TV REVIEW: ELECTRIC DREAMS - HUMAN IS

PHILIP K. DICK’S ELECTRIC DREAMS

EPISODE 6: “HUMAN IS”

 
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The most recent pre-Halloween episode of Electric Dreams, entitled “Human Is”, comes with an intriguing new mystery and Heisenberg—and I’m certain (sorry!) that the result will appeal to everyone.

Silas Herrick (Bryan Cranston) is a colonel on Earth (or “Terra”, as it is referred to in every PKD story) in 2520. The State wants to mine a planet called Rexor IV for hydron, a material that they could use to cleanse the air they have polluted, but sentencing the original inhabitants of Rexor to death in the process. The Rexorians (who look like floating luminous neural pathways) are not too keen on being exploited, and they fight back. Silas is sent on a mission that goes wrong, and when he comes back, he is acting differently—he was quite an unpleasant husband to his wife Vera (Essie Davis) before, but now he is kind and sensitive, a changed person altogether.

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SF fans can already guess where this is going: it’s an alien infestation story, the creepy nightmare in which you realise that everyone around you has been replaced by perfect copies. [1] The episode, however, subverts the traditional alien infestation plot: the impostor (the Metamorph) is in a sense more human than the original Silas judging by Vera’s criteria of “sacrifice, kindness, and love,” and he does not exhibit any signs of malice. [2] The most outrageous thing the new Silas does is making breakfast and love to his wife—hardly hostile behaviour. My guess is that the metamorphs are collecting information about humans, which makes sense if some other empire attempts to colonise your planet.

 
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In a one-sided court case, the State’s claim that the metamorphs are “ruthless, conniving beings with no empathy or moral code” folds back on them when Silas sacrifices himself for Vera. Similarly to the previous episode, I think they should have left the ending ambiguous and not revealed whether Silas was a human or a metamorph to stay closer to PKD’s spirit, but I understand the motivation in the current political climate to make sure that the “message” goes across. There have always been people who appeal to an idea of “humanity” in order to achieve a sinister end, and we only need to look at current European politics to find parallels with the episode. If we complete the title (“Human Is as Human Does”), the implication is clear: our actions and decisions make us human, not an essence or an inherent “human nature.” This episode subverts the alien infestation story wonderfully and raises important questions about the boundaries between “aliens” and “humans.” It also gave me a great idea to get the cheapest costume ever and dress up as a metamorph for Halloween.


NOTES

[1] See Elana Gomel’s article for a great treatment of the subject: Gomel, Elana. “Posthuman Voices: Alien Infestation and the Poetics of Subjectivity.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 39, no. 2, 2012, 177-194.

[2] Of course, it is only my assumption that the new Silas is male—but it makes sense to refer to him as such because whatever he was before, he took the male human form on Terra.


 
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DANIEL PANKA

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.