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Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams – S1E9/S1E10 – The Commuter/K.A.O.

Previously on Electric Dreams

Project Fandom coverage follows the episode Amazon (US) running order as opposed to the original Channel 4 running order, with two reviews each week.

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams – S1E10 – “The Commuter” |Starring: Timothy Spall, Tuppence Middleton, Anthony Boyle, Rudi Dharmalingam, Rebeca Manley, Tom Brooke, Anne Reid

Images: Amazon

Setting: Contemporary Earth  

Fake Smile

When we’re first introduced to Ed he’s at work making tea for himself and his colleague Bob. There’s only one tea bag left so Ed takes a used teabag from the trash and makes tea for Bob. Don’t ever think about being like Ed; that’s disgusting behavior, but it also indicates how unhappy and disinterested Bob is with work and life. The men work at a train station in Woking, which is a fairly run-of-the-mill suburb of London. Ed deals with a variety of customers including a man who clogged up a toilet, a woman with a baby carriage in need of an elevator, which the station does not have, and a woman needing a ticket to a non-existent station called Macon Heights. This woman is the most intriguing of the bunch. When Ed tries to explain that despite her insistence the station doesn’t exist the woman disappears while he looks at a map.

Ed arrives home to find the police with his family. His son Sam has had another psychotic episode and harassed a girl who called the police. Fortunately for the family, the girl has decided not to press charges. The next day at work the mysterious commuter returns. This time both Ed and Bob attempt to explain to her that the train she’s asking about goes to another location, Alton, and even more importantly, Macon Heights does not exist. Again, she disappears as the the men look away for an instant.

That afternoon while Ed and his family are at a counseling session the mysterious woman passes by the counselor’s office. After Sam leaves the office, the counselor warns Ed and his wife, Mary, that Sam’s condition is worsening. That night, before the couple falls asleep, Mary tells Ed that she’s actually scared of him and the fake smile he wears. She sees Sam as a reminder of the real Ed beneath the smile. Mary’s attempt to provoke Ed fails because he just tells his wife okay and doesn’t engage further.

Next Stop: Macon Heights

The next day Ed takes the train to Alton to try to find Macon Heights. On his way he sees the mysterious commuter in a field. Another commuter, the man who blocked the toilets, jumps off the train while it passes another field. Ed and other commuters do the same. Everyone walks through the field to a town enwrapped in a hazy fog. The town looks like a beautiful model village full of new construction and friendly people. Later in the day, the mysterious commuter joins Ed who is sitting on a bench taking in the sights in the village. She tells him to enjoy the town despite his concerns. When Ed returns home, Mary is different; she’s dressed up, affectionate, and warm. Sam seems to have disappeared from their lives entirely and Mary speaks of wanting children, but not having any.

The next day Ed does some research and reads into Macon Heights. He tracks down a journalist, Martine, who wrote about plans to build Macon Heights. Martine explains that the town was planned, but never officially built. The person who won the bid to build it passed away after being investigated for some financial incompetence. His daughter Linda was the one who discovered his body in the woods after he overdosed. As Martine shows Ed pictures, he recognizes Linda as the mysterious commuter.

The next day Ed ignores Bob’s questions about where he disappeared to the day before and immediately asks for vacation time. Back in Macon Heights Ed notices that the same things he witnessed the day before occur again. But on his way home, Ed hears Sam call his name and sees a shadow of Sam behind him. Mary is home crying about not having a child and he tries to reassure her. As they sleep, Ed is awakened by jazz music coming from what would have been Sam’s room. He hears a noise from the attic and finds a stack of VHS tapes which he watches. The tapes are family videos that show various times with Sam both happy and sad. Mary wakes her husband up in the morning and when she retells the story of how they met, the last part of the story isn’t the same as when Mary mentioned it just a few days before, Ed gets concerned.

Ed returns to the town and fervently searches for Linda, but the town is not the same as it was during his two previous visits. People are unhappy and traumatized. The waitress explains that things have changed because of Ed and everyone has dropped the fantasy and is remembering their pain. The waitress starts to tell her story of an assault. Ed doesn’t want to listen, but she tells him anyway. Ed eventually admits that he is frightened of Sam. He finds Linda and she explains the purpose of Macon Heights, to relieve pain.

The two debate the merits of creating Macon Heights. Ed argues that despite the pain of raising Sam there were moments of joy. Linda counters by telling him that he dreamt of another life. Ed wants to see Sam grow up, but Linda explains that Sam’s life will get worse and it will be heartbreaking for both Ed and Mary. When Linda explains that Macon Heights is as close to happiness some people will get, Ed argues that love is what spurs him on not happiness. As he leaves the town, the male commuter Ed continues to run into tells his story. He needs Macon Heights because he is running away from his past of being a child predator. The man views Ed as different and lucky because he sees reality and isn’t trying to run away from it.

Ed returns home and the streets are a back to normal, a bit dingier, and louder. Mary doesn’t greet him at the door, but Sam is back.

Moral of the story: Love is imperfect. Love is better than fake happiness. Confront your fears/issues. Make your own tea at work.

Thoughts and Observations

  • Timothy Spall and Tuppence Middleton were perfect in their roles.

Plot: 7 | Dialogue: 7 | Performance: 9 = 7.7


Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams – S1E10 – K.A.O. | Starring: Vera Farmiga, Mel Rodriguez, Glenn Morshower, Sarah Baker, Jason Mitchel, Louis Herthum

Setting: Autumn 2054 where there are hologram ads that can interact with humans and a united North America called Mexuscan where three territories are ruled as one.

