Philip K. Dick's 'Electric Dreams': The Hood Maker

Holliday Grainger is the finest romantic character actress in the world.

Philip K. Dick's 'Electric Dreams' is an English-American science fiction anthology and co-production, airing on Channel Four Television in the United Kingdom. The pilot is helmed by Ronald D. Moore of Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica fame, and it's an absolute stunner.

I've loved Philip K. Dick since I was a child. As an example, I think 'Ubik' is a very clever SF novel which also happens to be one of the scariest books I've ever read. He was a very productive author and for some reason a great number of his works have been filmed, though unsurprisingly, his more philosophical and puzzling works have proven harder to adapt.


The concept of change is the living core of Dick's work. Where I could define Asimov's credo as "worlds and theories" and Lem's as "making or not making sense of otherness", Dick's main theme is "evolution through conflict." It's the conflict between the old and the new; the fear of the old to be superseded and rendered obsolete. It's power, oppression, uprising. Unlike most of his peers, he's less interested in conclusions than in the process.

In essence, his worldview is Marxist with a pinch of religious insanity, which... certainly makes for interesting storytelling. Jokes aside, his main theme ties him intimately to the dialectical method as the most advanced theoretical framework for categorizing conflicts and their different resolutions. Quoting him directly, "to self-perpetuate the dialectic process is the sole motive for all which occurs and for all that comes into being."


Dick has a very distinctive style; a fundamentally clinical, naturalistic prose discussing topics of hard science fiction with surrealistic overtones. His is a grim yet essentially hopeful view of the world and the future, coupled with a deep understanding of the inevitability of change. This is where critics indiscriminately slapping the "dystopian" label on his worlds invariably go wrong; this is a gross oversimplification. "The dialectic is necessary but correctly felt by us as pain." (ib.)

There are several recurring themes of Dick's writings. A heartless, repressive state only existing to serve its own perpetuation. A brutal, faceless police force only serving to carry out its will. A cynical and non-sentimental view on personal feelings and sexuality. Smog, beat-down surroundings and creative anachronism.

Disregarding his early pulp style, Dick does not deal in heroes or villains; the motives of all his characters are put into question. The tone of imagery of Philip's writings could be described as nostalgia over the memory of the sun. It seems like it rains all the time, indoors and outdoors.

The first film to successfully capture this style was 'Blade Runner.' 'The Hood Maker' has this touch and feel down pitch perfect, easily outclassing other contemporary adaptations such as 'The Man In The High Castle' and even making the inspirational movie for the series look plastic. It's a rather simple and straightforward story about a new reject class, a lumpenproletariat of telepaths being recruited by the police to combat a popular uprising, as well as the relationship between one of these mindreaders, named Honor, and the male cop she's working for, Agent Ross.

While it's significantly rewritten and perhaps a bit too simplistic, the story still stays true to the spirit of its author. It's unclear exactly what the protesters are fighting for, if they're just raging xenophobes united by their hatred of the "Teeps", and if their perhaps-justified fear is being exploited by their leaders for some ulterior purpose. This would rather be the norm for Dick's narrative, but in this instance it mostly serves as the backdrop for what is a short story of love and betrayal.

The telepaths' powers come with distinct physical stigmata in the form of bright red marks over their faces making them easily identifiable, treated with contempt by the "normals." This is the setting: Telepaths as the "new", humanity as the "old" which must adapt or perish. It's an exercise book question on the handling of contradictions within the people - can we co-exist, can we merge or do we have to fight?

The first relevant question is the easy one: Is it acceptable for the state to invade the minds of citizens who haven't even been criminally charged? The second less so: What if safeguarding your private space calls for the forced internment or outright extermination of an entire race?

In typical Dick fashion the story doesn't shy away from uncomfortable, "trigger-warning"-esque topics, be it the loss of personal integrity, mind rape, torture, prostitution or brutal murder. This type of writing forever puts him at odds with the "illiberal liberal", the identitarian sectist and the bible-thumping neopuritan alike, who all take depictions of such acts on television as condoning them. The tale isn't moralizing, its characters are gray and it leaves an open ending. It tells its story in a consise and unhurried manner, never procrastinating and never running out of material.


In essence this whole episode rests on a fantastic character performance by Holliday Grainger. Lately I've come to differentiate between "introspective" and "communicative" actors. While none is just one or the other, the "introspectives" are those adept at letting the camera into the souls of their own characters, while the "communicators" are those with a talent for exploring and bringing life to their relationships with others. A great example of a talent in the former area is Jeremy Irons, who would be ideal in the role of Robinson Crusoe. Put Holliday Grainger on that island and she'll find a way to have romantic chemistry with a box turtle.


In this respect, Grainger is one of the best choices imaginable for doing justice to a Philip K. Dick story, where conflict and dialog is everything. She's also the perfect pick for the role of the telepath. Her entire unpretentious public persona - in interviews, on conventions and the like - being the very antithesis of stilted prudishness, she resonates perfectly with the general sentiment of his works, and she looks utterly at ease in any emotional, romantic or sexual context. Over all the years I've watched her on the screen I've never seen her show a hint of self-consciousness. By this virtue, she lends an informal, natural believability to any role she's given.

As evidenced by her work on 'The Borgias' and 'Bonnie and Clyde', Holliday never fails to elevate those around her, and she's grown as a performer to the level where her mere presence is hypnotizing. The first line of my review is not intended as hyperbole - when it comes to this game I do believe she has no match in the modern era. Only Holliday Grainger could make you root for a girl seducing her own brother. Given a remotely likeable character, she's irresistible. By her first major scene - an interrogation of a subject at the police station - she has you hooked. After that she just keeps knocking it out of the park, adding layer upon layer to her role and never missing a beat.


Her co-star, Richard Madden, is perfectly adequate and turns in a strong performance, displaying surprising range if 'Game of Thrones' is all you know of him. (On the plus side, we get to hear him speaking in his native Scottish accent.) Notably, this isn't the first time the two have worked together, but despite its short length this story is heads above the readaptation of 'Lady Chatterley's Lover.' All of the rest of the cast are competent or better. It doesn't matter, Holliday can't help but outshine everyone.

This is a short review but I've poured all my love into it. I could write it longer but I don't want to ruin the story for anyone. When I watched this installment with one of my best friends, he remarked, "hey, this is like 'Black Mirror', only better." It's phenomenal television.

Philip K. Dick, "The Exegesis", 2011

3 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Sounds really interesting. Which means it might not be available in the U.S. for awhile. I'm not getting any results when searching for it. Although I'm sure it'll be available *sometime.* :)

Kayne said...

I would have totally missed this show if not for the agents of D.O.U.X., thank you so much! It looks like Amazon Video has the US rights, according to wikipedia.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

Sad thing is I'd watch the hell out of a whole show with the cast of this episode, but alas, not meant to be ;)