A Review of Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, Part 3

by Rachel Bellwoar

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams is an anthology series based on ten of Philip K. Dick’s short stories. Best known for writing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the book behind the blockbuster film, Blade Runner, Dick’s mark on the sci-fi genre is well-documented and that shows in the names attached to this project (Anna Paquin, Richard Madden, and Timothy Spall are just a few of the actors appearing). Every episode is standalone, and a book collecting the stories adapted for this season has been published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Here’s a review of the final three episodes (the other seven were reviewed in Parts 1 and 2):

“Safe & Sound”

Maura Tierney and Annalise Basso

You wouldn’t think this episode had another name — “Safe & Sound” fits it to a tee — but Philip K. Dick’s original title was “Foster, You’re Dead.”

New to living in the East, Foster’s mom, Irene (Maura Tierney), is an elected official for the United States’ Western bubbles. While Foster (Annalise Basso) is in awe of the city, Irene’s political agenda makes her aware of its faults, but not her daughter’s opinions. When Foster asks her mom if she can buy a Dex, Irene says no, so Foster goes behind her back to order one. The bracelet was meant to help her fit in at school, and it’s true, most students own one, but this isn’t your ordinary fashion trend.

Dexes are locator bracelets, meant to keep track of people in case of a terrorist attack. Maybe they started out as a public service, but they’re making people paranoid, with the pressure to wear them enforced by school policy.

When Foster starts to listen to the wrong voices, “Safe & Sound” becomes a thriller, but it’s her relationship with her mother that sets the bar high. You expect Foster to try and take the bracelet off, to keep Irene from finding out she bought one, but there’s no need. Irene doesn’t notice and, considering her recent parenting, “…less present and overbearing,” Irene admits, “It’s a bad combo…” While it should be early enough for her to work on paying attention, a lot’s happened to Foster in the interim. The ending is overly explanatory, and doesn’t leave much ambiguous, but “Safe & Sound” will give viewers the creeps.

“Human Is”

Bryan Cranston and Essie Davis

Different means bad…right?

When Vera (Essie Davis) confesses that her husband, Silas (Bryan Cranston), hasn’t been acting himself lately, you can almost see Yaro (Ruth Bradley) doing the math in her head. Recently returned from a mission to Rexor IV that went badly, there’s some concern that Rexorians stole aboard Silas’ ship. The mission’s objective was to mine their planet for Hydran, but the Rexorians weren’t keen on losing their air reserves, and fought back against the invaders.

Set in a future where Earth is called Terra (I guess they preferred the anagram?), Vera and Silas’ marriage is the opposite of Kumnail Najiani asking The Washington Post to add his wife, Emily V. Gordon’s, name to a headline for their movie, The Big Sick. General Olin (an underused Liam Cunningham) goes to more lengths to acknowledge Vera’s contributions, but when she leaves Silas a message before the launch, he fatefully turns it off before she says, ‘be careful.’

While “Human Is” makes a point of letting men share the on-screen nudity, the episode tries too hard to titillate, and the design for the Rexorians feels like an afterthought (they’re electric balls of static). Towards the end, some information comes to light on Vera and Silas’ relationship, but it’s how tightly people will protect their preconceptions that boggles the imagination.

“Autofac”

Janelle Monàe

As co-producer of Electric Dreams with Britain’s Channel 4 and Sony Pictures Television, it’s amazing Amazon gave their blessing to this episode. “Autofac” does what sci-fi’s supposed to do, by speaking to what’s going on in the world, and one of the things that’s going on is Amazon. With their free shipping and reduced prices, Amazon’s hard to resist, but a similar tech in “Autofac” has gone rogue on its customers.

It’s post-war, and the Factory no longer needs people to run itself, so has moved on to delivering unwanted packages. While this might not seem like a hardship, the environment’s suffering. Humans may have survived the war, but consumerism will kill them, and the Factory thinks little of the rules of sales. The customer’s not always right.

In order to get the Factory’s attention, Emily (Juno Temple) and her revolutionary friends take out a delivery drone, hack the Autofac’s web-site, and place a customer service complaint. Given how advanced the technology is—Autofac hasn’t broken down in twenty years—their hope is to reason with the representative it sends (Janelle Monàe).

The Factory is humanity’s disobedient child and when negotiations come to an impasse, Emily must find a way to implement Plan B. The most hopeful of the Electric Dreams episodes, “Autofac” is also the series’ best, and the short story I’d most want to read to see how close Philip K. Dick came to predicting Amazon’s ascendance. An episode that gives Emily a rich personal life, outside of saving the world, if you only watch one episode of the Electric Dreams, this is the one.

Final Ranking of Electric Dreams Season 1, from strongest to weakest:
1. Autofac
2. The Commuter
3. Kill All Others
4. Real Life
5. Safe & Sound
6. The Hoodmaker
7. The Father Thing
8. Human Is
9. The Impossible Planet
10. Crazy Diamond

 

Season 1 of Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams is streaming on Amazon.