Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams – Episode 5 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 5, “The Hood Maker,” was written by Mathew Graham based on the short story “The Hood Maker,” and was directed by Julian Jarrold. It stars Richard MaddenHolliday GraingerNoma Dumezweni; Anneika Rose; Richard McCabePaul Ritter; and Tony Way.

Spoilers ahead.

Summary of the Short Story

The Hood Maker first appeared in the June 1955 issue of Imagination.

In the distant 21st century, the state of the Free Union demands absolute loyalty from its citizens. The state has employed telepaths (a breed of people born after a nuclear attack in Madagascar) to scan the population and weed out all dissidents. Most seem content, though a few have chosen to fight back. A mysterious figure known as “The Hood Maker” has developed a metallic band, the so-called ‘hood,’  that can block telepathic scans. Telepaths are not happy about it, but until the anti-immunity bill passes, there’s not much they can do to prevent people from using the hoods. That doesn’t stop them from trying, however.

Dr. Walter Franklin, a government official a receives a hood in the mail one day. He doesn’t know who sent it or why, but decides to wear it anyway. When he walks outside he is spotted by a young telepath, who, with the help of other complicit pedestrians, snatches the hood from Dr. Franklin. The doctor manages to escape, though not before the telepath performs a full scan on him.

The telepath, a young man by the name of Ernest Abbud, returns to headquarters and hands the hood to a couple of Clearance agents. He informs the agents that Dr. Franklin is not only a hood-wearer but also a potential dissident. A total probe performed on him showed signs of ideological disloyalty. Abudd recommends that the agents arrest him. The agents seem unhappy that Abbud issued the total probe without their authorization.

Dr. Franklin, running from the Clearance agents, is trying to figure out why he’s being chased. As far as he can remember, he’s done nothing wrong. He’s always been loyal. And the anti-immunity bill has not passed yet. Before the agents reach him, a car pulls up in front of him and a young woman inside asks him to get in. Franklin doesn’t recognize her, but gets in and the car drives away.

Franklin is taken to the factory where the hoods are made and meets the Hood Maker, a little bald-headed  man by the name of James Cutter. The Hood Maker believes Franklin has been framed. The telepaths are planning to take over the government and want to eliminate men in key positions of power, like Franklin. And the Anti-Immunity bill is going to make that easier. When Franklin asks why, Cutter attributes it to human nature – no different from any other dictator in history. The telepaths believe they are superior, and therefore want to be leaders.

Cutter and Franklin go on a mission to stop the bill from passing. They infiltrate the estate of Senator Waldo – the senator behind the bill – hoping to coerce him into discarding the bill. Once inside, they’re interjected by Ernest Abbud, the young telepath, who shoots Franklin without warning. Abbud knew they were coming was waiting for them. Prior to this, the Clearance agents tracked down the factory and arrested all the workers, while the telepaths scanned their minds. Cutter’s little operation is over. Oddly enough, Cutter appears completely calm, despite this revelation. When Abbud orders him to take off the hood so he may scan him, Cutter complies.

Abbud nearly faints after reading Cutter’s mind. The information he finds in there is terrifying. Cutter’s plan to infiltrate Waldo’s estate was just a decoy. He has already won this war, and only needed to let the telepaths know. Through his extensive research Cutter discovered that despite their extraordinary abilities, telepaths lack one key feature: reproductive ability. They’re all sterile. There’s only going to be one generation of telepaths. And now that Abbud knows, all telepaths know. Cutter has won.

Summary of the TV episode

The Hood Maker premiered on September 17th, 2017 as episode 1 on Channel 4. It is episode 5 in the Amazon Video release.

Honor has been assigned as the new partner of Clearance Agent Ross. Since the passing of the Anti-Immunity bill, Clearance can now hire telepaths to help in their investigations. The telepaths allowed to read a suspect’s minds, but not other agents. The passing of the bill has inflamed the fear and hatred of ‘normals’ towards telepaths, and many have taken to street riots.

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A riot in response to the Anti-Immunity bill. One person is wearing a hood.

During one of the riots, Agent Ross and Honor arrest a violent protester who’s wearing a strange ‘hood’ over his face. Agent Ross is unable to get anything out of him, so Honor has to step-in. The man resists, but Honor is able to get inside his head. She finds out the location of the ‘terrorist’ organization the protester belongs to, as well as the names of the other members.

Ross, Honor, and some other agents raid the terrorists’ hideout and arrest everybody in it. In there, they find more hoods, similar to the one the protester wore, and a note from an alleged “Hood Maker.” As Honor explores the rest of the building, she finds another man downstairs wearing a hood. He’s not assaulting her, however Honor is in pain. She realizes it’s the hood. The hood blocks telepathic activity and protects the wearer from unwanted scans. Agent Ross comes down and, in the panic of the moment, shoots the hood-wearer.