The Candidate

It’s election season and Mexuscan has a sum total of one candidate to vote for, The Candidate. She makes the rounds on political talk shows, speaks in meaningless jargon filled sentences, and invokes a pointless slogan: “Mexuscan, Yes We Can.”

Phil seems to be out of sync with the world, including The Candidate’s campaign. He sees the faux democracy behind The Candidate’s campaign, he’s not into holographic ads, and prefers to travel to work by train instead of a high tech driverless car. His boss urges him to order a car free of cost and his colleagues, Lenny and Ed think Phil is depressed because he’s not buying things. The colleagues advise Phil to buy a specific brand of cheese with a great interactive holographic ad. Phil takes them up on their advice and he buys the cheese. At home mid interaction with the milkmaid cheese hologram, Phil finds his wife’s stash of coffee that she purchased to interact with the coffee hologram.

The Candidate has a live interview on television and in the middle of her interview she directs Mexuscans to ‘kill all others’ in a quick statement and through flashing words on the screen. Phil is shocked and he eagerly waits for The Candidate to be questioned about her incendiary statement. He calls his wife into the room, but the statement is never addressed. At work, Phil relays the story to Lenny and Ed, and Ed doesn’t want to discuss political issues on company headsets. It’s clear that Lenny thinks Phil misheard while Ed believes Phil. Ed he later chalks it up to politicians purposefully trying to provoke others and tells Phil not to worry. Online, no one seems to be discussing the speech either.

Others

After work Phil falls asleep on a train and as he wakes up the news channel on the trains changes to a discussion of The Candidate’s inflammatory statements. The train stops and Phil tries to call for help. Over the PA system an employee calls Phil by his name and says the problem will be fixed. Once the train is moving again, Phil sees electronic billboards flashing ‘Kill All Others’. Phil pulls the emergency brakes to get a picture of the signs. Later on Phil is interrogated for over three hours in the police station. Two women, a sergeant and a representative from the train’s insurance company, interview Phil. The interview room uses a screen with nature scenes and monitors to check if Phil is being honest. When Phil tells them about the signs, they don’t seem to believe him. They tell him that train crashes don’t happen anymore and this situation is an outlier. Phil stresses that he wasn’t on drugs which the sergeant confirms. Phil’s wife picks him up and tries to reconcile with him. He explains that they will receive a driverless car free of charge and he isn’t allowed to ride public transportation for a while.

The next day while Phil’s wife is driving him to work they encounter a mob chasing a woman down and attacking her. The crowd claims that they called the police and Phil tries to defend her. The mob seems to think she is an ‘other’ and asks Phil if he knows her. He doesn’t. Phil ends up back at the police station and the same sergeant he met with before refers to the woman who was attacked as a suspect. By the end of their meeting, the sergeant has branded Phil as an ‘other’. At work Phil’s boss gives him a health monitor watch and claims that it is due to the train accident. Furthermore any data collected will only be shared with HR. He also tells Phil to stop discussing politics at work due to company policy.

During his lunch break, in broad daylight Phil and his colleagues see a billboard stating ‘Kill All Others’ complete with a hanging man. The colleagues are disgustingly casual about it and Phil is visibly horrified. Lenny jokes about Phil being an ‘other’ and Ed just says that the politicians take it too far and it will all be over soon. During another live political forum Phil calls in to ask The Candidate about the Kill All Others signs. Although Phil puts on a disguise and uses a fake name, the television crew easily identifies his real identity. Phil ends up on the run from the police as a political dissident and he sees a graffiti labelling him as an ‘other’. When he sneaks back into his house he ends up slapping his wife who he thinks is now against him.

Phil is finally hunted down as he climbs the billboard. The police try to manipulate him through drugs placed in the health monitor, but Phil realizes this and tosses the watch away. The billboard showdown is played on live television which is being watched by the whole country including his colleagues. Ed doesn’t believe Phil is an ‘other’ or that he has done anything wrong, while Lenny believes Phil is guilty. Ed falls from the billboard onto cushion and appears to still be alive. The Candidate uses the incident as propaganda and makes a speech that is full of her usual garbage as well as a quick order to the ‘kill all others’ through a verbal command and words that quickly flash on the screen. In the end we see a new figure hanging from the billboard, it is Phil.

Moral of the story: This is a stark lesson on where a society can end up.

Thoughts and Observations

  • This episode was directed by Mudbound’s Dee Rees. Nice to see some of her other work.
  • Good to see Louis Herthum from Westworld. Vera Farmiga embodies each character she plays to the point that she looks completely different each time. The Candidate was full of meaningless manipulative words and perfectly opportunistic.
  • I questioned the reordering of the episodes by Amazon, but making K.O.A. the last episode is particularly effective. This is one of the more disturbing episodes because it truly hits home given today’s climate. Any hint of contrary thought is smacked down and The Candidate plays a game of misdirection by pitting people against each other. Ed and Lenny provide good examples of people who either support horrible ideology/policy or see it happening, but don’t speak up.
"Kill All Others" Review Score
  • 8/10
    Plot - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Dialogue - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Performances - 8/10
8/10

"The Commuter" / "Kill All Others"

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams – S1E10 – “The Commuter” |Starring: Timothy Spall, Tuppence Middleton, Anthony Boyle, Rudi Dharmalingam, Rebeca Manley, Tom Brooke, Anne Reid

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams – S1E10 – K.A.O. | Starring: Vera Farmiga, Mel Rodriguez, Glenn Morshower, Sarah Baker, Jason Mitchel, Louis Herthum

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About Ejiro Onomake (18 Articles)
Ejiro is an ardent fan of British mysteries, sci-fi, Psych, and well produced HBO dramas. She believes there is way too much good television, books, and podcasts to waste time on the mediocre.

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