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.
There will be spoilers!
Electric Dreams 1.6: “Safe And Sound”
Alan Taylor (director), Paul M. Sommers (cinematographer), John Duffy (editor), Kalen Egan and Travis Sentell (writers)
Annalise Basso, Maura Tierney, Connor Paolo, Alice Lee (cast)
Based on the story “Foster, You’re Dead!”
What do you think about the future presented here?”
JJ: I think the future presented here is very interesting; I think it’s very plausible.
KO: I think it was an interesting take on our increasing dependence to technology without veering into “political cartoon where a person is literally chained to their phone” territory of critique. The incredibly deep technological divide between folks with the smart phone/computer stand-in, The Dex, and those without, was well illustrated by its necessity to do basic schoolwork, and felt incredibly plausible if not actually something that’s occurring right now. I also liked the idea that there was an ideological split that led to complete rejection of a surveillance state, leading to a geographical schism in which technological advances are used.
How is diversity represented within the narrative?
JJ: There was one Black kid and one Asian girl, but they were both framed as possible terrorists, and that was very disappointing.
KO: You might be shocked to hear, but it’s about another white protagonist who’s being exploited by the state! I was most interested in Milena (Alice Lee), and was really hoping she’d get more development. It felt like we knew more about her father and his politics than we did about the lead’s mother (Maura Tierney). I wanted to hear her perspective on The Dex, as an outsider with experience in that world.
The treatment of mental illness in this episode made for a great plot point but was kind of gracelessly done—I don’t know if a lighter touch would have been better but it was kind of a cudgel.
How effective was this episode’s plot?
JJ: I think this episode is the best use of that Philip K. Dick paranoia. That aspect made the plot very entertaining, because at one point you weren’t sure if what was going on was all in her head or if it was real. I think that if they left it open-ended it would have been a way better episode. They showed all their cards at the end and kinda killed the vibe in my opinion.
KO: This episode stressed me out! It was an incredibly Philip K. Dick take on high school anxieties, for sure, and I really liked the different way it unspooled. Those last ~what really happened~ scenes were totally unnecessary, though, I agree. It killed the momentum of the story and didn’t give me any information that hadn’t already been implied in the episode. Sorry Connor Paolo, I loved you on Revenge, but you could have stayed a voice! And while I thought Annalise Basso did an incredible job expressing all that anxious terror of trying to find yourself in high school, the story never convinced me that she would flip on her mom like that.
What did you think of the episode’s worldbuilding and setting?
JJ: The colors and costume design were amazing in this episode, and the integration of the technology in their world was very interesting. This episode had something the previous episodes didn’t have, which is a backstory of how this future came to be. I think that added to the believability of the setting.
KO: It was a great near-future set up and vibe, just different enough that you can feel the time that’s past. I loved the bright cars and the future fashions, and I really loved the elegant design of The Dex.
How does each episode relate to Philip K. Dick’s thoughts about the future. Are they true to their source material?
KO: The original “You’re Dead, Foster!” is about the Cold War and escalating technological consumerism. Mike Foster is an incredibly unhappy and anxious boy because he’s the only kid in his class whose family doesn’t own their own bomb shelter. His father thinks they’re a racket, that the Soviet attacks they’re preparing for are all ginned up to keep people buying newer and better and more expensive shelters. Citizens have to pay extra for extra safety—while there are public bomb shelters (fifty cents per use), if you don’t pay, your child can’t use the school’s shelter if that’s where they are. His father eventually relents because of his son’s misery and the mounting social pressure his wife is under—and then, of course, the Soviets develop a weapon that can destroy bomb shelters.
The obvious modern parallel here would be fear over terrorist attacks, which is where this episode takes it—people are intensely concerned about terrorist attacks in their safe city from people who live beyond the “Rift.” The Western part of the US is built up of bubble cities that seem relatively self-governed and fairly less tech-reliant than the big city we see, and it’s implied that there was a schism that led to this separation politically. But rather than accept that, the Eastern government scapegoats the West for these attacks. The technology aspect is there too in The Dex, which allows students to use the school shelters and are used in safety screenings of the students. The government involvement in the scam to keep up-selling technology is there too—contracts are provided to the company that makes The Dex by a government complicit in staging terrorist attacks and propagandizing them.
There’s kind of a running theme in these episodes of trying to add extra edginess to the original Philip K. Dick story. Where Mike Foster in the short story is just a normal and unhappy boy, unremarkable, Foster in the show is specifically chosen. She stands out because she’s a country mouse in the city, ostracized because she might be the terrorist. Mike has none of that complexity, but in that way his pain is even more relatable. Making Foster a pawn in the scheme to keep selling fear to sell technology makes for a twisty episode, but it undermines in some way that flat affect of Philip K. Dick stories.