Review: Electric Dreams – Season 1

Based on: Various short stories by Philip K. Dick
Producer: Sony Pictures Television, Lynn Horsford
Director:
Jeffery Reiner (Real Life), Peter Horton (Autofac), Francesca Gregorini (Human Is), Marc Munden (Crazy Diamond), (Julian Jarrold) The Hood Maker, Alan Taylor (Safe and Sound), Michael Dinner (The Father Thing), David Farr (Impossible Planet), Tom Harper (The Commuter), Dee Rees (Kill All Others)
Writer: Philip K. Dick (based on various short stories), Ronald D. Moore (written for television)
Starring: Terrence Howard, Anna Paquin, Juno Temple, Janelle Monáe, Bryan Cranston, Essie Davis, Steve Buscemi, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Holliday Grainger, Richard Madden, Annalise Basso, Maura Tierney, Jack Gore, Greg Kinnear, Jack Reynor, Benedict Wong, Timothy Spall, Tuppence Middleton, Mel Rodriguez, Vera Farmiga

Distributor: Channel 4, Amazon Video
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: TV-MA

Philip K. Dick was an American science-fiction writer, born on December 16, 1928. During his lifetime, he published 36 novels and 121 short stories, with common themes of alternate universes, altered consciousness, and authoritarian governments. Dick died on March 2, 1982. Many films have been based on these works, including Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1982 and 2012), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), and Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Amazon Prime also released an adaptation of The Man in the High Castle in 2015, which attracted much positive feedback.

In 2017, Sony Pictures Television produced (along with Richard D. Moore, Michael Dinner, and Bryan Cranston as executive producers) Electric Dreams, a science fiction anthology television series based on the works of Philip K. Dick. Amazon Video bought the U.S. rights to the series.

CONTENT GUIDE

Violence/Scary Images: Various fights, including a man fighting/hitting/tackling a woman; gunfight, with people killed; torture shown and discussed on humans, including antagonist talks about cutting off fingers, making the victim eat said fingers and experiments on humans; riots, including a man set on fire and tear gas; scary/violent images, including flayed skin of multiple humans, human corpse hanging from billboard, nuclear bomb, woman deteriorating/hyper-aging, human-alien pods burned, alien bug parasite crawls under skin/forehead, woman cuts herself across temple, allowing blood to flow, alien absorbs “essence’ from man, including decapitation on androids, android tasered, military warfare against aliens, character vomits, and pig-human hybrid.

Language/Crude Humor: +35 religious profanity (Jesus, Christ, God); +10 mild obscenities (h***, c**p, d**n); +30 scatological terms; four derogatory terms, including b***h; +70 f**k; characters talk about sex (see Sexual Content).

Sexual Content: Men and women passionately kiss and have sex, including oral sex on woman. Two women passionately kiss and have sex (lesbianism). BDSM-type orgy shown. Nudity, including bare side breast of women shown (no nipple), skinny-dipping and bare back/buttocks of a man and women. Man and women in underwear and form-fitting clothes. Man looks at porn of alien humanoid female. Men and women talk about being sex positions, masturbation, molestation, androids as sex dolls, and rape. Underage boys talk about sexting. Orgasms heard several times through series.

Drug/Alcohol use: Alcohol and smoking, singing about drug use.

Spiritual Content: None.

Other Negative Themes: Virtual reality dependence; hedonism; government/corporation conspiracies, including false flag attacks; suicide bombing; human extinction; extraterrestrial life; prejudice; peer pressure.

Positive Content: A discussion on fantasy vs. reality, propaganda, the nature of truth.

SEASON RECAP

EPISODES 1-2

Episode 1, Real Life, starts with Sarah (Anna Paquin), a cop dealing with survivor’s guilt in a future cityscape. Her wife offers a solution: A virtual reality device that goes beyond simple simulation and makes the viewer actually believe they are another person.

Sarah accepts this offer and starts the experience. She becomes George Miller (Terrence Howard), the CEO of Avacom Data Systems and creator of virtual reality in his world. George searches for the killer of his wife, Colin, who is actually the same criminal she is searching for as Sarah. Then, the dynamic and blurring of which world is real increases and intensifies. Characters in both worlds insist they are authentic, backed by memories and bizarre consistencies.

