Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams – Season 1 Episode 8
- This story was written in 1955.
It shouldn’t astound me but it does. How can it be that Philip K. Dick and his contemporaries could anticipate such a future for us? Perhaps it was an imagining of the worst possible outcome…but how come these stories play out like they are true?
I feel I might be alone in not having read any Philip K. Dick, and I must confess to not having watched any of the previous episodes either. When the trailers were initially released I was really looking forward to them but they kind of passed me by somewhat, and perhaps I’m not alone in that as Channel 4 took the decision to show the latter episodes far later than scheduled, releasing them on 4OD. For your convenience.
So, I started watching “Autofac” with a little apprehension, feeling like I’m last to the party.
I also thought the story would be predictable. Ha. I was a little foolish in that. It’s hard not to watch this show and not continuously compare it to other TV shows or movies, or things that have been on the news. It feels quite contemporary, for the most part, if we ignore the first five minutes and that dreadful intro.
The opening scenes jump between a dated Mad Max inspired society; the girl we recognise from the cold open (Juno Temple) looking shiny and new; and single lines of information about this future. Very Terminator. Very…everything.
Dick’s inspiration has clearly been used by many more for their own stories. I wrote down a few as the programme played out. It was hard not to, which I’ve chosen to list at the end to be less of a distraction.
The story centres on Emily (Temple) working with 2 more central characters who slowly drip more information for us to help understand what exactly is going on. By this time, I’m very used to this set-up; Black Mirror I think has to be the most prominent example today. It’s become a bit of a game figuring out how messed up these individual futures have become. But of course, Dick did it first.
We quickly establish that the Autofac is a factory who, despite the end of the world, continues to churn out consumables to a world no longer in need of consumables, on account of the population being wiped out. Our focus falls to a small group of humans who have created their own society in the shadows of the factory. Under the constant threat of attack by the protective weapons the factory has produced in order to keep the production line moving the group decide to intervene.
So far, so ok.
It feels too familiar quite early on which isn’t aided by a cheesy love scene between Emily and the ‘Gimpy Librarian’ Avishai (played by Nick Eversman, who you might recognise from Once Upon A Time. I don’t because I gave up a few seasons ago.). It comes across so clunky and clumsy that I figured it would have to serve some kind of purpose…and luckily it did.
The story moves swiftly, which I enjoyed, any slower and I might have gotten bored. No time is left for thinking too much about the world or questioning it, it is just accepted. So we quickly see Emily is quite technological, obtaining motherboards from shot down drones, and programming them to suit her need to set up a dialogue with the machines, which they decide they must do in order to bring the factory down. This is where I got excited.
Janelle Monáe, The original ArchAndroid (if you don’t know what I’m talking about you should), appears as a humanoid ready to resolve the customer complaint Emily logged in the system. Opening a dialogue with the machines, Emily and her two companions Conrad and Perine (David Lyons and Jay Paulson respectively) decide to hack Monáe’s perfectly lovely Alice and use her as a tool to gain access to the Autofac and attempt to bring it down from the inside.
The episode is full of single lines that could serve as warnings to our current use of anything. My mind runs wild thinking of all the things this episode could serve as a warning for. And that’s what it is: a warning. “eating resources. Making plastic for a world dead and gone.”
Consumerism will be the end of us. AI will be the end of us. Plastic will be the end of us. Nuclear weapons will be the end of us. So on and so forth. It almost hurts to watch this play out knowing it was written more than 6 decades ago, and we still face the same problems – USA and Russia, Pollution, resources. And this can only continue to become more pertinent to us as time moves closer on the Doomsday clock. Again, the pace is quick and moves at a pace I enjoyed, no dallying or dallying here.
With Emily exposing the glowing blue mind of the AI Alice as she attempts to hack her programme, there comes to light a discussion of reality, what constitutes realness? How do you know if you’re real? Is Alice a person because she has the ability to think and act as a human? Perhaps I read into it all these questions because previous similar programmes and movies have commanded it from the audience. Here we see that Alice is willing to sacrifice her factory in order to stop Emily from reprogramming her and removing who she is.
The characters appear rather base, which is probably more a reflection of it being a short story, and little do we know at this point what is yet to come. This is maybe where the pace could have slowed a little. as it went from another interesting nuclear war after-story of survival to something else entirely.
Evocative of the characters from Streets of Rage emerging from the lift in the final battle Conrad and Perine are doled out onto levels of the factory to find the heart of the factory and collectively blow it up, whilst Alice and Emily delve deeper into the very bottom of the factory.
This is where it changed. We’re suddenly introduced to a potential badness. Something in between Predator, Wraiths and Batman in its grace, cloaking abilities and scary hunting demeanour, callously tracks down Perine in a lift. Revealing himself to Perine in his black feathery robot badness, it fashions a bad-ass sword dagger and swiftly removes Perine’s head. Brutal. It would have been more brutal and shocking if time had allowed for a more tense, dramatic build up. It doesn’t really work treading this strange muddling ground and I wish this was something that had been allocated some extra focus. After all, it’s one in a very sparse cast.
The last scenes are really where the majority of the production is focused. Rightly so as this is where all the strange flashbacks and weird things are put together in a picture that makes sense, which is then reversed and switched in what I can only call the Double Switcheroo.
What we thought was real is not.
Sabotage from a few different angles.
This ending is what we came here for, tying everything together and then burning it. And even justifies the cheesy love scene too! Praise be. Keeping the audience who aren’t already familiar with the story in total suspense and mystified until the end and not entirely forgetting those who have read the story with some pleasant visuals.
Some thoughts that occurred that didn’t make it into the above:
Independence Day – when Goldblum and Smith fly a virus into the mother ship (spoiler alert)
Flashbacks like Sarah Connor’s in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
Love. What is love? I am not built to love. My favourite- The Fifth Element. It all comes down to this.
Ray Bradbury’s “The Pedestrian“, 1951. Short story about robots controlling human behaviour.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” – Margaret Atwood.
And a wee song to top it all off. I’m away to binge on Monáe and dream of Electric Sheep.
For one thing, it has spurred me to read the story for myself, to visualise these things for myself, and really to compare it to what was on screen. I would really like to have given this a higher rating but when I think about opportunities I feel were missed, that easily could have made this more of an engaging show I have to stand by the below rating. It said all the right key words, focussing on pollution and consumption, and even hints at land needed for growing food instead of making goods. All major issues that haven’t escaped the news in the last number of years.
All in all an enjoyable, fast-paced pit stop in the mind of Philip K. Dick and the unseen madness of the fifties. Who knew how many of these things would come to materialise? Especially the mad factory scene that I’m not sure can even compete with BBC coverage of Amazon factories at Christmas.
The future; I think we’re already there.
- pretty visuals
- a surprising storyline
- fast-pacing – good for short attention spans
- strong female leads in the shape of Janelle Monáe & Juno Temple
- a strong anti-consumerism message- Protect the Planet! (start by saying no to plastic straws in your drinks!)
- an underwhelming opening sequence – the credits don’t aid in setting the scene!
- the lack of tension needed to pack a punch
- the cheesy love scene – but important to the overall message. A bit meh.
- this could be our truth. Doomsday lies ahead
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