Electric Dreams: 110 “Kill All Others” Review
Reviewed by Ryan Monty.
(This review continues spoilers. Read on if that doesn’t bother you!)
Nine Electric Dreams later, we’ve reached the final episode of this series of stories inspired and adapted from the work of Phillip K. Dick. Opinion has been divided regarding the quality of our first batch of stories (series producer Michael Dinner pitched the series stating he wanted to adapt all 120 short PKD stories, so it could be some run!) with some giving glowing warmth towards it and others reacting more tepidly. However you’ve found the season, Kill All Others is our last hurrah, one of the only episodes both UK and US viewers saw in the same order, the very end. And, like last week, this is another timely tale, one centring around the dangers of political apathy.
Rounding off the season, Kill All Others is adapted from the 1953 PKD story The Hanging Stranger, but the plotline of that story involving an alien invasion is replaced and streamlined, retaining the key themes of the source material. Written and directed by the brilliant Dee Rees (Pariah, Bessie and Mudbound), Kill All Others drops us into 2054’s sleek, decidedly futuristic world, where our protagonist Philbert Noyce (Last Man on Earth and Better Call Saul’s Mel Rodriguez with a superb empathetic performance) is a man not made for this time, where invasive hologram ads jump out in front of you even when washing.
Philbert is more of a traditionalist (or manualist, as his boss describes, even refusing a self-driving car in favour of public transport), which makes him a target for a society where the US two-party system has regressed into a one party system, a sole “Candidate” played by a wonderfully villainous Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel and Up in the Air) who remains from a “cull” of people who were in the running. Wrong-think is a cardinal sin in the mega-nation of Mex-Us-Can. Phil works at an (almost) fully automated factory, where he and a couple of others remain on hand to keep the place running. It’s one of a plethora of stirring images Rees conjures up, the huge interior of the factory almost seeming comical when staffed by so few- yet, a very real possibility sooner than we think, as industry automation will only become more commonplace.
Kill All Others plays out gradually in assured fashion, towed along by the lingering direction by Rees to help paint a picture of the madness only Phil sees, and the pulsing soundtrack by Battlestar Galactica composer Bear McCreary, relying on a key theme, induces a paranoia inducing effect. There’s a handful of dry comedy running through it as well, with the cut to Phil explaining his wife is cheating with one of the hunky holograms.
Everything in this world is designed to placate and distract the populace, a population so disconnected on the main from politics that easy distractions are more important. “When’s the last time you bought something?” ask Phil’s co-workers after he tells of his concerns following the Candidate’s address, where she gives the shocking suggestion to “kill all others”, and it seems Phil is the only one who noticed- or cares. The politicians in this world speak purely in platitudes with little sincere promises (sound familiar?) and buying useless items for distraction is the way most are coping. It’s bleak, to say the least.
Phil’s two co-workers Lenny (Mudbound’s Jason Mitchell) and Ed (Bloodline’s Glenn Morshower)- who only really speak because there’s nothing else they can do- encourage Phil to not “take the political stuff so serious”, that it doesn’t mean anything because they “know it isn’t real” and it’s simply “entertainment”. To just go and have some fun. Such is the political disengagement of this world, which is rather frightening given how upsettingly close it veers to the mindset of many jaded at the political climate, happy to bury their head in the sand. In this world, that includes the holograms- you buy the product they sell, and they’ll get “intimate” with you. Both Phil and his wife Maggie (Big Little Lie’s Sarah Baker) indulge in it, their relationship falling into the doldrums.
The parallel of the “Others” of the episode title and the real-world counterpart is about as subtle as last week, but the way it is played out feels more satisfying and horrifying in equal measure, given how skin-crawlingly accurate it feels to reality, where constant waves of upsetting politics are often met with “accept it and move on”, such is the lack of political actions ability to shock anymore. In the world of Kill All Others, the Candidate is plainly broadcasting hate speech, and attempting to normalise violence against the mythical “Other”, yet the protests of Phil are met with “don’t get too political”.
It speaks to how dangerous groupthink can be in politics, and how rash bullheadedness will only lead to disillusion and great hurt. Phil tries to contest the judging of people for no reason and how unfair that is, even defending one of those seen as part of the “Others” from an assault, but it immediately casts more suspicion that Phil is one of them. After all, the TV said they’re the others, and we must kill them. “They know they’re others” Lenny tells Phil. Truthfully; he and Ed represent the two sides of belief and disbelief here- Ed simply doesn’t believe Phil is “one of them” while Lenny is fully ready to be against him, to cast Phil out.
If there’s one message of Kill All Others that stands above the others, it’s that it is a losing game to be involved in a hivemind and shelter yourself from uncomfortable truths, lest the government exact complete control over you. Kill All Others shines as it wraps up, Phil driven to pariah status, on the run and graffiti defaming him scribbled on walls.
Phil’s story ends the only way it could, driven to such paranoia by the blindness of society that he acts in awful ways (including striking his wife for fear of her being against him, incredibly out of character), falling to his death from the billboard he scales, finding himself replacing the very hanging body it features, becoming the hanging stranger of this story- the stranger to this society and its accepted groupthink. Made an example of by the Candidate to further the kill all others “programme” to a chorus of meh from those watching. Moving on with their lives. This society can, and will, make anyone they want into “Others” and the response from the public will be zero, dissenting voices silenced.