Utopia: Where is Mr. Rabbit?

A walk through an extraordinary life

Milner sits looking at her hands against a yellow background
Geraldine James as Milner

We are here to talk about Utopia’s Milner (Geraldine James/Rose Leslie). Milner assumes the role of “Mr. Rabbit” in the series and is responsible for a plan to save the world. But it’s not that simple. Her story is one of passionate, disciplined, extraordinary commitment to eco-terrorism that leads her to power, murder, and deceit. 

Milner is not a particularly likable character, although this depends heavily on which side of the central debate of Utopia you find yourself. She is generally a very unfeeling, savage, calculating individual, but her ability to manipulate, outsmart, provoke, and achieve is admirable at the highest level. Her unaffected attitude in the face of the emotional arguments her dissenters make is impressive, and she thinks with crystal clear scientific authority. The unwavering stability of her goals in the pursuit of what she believes to be morally good makes her intimidating, cold, and perfect for her role as Mr. Rabbit. 

Mr. Rabbit is an incredibly complex concept for a character; they are not only one person, but are a role to be fulfilled by a different successor until such time as they become obsolete. Mr. Rabbit is the name given to the most senior member of the Network—an underground, loosely scientific operation. The Network was originally formed by western figures in response to the Soviet threat of biological warfare in the 1970s. It works independently from governments and does not answer to national or international laws; The Network is, in every sense, above the law. It operates in silence and covers its tracks meticulously. 

milner stands in front of a staied glass window. Two green parts of the design line up to make it look like she has devil horns Her hair is tied back

Milner (played by Rose Leslie in this time period), accompanied by her right-hand man known only as The Assistant (Ed Birch), meets Philip Carvel (Tom Burke) at an event in London in 1973. The event is highly prestigious, open only to world leaders, politicians, and scientists, and held in secret every four years. It is the only place in London able to circumvent blackout laws(1). Milner refers to the event as one for those “who could never normally talk”, and tells Carvel he “must be some kind of genius” to be invited – but she doesn’t explain her own presence to him. Both are incredibly prestigious scientists. 

The pair quickly form an alliance upon discovering they share similarly grim ideas about the future. Milner approaches Carvel after overhearing him praise malaria and strikes up a conversation in which he is delighted to see that the two appear intellectually aligned. During this conversation, she learns that Philip has a bold ‘solution’ to the population crisis and is keen to work with him. 

They are both gravely concerned about the threats of overpopulation, and Milner has the means, via the Network, to support and implement Philip’s ideas. We are immediately alerted to her status: her understated prestige seeping from the way she speaks and her presence at this event but never highlighted by her herself. She is bold and daring, dangling herself off a balcony after suggesting that the only solution to the population crisis is death. Philip is intrigued by her and thrilled to meet someone with the will to support his most powerful creation—Janus. 

Although the original ideas for Janus, the creation crucial to this solution, come from Philip, the cause quickly consumes Milner until she is the one making bold, ruthless choices. It is she who, despite Philip’s protests, organizes the murdering of many lab workers because “they know too much”; she becomes the project’s driving force. She is distinct from everybody else and is untouchable in the face of emotional turmoil… until she isn’t. 

The basis of Carvel’s idea is that Janus would inhibit human reproduction, but only in 90-95 percent of its hosts. It causes no other harm but the protein is passed down by those who can reproduce, creating a stable and therefore sustainable human population. He plans to hide this protein inside a vaccine in order to inject it into the bloodstream of every human in the entire world. It is a bold plan, but with years of planning and the help of the power and influence the Network have, it seems achievable. 

