Electric Dreams: 106 “Human Is” Review
Reviewed by Ryan Monty.
(This review continues spoilers. Read on if that doesn’t bother you!)
Six weeks have passed us by and we’ve reached the mid-way (or end? It’s a confusing one with four more episodes due next year!) point of Electric Dreams first series, and an episode that was highly anticipated from the reveal of the series and in the marketing for it, Human Is, shockingly adapted from the Phillip K. Dick story of the same name from 1955- although unlike some instalments such as Crazy Diamond where the bare minimum was carried over from the source, Human Is manages to be a fairly faithful crossover. Following our last helping of the fever-dream opening titles till 2018 (I haven’t given them a real mention yet- how spooky and inventive are they?!) we’re dropped into the ravaged Planet Terra in 2520, formerly Earth, where Bryan Cranston’s military officer Silas is receiving a commendation for a heroic mission.
The world of Terra is a dying one, choking in a wasteland of gases making the air toxic. To keep the surviving population alive, Silas is sent out to strip inhabited planet Rexor IV of “hydron”, vital to ensuring their survival. The locals are far from happy about this though, and each mission is one loaded with danger. Yet this story isn’t one focused on the struggles of mankind to stay alive, it’s one that stays true to the Electric Dreams dedication to telling emotionally fraught stories about such themes as transcendent love, the nature of our reality and what it means to be human- in the case of Human Is, centring around a cruel husband returning inexplicably a changed man to his wife.
After General Olin (Ser Davos himself Liam Cunningham) wraps up his award to Silas by praising his wife Vera (The Babadook’s Essie Davis), also a high-ranking official, Silas confronts Vera back in their home with a dashing of Cranston chilling intensity, cold eyes and all. He’s utterly disinterested in his wife, and as he leaves on a vital mission for resources, he completely disregards his wife’s goodbye. Vera gets so little satisfaction from their relationship that she must go to the bottom decks of humanity’s residence to a bizarre sex club, an S&M filled haven where she can indulge in the pleasure she can’t find anywhere else.
The mission to Rexor IV goes badly wrong and those on the mission are presumed dead, leaving Vera a widow. Despite her loveless marriage now seemingly at an end, she seems lacking agency in his absence, unable to process. She’s told that “Silas would want you to get it together” and to “do it for him”. While Silas had very little care for his wife, his apparent death imprints on her heavily, and feeling as if her life revolved around him, she feels untethered from herself. During her daily jogs she seems slightly more upbeat, but she cuts a lonely figure as she waters her plants and goes about her days.
It certainly doesn’t help that the living areas for the last vestiges of mankind are oppressive, even in the slightly more lavish quarters of Vera and other high-ranking officials. Director Francesca Gregorini (The Truth About Emanuel and episodes of Humans) captures the tight spaces superbly, with an abundance of close ups making simple tasks such as taking a lift seem like choking almost as much as the air would cause outside. The sets boast functionality over style in contrast to previous Electric Dreams instalments, filled with plentiful blues and greens, mostly grey. It’s not a great existence, and this helps amplify the trapped feeling for Vera both before and after Sila’s disappearance.
Silas does of course return, somehow- he’s undoubtedly a changed man however, in positive and negative ways. Cranston’s Silas character turns on a penny completely personality wise, possessing much kinder eyes and portraying an immediate attitude change within the things he does and the way he regards his wife, complimenting her hair and eager to hold hands, to touch. Vera is almost immediately suspicious of him, as she watches him skulking around, and making breakfast as he’s never done before, even somehow conjuring fresh strawberries in place of the utilitarian green blobs they usually eat. Just where Silas morality and personality truly stand is up for debate for some moments, especially a scene in which Vera takes a bath and he appears to be moving in to choke her, leaving his true intentions up in the air. But the important pressing point is that the positive personality changes he has undergone are enough for Vera, no matter who or what he is. He’s clearly never been like this around her before- attentive, caring and respectful.
The most vital scene forming the crux of their new relationship change is a scene of Silas and Vera making love, first regarding her with a sense of childlike awe rather than a man looking at his wife. He bursts into the room, unable to control himself after spying on her changing, and embraces her. As they make love, you get the sense that it doesn’t matter now for Vera in terms of Silas true self, even admitting afterward that she “can’t remember him ever touching her like that”. As the passionate yet foreboding score plays out over it (another memorable, haunting score filled with beauty from Cristobal Tapia de Veer following Crazy Diamond), it feels like a moment of discovery and wonder for them both- a new man discovering the passions of love, and a woman who hasn’t felt them in a long time.
The way their new relationship builds is crushing as Human Is reaches its devastating climax, as Silas faces first an interrogation then stands trial. The interrogation further gives Vera reason to forego care of his true nature, as he lovingly reminisces of their arranged meeting and how they fell in love. It’s a heart-breaking moment, the second time in which you feel Vera’s actions at episode end are justified. As we reach the trial her aide and friend Yaro (Grabbers’ Ruth Bradley) stabs her in the back by revealing all the things she had told her in confidence (although she was just doing right by the state, and Vera’s actions are reckless from the outside), and others grill Silas for the truth, yet Cranston sits there impressively motionless, not giving the game away.
Ultimately though, he sacrifices himself and his honour for the life of Vera, who would’ve gone down for treason otherwise, which gives Vera the final impetus to save him- because the Rexorians are meant to be a cruel species, incapable of sacrifice, kindness and love- the very qualities that make us human. Silas is a Rexor Metamorph- Vera knows it, the rest suspected it- but when he’s capable of such love and passion, which even her real human husband couldn’t supply, then what is the difference to Vera? She’s so desperate for companionship and true, deeper love on the cold and barren world she inhabits, that she’s willing to sacrifice her loyalty to the state and potentially plunge them into danger (after all, the new Silas may just be playing a long con.)
But we’ve been shown over the run time just how in need of hope and feeling Vera is, that she takes this chance of a better husband with both hands. Do we blame her? Silas wells up as Vera stands up for him- maybe she has made the exact right choice she needed. Jessica Mecklenburg (Stranger Things) has produced a script from PKD’s original story in Human Is that gives us the chance to question our most vital human qualities. If a supposedly savage creature can produce these qualities better than an arguably even more savage man, the definition of humanity is changed. In the final scene as Vera reveals that she knew his true nature, Silas finally reveals, but she doesn’t give a damn. She simply regards him with a look in her eyes that she must have never gave her husband in many years. For me, it’s the best closing shot of the series- two individuals who have both made sacrifices for true love.
Even the Wonderwall cover played out over the closing titles feels earned despite the ruination of the song- it has a natural fit to what we’ve just witnessed. Human Is shows us a story that despite being set in the distant future on an unfamiliar planet, there will always be a universal truth- that everyone just wants to be loved, no matter the nature of it. It’s a lovely bow on Electric Dreams’ themes, a series that is more than happy to give you all the tools to discuss, as well as reaching to some grand themes and stories. While your mileage may vary on the quality, for me so far, this series has been as ambitious and thought-provoking as you could want- and I think that any show or film that leaves you thinking over is one to be applauded. Roll on 2018!