Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams “Kill All Others”: It’s Not All Cheese and Circuses
Totalitarian regimes are a frightening concept but the proposition that when they achieve such control that the mass populace buys into its “new normal” is even more chilling.
Initially, “Kill All Others” plays out with some levity built into its hyperbole. A world where advertisements are so invasive, they can startle you in the bathroom or cuddle with your wife on the couch. An automotive factory tech who takes public transit to work and is only one of three employees in the entire factory. An election with only one candidate. Seriously. It feels like someone’s having a laugh. And then it gets DARK.
Philbert Noyce (Mel Rodriguez, The Last Man On Earth) works and lives as a bit of an anachronism. He finds the life-sized holographic advertisements in his home annoying. He refuses to buy a self-driving car despite the unreliability of public transit. He doesn’t find joy in consumerism or cheese marketing porn.
In a not-so-distant future where all the countries of North America have become the mega-nation of Mex-Us-Can, when the election process is criticized because there is only The Candidate (Vera Farmiga, Bates Motel) running, the response is a dead-pan,”The outcome doesn’t matter. What matters is the process.” Philbert acknowledges that the critic has a point, indicating he thinks differently than most.
Philbert certainly isn’t anyone’s visual idea of a revolutionary. He and his coffee-obsessed wife, Maggie (Sarah Baker, Go On) live a comfortable life with seemingly comfortable jobs. He confides his dissatisfactions to his two co-workers who direct him to seek solace in the sexy cheese ad lady who promotes her product by flashing some thigh. It’s implied that she shows more if you buy more cheese.
When The Candidate promotes an agenda on an international television broadcast that includes the mandate to “Kill All Others,” Phil takes notice and begins to question the system and voice his opposition to the wrong-headedness of his fellow citizens.
There are a number of moments in “Kill All Others” where there is a keen sense of free fall in Phil’s moral protest. His political views concern his co-workers and draw attention from others. When he pulls the emergency stop cord on his commuter train in order to get a better look at a K.A.O. billboard, he causes a derailment and has to spend some quality time with a “Peace Sergeant.”
Banned from riding the commuter train, Maggie has to drive him around until a self-driving vehicle can be provided. On their way to work, he sees his neighbors chasing down a frightened woman who is bleeding from the head. He intervenes and is accused of being an Other like the mob’s victim. This lands him back in the Peace Sergeant’s office.
When he gets back to work finally, he is given a tracking bracelet that will be monitoring his physical readings ostensibly for health reasons. His co-workers have been warned that they cannot talk with him anymore on the job. On their break, he points out the newest “KILL ALL OTHERS” billboard that has a body hanging by a noose. Ed (Glenn Morshower, Supergirl) insists the body must be a prop dummy. Like THAT’s the problem Phil is concerned about.
His actions become more and more subversive but the government’s surveillance always seems to be a step ahead of him. He grows desperate to spread the truth, to convince the public of the problems he is seeing, needing to cause something sensational enough to break through the incredible disinterest of his society.
In his downward sanity spiral, he begins to behave out of character, driven by a growing paranoia. Until he actually hits Maggie in a moment of frenzy because he thinks she’s turned on him, I found it all quite believable. Him hitting her seemed contrived, a moment of violence towards the person who means the most to him.
The climax takes places that the hanging body billboard where he wants to show the world that the body is real. What’s truly tragic here is that I’m pretty sure most people realize it is a real body but just don’t care. They believe in the evil of the Other and as The Candidate says repeatedly, if you aren’t an Other, then you are perfectly safe.
As Phil’s final moments play out on a live news broadcast, his co-workers watch from Lenny’s (Jason Mitchell, Freedom Fighters: the Ray) basement. While Lenny wonders aloud that they never suspected Phil was an Other, Ed states that Phil is not an Other but doesn’t really seem worked up over his death either.
The world moves on without a ripple after Phil’s demise. The only real change is that the unknown body on the billboard has been replaced by Phil. And no one seems bothered by this.
As the series isn’t actually serial in nature, it’s interesting that Amazon Prime chose to number “Kill All Others” as its finale since this purposefully ends the “season” on a specific and pronounced downbeat. This compares to the UK’s Channel Four airing “The Father Thing” as its finale which, arguably, has the most upbeat ending of the ten.
This episode (like the short story “The Hanging Stranger” that it is based on) makes no attempt to be anything but a political commentary and societal reprimand. Phil tells Ed and Lenny that it was his father, a union activist, who taught him to “see clearly.” And, although the unions are the reason the three of them have their jobs, there is little indication that they have any active role any more.
The sense we are left with is that Phil’s story isn’t unique. There will be others who will recognize the sinister absurdity of the system, others who “see clearly.” But some, like Ed, will let it slide in the interests of self-interest. Others will take Phil’s path and most likely die for it. It’s a bleak prospect, all the more so for how potentially prophetic it is nowadays.
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