Back at Clearance headquarters agent Ross briefs the other agents on the case. They need to find the Hood Maker. Honor uses her connection with other telepaths in hope of finding something useful about the hoods. She manages to gather some info on the material – it’s used in clothing and book binding – but not much else.  Ross and Honor start to get along, as she appreciates his concern for her abilities. After the briefing, Honor senses that one of her telepath friends is in great pain. She and Ross head for the slums where telepaths live.

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Honor at Clearance headquarters

When they arrive at the scene they find a female telepath forced at gunpoint to read the mind of a hooded man. The experience is traumatic. Ross grabs the man away from the telepath and takes off his hood. The man’s name is Franklyn, and has been using the telepath for a while to enact his rape fantasies.  Being an important government official, he’s virtually untouchable by the law.  When Ross threatens Franklyn with public exposure, the latter offers to share some information regarding the Hood Maker in exchange for freedom and silence. Ross complies.

Honor and Ross find out that the government has, in the past, conducted research on methods to block telepathic activity. The lead scientists on the project, Dr. Thaddeus Cutter, resigned 13 years ago. The suspect Dr. Cutter is the Hood Maker.

Back in the slums, the telepaths assault and kill Franklyn. This starts a cascade reaction that leads to the telepaths rebelling against the normals, while normals, equipped with hoods, retaliate back. The situation gets out of hand, and Ross can’t guarantee Honor’s safety. He lets her stay at his house temporarily. Despite regulations prohibiting romantic involvement between agents, Ross and Honor can’t really help themselves, and sleep together.

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Hoods are distributed to the general population

While perusing Ross’s old books, Honor comes up with a way to track the Hood Maker. If Cutter continued to manufacture hoods, he must have needed a supplier for the linen. There’s one linen factory that closed down exactly 13 years ago. It must be where Cutter is. Ross decides to go after Cutter alone, as it could be too dangerous for Honor to be out. Honor follows him, without his knowledge.

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Telepaths assault and kill Dr. Cutter

At the factory Ross finds Dr. Cutter. The doctor claims that government wanted to develop a way to safeguard against telepaths, hence the hood technology. Cutter, on the other hand, felt that such power needed to be democratic. Everybody is entitled to the privacy of their own thoughts. Nobody should be allowed to take that away. Not the telepaths, not the state. As Ross argues with him, Cutter reveals that soon people will not need the hoods at all since they will develop natural defense against the tips. Some already have!

Honor shows up at the scene and demands an explanation. Dr. Cutter urges her to scan Ross. When she tries, she finds out that she is unable too. Ross can block her. Honor feels betrayed by him and locks herself in another room. Other telepaths arrive at the scene, kill Dr. Cutter, and set the building on fire. Ross is trapped inside. He asks Honor to open the door so that both may escape, but she doesn’t know if she can trust him. Having no choice, Ross allows her in his brain.

Honor finds out the truth. She only became Ross’s partner so he may keep a close eye on her and find out if the telepaths are planning a rebellion. She was just a tool in a larger conspiracy. Ross apologizes to Honor and claims that his feelings for her are indeed real; that he really fell for her, and that he really wants to run away with her.  The episode ends with Ross begging Honor to trust him as she contemplates her options.

Review/Analysis

The short story The Hood Maker has everything you want in a PKD piece. Action, politics, social commentary, conspiracies, and a satisfying twist verging on the macabre. Set in a world where the HUAC mentality dominates every aspect of society, where the state demands absolute loyalty and and the vast majority is willing to comply, The Hood Maker offers a jarring snapshot into the innermost terrors of state surveillance. In the 50s that meant something concrete and unambiguous – McCarthyism. Today, the concept is more elusive – things like covert data mining and targeted advertising – though equally threatening.

Beyond topical matters, PKD’s story explores universal themes of power, eugenics, privacy, and humanity’s innate drive for rebellion. The quest for power is, after all, the same whether the pursuers are men with tanks, or men with telepathic faculties. This fundamental idea makes the story timeless.

And above all, it’s a pretty fun read. The prose never trails with redundancies and every character acts precisely as their place in the story requires them too. They’re not predictable, but understandable. Franklin is a pawn and therefore dies without ever seeing it coming. Cutter is a man who likes to have the upper hand, and only under those circumstances he confronts the telepaths. Abbud is a young man too sure of himself; and his overconfidence betrays him (even if the conclusion may be inevitable).

