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TV Review: Electric Dreams (Season 1, Episode 4)

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If there’s one element that somewhat rescues an otherwise flat narrative and thin dialogue, it’s ‘Crazy Diamond’s star power.

It’s unfortunate, because its world is packed to the brim with ideas full of wonderful potential: environmental collapse, dystopian state control, artificial consciousness, chimeric races, extensive infertility, to name but a few.

It lays its themes down before delving into a neo-noir plot about the pursuit of life in the face of death’s inevitability. Decay is everywhere, and it’s what drives Jill to seek out Ed Morris’ help, portrayed by Sidse Babett Knudsen and Steve Buscemi, respectively. Jill is ‘failing’ and due for recall, but much like Blade Runner’s Roy Batty, she wants more time; enter Ed, one of the QC (quantum consciousness) farmers at the aptly named Spirit Mill.

Were she to steal one of these vials, she would gain a renewed lease of life. Between them, the plan is to steal ten, to sell on the black market and set them both up to fulfil their dreams of a different life, and thus a heist and escape is planned.

The plot is sadly far less interesting, and seems far less important, than the episode’s unique and captivating atmosphere. The world-building could have set up some fascinating explorations into environmental degradation, the consumerisation of one’s existence - such as Jill’s - or a host of other intriguing sci-fi themes. Instead, ‘Crazy Diamond’ simply falls flat.

It is strange that the credits for the instalment would cite Philip K Dick’s Sales Pitch as its basis. The original short story of an assault on the dehumanisation of constant and all-permeating advertising, has every element scraped from it, bar the names of the two main characters, Ed and Sally Morris.

Still a relatively new phenomenon in Dick’s time, the author nonetheless envisaged a world where one would be constantly bombarded by personalised ads, much as seen in Minority Report. The fact that today’s culture, more than ever, has made this issue a pressing one means that Electric Dreams’ rejection of the original plot is disappointing, missing a fantastic opportunity to fully explore the threatening idea of an amped, corporate capitalist society.

Calling itself part of PKD’s anthology is a definite stretch, and perhaps that’s why it’s the most similar in tone and aesthetic that Electric Dreams has gotten to Black Mirror as of yet.  

As previously mentioned however, the three central actors go some way into salvaging this otherwise dilute instalment. Buscemi is perfect in the role of the loner with big dreams but little drive, who ultimately lacks the faith to follow through, without ever totally drawing sympathy away from his character. As the woman in red and femme fatale, Knudsen gave this pastel world the hint of noir it needed to draw connections to the series’ other episodes. And finally, Julia Davis is utterly convincing as the unsuspected hero of the story, the status quo’s true subverter.

‘Crazy Diamond’ had no shortage of grand ideas. It dipped into many science fiction themes and possibilities – too many. What resulted from this was an instalment too broad to have much substance; one that very much drifted into nothing and felt overall uneven, despite splendid performances by its leads.

Electric Dreams airs on Sundays at 9pm on Channel 4.




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