Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams “The Hood-Maker”: Madden Takes a Holliday
Telepathy is one of those really tricky super-powers. Yeah, it’s cool to be able to read minds but if you can’t shut it off, there’s a sure path to insanity. Furthermore, as explored by various sci-fi and fantasy platforms, human thought isn’t a picture book with linear narrative, it’s a jumble of images and sensations.
One would imagine telepaths, if they were ever to emerge as a defined population, to be a powerful ally at all levels of governance and law enforcement so when they are presented as a subjugated and ghetto-ized group in “The Hood-Maker” it bears asking,”Why?”
One of the major themes in Philip K. Dick’s work was that of freedom of thought and surveillance. Framing telepaths, known derogatorily as “Teeps”, as a visibly differentiated and distrusted people seems to indicate that this government is one held on a tighter rein of transparency by the public. Either that or the government fears them enough to keep them away from positions of power.
The telepaths here have distinctive facial markings no matter what the pigment of their skin. Easily recognizable, they are reviled by the non-telepathic population but, with some new legislation enacted, some of them are being integrated into government agencies as consultants. As a pilot project, Honor (Holliday Grainger, The Borgias) is partnered with Agent Ross (Richard Madden, Game of Thrones) to help read for potential threats in protest gatherings.
While on the job, a protestor in a strange hood-mask manages to throw a lit homemade grenade at the police on site. Honor had no indication it was about to happen but Agent Ross is able to run the bomber down, unmask him, and arrest him.
In interrogation, Honor is able to pick apart the brain of the bomber, Rathbone (Tom Mothersdale, Peaky Blinders), right down to his incestuous feelings for his mother. When he tries to subvert her reading by chanting,”The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog,” over and over again, she is able to telepathically force him into chanting her version of the phrase. Ross seems moderately impressed.
Being paired with a Teep puts a target on Ross’ back among his police colleagues. He steps up to the task, making it clear that Honor is a valued asset and everyone else who isn’t willing to treat her that way can just shove off. Honor appreciated the solidarity, promising him that she would never read him.
Another Teep ability is the “Grapevine”, a telepathic connection to every other Teep. A double-edged sword, they are able to share information at the speed of thought but they all suffer through each others’ nightmares as well. It is a horrifying concept but not an uncommon one in telepath lore. Even Star Trek: Voyager explored the concept of “contagious ideas” in their episode “Random Thoughts”.
An even grimmer prospect is how Teep prostitutes are used by their clients. The most sadistic of them pay the Teep to read them while they imagine their most deprived fantasies in detail. One of Honor’s friends, Mary (Anneika Rose, Ackley Bridge) has a regular client who routinely rapes her in his mind during their sessions. Mary’s trauma is shared by all the other telepaths in the hostel when she falls asleep at night.
Using information gleaned from Rathbone’s interrogation, the agents track down the headquarters of his anti-Teep hate group and find more hoods. When Honor tries to read an attacker wearing a hood, she suffers a psychic shock. Ross shoots the man and removes his hood to arrest him.
While waiting for Ross to finish with the raid arrests, Honor tries on the hood and the constant buzz and chatter in her head suddenly ceases. Ross calls for her and she quickly removes the hood. The chatter comes back.
The hoods begin to crop up in the population, distributed by the mysterious “Hood-Maker”. As the hoods block telepathic reading, the telepaths are concerned because they are now vulnerable to physical attacks since they can’t sense their attackers’ thoughts on approach anymore.
It turns out that some of the distrust held by the general populace for the telepaths is warranted as the hoods prove a catalyst for a percolating Teep uprising. Mary is one of the movement’s leaders and warns Honor telepathically not to betray them to Ross.
With the telepath hostel shut down, Ross takes Honor home with him to keep her safe. While there, he offers to let her read him so that they can remove any further distrust between them. Although she refuses to read him, they do end up having sex and when she brushes his sleeping mind, she shares in a lovely memory he has of fishing with his father.
While in hiding, they manage to figure out where the Hood-Maker is manufacturing his hoods. Although Ross insists she stay behind, Mary follows him to the book repository where he finds Dr. Cutter (Richard McCabe, Poldark) who seems almost pleased to be found out.
Dr. Cutter praises Ross as being the next stage in the fight against the Teeps but when Honor tries to read him to find out why, he alerts Ross to her presence. She demands to know what Cutter means and Ross admits that he is special in that he is “unreadable”, that the fishing memory she read is actually a psychic barrier to all telepaths, including her, one that he was trained to erect.
By this time, Honor has alerted the other telepaths, led by Mary, to Cutter’s location and they arrive en masse to kill the doctor and destroy his hoods. There is a back exit but Honor, feeling betrayed by Ross secret, closes the door and refuses to let him through until he actually lets her read him.
Begging her forgiveness, he lets her in and she discovers that his actual assignment was to get close to her and use her to discover the telepaths agenda for uprising. He is told to use any means necessary and in his memory, she hears him boast to his supervisor that he’ll have Honor eating out of his hand in no time.
Heart-broken by this revelation, Honor stands crying on her side of the door as Ross insists that everything is different now and that he loves her and she needs to trust him. He promises that they will escape this city if she’ll only trust him. She never replies.
Visually, this episode had a very distinct style to its look and feel. Dark and moody, there’s a grit and wear to the environment that lends a heavy tone to the action. There is no shine anywhere and the telepaths live in squalor and poverty while the Normals they interact with exhibit unflattering levels of prejudice and hatred.
This is an adaptation that feels like it truly deserves a feature-length treatment. There’s a real depth to the world-building and the central conflict between telepaths and Normals is a meaty one. The concept of the uprising needs more time to foreshadow and detail the foundation of the situation.
Meanwhile, the Hood-Maker mystery and reveal felt much more like a blip in a grander tale. Dr. Cutter’s part in the development of the telepathic population needed to be better explained than time allowed for.
Ross’ ability to block telepaths is convenient but mostly unexplained so the core element of his betrayal seemed contrived.
Finally, I think that allowing the camera to just pan away from Honor while Ross pleaded with her was mostly the creators having no real idea how to wrap that up.
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