From the genius that gave us Blade Runner, the first two episodes of anthology series Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams finally arrived on Lightbox last night. Alex Casey and José Barbosa try to piece together the meaning behind the unique, mind-bending tales. Contains spoilers and trippiness.
Alex Casey: Hey José, how are you doing today? After watching ‘The Hoodmaker‘ I am feeling rather antsy that a lady with cornrows is going to walk in at any moment and start reading the dark recesses of my mind aloud to the whole office.
José Barbosa: That is a justifiable fear, potentially made all the worst as there is a 75% chance that anyone with cornrows may, in fact, be Axel Rose. FACT.
So yeah, ‘The Hoodmaker’ eh? This is clearly a sort of parable about the surveillance state, which is very timely of course. Basically, the episode is set in a post-apocalyptic world (Ford Consul’s have survived, apparently) where a police state uses ‘Teeps’ (telepaths) to peek into people’s heads and sort out who’s planning bad stuff and who isn’t.
However, someone’s making freaky masks which block Teeps from reading noggins, add that to an already fractious political climate and you have a society teetering on the edge.
One of the strongest things about this episode, I reckon, is that sense of civilisation eroding away. Your thoughts?
AC: Yeah, even though old mate PKD envisaged this situation yonks back, and he’s basically nailed it – just the other day I was reading about how the police in New Zealand have been tapping the phones of activists!! That might not be a reality for all of us (yet) but there’s no denying that Facebook is listening, Snapchat is taking shorthand notes and Google is rifling through your drawers when you have your back turned.
At the moment, that surveillance is mostly resulting in me getting freaky push notifications for Domino’s deals when I do my daily monologue about pepperoni pizza, but am sure it will inevitably end in my deepest, darkest memories being used as a torture device against me by state power. Gotta put on my shades, coz the future’s so bright.
I also found it interesting that, in this world, Teeps also work in futuristic brothels where they recite people’s most traumatic, violent fantasies back to them, and their clients just stare into space grinning while wearing a grubby wifebeater.
I guess it got me thinking: if/when we are in a situation where mystical skills and/or technology like this actually existed, would we be any better? Is there any way that telepathy could be used for good? Look where it got Mel Gibson in What Women Want, ya know?
JB: I’ll level with you: I did not expect Mel Gibson to be part of this discussion.
Interestingly, I think this adaptation is more nuanced than the original story. Crucially, the main ideas are there, but there’s been a good bit of jiggery-pokery with the script (written by Matthew Graham, creator of Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes). Originally the Teeps are the baddies, but here’s it’s way more shades of grey, which I think bodes well for the series. It takes a real confidence to makes changes like that to your source material.
Also, in this episode at least, they’ve thrown an elephant full of cash at the production. It looks so good. So much detail in the world building and environments which isn’t always explicit or even explained (I love that all the Teeps have a distinctive face scar, but it’s never reasoned away). And I love how they’ve all out noir with Ross, who’s one of the main characters. He’s predominantly wearing a hat and long coat. Even Ridley Scott couldn’t manage the hat.
AC: Can you read what I’m thinking?
JB: Oh whoa, I can’t believe you just offered to spring clean my house. Best work colleague ever!
AC: Tricked you via I am wearing my new stylish anti-Teep mask. I was actually thinking we should regroup after the next episode to see just how deep this rabbit hole goes…
[53 minutes later]
JB: I really liked the second episode ‘Impossible Planet’. I liked the fact that it’s centred around (at least to begin with) these two working-class schlubs who are wasting away in a shitty borderline illegal tourist spaceship. I mean I’ve been to Queenstown, I know all about rubbish tour operators. And then, in classic short story tradition, there’s a knock at the door …
What did you think about it?
AC: I’m going to be completely honest with you Barbosa, I have absolutely no idea what happened here, who I am and what my place in the universe is anymore. Take me space church and read me a space sermon.
JB: Listen unto me O TV editor. The knock at the door is a 350-year-old woman and her scary robot servant. Turns out the old duck wants to see earth one last time, but we’re a long way into the future so Earth ain’t around anymore. Doesn’t matter though because granny has lots of space cash to offer, so our two tour operators decide to do a shifty and say they can take her to Earth.
As they head to the planet they’re gonna pretend is Earth (but in reality is a barren rock, they use fancy future illusion windows to make things look way better than they are, kinda like a Instagram filter), the passenger and one of out tour ops slowly discover they’re linked in a very strange and intense way.
Everything else is spoilers from here on, so I’ll leave it there. Does that clear things up?
AC: Okay. Roger this informational cyborg, so this is like Branson’s space dream becoming a scary future reality. It freaked me out when they manipulated the appearance of the world and upped the saturation on the windows to make everything look nicer outside for the space tourists.
I bring this up because I used to have nightmares that aliens had lifted up my house into their craft, but had recreated my whole world in its exact likeness so I would never realise I was living in an alien simulation. Apart from one thing… the missing socks.
Do you ever worry about that?
JB: Dude, missing socks are always under the bed. ALWAYS.
AC: It’s just not true. After watching this, do you feel like you go to space if you had the opportunity?
JB: Hell no. I find being sucked out into space one of the scariest things in films. The windows seem too thin, you know? Keep me feets square on this mudball for now. You?
AC: If Philip K. Dick has taught me anything so far, it’s that I refuse to go to space until I’ve found the perfect space nightie. And that could take me 350 years. Any final words before you stare onto the abyss.
JB: In all seriousness, I think Electric Dreams is a bold undertaking. On the strength of the first two episodes, the makers have managed to make sensitive adaptations that actually add nuance in places where it’s needed. If you’re new to PKD’s work it’ll be pretty buzzy and I love buzzy TV.
Melt your mind with Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams, arriving exclusively to Lightbox every Wednesday
This content, like all television coverage we do at The Spinoff, is brought to you thanks to the excellent folk at Lightbox. Do us and yourself a favour by clicking here to start a FREE 30 day trial of this truly wonderful service.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.