George finally comes to the conclusion his world is true, as real life is prone to trials and tribulations. In other words, the future world of Sarah seemed to perfect. The episode ends with the revelation the future world was real, and Sarah is stuck in a comatose state/virtual world.

Episode 2, Autofac, starts with Emily (Juno Temple) viewing a nuclear warhead destroying a nearby city. Emily wakes up to a post-apocalyptic landscape, where she and a ragtag group plow through a destroyed city. These survivors live a bleak existence under the AI-directed megacorporation Autofac, which pollutes the world and threatens their lives with deadly force.

The survivors capture a drone, which triggers Autofac to send out the robotic representative “Alice” (Janelle Monáe). Emily convinces Alice to help her and her group infiltrate and destroy the Autofac factory. Alice flies Emily and her group to the Autofac factory (with cinematography reminiscent of the introduction of the Tydell Corporation from Blade Runner).

However, Emily discovers something shocking: There are robotic replacements of her being manufactured. We then discover Emily and the rest of the survivors were sentient androids all along, themselves part of the automation. Then, Emily reveals her self-awareness of her robotic identity occurred years ago; she prepped to take down Autofac with an internal virus and managed to shut it down. This episode ends with Emily happily returning to her community.

EPISODES 3-4

Episode 3, Human Is, starts on a future Earth/Terra of 2520. High-ranking colonel Silas (Bryan Cranston) is accepting an award for his exploits, but a military peer praises his wife Vera (Essie Davis), herself a military official. Silas is then revealed to be emotionally abusive, distancing Vera.

With Terra’s breathable atmosphere depleting, the humans desperately need hydron to clean it. Silas leads a military group to steal some from the planet Rexor IV. The original inhabitants, the Rexorians, fight and destroy this military invasion. But, the hydron shipment is successful.

Vera mourns the loss of her husband, but soon discovers he and another solider are still alive. However, Silas now strangely acts more loving to his wife. The other soldier is revealed to be a Rexorian, who are shape-shifters. Silas is tried by the State court concerning his true identity. The alleged Silas offers to plea guilty to free Vera from any culpability. This plea doesn’t fit the believed disposition of Rexorians, and Silas is freed. The episode ends with Vera fully acknowledging Silas is not Silas, asking to know his real name.

Episode 4, Crazy Diamond, starts with a disheveled Ed (Steve Buscemi) waking up in a boat after a nightmarish encounter with the redheaded Jill (Sidse Babett Knudsen). He returns home, only to find Jill talking to his wife Sally.

Flashback seven days earlier, and Ed is having marital problems with Sally. He works at the Spirit Mill, a factory that manufactures “quantum consciousness” into synthetic bodies. During one of the tours, Ed meets the redheaded Jill (the name for the female synthetics). Jill needs Ed’s help stealing a quantum consciousness, in order to prevent her terminal system from failing.

Eventually, the episode returns to the beginning, with Jill and Sally “talking” about life insurance. Ed tries to get Jill out of his life, but she threatens him with blackmail. Ed and Jill confront the black market buyers, which she immediately kills. She also kills the director of the Mill.

When Ed returns, his beachside house starts to collapse into the sea. The episode ends with Jill and Sally obtaining the boat and kicking Ed off it. He washes up ashore, sadly holding his Syd Barret LP.

EPISODES 5-6

Episode 5, The Hoodmakers, starts with a riot moving through a dystopian future city. Honor (Holliday Grainger) is a Teep, a telepathic mutant human; she reads the intentions of the crowds for the police, before being interrupted by a nearby Molotov cocktail.

Honor is partnered up with Agent Ross (Richard Madden) at the precinct. The Teeps recently have been allowed to work in conjunction with police investigations. However, a new counter effort against the Teeps arises. A Hoodmaker creates hoods which can block telepathic readings. In addition, an uprising of Teeps begins to occur around the city.

Agent Ross goes to investigate a possible lead for the Hoodmaker. He finds Dr. Cutter, a scientist who ran experiments on the telepaths. Dr. Cutter then reveals Agent Ross also has a gift himself: The ability to block readings. The Teep uprising reaches Dr. Cutter’s factory, and they kill Dr. Cutter and light the factory on fire.

