After the relative success of their first Philip K. Dick adaptation, The Man in the High Castle, Amazon purchased the US rights to a Channel 4 anthology series based on his short stories. The series only share one executive producer, but it’s the one that can guarantee the approval of the Philip K. Dick estate—Isa Dick Hackett, his daughter.  Each one of the ten episodes is a stand alone story based on, at least in part, a different Philip K. Dick short story, and each episode has a different writing and directing team. And each episode will be reviewed by the same Ms En Scene writing team—Kat Overland, who has seen one single episode of Black Mirror, the anthology series you already thought of when reading this intro (but she has read a lot of Philip K. Dick), and Jazmine Joyner, who reviewed every single episode of Black Mirror’s most recent season.

There will be spoilers!

Electric Dreams 1.2: “Autofac”

Peter Horton (director), Travis Beacham (writer), John Lindley (cinematography), Keith Henderson (editing)
Juno Temple, Janelle Monáe, David Lyons, Jay Paulson, Nick Eversman (cast)
Based on the short story “Autofac”

What do you think about the future presented here?

JJ: This is my least favorite episode of the bunch. This dystopian future after a nuclear war decimates the world around them is something that has been done over and over again. It’s been done better in so many ways that this episode’s future is a lacklustre affair for me. This future where the whole human race is replaced with cyborgs so the company still has consumers feels a bit unfinished. Like they could have flushed out the story more in this one to make the future a more believable one.

KO: Agreed, this was my least favorite episode as well. The set-up was so sparse that it was hard to grasp what the actual problem was with the Autofac sending them resources. It didn’t make a lot of sense and the episode had a lot of deadweight that could have been better used to give us a better thought out concept. It also failed in terms of visual worldbuilding for me—while the actual Autofac buildings were cool, the designs were pretty standard. We’re also not shown much of the environmental ruin that’s prompting the characters to fight against the Autofac in the first place.

How is diversity represented within the narrative?

JJ: Diversity is represented in the form of Janelle Monáe as an android working for the AutoFac. She was the face of the evil company who was ruining these people’s lives. Again, I am side-eyeing this show for how they continue to cast POC.

KO: Janelle Monáe is the only person of color in the episode, and it’s really quite a let down of a cameo. While she does her best to play a sentient android, the episode doesn’t give her very much to do. There is a disabled love interest, which was a nice touch, but all of the characterization was so surface level that I didn’t feel like I knew him at all. Also, the character was played by Nick Eversman, an able-bodied actor.

How effective was this episode’s plot?

JJ: I don’t think the plot of this show is super effective. The big twist at the end felt very meh. I felt like the writing was rushed, the characters were underdeveloped, and the overall conflict was completely unimportant to what happened at the end. I just didn’t see the point of that episode.

KO: Agreed! The idea of an automated factory that refuses to stop producing is an interesting one, but the twist just left me wishing there had been more time given to letting Juno Temple and Janelle Monáe really get to philosophize or play off each other.

How does each episode relate to Philip K Dicks thoughts about the future. Are they true to their source material?

KO: “Autofac” the episode has the same basic premise, but adds a ~twist~ near the end for additional androids. Unfortunately, I don’t think the twist adds much to the actual ending of the short story (the Autofac begins to create other Autofacs) because of how shoddy the worldbuilding is in the episode—Dick’s short story talks about decimated landscapes and scrappy settlements that are far from thriving. Pockets of humanity understand that the automated factories are destroying the environment, but many of them are still dependent on what’s being sent automatically to them. This story glosses over the fact that destroying the factory might also crush established survivor settlements, disrupting the theme of self-destructive co-dependency.