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 1.4: “Crazy Diamond”
Marc Munden (director), Tony Grisoni (writer)
Steve Buscemi, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Julia Davis, Lucian Msamati, Abraham Popoola (cast)
Based on the short story “Sales Pitch”
What do you think about the future presented here?
KO: I think I generally have trouble swallowing artificial consciousness storylines like these because I don’t see why humanity would create a whole new exploited labor class when it already has an exploited labor class. That’s grim, but it’s cheaper and easy to exploit people who already exist rather than splicing together pig and human DNA to create hybrids. Also, Jill (Sidse Babett Knudsen) selling insurance feels like such a strange throwback to Philip K. Dick’s era, as well—that doesn’t seem like a job for automation, even if the automaton is technically a person.
JJ: I just don’t see it as a believable premise. Like Kat said, why would you spend millions, possibly billions, to create an artificial consciousness to work for you? I don’t know; it’s super odd. Also, the strange disintegrating cliffs where your home is always in danger … why not just build further inland? Why is this a problem?
KO: I do think there was supposed to be some kind of class divide shown here, and that only through a promotion could they move further inland. Resources are shown as being scarce and carefully controlled. I liked the impending doom hanging in the background, but I think it needed a little more context—the shots of the husband and wife driving through fields of windmills are very charming, but imply there’s plenty of space for people to live that isn’t about to collapse into the sea.
How is diversity represented within the narrative?
KO: This was definitely a very white episode—while the world itself was diverse in terms of background extras, the focus was very tightly on our three white leads. But, in doing so, it managed to avoid a real pitfall in many sci-fi stories about “future” metaphorical discrimination—pretending that other kinds of discrimination no longer exist. We don’t know anything about the racism, or other -isms, in this future, which made the low-key discrimination against “hybrids” easier to accept for me. I could assume that this discrimination easily settled in on top of the existing framework of our current world, rather than having to assume a new sci-fi discrimination exists in a world where racism no longer exists, if that makes sense? However, including two black characters who are both antagonists to our leads makes the whole thing feel anodyne and tepid at best.
JJ: Yep, back to “the only black people are of course the bad guys” trope. Besides that, there wasn’t really any diversity in this episode.
How effective was this episode’s plot?
KO: I loved the ending of this one even if the heist aspect felt really underwritten—at one point, Steve Buscemi’s character commits a crime by simply sauntering back into an office and stealing, despite earlier showing us all of the security cameras throughout the building. I’m not sure why the heist needed to have two separate parts, or why a pirate gang of thieves was involved, and honestly would have preferred to see Jill and Sally (Julia Davis) bond more than have a shootout in the woods.
JJ: Two women kicking a no good man off a boat and running off with each other is a great ending to a lacklustre episode.
KO: I do wish it had made the ending explicitly queer, though.
What did you think of the episode’s worldbuilding and setting?
KO: The art direction in this was absolutely sublime. Please let me move into a beautiful, about-to-fall-into-the-ocean house.
JJ: I had issues as to why everyone had to live in homes deathly close to a crumbling cliff. It was a beautifully colorful world with great costumes, and amazing visuals though.
How does each episode relate to Philip K. Dick’s thoughts about the future. Are they true to their source material?
KO: So, this is a very strange adaptation of “Sales Pitch,” which is a story about omnipresent advertising, robots, and how much commutes suck. Ed Morris, the main character who shares his name with Steve Buscemi’s character, is plagued by automated advertisements his entire commute from Ganymede back to earth. He wants to get away, to less developed space, though his wife is hesitant about leaving their home. All of that is conveyed in some way in this episode. But “Sales Pitch” doesn’t have a part-porcine femme fatale—instead, it has a robot that is trying to sell itself, and won’t take no for an answer. While I think the concept of artificial humanity is very much in line with his work, this doesn’t really address the themes of the original story and instead raises its own. However, this episode also doesn’t contain the line, “Sally swept breathlessly into the living room, her breasts quivering with excitement,” nor does it ignore the possibility of Sally having an interesting inner life apart from her husband, so that’s definitely a bonus.