Channel 4’s Electric Dreams
Season 1, Episode 9: “Safe & Sound”
Directed by Alan Taylor
Written by Kalen Egan & Travis Sentell
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Autofac” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Father Thing” – click here
Driving along the road, Irene Lee (Maura Tierney) and her daughter Foster (Annalise Basso) are stopped by some military men. Mom is put into handcuffs, questioned. She says they have a “year–long Eastern pass.” Soon, she’s let go again, and the mother-daughter duo are on their way once more.
“Fake nature really offsets the brutalism”
In the big city, they adjust to things for their year trip. Foster’s checking into school and doesn’t have a “Dex” – like a tracking smartwatch. So, she and others like her are sent through a security checkpoint. She’s fitted with a red armband, told to keep it visible. The school is in a “safe–zone.”
Through the halls we see there’s discrimination against those who wear the armbands. Foster has to introduce herself to her class later, showing them where she came from before she and her mother got there from “the Other Side.” Lots of people think those from the Other side are terrorists. Students aren’t overly thrilled that Foster doesn’t have a Dex, some think she’s a risk. Worse, she can’t even do many of her lessons because they’re linked to the Dex. That is the way they get you, they start introducing technology you NEED, not technology you WANT; an important distinction in the privatisation and capitalist intent of technology, a mix of capitalism and authoritarianism.
At school, Foster makes a friend named Kaveh (Algee Smith), he helps her order a Dex for herself when her mother makes obvious she won’t be buying one. Mom’s against all the technology, the Big Brother, 1984-style manipulation of this city in which they live. Once the Dex comes, Foster immediately puts it on happily, along with some of “hear gel” to help the technology access her mind. Takes a bit of getting used to, so she has to call customer service and a man on the other end helps her navigate the Dex.
In school, Foster and the class go through very important stuff, such as how to “identify the enemy,” terrorists amongst them. But what if a terrorist doesn’t know they’re a terrorist? Preventative measures to help those who suffer from terrorist mind control. After class, a girl named Kim (Emily Rudd) informs Foster she has a problem with Kaveh. He’s been telling everyone she led him on. Oh, and men in the city? They’re “on steriles.” Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, is safe and sound in this city. When Foster tries to remedy the situation, she’s embarrassed by the guy in front of everybody, and y’know, nothing’s hidden in this world of surveillance.
She rushes to the bathroom. Her vitals spike, and the guy from customer service put an alert on to make sure she was okay; he accidentally reveals his name is Ethan (Connor Paolo), and that he’s going to try helping her out. Nice guy, right? Hmm. We’ll see. Not sure I feel so good about this, whatsoever. In other news, there’s a terrorist attack being reported. At home, Irene is constantly engaged in the socioeconomic and political struggles going on across the country. And Ethan calls Foster that evening, telling her about Kaveh taking off his Dex at a certain time every day. This leads Ethan to find a bunch of other kids doing the same thing, the same time. Could this be a terrorist plot? The customer service agent asks Foster if she’ll follow Kaveh, to find out what’s happening. In addition, it’ll solve her problems, too.
When Kaveh goes offline next, there is Foster to follow not far behind. Something else emerges. We see that others don’t have the hear gel like Foster, it’s a new model; someone sees the girl talking to herself. Foster worries a moment, knowing her father talked to himself. Uh oh, that seems like ominous foreshadowing. Or perhaps a red herring.
Ethan has Foster follow a different girl, one who isn’t Dexed – Milena (Alice Lee), one of the girls she’d met on her first day. The two girls wind up talking after they run into each other. They go for a walk through a real library, one that isn’t digital like everything else there. Foster gradually starts trying to dig into questions about Kaveh; Milena lies about hooking up with the guy. All of a sudden, Foster’s bleeding, she supposedly cut her hand. Milena makes some tea for them and they sit, chatting more. After Foster has a sip of the tea, Ethan tells her to “purge,” that it could’ve been poisoned. She runs to the bathroom throwing up.
She’s in there so long her mom turns up. Irene is worried for her daughter, believing she’s had a mental breakdown. This is the moment she finds out Foster has a Dex. Everything’s really crumbling, between their relationship and the daughter’s mental state. It’s not good. Mom forces her daughter to remove the Dex, tossing it from the window.
Foster goes back to school, sans-Dex. That day, there is an alarm – a drill, or no? Everybody goes to the “safe room,” whereas those who have no Dex will be rounded up and detained until everything’s safe. From nowhere, Ethan tells Foster to run; but how? He tells her to get into the sun, trying to guide her out of the building. He warns there’s an attack, she’s being involved without ever knowing. She’s able to make it outside soon, and Ethan makes her lie in the grass, using ant antennae to boost the signal to him. Foster’s worrying that her brain is utterly falling to pieces. Nevertheless, the customer service agent keeps warning of “radical Western terrorists.” Ah, this is a timely episode, a completely divided America into East and West. Of course it’s made out to seem that Foster is one of those terrorists who does not yet know she is, indeed, a terrorist.
Finally, Ethan tells her she has to be seen ready to commit a terrorist act before all can be set right, that it’s part of a grander plan. God, this is becoming exponentially disturbing.
“You are trading independence for security that you don‘t need”
At home, mom gives her daughter back the Dex, wanting to allow her independent thought and to be an adult on her own. Another step in a bad direction. Although Foster says she won’t wear it, given all the upcoming plans of Ethan, maybe.
When Foster goes to school she causes a commotion at security, then she’s cuffed. In the sky is a message thanking her. A media release condemns the terrorist as a “low radical” from a “bubble community” outside the city: it’s made out that Irene abused her daughter into attempting a suicide bombing. Just helps them crack down, bring in new technology, more surveillance. Everybody sees Foster as a hero, she is prompted what to say, she is part of the agenda. Assimilated into the Big Brother government of the city, another corporate, capitalist drone. The entire thing has been orchestrated from day one by Odin (Martin Donovan), who runs the city; his name is perfectly fitting, given the whole one eye, a perfect image. One, big, long, and sinister plan.
What’s incredibly interesting is the interaction between mental health and technology in this story. Something we don’t see enough of, yet. It’ll become more prevalent as the links between social media and mental health/other technologies v. mental illness become clearer. On top of that, there’s a broader statement about how we view terrorist, surveillance and technology, among other related issues. Amazing episode, truly inspired, as well as timely.
The final episode of the Season 1, “Father Thing” comes next.