TV Review: Electric Dreams - The Commuter
PHILIP K. DICK’S ELECTRIC DREAMS
EPISODE 3: “THE COMMUTER”
This is what I was writing about last week in my review: Electric Dreams’ third episode, “The Commuter,” delivers the best story yet, not resembling the previous two installments at all. Be warned, “The Commuter” is a gut-wrenching experience: it is melancholic and asks some questions you’d prefer to avoid asking. The plot melts realities together and features people who vanish into flights of stairs, providing a pleasantly weird Dickian experience.
Ed, a railway worker (the brilliant Timothy Spall) is intrigued by a passenger (Tuppence Middleton) whose behaviour he cannot account for: she wants to go to a town that does not exist, and she keeps disappearing from his sight. After a few chance encounters, he gets on the train she wants to catch, and he is transported to the idyllic Macon Heights.
The episode is an exploration of the concept of utopia and what utopia means to us today. Technologically it will be possible in the near future (some say it is already possible) to completely isolate ourselves and be immersed in a kitschy ersatz reality, an extremely positive washed-out utopia of consumption (one signal of which is the delicious cake that Ed tries in Macon Heights). This is not “real” utopia, mind you, but a cowardly escape from our problems – something that a surprising number of people are ready to do. Think of Cypher in The Matrix, who [SPOILER ALERT? – come on, it’s been almost twenty years] wants to go back to his safe bubble and betrays his comrades for it. The commuters in Macon Heights are essentially doing the same thing.
Ed and Mary have a child, Sam, with an unspecified mental problem that always acted as a barrier between Ed and him. When Ed visits Macon Heights for the first time, his son disappears (reality is a fragile construct indeed) and his wife is happier than ever—problem solved. But Ed has to realise that you need pain to lead a complete life, and you cannot have joy and love without some suffering—you take away one side, the balance is off and life is just going to turn into a lukewarm puddle of ignorant, mindless enjoyment, a simulacrum of reality. This is another element that is familiar from The Matrix; Agent Smith explains that, at some point, they tried a Matrix that was perfect, without any sickness and misery, but people rejected it. “It was a disaster” he explains. “No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery.” Words of wisdom, Agent Smith. Words of wisdom.
I was affected by “The Commuter”—I think it’s the best episode of the series so far. It is true to Philip K. Dick’s spirit as a writer: melancholic, bold, and philosophical. Keep ‘em coming!
Is currently doing his PhD focusing on science fiction literature. His research focus is identity creation in Science Fiction and post-humanist explorations of subjectivity. He loves the work of Philip K. Dick and is our resident expert on all things Dickian.