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 1.3: “Human Is”
Francesca Gregorini (director), Jessica Mecklenburg (writer), David Katznelson (cinematography), Gareth C. Scales (editing)
Essie Davis, Bryan Cranston, Liam Cunningham, Ruth Bradley (cast)
Based on the short story “Human Is”
What do you think about the future presented here?
JJ: Interstellar colonization is a very plausible future given our history as a planet. I liked that that was the basis of this episode. And the no-nonsense character Bryan Cranston portrays gives no fucks if he is stripping a planet of their resources for the survival of his own. The future this episode is set in is very believable.
KO: I think this is a way better story about resource scarcity than “Autofac” sort of attempted to be. This was a very militaristic and hierarchical society, strapped for resources in a very literal, imminent-doom kind of way that felt more plausible than not.
How is diversity represented within the narrative?
JJ: This is a very white episode. I believe the only person of color is a black woman that the female protagonist has sex with in the weird sex cave scene. Which is pretty bad optics, as the sexualization of the black body is already a huge problem in film and television. So yeah…
KO: I think the man in the threesome is also a person of color? All the people of color in the episode were wordless, beautiful, and mostly naked extras for Vera’s (Essie Davis) visit to an underground sex cave. It was a visually appealing and pretty erotic sequence, in my opinion, but also set up this exoticization of people of color, used just as bodies for her to use as an escape from her loveless marriage. The inclusion of queer eroticism was interesting, but again created a contrast between the wholesome heterosexual romance that occurred upon Silas’ (Bryan Cranston) return to the home. The Others are exotic dalliances, but real contentment happens at home, in a white body.
How effective was this episode’s plot?
JJ: As you are beginning to see, I am not the biggest fan of this show. This episode is full of long silences and quiet scenery montages that make a very simple plot drag on and on. I get establishing shots, but jeez.
KO: I really liked the pacing of this episode, haha! It is very slow in a way that reminded me of older sci-fi shows and military drama. The plot for this is actually very simple, even though it involves alien possession, and I think a shorter run time could have helped. On the other hand, I think this episode did a great job of really getting us into Vera’s headspace, long silences and all. This was the first episode I watched to have a woman directing and a woman writer (there’s only one other in the season), and I think it showed in the internality here, all about Vera’s emotions in a very intimate way.
What did you think of the episode’s worldbuilding and setting?
JJ: The worldbuilding is excellent in this episode. You get the society that lives on Terra and their chain of command almost immediately. Even though I just complained about those long dragging shots, they were beautiful and the cinematography was lovely. The scenes in the apartment atrium where the light was dim and vibrant at the same time. Spectacular. But I still could have had a bit less of all that ambiance.
KO: There was such a nice, delicate touch in some of the shots here, including the atrium, that I just loved. The sex cave was really interesting to me, because we were presented with an incredibly buttoned-up, formal society with lots of unspoken behavioral rules, and then Vera smears on some eyeshadow and gets busy in a big clear sex ball— the visuals managed to be erotic without being sleazy or exploitative, I thought.
How does each episode relate to Philip K. Dicks thoughts about the future? Are they true to their source material?
KO: So far, this is the most faithful to the short its based on— most of what was lost was the alien’s adherence to old timey chivalry upon his return to earth, which is honestly for the best.