Milner, The Assistant, and Carvel work tirelessly on Janus. It becomes clear as they work that it is Milner who has the emotional detachment, purist logical thought, and unnerving fearlessness to ensure Janus is a success. To her it is, “the most important thing the world has ever known”. It is the determination she has toward this cause that cements her as a character to be admired; once she has decided that this cause is right, is achievable, and is the answer to what she perceives to be humanities biggest threat, Milner wholly and entirely binds herself to Janus’s completion.  

milner and the assistant watch philip present his ideas about janus
Rose Leslie and Ed Birch

Despite her brutal commitment, Milner remains balanced and fair. This is what begins to fracture her relationship with Philip, who is emotional and volatile. Their most memorable argument is centered around how far their scientific involvement should go. One day, during a presentation, Philip tells Milner and The Assistant that it would be possible to choose a genetic group to be left fertile, instead of allowing Janus to sterilize randomly. This shocks Milner, who tells Philip, “this is not who we are”, but he remains determined and suggests to her that choosing one race would prevent a future of genocides and racial segregation, and allow the scientists to pick the strongest sect of the population to give them the best possible chance at a successful future. Philip wanted to choose the ‘genetically strongest’ group to insure the best possible outcome of his, essentially, experiment. The Assistant sides with Milner, calling Philip’s suggestion the ‘third fucking Reich”. 

The final straw for the pair’s relationship is Philip’s love for his newborn daughter, Jessica (Aine Garvey). Milner works purely on scientific philosophy and leaves no room for emotional attachments to get in the way of her work. She proves this when she wilfully murders her husband and coolly orders The Assistant to arrange a plane crash that would kill Network scientists in Tel Aviv(2) who have discovered what Janus does (all within one scene)… She leaves herself with nothing but her commitment to Janus, and, of course, Philip. She warns him multiple times that his affection towards his daughter will ‘get in the way’ of their joint commitment to Janus, and she believes that his thrill at the miracle of life may lead him to think twice about their great plan. 

Indeed, she tells him immediately after Jessica’s birth, “you can have the child, but don’t get lost in her, Philip, please don’t get lost-”. As she speaks the shot focuses on Philip’s face and hers becomes hazy in the background. We see from the moment she is born that Philip’s love for his child surpasses his passion for science… and for Janus. 

As it turns out, Milner’s fears were solidly founded; in the later stages of Janus’s development, Philip begins to feel guilt over what he has created. He thinks about Janus and the cruel experiments he forced his oldest child, a son, to endure, and tries to sabotage Milner. Five years after their first meeting, he issues multiple tip-offs to journalists naming Milner as Mr. Rabbit. She discovers this and confronts him. In this scene, which comes near the beginning of the first episode of the second season, he tells her Janus is finished but that he has changed it. He also tells her, “you can never use what I have made”. She ignores him and informs him that if he does not hand over the finished Janus protein to her by the end of the week she will torture Jessica. 

After reaching a breaking point as a result of this threat, Philip escapes from the Network. He makes his own escape before injecting the only sample of the finished Janus protein into Jessica, in the hope that this will ensure her safety.  The Assistant is beside Milner when she discovers that, not only have Philip and Jessica escaped, but that Janus is inside Jessica and therefore out of her grasp. 

Milner is more distraught about the loss of Philip than the loss of Janus, and this is our first glimpse of the emotion behind her seemingly impermeable exterior. Milner loves Philip in a deep, intellectual, and adoring way. She refers to him as a “god”, and clearly feels great privilege at being able to work with him. However, after his departure, Milner is undeterred and leans into her role as Mr. Rabbit instead of backing down. The Assistant has carved the Chinese character for Rabbit into his abdomen in order to protect her identity and act as a decoy. Upon discovering this, she tells him, “your loyalty breaks my heart”. She later describes him to Jessica as, “a man so dedicated to the cause that he carved lines into his own flesh to act as cover”. They spend the subsequent decades planning the distribution of Janus, except, of course, cannot actually follow through with the plan before finding Jessica. Everything we know about Milner up to this point suggests she is utterly and fully dedicated to Janus as her life mission. We also know her to be morally stable, violently corrupt in her means, and passionately dedicated to Philip Carvel and his memory. 

In the present day, with Milner now being portrayed by Geraldine James, it is approximately four decades later and we meet our core characters. Posing as an MI5 agent, Milner befriends Ian (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), Becky (Alexandra Roach), Wilson Wilson (Adeel Akhtar), and Grant (Oliver Woollford) – friends from a forum who accidentally discovered the plan to use Janus through an unpublished graphic novel manuscript. Philip wrote this under a different name in the institution he has been living in since escaping the Network. They don’t yet fully understand what Janus is but are under attack from the Network for knowing it exists and were given a tip-off to contact Milner for help. Having met Jessica (Fiona O’Shaughnessy), who is still on the run from the Network herself, early on, the group and Jessica work suspiciously with Milner as she offers them their best chance at escaping. Jessica does not realize who Milner is, and it has taken Milner forty years of meticulous scheming to track her down. 

