruel despite his intentions being good. That’s something we know a lot about in America.
On the other hand, we have Jessica and her crew of castoffs which would be the typical protagonists in a Hollywood production except she demonstrates early on she’s open to exactly as much ruthlessness as the people hunting her.
In the end, we’re left with a moral quandary in the shape of the character Wilson Wilson, arguably the only person in the story to suffer at the hands of The Network as much as Jessica, who hates the way they’re going about it, but agrees it’s the right thing to do.
One measure of how much I enjoyed a story is the level of engagement I felt evidenced by the amount of time I spent thinking about it after the final credits. In this case, quite a lot. And I have come down on the side of Mr. Rabbit.
The world’s chaotic population is never going to get on the same page vis-a-vis population control and yet this is something we need to accomplish if we’re going to survive. The Janus virus is the only non-lethal way of accomplishing this. Nobody gets murdered, nuclear warheads aren’t required, and we’ll start to see spectacular benefits in a single generation.
So, yes, in a fictional universe where such a virus doesn’t exist and we don’t have the technology to create one, I’m a ‘yes’ for population control.
Now, having said that, I definitely would not want to be among the 5% of the population who remain fertile during the five generations of decreased fertility. The pressure on them, especially on women, would be extreme.
Which brings up another issue. When something becomes valuable, the rich tend to obtain that thing by any means possible. When life takes on greater value would they return to the practice of slavery? Possibly. Especially for the fertile people. *shudder*
On second thought, the 5% fertility rate sounds a bit low. Any sudden shock to the system leads to chaos and destruction. In a world where one bad wheat harvest could bring down an empire, maybe we should slow things down a bit.
At 5%, we hit a total population of one billion in 25 years. It would be better for the process to take at least 100 years. I know we don’t have a lot of time because of how bad we’ve screwed everything up, but trust me when I say you don’t want to live in a world of rapid change based on resource depletion. Especially if that resource is babies.
Anyway, the plan isn’t really complete just yet, but the story is compelling and comes complete with the fantastic direction, stunning cinematography, and great acting we’ve come to expect from quality television shows. Highly recommended.
Now if Gillian Flynn can just use her Gone Girl clout to find someone to put on the second season.