Channel 4’s Electric Dreams
Season 1, Episode 5: “Real Life”
Directed by Jeffrey Reiner
Written by Ronald D. Moore
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Crazy Diamond” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode “Human Is” – click here
We meet Sarah (Anna Paquin), she’s a Chief of Police. She and Mario (Jacob Vargas) are out patrolling the city. They’re looking for someone who committed a massacre, a killer. She’s obviously obsessed with finding him. Everyone wants her to move on, saying it’s “in the past.” But she can’t just move on, not when she constantly goes back to the day of the massacre, waiting to be next.
Her partner introduces her to a new fad, something beyond simulation. A virtual experience that convinces you it’s real. You have a new life, a new self, drawn out of your “own subconscious.” She agrees to go for it, only a few hours to test things out. A vacation from oneself.
Sarah wakes up in the mind of a man named George (Terrence Howard). He’s disoriented, in some place with a man he knows named Chris (Sam Witwer). Then there are men with guns, taking them to see a few rough cats. Seems George hasn’t done something these lads want him to do.
But George and Chris, they aren’t going down without a fight. Their target gets away, though. His name? Colin. Same as the killer Sarah’s been chasing. The two men get away. George is having trouble with reality, things are a bit “fuzzy” and he can’t even drive.
They go to see Paula (Lara Pulver), she checks George out, advising to stay awake in case of concussion and steer clear of any booze, or drugs. He’s slowly feeling better, remembering reality. Yet behind his eyes is a whole other thing going on. He can remember bits and pieces, not everything. Not right away. It comes back to him. He runs Avacom, he’s a billionaire, a visionary sort of software designer.
He designs helmets for those vacation simulations. The “neuronic pulse maps” of the helmet are specific to each person. He puts one on. Afterwards, we’re back with Sarah, lying in bed. She wakes up and now it’s her turn to feel disoriented. Food doesn’t exactly taste right. She’s distracted, still partly on vacation.
Sarah and Mario get a lead about Colin and his associates, some still may be in the city. They head to an old building, creeping in to spy on several men meeting inside. There’s mention of “nuking City Hall.” Sarah gets caught by one of the men, they take her down.
And elsewhere, George falls to one knee. He shakes it off, then heads upstairs. He’s being questioned about seeming like a “real life Bruce Wayne.” In three months, he’s been doing some vigilantism. His wife was murdered the video of which went viral. Devastating. Soon, George vomits from the memories. His memory centres are all fucked up in general. Wonder why?
Oh, and George’s wife Katie (Rachelle Lefevre), she’s the same woman we’ve already seen as Sarah’s partner. Is it dissonance in his mind? Or is this other reality genuine? Are there two Katies? Paula advises him not to do any more of the VR, it could irreparably harm his brain, not in just a mental capacity, a physical one, too.
He chooses not to listen. Back to Sarah, waking to Katie and Mario. They’ve won: caught Colin. Things are all okay. The wives go home together, have sex, get back to normal life. Sarah tells her wife about the vacation, that her wife was killed, she was searching for the man who got away. Katie finds it all a bit strange. Too many eerie parallels. Sarah wonders if it’s all an “ancient male fantasy” out of the sci-fi genre.
Is her life real? Or is it a simulation?
“Please stop saying both worlds. There‘s only one world, Sarah.”
Back to George’s life. He and Chris go to their usual diner, sitting for a chat. Chris tells him that Colin’s left the country. The diner’s a mirror of where Sarah and Mario sat, the same music, the same people, the same food. Everything’s too familiar.
At home, Paula finds George is getting worse. She doesn’t want him going back into the VR world again. He’s detached now, seeing himself fully as Sarah, wanting to go home, seeing Paula and everything around him as fantasy. She tells George his brain will be ruined. However, he believes he’s only in the real world as Sarah. He has memories, though. About his history with Paula; they had an affair when his wife was taken. He experiences genuine reminiscence, of a past.
Ultimately, what will he choose? He smashes the headset.
But on the outside looking in, Katie watches as Sarah’s neural pathways shut down, she disappears into the simulation as George. She is the real one, not him. She chose a punishment over happiness; “for her sins, real and imagined,” Katie says.
Amazing. Now my favourite episode of the series, thus far. Terrence Howard and Anna Paquin were both great. The story itself was so compelling, really enjoyed it. Love the whole concept of simulation, Jean Baudrillard’s theories on simulacra, so on. Very well expressed here.
“Human Is” comes