“Where is Jessica Hyde?”
This is not a question. It is a threat. A promise. A clue. It is an invitation into a tangled web of mystery and hidden stories and conspiracy. It is an invitation into the world of Utopia.
Originally released on Britain’s Channel 4 from 2013 to 2014, Utopia follows a group of fans of The Utopia Experiments, a series of cult-classic graphic novels. When they come into possession of an unpublished sequel, they find themselves pursued by a shadowy organization known only as The Network.
Color is one of the show’s most distinguishable traits. Distinct palettes compose each scene, imbuing each moment with a sense of visual identity. Perhaps Jessica Hyde can be found within these canvases of color, nestled between warm oranges and chilly greens. Perhaps she is wandering through a field of purple flowers, brilliant and humming on the backdrop of a baby-blue sky. The show uses color to convey mood and atmosphere, furthering the immersion of the show. Urban hues, like grays and browns, signal a state of stability, whereas vivid blues, oranges, and yellows indicate danger or emotional intensity. Utopia uses color to bleed characters’ sensations into the physical world, allowing audiences to connect with our main cast on a much more tangible level.
The show’s soundtrack is just as stunning. Composer Cristobal Tapia De Veer incorporates a multitude of unique instrumentations, from percussion played on rhino dung to the underground acoustics of a Chilean trutruka, to create one of the most innovative scores in modern filmographic history. Perhaps Jessica Hyde can be found stumbling through this sea of percussion and electronic eighth notes, punctured only by a single haunting human groan. De Veer’s true calling card, however, lies in his approach to scoring: making music with the show, rather than for it. Each composition is crafted in a way that both examines and redefines the relationship between the visual and audio narratives. This complexity makes Utopia one of the very few shows that embraces a hybrid of sight and sound.
And then there’s Jessica Hyde. She is an enigma, a mystery, a puzzle piece of a greater purpose. And Utopia fully leans into this. Hyde is presented as paranoid, cold, and detached. Fiona O’Shaughnessy’s masterful portrayal of Hyde, from her unnerving mannerisms to her raspy speech, embodies this perfectly. But the show also explores Jessica’s vulnerability and her difficulty with human and familial connection. As the audience learns more about Jessica, we see that she is both human and hurting, struggling to balance her value to herself and her value to others. Ultimately, despite the thrill of the chases and the allure of a grand conspiracy to be solved, Utopia is a show about connection. Its notions of sacrifice and righteousness do not diminish humanity: they accentuate it. Utopia pushes these notions to their limits, placing people in the most extreme of circumstances to show not only what humanity is, but also how it acts. The show asks us what we value, and more importantly, how far we are willing to go to achieve it.