Honor then learns the truth about Ross and his initial deceitful intentions. She runs ahead of him, and locks the door behind her. The episode ends with Ross begging Honor to open the door, as the factory burns down around him as the disillusioned Honor looks out over the burning city.

Episode 6, Safe and Sound, starts with a mom-daughter duo moving to the big technologically advanced city. The daughter, Foster (Annalise Basso), and the mother, Irene (Maura Tierney), come from Bubbles, locations outside the futuristic cityscape known for antiquated ways and terrorism against the city.

Foster goes to school, where she quickly learns of the Dex, a high-tech wristband used for security. Going against her mother’s commands, she obtains one illegally. She then develops affection for the tech support, Ethan. However, it becomes unclear if Ethan is in her mind or truly trying to help her.

Ethan uses Foster to unravel a possible terrorist attack against her school. He then incites Foster to create a “controlled” terrorist attack so they can stop it. Foster attempts to suicide bomb the school, but is stopped.

Fast forward, and Foster speaks to the public about being free from her mother’s brain washing. Irene is arrested. But, the episode ends revealing Ethan manipulated Foster into a false flag attack to defend the integrity of the Dex manufacturers.

EPISODES 7-8

Episode 7, The Father Thing, starts with the typical American suburban family. The young son Charlie (Jack Gore) wants to join the baseball team; his father (Greg Kinnear) encourages him and helps him practice. One night on a father-son camping trip, they notice bizarre lights descending from the sky.

Soon after, Charlie sees several terrifying things, confirming his current “father” is not of this world. He runs from home and explains the situation to his friend Dylan and his brother Henry. He also finds others on the Internet experiencing similar dissimilarities with friends and family members. Charlie finds the skin of his real father in the garage trash; the imposter father finds his discovery.

Both drop the pretenses, and Charlie flees. Charlie convinces his two friends of the alien invasion and they try to trap the alien imposter. They fail, and Charlie flees to the forest where he finds multiple alien pods. Henry finally defeats the alien imposter with a car, and kills the parasite. Charlie lights the pods on fire and comforts his confused mother. The episode ends with Charlie sending out a final call to resist the alien invasion over the Internet.

Episode 8, Impossible Planet, starts with Norton (Jack Reynor) piloting a space tour of a supernova. He is part of the space tourist company Astral Dreams, along with slacker Andrews (Benedict Wong). Before they close for the night, they get a request from the 300+-year-old Irma and her assistant robot.

Irma wants to visit Earth. Andrews refuses at first, saying it does not exist. But, after she offers an exorbitant amount of money, he accepts. Norton has his reservations as well, but after a failed employment transfer, agrees. Over the course of the trip, Irma and Norton develop a relationship, with her recollecting her grandmother’s time on Earth. In addition, the assistant robot sees through the con of Andrews and Norton.

They finally come upon “Earth,” as presented by Andrews. Despite it being a toxic planet in reality, the believing Irma insists they land. They land; Irma then wants to go outside. Norton obliges with two spacesuits, including one for himself. They exit, but the suits have limited oxygen. Andrews demands they return to the ship, but Norton and Irma begin to hear birds chirping.

The air depletes completely and Irma removes her helmet. But, she is now young. They are transported to a lush environment, a stark contrast to the toxic wasteland. The episode ends with them skinny-dipping on Earth under a beautiful waterfall.

EPISODES 9-10

Episode 9, The Commuter, starts with train-statin agent Ed (Timothy Spall) as he attends to his daily tasks. Ed encounters a bizarre incident. A commuter named Linda (Tuppence Middleton) requests a ticket to Macon Heights, a town that does not exist. Upon Ed showing Linda the town does not exist, Linda disappears.

Ed returns home to find his troubled son Sam and his wife. A therapist says the son’s condition is worsening. After another bizarre encounter with Linda, Ed decides to get off on her mysterious train stop based on time. Ed then discovers the idyllic yet mysterious Macon Heights.

Upon returning home, he finds his wayward child no longer exists. Macon Heights is revealed to be a town that almost existed. In addition, many of the visitors go there to escape some negative aspect of themselves, not just Ed. Ed then remembers his son. He convinces Linda to reverse this erasure, despite the pain he will experience. The episode ends with Ed returning home, happily finding his son, depressed, but existing.

