TV REVIEW: ELECTRIC DREAMS - THE HOOD MAKER

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams

Episode 1: “The Hood Maker”

 
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With Black Mirror migrating to Netflix, Channel 4 came up with the idea of Electric Dreams to cater for SF aficionados – a new anthology series, using Philip K. Dick’s short stories as inspiration. The first season of Electric Dreams consists of ten episodes, all with a different cast and plot, hence the quality of the installments might vary considerably. “The Hood Maker” was a fine first episode — I’d welcome this quality as a standard for the whole season, but I wouldn’t mind a bit of improvement here and there either.

The look and feel of the show harkens back to the retrofit future of Blade Runner: detectives walk around in the hazy multicultural slums in hats and trench coats, and there is a general atmosphere of the dirty urban landscape that swallows up genuine thoughts and feelings and spits them back corrupt and vile. It is refreshing to see this stylish and unpretentious milieu again, after the either extremely slick and streamlined or extremely desolate futures we usually see in SF film and television.

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The problem is that the plot does not bring anything interesting or subversive to its investigation-cum-conspiracy scheme, as several elements of the episode (political groups wearing weird masks, the charming noir detective and the troubled woman get romantically involved, the detective descends to the murky “ground level” etc.) are all familiar from somewhere else. Even the speculation that humans with special capabilities would be exploited as sex slaves was explored before (perhaps most iconically in Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 Total Recall with its three-breasted prostitute).

“The Hood Maker” is set in a world where a minority of telepaths (called “teeps” in the show) can read people’s minds. Their community’s position is ambiguous, to say the least. “Normals” feel an aversion to them and they are ostracized; at the same time, authorities would love to use their capabilities to keep the streets and its population under control. When a weird-looking mask that provides immunity from mind-reading is discovered by the police, they send Agent Ross (Richard Madden) and the telepath Honor (Holliday Grainger) to track down the “Hood Maker” who sends the masks out to recipients of various social standing.

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Holding up “the original” (what does that mean anyway?) as a yardstick is never a good strategy in interpretation, and I do not intend to do so here. Still, it was interesting to see that the adaptation takes a markedly posthumanist approach as opposed to the short story it is based on, which I will try to illustrate with two differences. First, in the original written text the telepaths are manipulating the government to give them more rights and power, the initial step in the process being the Anti-Immunity Bill which would outlaw wearing hoods. The film, on the other hand, is much more sympathetic to the telepaths, presenting them as a marginalized minority, rather than an evil community plotting for domination. Second, the endings are very different in tone.

[SPOILERS AHEAD]

In the text, it is revealed that the telepaths are all sterile, unable to reproduce, making their struggle for power meaningless in the long term. In the film, however, we learn that there are people born with “natural hoods” who can shut out telepaths whenever they want to — it is suggested that evolution will smoothen out the differences. The ultimate act of trust becomes the letting down of your guard and allowing the other to read you, a balanced situation that is not very different from today: I can either choose to tell you something, or shut you out. The episode ends before we know whether Honor opened the fire door and saved Ross or not, but in my interpretation, she definitely would. The cat-and-mouse game of the text is turned into a posthumanist narrative in which a different society is envisioned with its own problems and its own proper future.

[END OF SPOILERS]

All in all, “The Hood Maker” gave me high hopes for the series as a whole, and I am looking forward to the next episode hoping that it will be, in true PKD fashion, a little less derivative and more mind-bending and norm-defying.


 
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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.