It is not until the final episode of the first season that they discover Milner’s true identity. Jessica goes to Milner with the manuscript and has an epiphany when she sees a stone on Milner’s desk the same as the one that her father gave to her. Unfortunately, it is too late by the time she realizes and she ends up trapped on a rooftop alone with Milner. It is here that Milner tells her that her blood contains the finished version of Janus, and that it was not the manuscript she needed after all. 

Milner believes that Jessica must know what the adjustment made by Philip was, but this is not the case. She is now in a difficult position – Janus is finally within her grasp, but she doesn’t know the full consequences of distributing it. After spending forty years preparing for this moment, Milner finds herself in a position where she must decide whether or not to release Janus without knowing what this adjustment is. She maintains that, due to Philip’s love for Jessica and the fact that he already gave Jessica Janus, the amendment cannot be too awful. When Wilson Wilson questions this and asks her if she is willing to gamble Janus and everything it might do on the love that Philip had for his child, she simply tells him that she is. It is clear that not only does she believe wholeheartedly in Philip’s love for Jessica, she herself holds deep love for Philip. Her belief in Janus is real, and it is her love for Philip that maintains the freshness of her commitment to the cause she has chosen to dedicate her life to; she works in the knowledge that nobody will know her name, or Philip’s, but that she will always know she helped him to be a “god”. 

Milner is not only terrifying, she is also impressive. After it takes the characters six episodes worth of time to discover her identity (partially because they had not considered that Mr. Rabbit might be a woman), and she displays her ability to successfully manipulate Jessica – who is perhaps the strongest, smartest character in the show and is maneuvered into freely walking into her office – demonstrates what a command she has over the emotions of others. To her, emotion is weakness; she is excellent at using the emotions of others to manipulate them. 

My favourite example of this, aside from Jessica, is Wilson. Although Wilson defects to her cause freely, he is at first unwilling to operate in the way that Milner does. She prefers to murder all those who know anything, whilst Wilson favours leniency and operates within a moral code separated from hers by, perhaps, his less intense investment in Janus. 

Although originally an enemy of the Network, once Wilson learns what they are doing, he believes it makes a lot of sense and betrays his friends in order to prove to them that he is trustworthy and worth working with. Milner observes this and, feeling she has found a true kindred spirit, allows him to start working for her. She immediately works at getting him deeply invested in the Network’s operations. She captures his friend’s brother for questioning despite knowing he has no information and then tells Wilson that he must shoot him. She persuades him that her actions are for the greater good and pushes him into a corner where he must step up to fill his role in the Network whether he is ready or not. 

Milner is also very organized. Her plans for Janus have been obsessively poured over, night and day; she has created backups upon backups and a firm structure of supporters around her in the highest offices in the world. One of her most crucial allies is Geoff (Alistair Petrie), the UK Cabinet Minister for Health, who is ready to create V-day—a politically charged and seemingly well-meaning initiative encouraging people to wait a few weeks for their vaccine so that everybody in the world can take it at once. It is promoted as an act of charity, but of course, it is just a ploy to ensure that the whole species is vaccinated as quickly as possible. 

Despite Milner’s unwavering dedication to science, it becomes apparent that her love for Philip remains after all this time, and is her weakness. The only humanity she knows is through him. This emotional side to her is what, at last, makes her seem full; it makes her human and complete. She is flawed as the rest of us are in her desire to fulfill what her heart feels so deeply. Her command over herself in even the toughest situations gives her power that nobody else can live up to. This is best demonstrated by her apparent amusement rather than fear when, in the latter stages of the second series, Jessica holds a gun to her head. However, once again, she manipulates Jessica. She chooses this moment to tell her that her father is alive, and convinces her that she, Milner, is the only one he will speak to. She attempts to empathize with Jessica, suggesting that if Jessica wants to know what the adjustment made to the protein that is already inside her is then she must let Milner help her get this information from Philip. She herself was shocked and in awe to discover that Philip was still alive. It is the first display of pure, present-day emotion that we get from her. 

