Electric Dreams: 104 “Crazy Diamond” Review
Reviewed by Ryan Monty.
(This review continues spoilers. Read on if that doesn’t bother you!)
Despite archaic worlds populated by telepaths, neon-lit spaceships and Macon Heights (by way of Woking), this week’s Electric Dreams, Crazy Diamond, has perhaps the strangest world to bring us into, a world that is newly created given this is the first episode of the series not directly named after a Philip K. Dick story, instead his 1954 story Sales Pitch, and taking almost nothing of the original story. After The Commuter strayed closer to home regarding setting (aside from Macon Heights), Crazy Diamond takes us to a reality in a maybe not too distant future of a beautiful yet decaying world, where we meet Hollywood icon Steve Buscemi and British comedy queen Julia Davis.
Buscemi plays Ed Morris (the second protagonist by that first name in as many weeks following Timothy Spall), who with his wife Sally (Julia Davis) lives in his home overlooking the shining ocean waves. This is the most aesthetically pleasing and visually striking instalment of Electric Dreams so far- a look at the production team behind Crazy Diamond leaves no secret as to why, with director Marc Munden, cinematographer Ole Bratt Birkeland and composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer all involved with Channel 4’s excellent series Utopia (of which the cancellation stills wounds me). The acidic look, striking colour palette and washed out landscapes paint a fascinatingly picturesque world. Despite most frames being a joy to look at, the actual world itself is one atrophying at an alarming rate.
The environmental situation of Crazy Diamond is troubled and could quite easily come to life. It’s a world of decay despite the vistas and clean decorum of the coastal homes and labs, one where coastal erosion is progressing rapidly (a news report says in the next one hundred years a huge number of homes could collapse- by episode end, Ed’s is one of them). It’s illegal to grow food and fauna, with Sally growing her own against the law. Food expires almost hilariously fast, before it rots beyond health. One darkly comic scene comes as Ed and Sally attempt to plant blooming potatoes, discovering that the ground beneath their feet is metal beneath some soil. It may look nice, but this is just as fake a world as Macon Heights, typified by Abraham Popoola’s refuse collector, who late on passive aggressively confronts them about their illegal food growing, telling them also early that “nothing lasts forever!” as he beams a smile at them.
Ed works at the “spirit mill”, who dabble in genetic splicing. The jewel in the crown is their production of “quantum consciousness”, the kickstart of life for artificial beings, which they store in carefully monitored vials. Ed is highly regarded here by his director, yet he has a deep dissatisfaction for his life. Content spending time on his boat listening to old LPs, Ed’s grandest dream is to run away with his wife and sails the high seas in search of adventure. Sally holds a deep fear that Ed will do something very stupid to do so, relaying her worries to forty percent human, sixty percent pig security guard Su (Joanna Scanlan). While the world of Crazy Diamond is highly futuristic, the story is one more informed by the noir genre. That’s not the only Blade Runner cue to be found, as we’re treated to a story revolving around manufactured humanity, with an individual whose story mirrors Blade Runner’s Roy Batty in their search for more life.
Ed and Sally’s life is turned upside down by the arrival of this individual, Jill (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who is one of the artificial “Jack and Jill” humans, whose time is rapidly running out. She’s the noir femme fatale analogue in this story, whose arrival brings temptation of the promise of the new life Ed craves, and a dangerous agenda of her own. Jill has arrived at the perfect time to tempt Ed- tired of hearing of how he and Sally can move further inland where “It’ll be just like home”, Ed is almost instantly fascinated by Jill and her pleas to him to save her which allows her to quite easily manipulate him. In a key scene midway, Sally confronts an excited Ed who is planning their journey in the middle of the night, telling him that his dream for them is “just a fantasy”, a crucial turning point.
Jill is the woman with whom he can live his dream, telling him it doesn’t have to be a fantasy. Jill steps into his life as a hurricane of fiery hair, to contrast with this lighter colour dominated world. Knudsen’s performance is layered with possibility, both with what she represents for Ed and her own end goal. Has she hand-picked Ed to toy with and help gain access to the facility, or was he simply the first person she stumbled across as a viable person to help? Her story likenesses to Roy Batty come in spades, whether it’s her manipulate nature or contentedness with the use of violence to help her extend her life, as she’s due to be recalled. Striking visuals such as a trail of blood dripping from her eye garner Jill sympathy for what she has been driven to.
Writer Tony Grisoni (HBO series The Young Pope and the surreal Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) has crafted a story with great noir influence, and of classic crime capers, even name-dropping Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity. Whether Jill corrupts Ed with the promise of his fantasy come alive or whether Ed himself would always have made a choice like this (it seems even Sally is never quite sure if he would), Ed is quickly established as a daydreamer early in the story, with his eerie vision of Jill decaying in front of him as she discusses the inevitability of the end of everything. This contrasts with what Ed is consistently told and tells himself also, to “live in the moment”, to take situations as they come, yet Ed is miles away.
His conversations with Jill in the seedy bar see Ed wide-eyed and hopeful (the chemistry between Buscemi and Knudsen is wonderful). Together, they can fulfil each other’s hopes- Ed of a better life, and Jill simply of more of it. The heists that Ed finds himself in with Jill see him essentially fulfilling his fantasy of the seven seas and El Dorado on land, as he becomes the captain almost against Being Human’s Michael Socha’s band of oddly dressed pirates, gold teeth and all. It’s a humorous juxtaposition seeing his rough and tumble bandit leader talk so confidently about the process of storing the consciousnesses, but that just adds to the absurdity of the world and the situation. While there’s no reality altering in Crazy Diamond, there’s just as much real and un-real conflict here as in prior episodes. There is so much deceit and oppressiveness in this world (so much so that even the planting of potatoes is possibly “disrupting the economy”) that it’s no wonder Ed wants to run away.
It’s ironic that by episode close Ed crumbles on the crucial decision, instead attempting to assist the director of the facility who is revealed to be behind the consciousness buying, turning against the dream that has driven him thus far to betray the loyalty he claimed to have to the company, rather attempting to betray Jill. Appropriate then, that his hubris sees his own wife turn against him upon the revelation that Jill pitched the same fantasy to Sally, who as Crazy Diamond progresses becomes less trusting and more suspicious of Ed, with security guard Su helping guide her final choice (“us girls have to stick together!” Sally states, nicely foreshadowing the ending). As Sally and Jill stand triumphantly next to Ed on the boat as he pathetically pleads with them, he’s kicked off his own boat and floats to shore, when he clutches his coveted Syd Barrett LP and pretends to play it. It’s a suitably insane ending for a decidedly strange near-hour of television. Did Ed deserve what was coming for indulging in his dream, or was he just unfortunate and fall foul of circumstances that were beyond him?
Crazy Diamond is certainly the busiest, most tonally-mixed episode of Electric Dreams so far, with plenty at play during its duration. There’s a lot going on, which might come out looking muddled to some, but I appreciated Crazy Diamond even just for its surreal nature. A noir-injected future caper with a trio of superb central performances, it’s a solid reminder of this series’ uniqueness, wherever you stand on the quality so far.