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TV Review: Electric Dreams (Season 1, Episode 6)


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After a week’s break, Electric Dreams picks it back up with its sixth instalment, posing a question fundamental to science fiction and crucially, to Philip K Dick’s work: what does it mean to be human? Therefore aptly titled, ‘Human Is’ stars Bryan Cranston and Essie Davis as husband and wife in this highly-hyped episode.

This is one for the purists, for this episode is thus far the most faithful to PKD’s original source material, retelling the story of a collapsing marriage revitalised by an unforeseen event.

Set on Terra (previously Earth) in the year 2520, we’re introduced to a dying world struggling to keep its air breathable. Silas, a highly decorated military officer, and his team are sent to pillage the nearby inhabited planet Rexor IV of Hydron, a component they need to ensure their survival.  

It’s not the resource battle against aliens that provides the intrigue however; when Silas returns to his wife, his cold demeanour and emotional abusiveness towards his wife, Vera, gives way to kindness, attentiveness, and support.

Taking place almost exclusively inside the claustrophobic, walled in homes of a world ravaged by environmental abuse, everything visually is incredibly cold. Thence it is a welcome counter-force that ‘Human Is’ invites its audience into the private sphere of the couple, warming the screen with what turns to closely resemble a love story.

As the plot develops and the ‘new’ Silas is painted as an enemy of the imposed state, it’s suggested that a Metamorph from Rexor IV has taken over the human body. As archetypal as the question this episode pushes forth, the story instead substitutes PKD’s habitual android versus human debate with one regarding aliens, or generally another species, and humanity’s treatment of them.

There’s a lot left to ponder with this episode, even if it’s arguably one that is closed most neatly. If one thing lets ‘Human Is’ down, however, it’s the predictability of the conclusion. Although this does nothing to negate the philosophical themes explored, it does draw away from its potential as a psychological thriller.

Instead it opts for a tale about emotional loneliness, and a need for companionship so profound that it can transcend preconceptions about a foreign species. It’s a story about how the least biologically human being can prove to be, in fact, far more humane that what was before.

Cranston’s starring role may have been at the heart of the episode’s promotion, but it’s Davis who steals the screen. Her facial expressions carry the bulk of the emotional storytelling, despite her story being told with great austerity - a perfect mirroring of its context.

‘Human Is’ is loyal to PKD’s core, and whilst the storytelling may at times seem simplistic, the message it carries can be called anything but. It’s left up to the viewer to extract depth of meaning, exactly as science fiction should aspire to do.

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

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