milner is in the foreground and wilson stands behind her, to the right. They are out in the countryside

There were hints of her softness before but these were few and far between. There is her reluctance to kill Jessica after capturing her, her awe and almost childlike admiration for Philip when they first met, her embrace of Arby (Neil Maskell) before sending him on a mission, and her willingness to die with her ‘son’ who could not escape The Network. However, these first two also come from her love of Philip, the third is an attempt to woo Arby (who, let us remember, is also Philip’s son), and the fourth is a lie. She tells Arby, “I can see him in you”, in reference to Carvel, in a further attempt to relate and bond with him. This affection towards Arby is not only ingenuine but is also performed in front of Lee (Paul Ready), her son, who comments on how out of character it is.  

Milner allows Lee a vital role in The Network despite his unfortunate love of cigarettes, which leads not only to him getting shot and subsequently paralysed but also to him blowing his cover at least once. She also doesn’t seem fazed by the danger in the missions she sends him on. When he comments on her softness toward Arby she dismisses him. Lee is eventually killed by his lack of self-control over taunting and teasing others, but not until after her own death so we never get to see her respond to this. One can only assume that she would be as unfazed as she was at the death of her husband. At least, in her criticism of Philip’s love for Jessica, she was not a hypocrite and maintained her moral integrity. 

It is when Milner is reunited with Philip that we see her in her entirety. Previously, any interaction between them was seeing flashbacks. After escaping institutionalization and being found by Becky, Philip ends up in the epicenter of the Network once more. 

What we learn about Janus from Philip in the crucial moments leading up to the launch helps unveil Milner’s true self. We learn that Philip’s adjustment to it was that he did choose a race after all. Not only that but he gave into his own emotions and chose the Romani race – the race himself and his daughter belong to – and not the race he isolated as the most genetically advantageous. And there’s more; Philip also discovered during his experiments that Janus stops the vaccine from working… unless you are Romani. Milner hears this and realises what this would mean – hundreds of millions of deaths from Russian Influenza, and a single sect of the population spared because of one man’s love. Wilson Wilson, who, up until this point has been a loyal convert to Milner’s ideology, tells her to take back the call she claims she has already made to enter the first phase of the operation. He realises that this is unacceptable and far outside of the scope of what he thought he signed up to. The Network had tested the vaccine for Russian flu with Janus in it, but they had only tested it on Jessica as she was the only human subject they had. 

This dramatic scene gave us so much more of Milner than we had seen up to this point. Her blinding love for Philip had eclipsed her need for scientific integrity and she herself had become consumed by the part of him she liked the least: emotion. In these moments we are seeing the sum of her life: the work she has dedicated decades to, the only person she has ever loved, and that, despite it all, she is more deeply motivated by love and admiration for Philip than she is by her desire to impart a legacy. This builds to a crescendo of one moment in which she must decide whether to call off Janus or go ahead despite knowing that the change Philip made will cost billions of lives – including her own. There is some hope that she will change her mind, that she will waver on this decision. However, this hope is misplaced. Milner picks up the phone and makes the call to “commence” with the first phase of Janus: releasing the Russian Flu upon densely populated areas. Even at this point, Milner is unwavering.  This terrifies Wilson, who sees for the first time that somewhere along the line she began to care more about completing Janus than she does about ensuring it is still the ‘right’ thing to do. This emotional decision causes her to set the wheels in motion for a genocide many times greater than the one she told Philip she had lived through herself the first night they met. 

Geraldine James and Ian McDiarmid as Milner and Carvel

Soon after Milner makes this call, she is shot by Grant and the last we see of her is Philip holding her lifeless body. It is poetic that she died believing she’d carried out the final step of her life’s work, but is also sad to see that the commitment to Janus has clouded her vision of reality. Despite the respect you must have for her for seeing things in such a brutal, realistic light, it is disappointing to see that her desperation to see Janus finished overcomes her need to maintain moral judgement and fairness to the end. 