Episode 10, Kill All Others (K.A.O.), starts in 2054, where North America is unified as “MexUsCan,” Philbert (Mel Rodriguez) lives with his wife under a uniparty meganation. There is a vote, but there is only one Candidate (Vera Fermiga). One night, Philbert hears the candidate sneak something strange in her speech: Kill All Others.

Philbert freaks out, informing his wife and coworkers. But, they are dismissive of the statement. He again sees the phrase on a billboard while riding a train. He emergency stops the train, causing an accident and gaining the attention of the authorities. Upon stopping the beating of a woman, the authorities suspect Philbert of being Other.

His workplace demands Philbert wear a health monitoring watch. After trying to challenge the Candidate over the video call on live television, he is targeted. His coworkers are not allowed to talk to him and the police interrogate his wife. The police go on a manhunt for Philbert, but he climbs up one of the billboards. The episode ends with Philbert himself hanging from the K.A.O. billboard, as the meganation expands and the public remains submissive.

REVIEW

Overall, the series is a mix of dull to good episodes. The dull stuff is not super bad, but it is not standout either. The first episode really sets the tone, itself being average and inspired by the works of Philip K. Dick rather than a faithful adaptation. The soundtrack also helps set the tone, but it is not good enough for me to seek out. All the actors support the conceit of their respective stories, and the special effects range from passable to good.

A major flaw I ran into is many of the science fiction elements and themes of Electric Dreams are common. This may cause an audience to dismiss continuing with the series. This possible reaction would be ironic, as the works of Dick inspire much science fiction even to this day. Needless to say, many of the elements and themes of the Electric Dreams and its source material were novel when they first appeared.

I recommend this series for science fiction fans, namely fans of Philip K. Dick. Take time to read his short stories too, as it is interesting to see what elements the episode director altered in comparison to the original source material. I would not buy Amazon Prime just for this series; and if you do have Prime already, I would only recommend my top episodes.

Some viewers stated Electric Dreams is Amazon’s challenger to Netflix’s Black Mirror. I haven’t watched that series. So, I would like to think I went into this fresh. Although, this comparison did spark my interest in Black Mirror for future review. As an anthology series with different directors, a brief overview of the episodes in order from my least liked to my favorite would be ideal.

THE DULL-MEDIOCRE EPISODES

I like The Father Thing the least. Some episodes at least have beautiful imagery to save them, but not this one. The plot is pretty much a duller version of The Invasion of the Body-Snatchers, making it very predictable. The Stranger Things vibe (including the music) only made it feel like a rip-off.

Crazy Diamond is next. The imagery and setting intrigued me with the dreamlike atmosphere. But, the femme-fatale plot did not engross me and even confused me at some points, despite the science fiction trappings.

I began to enjoy The Commuter more, warranting the higher rank. Again, the imagery pleased me. I loved the initial plot point of a mysterious traveler going to a non-existent town. It reminded me of The Man from Taured legend. But, halfway through, the nature of the town confused me in relation to the “real” world. And confusion does not help with enjoyment.

Real Life breaks the dull-mediocre barrier. As the first episode in the Amazon listing, it does what is supposed to do: Spark my interest in the series and set the tone. The acting is great, but a more unclear resolution like in the original short story would have been preferred.

Impossible Planet is better. Overall, the plot is tight with a strong start. The acting from the three leads is great. But, I am torn between liking the etherealness of the ending and disliking the relative truth of the same ending.

Human Is is on the higher end. Bryan Cranston (who also helped produce the series) really sells the episode. In reality, he plays two roles and he delivers. Some of the settings feel closed in and it is another alien-masquerading-as-human plot. But, the themes of alien prejudice, wartime politics, and even marriage help to elevate this episode.

Autofac is another enjoyable episode. I appreciated the “happy” ending after Real Life; the plot twists at that end were just the right amount. Juno Temple is enjoyable as the female heroine and Janelle Monáe carried a great mix of emotionlessness and coercion as the PR robot. Not sure how needed the sex scene was though, which could be said of several episodes.