Though by far not the first treatment of telepaths as antagonists, I suspect The Hood Maker might have had considerable influence on the trope. I’d be remiss not to mention the beloved science fiction TV series Babylon 5, which bears some astonishing similarities with The Hood Maker when it comes to telepaths. For example: the term “teep” as short for telepath; telepaths attempting a covert takeover of the government; the term “Homo Superior;” etc.

The TV adaptation of the The Hood Maker, while enjoyable in its own right, displays what I think is starting to become a tiresome pattern in this series: a great set-up followed with a weak or inconsistent resolution.

Screenwriter Mathew Graham re-imagines the original story as a gritty ‘buddy-cop’ drama, centered around Agent Ross and his telepath partner Honor. Here the telepaths are not rulers, but rather second class citizens, shunned away, oppressed, and forced into slums. The ‘teeps’ seem universally hated and despised. Thus, the episode touches on a pivotal element of surveillance, criminally underestimated in the original story: abuse.

With the loss of privacy and the rise of a controlling, paranoid government comes the inevitable abuse of those who are most vulnerable. And of course, the abuse is omni-directional. Sooner or later it will affect all sides. When Honor performs the deep scan for the first time – possibly the most intense and revealing moment in the episode – Agent Ross calls it ‘rape.’ We see Franklyn coerce a telepath to “experience” his rape fantasies. He tries it again until it kills him and the telepaths rebel. And so on, the cycle continues.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Ross and Honor grows, and midway through the episode becomes a “them against the world” kind of story. The strength of the story comes almost entirely due to their shared plight and the emotional well of attraction that surrounds their arc – at least as far as the early part of the episode is concerned. And it works, at least for a while. Just like in “Human Is,” the performances are stellar but not enough to save the ending from poor writing.

Despite small blunders, such as the convenient absence of Google in this universe, or Honor being able to read emotions in one scene but unable to do so in another (Hail thee, oh God of lazy writing!), I believe the episode was wonderfully adapted for a 21st century audience. Where it falters is in its shallow characterization of the telepaths as a separate entity from the so-called ’normals.’

The great novelist and writing teacher, John Gardner, has said that an intelligent writer is one who considers all possibilities before taking a side. The episode’s telepaths (including Honor in her final scenes) are disappointingly single-minded. The legitimacy of their motivations feels fabricated only so we may have a ‘twist’ ending.

The motivations and actions of telepaths in PKD’s short story, though simplistic, are understandable. The state of the Free Union represents McCarthyism at its worst – a state that demands absolute loyalty and will use any means necessary to obtain it. The telepaths take advantage of that to achieve power. We don’t exactly know why. Perhaps it’s vengeance for past oppression; or perhaps it’s a genuine feeling of superiority, as as Cutter believes. Ultimately it doesn’t matter. What matters is the political power play in the quest for supremacy and its effects on single individuals like Dr. Franklin.

The episode, on the other hand, seems too eager to tell a story about oppressors and oppressed that it ignores the larger implications of its actors.

There’s indeed oppression and discrimination in The Hood Maker, and the city is perhaps due for a rebellion. Yet, the telepaths in the episode appear oblivious towards the populations desire for privacy of thought, something that I find unlikely to be true. In the absence of totalitarianism (at least, explicit totalitarianism) both telepaths and Clearance completely dismiss the possibility that the existence of hoods may make their jobs easier. That they have the potential to become a bridge between the haters and the hated. The episode’s failure to recognize this potential cast doubt on some of the characters’ motivation and possibly makes them less sympathetic that it may have been intended. One perfect example is Honor’s reaction (or overreaction) upon finding out that Ross can block telepaths. It displays an unintended prejudice that muddles the outcome. In short, it doesn’t make sense.

Let alone that the episode also engages in unnecessary misdirection purely for the sake of “shock factor” at the end. In an early scene, Agent Ross’ superior calls Honor “it” instead of “she.” We see Ross correct her. Then, later on when Honor scans Ross, she finds out that Ross referred to Honor as “it”, and not his commander officer. Why? Why fool the audience with such a cheap trick, when the earlier scene was from the Ross’ point of view anyway? Especially since the tension in their relationship would have been so much stronger if the audience knew of his prejudice against telepaths. What a missed opportunity!

More than an outright bad movie or episode of TV, The Hood Maker adaptation is disappointing because of its unrealized potential. It has every reason to succeed – talented cast and crew, great source material – and yet it fails. Perhaps ‘fail’ is too strong a word since I did find things to enjoy in this episode, but the overall experience is one I do not wish to repeat. If I revisit the series, I might skip The Hood Maker. 

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