Channel 4’s Electric Dreams
Season 1, Episode 8: “Autofac”
Directed by Peter Horton
Written by Travis Beacham
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Kill All Others” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Safe & Sound” – click here
We’re definitely in the future, because the US are putting Russia “on notice.” No Drumpf in the White House there, if so.
A woman named Emily Zabriskie (Juno Temple) heads to work, where she witnesses a rocket in the sky overhead. The thing hits the city nearby. It’s a dream; no. A memory, more like it.
A war left everything destroyed. Emily lives in a wasteland, though the Autofac factory keeps pumping out the consumer goods for people to keep buying. She and her friends Conrad (David Lyons) and Reverend Perine (Jay Paulson) try shooting down a drone bringing in boxes for the factory. When they do, they remove a component from it. Emily’s also partial to picking up literature, from magazines to Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges, and more. These are for the library which belongs to Avishai Hahn (Nick Eversman).
Emily and her friends are trying to hack into Autofac’s servers. They worry “deathbots” could come get them if things go wrong. Nevertheless, they initiate contact with the company, in order to try looting them further. This means they’ve got to get together with the rest of the community. They’re hoping, eventually, to shut down the Autofac. People are worried, believing that taking down a drone is just going to make the company mad.
“Man made the Autofac. Man must now unmake it.”
We see the various dynamics between people in their community. Conrad sort of leads people, providing that guiding voice for them to follow. Avi, the self-professed “gimpy librarian” and Emily are intimate together, it’s also clear that Conrad – whom the library calls a “revolutionary” – and Emily were intimate, in some sense, in the past. And the revolutionary doesn’t know about Emily’s new relationship, either. Quite complicated.
Not to mention they’re receiving a visit from an Autofac aircraft. It’s brought a representative of the company: Alice (Janelle Monáe). She’s a fully functional, human-looking “simulacrum.” She initiates a dialogue with them for the company. Conrad and Reverend Perine talk to her about the packages being sent for the past decade. They try telling Alice they don’t depend on Autofac, but she argues they out to try it out. Might start working better for them. Certainly that’s what you’d expect a drone, of any kind to say, right? This is all a Marxist struggle; Autofac holds total control over the means of production. Alice claims the company is worried for mankind, not wanting humans to destroy themselves.
This is when Conrad calls for Emily, who uses a stun gun on Alice. They’ve got the simulacrum back in their little makeshift lab. Emily plugs her into their system, attempting to “reprogram” Ms. Alice. Oh, my. This will get interesting, in possibly bad ways. Others are mad, they don’t want to have the simulacrum around, but Conrad insists things are getting worse, so they’ve got to whatever they can to try getting a leg up on the company. Plus, he plans on blowing up the Autofac.
They discover Alice has actual thought, she isn’t reproducing human behaviour she is actually producing human behaviour itself. Very eerie cybernetics. Eventually, Emily gets the bot online again, Alice talks to her wondering if she’s being altered. Alice doesn’t approve, though she can’t exactly do anything about it. Except lie there, and be reprogrammed.
After a while tinkering, Emily finds a way to reprogram Alice’s “inhibitive settings” and it looks like everything is fine. So she says, anyway. This means they’ve got to get ready to go, starting the next part of their plan. In the morning, they pack up and head out. Before Emily goes, Avi embraces her in front of everyone.
The crew heads in towards the Autofac, which is a massive industrial city of its own, drones flying in every direction with packages, et cetera. Their aircraft moves up in through the gates of the factory. Emily, Conrad, Rev, and Alice go inside where they’re about to take the next steps in their plans for revolution. Everybody has their own little job. They drop Rev on one floor where he heads along the coolant lines to his destination. A little later he’s decapitated by a guard drone.
On another floor, Conrad goes his way, as Alice and Emily take yet another ride to a lower floor. We also find out that Emily lied: she never reprogrammed the simulacrum human. And the personality the drone was given came from that of one Alice Fry, apparently; the original head of PR for Autofac. Eerie. The woman get to a part of one floor where there are all sorts of pods, this is where Emily finds her own “replacement.” There’s also the fact Conrad is a simulacrum already. They’ve been replaced. She is a simulacrum, too. Emily’s life is just a series of data.
Once humans were dying out after the war started, Autofac needed to replicate consumers. Because it isn’t life, no matter how realistic, unless humans are around to consume, consume, consume. A truly automated life.
“I feel human”
“You were made to, that was the whole point.”
However, as it turns out, Emily had figured things out earlier; way, way earlier. She hid a virus “in her own programming.” Years ahead of the other simulacrum. It was human love that kept her from revealing the truth, wanting to live as humans. She used Alice to get her inside the Autofac, to deploy the virus from there. We even discover Emily was modelled after the very woman who built the Autofac itself. Beautiful, staggering sci-fi irony.
We see, in the end, that Emily goes running back into Avi’s arms, back to her life. Will she live on happily?
Lord, this may be favourite episode of a series in the past couple years, honestly. An emotional, human, yet dystopian piece of work. Electric Dreams has been so worth the watch, episode after episode.
“Safe & Sound” is the next chapter.