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 episode of Black Mirror, (but has read a lot of Philip K. Dick), and Jazmine Joyner, who reviewed every single episode of Black Mirror’s most recent season.

Electric Dreams 1.5: “The Hood Maker”

Julian Jarrold (director), Matthew Graham (writer), Felix Wiedemann (cinematographer), Adam Bosman (editor)
Richard Madden, Holliday Grainger, Noma Dumezweni, Anneika Rose, Richard McCabe (cast)
Based on the story “The Hood Maker”

What do you think about the future presented here?”

JJ: Out of all the episodes I feel like the future represented in this episode is the most fully realized one. I believe the telepaths versus normal people thing is very X-Men but maybe that is why it works?

KO: It’s definitely more allegorical than many of these, but I agree that it feels fully realized. There’s clearly a well-considered history here but it doesn’t waste time trying to give us an exposition dump, which is nice.

High Points/Low Points?

JJ: High points: cinematography is amazing, and the desaturated city contrasted with the vibrant greens of the flashbacks is undeniably gorgeous. Richard Madden and Holliday Grainger have great chemistry and are both captivating in their roles. Low points: the story is predictable and pretty boring.

KO: I also really loved the chemistry between Madden and Grainger—they were lovely together, and her character was way more three-dimensional than I feared it wouldn’t be at the beginning of the episode. The low point is again putting a white face on the discriminated against minority—I get it, it’s a metaphor, but c’mon!

How is diversity represented within the narrative?

JJ: Again the only people of color in this episode are the antagonists to the main characters or are perceived negatively at the outset, like the captain of the police force who is later revealed to not be so awful.

KO: This episode somewhat redeemed itself for me at the end—I’m not super thrilled with the “white person is now a persecuted minority because of [genre convention]” storyline/metaphor, especially with how Mary, the telepath who is a woman of color, is shown being sexually assaulted during sex work. The non-white telepath suffers the trauma, but the white telepath gets the most narrative time. I was also dubious about a persecuted minority, Honor, wanting to be a cop. But I did like that there were people of color represented in the “teep” (telepath) population, and that the exploited telepaths weren’t all just white people in dreadlocks or something. I also liked the perspective flips that showed characters like the police captain or Mary weren’t actually terrible or incapable.

How effective was this episode’s plot?

JJ: I believe the plot was very effective. In the beginning of the episode I was pulled in and intrigued by the relationship between Madden and Grainger’s characters, and how the world perceived the telepaths. I liked where it was going, but then they turned it into a uprising/love story and my interest started to wane.

KO: I thought it was really interesting and actually loved the love story, especially because, while many twists in the narrative were predictable, I wasn’t quite expecting it to turn against Madden’s Agent Ross in the end. It definitely kept me engaged even though it wasn’t particularly fresh.

What did you think of the episode’s worldbuilding and setting?

JJ: I found the world-building to be well executed. The cinematography, sets, and costume design all worked together to make a fully realized world. I like that it was set in this decaying city. And that everything was desaturated and lifeless.

KO: My favorite part of the world-building was the idea that telepathy in humans was developed specifically to be a replacement for the internet—they’re powerful weapons and interrogators, but conceptually they’re a living wikipedia.

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

KO: The perspective flip, from a righteous government man running from telepaths who have declared him deviant, to a woman telepath caught between her state job and her fellow mutants, feels like a smart choice narratively, but possibly also a safe one. The audience is primed by similar sci-fi stories to root for the white, but persecuted, protagonist. In both stories, there are telepaths being used in similarly Orwellian ways by the Free Union, to spy on ordinary citizens, but in Dick’s story the teeps are better integrated into their work. In Electric Dreams, telepaths don’t have official avenues for social mobility yet—Honor is the first official teep to be partnered with a cop. Dick also presumes there are reasonable government actors—when the protagonist, Walter Franklin, is scanned and found deviant by a telepath, that telepath was testing boundaries. Honor, at the start, wouldn’t dream of scanning a cop. The teep uprising in Dick’s story is their attempt to frame decent government members in order to take over, an attempt to grasp state power—telepaths have already begun to infiltrate the Senate. Dick’s Hood Maker gifts hoods to people he wants to protect, and who are upstanding, rather than corrupt officials who are preying on “teeps.”

In the end of the episode, we side with Honor, Mary, and the other telepaths, after seeing their circumstances and their oppression. The choice Honor must make is difficult but understandable. Dick’s telepaths, however, must be stopped. They’re exposed as aberrations, rather than a species of homo superior, and that marks their end. It’s a strange conclusion for a reader who is more inclined to say that “Magneto was right.”

But in that lies the safety of this particular oft-seen metaphor, isn’t it? In Dick’s story, telepaths are a tool of a fascist regime, but are using their place in it to plan their own power grab. They’re not a metaphor for an oppressed class at all—it’s the more liberal society the Hood Maker is attempting to save by preventing the teeps from gaining power through the incredibly violating process of mind-reading. Honor’s role as a tool of the state made me uneasy as a viewer, in part because she seems to embrace it fully at the start. And while she wavers in her loyalty, it’s not because she’s wrestling with that role—it’s because there’s such a clear power imbalance that to not fight would be a betrayal of her fellow telepaths. In that way I think this story simplifies the points Dick was intending to make.