A Review of Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, Part 2
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 (Maura Tierney, Terrence Howard, and Bryan Cranston 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 three of the episodes (and a link to reviews in Part 1):
Ed (Steve Buscemi) works for a company that manufactures UCs, the souls that give synthetics sentience, but his dream is to sail away into the unknown. Pushed further and further inland by coastal erosion, a boat sounds preferable to moving again, but for (unclear) legal reasons, Ed can’t go. Then Ed meets a Jill (the name given to all female synths) who wants his help stealing UCs to sell on the black market. A plan that could finance Ed’s dreams, and give Jill (Sidse Babett Knudsen) the UC she needs to replace her failing model, “Crazy Diamond” tries to add to the discussion around synthetics, and what makes a person ‘human,’ but doesn’t manage to get very far. Jill, for instance, brings up how humans feel they can speak more freely with synths, something we witness Ed’s wife, Sally (Julia Davis), doing with Su (Joanna Scanlan), but why is Su the only person we meet who has pig genetics?
“Crazy Diamond” is another episode, like “The Father Thing,” that overlooks its more interesting aspects for the story that’s been done before, but with less coherence and fewer redeeming qualities. Instead of robots swooping around like vampires in a tacky sci-fi film, I wish the episode had given time to the monopoly that’s in place over the crops in the neighborhood. Everything’s expiring super-fast but no one’s allowed to keep a garden. Sally grows some grass in a petri dish, and when she and Ed try to plant it outside on the sly, everywhere Ed digs, he hits metal.
“Kill All Others”
For people who get up in arms about sitting through commercial breaks, picture this nightmare – advertisements that appear like holograms in the home whenever you use a certain product, or show up to tell you how much better your shave would be if you switched to their brand. What about if this technology was sold to consumers as a reward? Buy this and you’ll be visited by an attractive spokesperson.
“Kill All Others” is a culmination of personalized ads, virtual assistants, and fear that someone will look at your search history. It’s a world without a free press, where “tactile” is a bad word, and there’s an election with a single candidate, The Candidate (Vera Farmiga, drawing from her days as the calculating Norma Bates to play the calculating politician).
When Philbert (Mel Rodriguez) hears the Candidate say, “Kill All Others,” during a campaign speech, he immediately turns to social media to corroborate what’s he’s heard. Growing more alarmed by other people’s apathy, were it a subliminal message, you could maybe understand, but soon there are billboards running the phrase outside Philbert’s work. Who are the “others?” It’s a question that doesn’t dignify an answer, but ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away.
A warning against not knowing what your government is up to, “Kill All Others” is an ambitious episode, that avoids drawing party lines (The Candidate’s slogan is “Yes Us Can”) but should make viewers rethink staying silent.
“The Hood Maker”
Teeps can read people’s minds and communicate over a Grapevine network. Feared and mistreated by Normals, when an Anti-Immunity Bill rules that Teeps can be used by the police, riots ensue over peoples’ minds being read without their consent.
“The Hood Maker” asks a lot of the same questions as Marvel’s The Gifted but works because of its stripped-down storytelling. Instead of a range of mutant abilities, the episode deals solely with telepathy. Most agents are as weary of teaming up with Teeps as civilians, but Ross (Richard Madden) tries to make his new partner, Honor (Holliday Grainger) feel welcome. Nervous and timid around other agents, Honor transforms when she’s in the interrogation room, and the effect of seeing that shift dazzles.
The hood is a triumph of design, like a mud mask over canvas (or linen, as is mentioned multiple times). Able to block Teeps from picking up electrical signals, the end of “The Hood Maker” throws in Rene Magritte’s painting, The Lovers II (1928), and it’s like this episode was foretold.
There’s knowing a person and then there’s trusting a person, and for Honor, the choice isn’t usually hers to make.
Season 1 of Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams is streaming on Amazon. Look for a review of the final three episodes at the end of next week.