MY TOP 3 EPISODES

Kill All Others breaks the average-good barrier. Mel Rodriguiez simply fits the role of the Everyman, making him relateable to the viewers. Vera Farmiga really hams it up as The Candidate, which is so fun to watch. Likewise, there is a nice balance of humor throughout this otherwise grim script.

The dystopian government (and its subsequent victory) is classic science fiction. I really appreciated the Chicago setting. I also appreciated the themes of propaganda, media manipulation, and cultivation theory. This episode, along with my other top three, are the only ones I am content with not following the original storyline.

Safe and Sound is my second favorite episode. I believe the school setting struck me personally because of my teaching background. Annalise Basso conveyed the social anxiety of many teenagers effortlessly. My favorite line from her character (“I’m talking to an ant.”) completely shows her bleak confusion. Unfortunately, this scene also breaks my suspension of disbelief in thinking she can be tricked so easily.

Similarly, a megacorporation going out of their way to manipulate a teenager does seem a bit “out there.” Some reviewers derided this episode, connecting it to the current political climate, which is an inappropriate stretch. Maura Tierney seemed to have fun playing a conspiracy theorist, and I liked the themes of invasion of privacy. Part of my criteria for gauging the episodes is if I want to explore the world further. Safe and Sound fits this. I can see a teen drama created in this world, even if for one season.

The Hoodmaker tops the list. It is by far the most enjoyable episode from cinematography to dialogue to pacing. Richard Madden and Holliday Grainger helped convince me of the dire stakes as Agent Ross and Honor respectively. I enjoyed the development of their friendship and learning of Agent Ross’s initial prejudice.

Like Safe and Sound, I would love to explore The Hoodmaker world more. As an avid superhero fan, I cannot help but think of the X-Men franchise and the similar mutant prejudice experienced by the Teeps. The development of a counter-evolution and creation of the Hood expands on the world building. This story could very well be expanded into a full-length movie. On that note, The Hoodmaker is visually cinematic, unlike other episodes that look like regular TV shows.

Spiritual Application

“What is truth?” is a question that arises in one way or another throughout Electric Dreams. In Real Life, Sarah fails to discern the true world from the virtual world. In Autofac, Emily learns the truth about her automated world and her robotic self. Both Human Is and The Father Thing deal with aliens posing as humans and humans trying to discover and/or reveal the truth. Jill deceives Ed as the femme-fatale in Crazy Diamond.

Honor sees the truth about (almost) everyone with her telepathy in The Hoodmakers. In Safe and Sound and Impossible Planet, Foster and Irma are both deceived respectively, with varying results. Ed desires his real universe instead of the easy alternate universe, despite the pain he would endure with his wayward son. And in Kill All Others, Philbert pays the price for seeing and acting on the truth, despite the overwhelming propaganda and peer pressure.

Of course, this is expected from a secular mindset: Truth is relative, changing with emotions or situations. For the Christian, truth is absolute. But, for believers, truth isn’t just a set of moral standards or biblical knowledge we hold onto. Truth is also a Person. Jesus said in John 14:6,I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me”.

One of the greatest failures to recognize this was the Pharisees and the scribes. They studied the truth of the Word of God (John 5:39) and taught this truth correctly (Matthew 23:3). Unfortunately, they failed to acknowledge the Word of God in the flesh (John 1:14), Truth personified. This same issue persists even into the modern Church.

This Personhood of Truth is unique, as Truth is not simply knowledge or a philosophy. So, the next time you talk with a relativist or secular friend about Jesus, don’t just shore up on apologetics or the best counter-arguments. Your goal is that they may know God, Truth (John 17:3).

The Bottom Line

Electric Dreams is an average science fiction anthology; episodes are dull to good. You have seen many of the science fiction themes here before. I recommend this series to science fiction fans, especially Philip K. Dick fans. I would not buy Amazon Prime just for this series; and if you do have Prime already, I would only recommend my top episodes.

 

7.8

Armand Azamar

Armand J. Azamar is a freelance writer and artist from the Chicagoland area. Armed with the Word of God (and a love for superheroes, comic books and speculative fiction), he teaches at New Life Assembly Church and Kankakee Trinity Academy.

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