We never see Milner again. This somehow feels like a peaceful ending for her. Despite seeing Philip desperately crying over Milner’s body, there is a certain satisfaction in knowing that they did what they intended to do and that she died in his company after missing him so deeply for so long gives her story an emotive closure. In disrupting Milner’s personality in her final moments and bringing emotions into her final choices, Kelly lets us know that humanity will always be flawed and emotional, no matter the merit of any individual’s scientific knowledge and capability. Despite all her passion, discipline, and commitment, she is destroyed by love. 

Fortunately (or unfortunately, for the fallen Mr. Rabbit), Wilson sends Ian after the Network operative assigned to release the virus, and Ian successfully manages to foil this release. 

But, just when we think Janus is over, Wilson tells Michael Dugdale (Paul Higgins) that he plans to continue, assuming the role of Mr. Rabbit himself. Milner is not the only character capable of being ‘God’ in this sense, and Wilson would no doubt make an even more interesting Mr. Rabbit than Milner. As someone who originally felt opposed to Janus, Wilson’s dedication to the cause came from a genuine belief that the work being done by The Network was just and righteous. It is by knowing that Wilson is not power-hungry, bloodthirsty, or narcissistic that we can see he would be a more tender, balanced, empathetic carnation of Mr. Rabbit. This is something that would have been exciting to explore, had the series not been canceled. 

Addressing Michael, Wilson promises to “be better” than Milner. He pledges to be less brutal, to commit murders only when necessary instead of bulldozing all the lives The Network touches, and to ensure that the suffering he causes is proportional to the lives that he believes will be saved. He decides that some loss of life is acceptable for the greater good – which is what he believes Janus is. He tells Michael that he wants to create the threat of a pandemic instead of a pandemic; he wants the world to be incentivized to take the vaccine spiked with Janus by creating small outbreaks on highlands and small communities. Wilson believes that the high loss of life in these areas justifies a smaller and more controlled release of the Russian Flu that would still, ultimately, achieve what Carvel and Milner originally wanted – the permanent stabilisation of population growth and resource management. Wilson truly wants to save the world. 

Wilson was perfectly set up to take on the leadership of Janus and The Network. The Network tortured him, took his eye, murdered his father… and yet his loyalty to their primary cause supersedes these things for him. He contains the perfect mix of cold-blooded realism and passionate moral justice to be Mr. Rabbit. He seemed determined to be better than his predecessor, and I, for one, believed him; now we shall never know. 

Our final scene is Wilson Wilson, complete with a self-carved scar on his abdomen representing the Chinese character for rabbit, throwing open a storeroom to reveal canisters of what we assume to be Russian Flu. Milner is not the only character who could compel as Mr. Rabbit, indeed, I think Wilson would bring a refreshing hint of human morality to the role; but it was Milner as Mr. Rabbit that gave me one of my favourite characters of all time. Her character popped out from the screen and consumed all the focus of the viewer; Milner is Mr. Rabbit.

  1. The blackouts in London in 1973 were a result of the soaring price of oil due to war in the Middle East. British miners were on strike and the Prime Minister (Edward Heath) declared a state of emergency and released a list of electrically run appliances that were banned until the crisis was over. Power cuts were rife and citizens suffered across the country.
  2. The Tel Aviv flight mentioned by Milner, flight TWA 841, was bombed out of the sky on September the 8th, 1974. This has been attributed to terrorist Abu Nidal. All of the events woven into Utopia’s storyline are based on real life, with many ambiguously attributed events written into the storyline as the work of the Network. Other such events include the aforementioned London blackouts, the murder of Airey Neave, the vote of no confidence in Thatcher’s government, and the accident at Three Mile Island. This clever writing is part of what makes Utopia such a feat of writing and mastermind. 

Written by Anna Green

Politics graduate based in the UK. I'm passionate about writing so I can usually be found buried in ink and paper. Proud writer for 25YL!

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  1. An incisive and excellent study of an exceptional TV series, and an intriguing character the program featured, by Ms. Anna Green, a passionate and talented writer indeed.

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