The penultimate episode of this Sci-Fi anthology is a gripping and action packed contemplation on the nature of reality, dreaming and guilt.
In future Chicago – a city of neon lights and self driving cars, Police officer Sarah (Anna Paquin) is feeling guilty. Wracked by by the remorse of seeing her colleagues massacred and determined to seek justice, she is recommended a vacation by her girlfriend Katie (Rachelle Lefevre). This is no ordinary vacation – she is is given a device which offers her a temporary escape to a different reality, a new life as a different person but inspired by her unconscious desires. She puts this on and wakes up in modern day Chicago as George (Terrence Howard). George is the head of a tech company and a billionaire who is mourning the murder of his wife and is desperate to find her killers at any costs. We join his story line as he wakes up from being knocked unconscious, chasing after men with guns. Sarah, dreaming as George, initially has no idea what is going on but as the dream progresses memories and flashbacks begin to flood back. Back at Georges house, he too decides he needs a vacation from real life, and puts on a much more rudimentary version of the dreaming technology before waking up – as Sarah.
Here is where the episode gets truly interesting. As Sarah and George’s realities begin to bleed in to one another, both begin to lose their grip on which life is real, and which is a dream. George’s dead wife and Sarah’s girlfriend are both the same person, leading George to convince himself that Sarah’s life must be the dream because his life as Sarah is too perfect, while Sarah in turn is led to believe her life must be the dream, stating: “Doesn’t this all seem like some ancient male fantasy? What they used to call science-fiction? I literally have a flying car and a gorgeous lesbian wife who wants to have sex all the time.” This self referential aside to the representation of women and male fantasy in science fiction is a clever dig at what is usually a male dominated genre. It also cleverly raises the main question of the episode – what is reality, and can you really escape it? As the dual protagonists narratives continue to bleed in to one another, we as the audience are also forced to question which reality might be the real one.
Unlike previous episodes of Electric Dreams, Real Life plays out as a fast paced action thriller. Gone is the glacial pacing of Impossible Planet, or the strange surreal musings of Crazy Diamond. Instead we have a succinct hour long exploration of a basic concept, done well. The episode is certainly reminiscent of other works by Phillip K Dick – mainly Totall Recall and Blade Runner (and to a lesser extent Blade Runner 2049). These films deal with the concept of shifting realities, artificial dreams and memories and are considered masterpieces of the genre. The episode is also evocative of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, with the concept of a dream within a dream each having consequences on each other explored to great effect here too. This means that Real Life can feel a little unoriginal at times, while the script does occasionally descend into cliche. Based on Dick’s 1954 short story Exhibit Piece, the episode cleverly updates the main concepts and ideas of this story to make it more suitable for a 21st century TV audience.
Despite all of this, the episode is an engaging and well directed exploration into a fascinating subject matter. It makes you constantly question which world is real or if both of them could be, while leading towards a devastating and tragic finale. The acting from the leads is excellent, with Terrance Howard’s George particularly memorable as the guilt wracked billionaire. Strong supporting performances are also found in the form of Georges friend and confidant Paula (Laura Pulver) and Sarah’s girlfriend/partner Katie (Rachelle Lefevre). The most frustrating thing about this series is its inconsistency. An advantage of it being an anthology show means they are able to explore different concepts each week in a short time frame. However, the fact that they are all written directed and starring completely different people means that they have been of inconsistent quality. Real Life has so far been one of the stand out episodes of the show, with excellent performances, an interesting if well worn concept, and enough intrigue to keep the audience guessing. Next week’s episode Human Is features flavour of the moment Bryan Cranston. Let’s hope the series finishes on a high.
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To read reviews of the previous episodes in this series, please click on the links below: