Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams Real Life Recap – Amazon has premiered a new series that is garnering frequent comparisons to Netflix’s breakout hit Black Mirror for its similar treatment of futuristic mergers of humanity and technology and some potentially dark looks at dystopian possibilities. Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams brings some of Dick’s best short sci-fi stories to the screen, and the first episode takes a smart look at the well-worn questions about reality and perception.
Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams Real Life Recap
In “Real Life,” the first episode of the series, we toggle between two characters’ perspectives. One character is set in the future (complete with flying cars). She is a policewoman named Sarah (played by Anna Paquin) who is trying to emotionally recover from surviving a massacre that left many of her fellow officers slaughtered. The other character is a present-day billionaire video game designer named George (played by Terrence Howard) who is reeling from the death of his wife, Katie.
The characters share an overlapping set of memories that start to get indistinguishable from one another. Sarah becomes George when she places a microchip on her temple in order to take a “vacation” from her life. George becomes Sarah when he uses one of his own virtual reality headsets to try to escape the pain of his mourning. In both worlds, the characters around our protagonists warn them of the dangers of losing a grip on reality. Both characters are told repeatedly that they are the “real” person rooted in the “real world” while the other is just an illusion built on their subconscious fears and desires.
The viewer is taken on a confusing ride right along with Sarah and George, and the twists start coming in rapid fire by the end of the show. It can be hard to believe that the complex plot will be able to wrap up in any kind of satisfying way in its short 47-minute runtime, but the pacing at the end matches the suspense of wanting to know who is, after all, “real.”
Sarah has more solidly rooted memories, which might indicate that she is in the real world, but she starts to doubt its validity because it all seems too perfect. A terrifying near-death experience ends up perfectly with the villain who killed all the police officers getting what’s coming to him. She’s in a loving relationship with Katie, a copy of George’s late wife. To further complicate things, George discovers through the slow recovery of his memories that he was having an affair when Katie died, a fact that sends him into a fresh wave of guilt and remorse.
George and Sarah both share one core belief: neither deserves Sarah’s life.
In the end, George smashes his headset, effectively trapping both him and Sarah in that reality, forever dealing with his grief and shame. The viewers are granted one last view of Sarah’s world, where she is now frozen in a comatose state, sensors blinking. Katie goes into a (perhaps heavy-handed) monologue about how we have all sinned and believe that we need punishment.
In this way, “Real Life” does what the best sci-fi should always strive to do. It uses the future and the unbelievable to reflect on the now and the real. Maybe we can’t project ourselves into other worlds just yet, but we can all reflect on the way that we deal with our own sense of remorse and accepting the life we may not believe we deserve. Reflections on the nature of happiness and guilt resonate with or without flying cars, and “Real Life” suggests a series that is going to continue to make us think.
Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams Real Life Recap characters and cast include:
Sarah – Anna Paquin (The Piano, X-Men, Alias Grace, The Irishman, 25th Hour, Almost Famous, X-Men: Days of Future Past)
George – Terrence Howard (Crash, Hustle & Flow, Empire, Four Brothers, Wayward Pines, Law & Order LA, Iron Man, The Brave One)
Katie – Rachelle Lefevre (Twilight, Barney’s Vision, Mary Kills People, Under the Dome, A Gifted Man, White House Down)
Cora – Karin Anglin (Connect with England, The Beast, The Mob Doctor)
Bakshi – Anto Bassey (Eloise, Freaky Deaky, Jimmy P., Chicago P.D.)
Malia – Anu Bhatt (Chicago Med, APB, Chicago Fire)
Colin – Guy Burnet (Ray Donovan, Counterpart, Hand of God, The Affair, Chicago Fire)
Victor – Dominic Capone III (Turks, Voices from the Grave)
Harris – Christian Isely (Captive State, Chicago Fire)
Martin – J. Salome Martinez (The Messenger, Generation Kill)
Armed Man #2 – Chris Nolte (Prison Break, Mob Doctor, The Exorcist)
Diner Cook – Jonathan Posthuma (Chicago Justice, APB, Empire, Chicago Fire)
Paula – Lara Pulver (Sherlock, Skins, True Blood, Edge of Tomorrow, Quantico)
Doctor – Jason Singer (Chicago Fire, Crises, Happy Hour)
Mario – Jacob Vargas (Luke Cage, Mosaic, Hand of God, Colony, Sons of Anarchy, Heaven is for Real, Max Steel, Traffic)
Chris – Sam Witwer (Being Human, The Mist, Dexter, Battlestar Galactica)