Intelligent and timely, this episode of Electric Dreams combines elements of classic Sci-Fi and blends them into something which feels fresh and imaginative.
Set in a future in which nuclear war has decimated the world and what is left of humanity shelters together in the darkness, one all powerful company (Autofac) dominates. Vast factories belch out toxic pollutants using armies of robots to create products the world doesn’t want or need. Unmanned drones fly supplies out to the population who resent the robots that keep them oppressed. It is consumerism extrapolated to its logical extreme; Amazon on steroids. A rag tag band of people living in a cross between a hippie commune and a Mad Max style junk-land dream of stopping The Autofac, of taking over “the means of production”. This line is pertinent one, echoing as it does the revolutionary socialist Karl Marx.
There is certainly an air of revolution in this episode, led by the determined Emily Zabriskie (Juno Temple) who has echoes of Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. Determined to overthrow the company they feel are destroying their lives, Emily and her companions Conrad (David Lyons) and Perine (Jay Paulson) capture an AI robot sent as a customer service representative from The Autofac and attempt to reprogram it to their advantage. From here they realize they only have one choice – in the face of retaliation from the heavily armed sentry drones at Autofac’s disposal they have to go on the offensive. There is of course a love story involved between Emily and the shy and bookish Avi (Nick Eversman), but it is refreshing to see that it is the female character who has the agency, who calls the shots and ultimately is the hero. Symbolically he is left behind in the settlement while Emily goes off to confront the vast factory.
As the episode progresses, the plot begins to twist and turn more than the dark industrial corridors of the factory innards. The episode calls into question what it means to be human in the era of advanced artificial intelligence, and how replaceable anything truly is. It also plays with the idea of implanted or false memories in the same way that the very first episode of Electric Dreams The Hoodmaker did so powerfully. Throughout the hour Emily suffers from nightmarish flashbacks which clearly shake her and lead her and us to question if they are dreams,memories or something else entirely. The plot twists are unexpected and shocking – just when you think you have the ending pegged down, another curve-ball is thrown at you. After a series of extremely varying quality, it is refreshing that in this episode everything just seems to work. The visuals are an interesting mix of hippie and futuristic, the characterisations are interesting and the performances from Juno Temple and Janelle Monae (as Alice the Android) are strong.
The episode borrows heavily from other Sci-Fi material, but it functions as a pastiche to examine themes rather than just a dull unimaginative copy. Certain shots in the episode feel like direct homages to classics of the genre – Alice arriving in the drone ship is a clear copy of the classic image of the extra-terrestrial emerging bathed in light from the spaceship, the drone approaching the autofac factory is near identical to iconic image of the first time we see the Tyrell corporation in Blade Runner, and the androids look similar to those in Ex Machina (along with many other similar films in the genre). In the same vein as a lot of other Science Fiction, Autofac also has an environmental message woven throughout – the survivors explain that the factory just mass producing products is pointless when there are no people to consume them, and in doing so they destroy the planet and make it uninhabitable. If last weeks episode of Electric Dreams (The Father Thing) can be accused of rehashing old tropes of Science Fiction but coming up with nothing original or innovative to say about it, the reverse can be said of this weeks episode. Yes, Autofac uses common themes and elements, but uses them to explore and examine contemporary themes and ideas, rather than just repeating cliches for no purpose.
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To read reviews of the previous episodes in this series, please click on the links below: