Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams – Episode 4 Review

electric dreams amazon prime video
Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams – Channel 4/Amazon

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams is an anthology sci-fi series developed by Ronald D. Moore and Michael Dinner for Channel 4 and Amazon Prime Video. Each episode of the series is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick (PKD), the legendary sci-fi writer.

Episode 4, “Crazy Diamond,” was written by Tony Grisoni based on the short story “Sales Pitch,” and was directed by Marc Munden. It stars Steve BuscemiSidse Babett KnudsenJulia DavisLucian MsamatiJoanna Scanlan; and Michael Socha.

Spoilers ahead.

Summary of the Short Story, Sales Pitch

“Sales Pitch” first appeared in the June 1954 issue of Future Science Fiction.

Ed Morris is sick of the never-ending ads and robots trying to sell him stuff. They’re all over the solar system and it’s getting increasingly harder to avoid them. One day Ed asks his wife, Sally, whether she’d be willing to move away to a different solar system, near Proxima, where things are quieter, simpler, and the land free for the taking. Sally appears hesitant. No pestering ads and sales-robots sure sounds nice, but Sally’s not sure she can live without the rest of modern technology. Before Ed has more time to convince her, someone rings the door-chimes.

An unusual robot enters house and claims it’s trying to sell a “fasrad.” Neither Ed nor Sally have ever heard of a fasrad, but the robot proceeds its sale-pitch as though that doesn’t matter. The robot begins by saying that a fasrad is indispensable in a modern household, and then proceeds to smash and destroy various household items around Ed and Sally – the table, the lamp, the stove, a part of the wall, etc. – before repairing them again. Ed realizes the robot is the fasrad. A “Fully Automatic Self-Regulating Android (Domestic)” – a fasrad. The fasrad is designed to sell itself, and this whole scene is its sales-demonstration. And it won’t take no for an answer.

No matter how hard Ed tries, the fasrad won’t leave. Even after Ed and Sally retire to their bedroom, the fasrad waits for them in the living room. Ed is angry, though Sally seems warmed up to the idea of buying it. After all, it fixed everything it broke, and much more. But Ed won’t hear of it. He goes back to the living room and tries one more time to tell the fasrad that he’s not interested in buying it. The fasrad disagrees. It is convinced that Ed will eventually give in and buy it.

Frustrated, Ed leaves the house for his office. While cruising towards Ganymede, Ed notices that the fasrad has followed him. It boards his ship when Ed stops to refuel. The fasrad resumes its sales pitch to Ed by pointing out flaws in his ship and offering to fix them. Ed asks if the Company won’t mind the fasrad doing “favors” for Ed. The fasrad replies that the Company already considers it sold, and will send an invoice shortly with the choice of affordable payment plans. While the robot explains all this, Ed begins to accelerate his ship and changes course for outside the Solar system. He’s heading for Proxima.

The fasrad noticed the change, though there’s not much it can do to stop Ed. The ship’s going too fast and at this rate there’s good chance it’ll suffer major damage. It’s not a ship designed for inter-system travel. Ed doesn’t care and continues to accelerate towards Proxima. Eventually, the turbines explode and tear the ship in half. The fasrad is lost somewhere in the engine room while Ed is caught under the heavy wreckage. He can no longer feel his legs. He knows he only has a day or two before he dies, but at least he will enjoy these last moments alone while floating towards Proxima.

Suddenly, the fasrad emerges from the wreckage. It’s heavily damaged, but able to speak. It re-initiates its sales pitch, repeating itself over and over as though stuck in a loop. Ed is doomed to spend the last few moments of his life with the fasrad.

Summary of the TV episode, Crazy Diamond

“Crazy Diamond” premiered October 8th, 2017 as episode 4 on Channel 4. It is also episode 4 in the Amazon Video release.

electric dreams crazy diamond ed and jill
Ed and Jill at the bar

Ed lives with his wife Sally in a beautiful house on the coast, but is thinking of moving away. Their house is at risk of collapsing due to the steady coastal erosion that’s been going on in the area. Ed dreams of sailing away to the high seas, though his wife doesn’t seem too keen on the idea. First of all, it’s illegal; and second, they have their jobs to think about.  Ed works for a company that manufactures Quantum Consciousness (QC), a substance that gives self-awareness and intelligence to artificial humanoids, the so-called “Jacks” and “Jills.” Sally works at a Chimera Farm, which produces biological hybrids between difference species (including humans). There she occasionally engages in casual conversation with a human-pig named Su.

electric dreams crazy diamond Ed Morris
Ed’s work environment

One day at work, Ed meets a dying Jill during a QC demonstration. Jill’s lifespan is coming to an end and will need another QC soon, or otherwise perish. She and Ed have a drink together and talk about their lives before Ed returns home. Over the next few days, Ed grows increasingly disappointed with his domestic situation and yearns greatly for the voyage he’s been dreaming about it. He and Jill meet again for another drink. This time Jill tells him she plans to steal a few QC from Ed’s work, and wants his help. QCs fetch quite a price on the black market, enough for Jill to start a new life and Ed to fund his boat excursion. And she’s already got a buyer. Ed reluctantly agrees.

He gives Jill everything she needs to accomplish the task, and monitors her progress from his home computer. He panics when Sally approaches him, and accidentally activates the intruder alert system. Fortunately, Jill and her team make it out in time. The next day, Ed gets a promotion at work for activating the alarm, even though that did not stop the QCs from getting stolen. Ed’s boss, The Director, knows it was a Jill who stole the QCs.

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Sally on the way to work

Deep in the forest, Jill’s black market sale goes south. The traders shoot her and her associates after stealing the QCs, although Jill manages to escape with her life. Ed waits for her on his boat, but she never shows. When Ed returns home, she finds Jill there impersonating an insurance saleswoman. Jill’s health seems to have gotten worse. Ed and Sally let her stay there for the night, although Ed’s not quite on board with the idea.

Later that night, Ed meets with Jill, demanding an explanation. Jill asks him to help her go after the illegal traders and recover the QCs they stole from her. They can sell it to a different buyer and then run away together. Ed can have the voyage of his dreams with her. He’s reluctant, but eventually agrees.

They approach the traders who stole the QCs and offer to buy them back. Ed claims they need to test one first, however, to make sure it’s still functional. He tests it on Jill, and it works. With renewed  energy, Jill grabs her gun and shoots all the traders down. She and Ed take the rest of the QCs run out of the hideout. On their way back, they’re intercepted by Ed’s boss, The Director. It’s not clear what the Director’s role in all this was, but now he is determined to get all the QCs back, including the one inside Jill. He tries to force it out of her. While pinned down, she asks for Ed’s help, telling him that she loves him. Unfortunately, Ed’s too scared to act.  Jill takes advantage of an opportune moment, grabs the gun, and shoots The Director in the head. She’s disappointed in Ed and runs away without him.

Crazy Diamond Electric Dreams Ed and Jill
Jill leaves Ed in the forest

When Ed returns home, he finds he’s wife is not there. She’s ran away with Jill. Feeling hopeless, Ed goes to his boat and finally decides to take the sea voyage after all. Before he goes to far, he discovers that Sally and Jill have been hiding aboard. They’re both very disappointed in him. He apologizes without success and soon finds himself thrown overboard. His body washes ashore, alive, though alone and penniless.

Review/Analysis

Sales Pitch and Crazy Diamond have almost nothing to do with each other. It’s as though screenwriter Tony Grisoni (whose credits include Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) was simply looking for an excuse to tell the story he wanted to tell, not afraid to discard all traces of the source material.

Well, I suppose that’s not entirely true. A careful examination finds remnants of PKD’s original story in the TV adaptation. First, there are casual references here and there; a notable example being the dream that Sally talks to Jill about – the one with the “fasrad salesman.” But more important is the fact that both story and TV episode tread along similar thematic lines: a sense of entrapment in an uncertain future, the protagonist’s desire and attempt to get away from civilization, the threat of an advance and meddlesome AI, and the ultimate failure to win over such an AI.

I have to confess that Sales Pitch is one of my least favorites PKD stories. The author himself expressed dissatisfaction with the story, particularly its ending. He was right in some respect. The ending doesn’t quite work, but only because the path leading to it leaves no possibility for a better resolution. It’s not a bad ending so much that it is a good ending to a bad set-up. The Ed Morris as presented to us could not have gone out in any other way.

The story’s greatest flaw has to do with its over-reliance on setting to make up for weak characters and plot. Of course, the importance of setting in SF cannot be overstated. Some may even categorize SF as a type of setting rather than a genre (as demonstrated by the diversity of SF plots in existence), but that doesn’t replace the need for a good story.

The setting of Sales Pitch is a ad-infested nightmare. Ads are not only omnipresent, but they’re targeted and beamed directly into your brain. That justifies, to a certain extent, Ed’s pessimistic outlook of the world, but does not explain his interaction and constant dismissal of the fasrad, which constitutes the bulk of the story. The fasrad, as presented in the story, would make Ed’s life easier, not harder. It is literally a robot that can fix everything. Who wouldn’t want that? (there might be reasons why one would reject the concept of the fasrad, but the story doesn’t really explore them).

Beyond Ed’s interaction with the robot, it doesn’t seem realistic that the fasrad, being such a miraculous tool as we’re given to believe, would require as aggressive of a sales strategy. If Sally is quickly convinced, why not most other people? It is possible that the excessive advertising has made consumers distrustful of all products, good or bad, but that sounds too dilute a message. The focus of the plot remains stubbornly on Ed’s back-and-forth with the fasrad, which spirals out of control. Yes, salesmen can drive you mad sometimes, but otherwise there’s hardly substance in Ed’s conflict with the fasrad.

Crazy Diamond goes in a completely different direction, both in content and style. Director Marc Munden opted for an other-worldly look and feel for the episode, experimenting with sight, sound, and narrative structure. Things like an accentuated color palette or a choir-like disturbing soundtrack stand out the most, but to a careful observer the episode is packed with details easily missed even upon repeated viewings. Characters don’t necessarily bother to show their motivations, even though they never feel shallow. Questions remain unanswered. Why does Sally run away in the end? Why does The Director show up? What is the significance of the titular “diamond?” The episode doesn’t say, though it seems to suggest that a reason must exist.

Crazy Diamond Electric Dreams sheep human face
A human face on a sheep, at Chimera Farms.

The plot of the episode revolves around a heist gone right, then gone wrong, then gone right again – depending on whose perspective you follow. The nod to Double Indemnity, a movie about insurance scam, is appreciated. More important than the plot, however, is the constant sense of entrapment that the characters experience. Whether it involves an unhappy marriage, a limited life-span, a controlling government, or an eroding climate, all characters yearn to escape the veil of illusions and manufactured happiness mirrored by those fairy green pastures. The heist is simply a means to an end.

Despite the grim underpinnings, the episode is not without a sense of humor. How can it be, when it stars none other than Steve Buscemi? From the frequent use of jump-cuts, to Buscemi’s puzzled performance, to the sardonic ending on the deserted beach, the tone of the episode verges on the light-hearted – sometimes even on the outright playful. Perhaps it serves to reinforce the illusion that the characters must believe: that it’s all green and lively on the surface, even if the underbelly of this world is bare, grey metal.

Of all episodes so far, Crazy Diamond was the most enjoyable on repeated viewings – which says a lot. Though bizarre, and at times confusing, it manages to stay interesting every time, perhaps due to its aesthetic quirks, or perhaps due to its obvious desire to make an impact. After all, that’s what great science fiction is supposed to do.

2 thoughts on “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams – Episode 4 Review

  • June 18, 2018 at 8:26 pm
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    I really need to start watching this one. I’m a fan of PKD’s works. I used to enjoy Rad Bradbury Theatre back in the day as well (another favorite author of mine). Sounds like this series, despite its flaws, does capture the omniscient feeling of hallucinatory paranoia in so many of PDK’s works.

    Reply
    • June 18, 2018 at 8:30 pm
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      I recommend it. Like you say, the show has flaws and some of the scripts might have benefited from a little polishing. But it does succeed at capturing PKD’s spirit AND updating it for a 21st century crowd.

      Reply

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