Based on PKD’s 1953 paranoia tale ‘The Hanging Stranger’, Kill All Others really sticks with you. At first, I thought it was weird, but the message is a powerful one that lingers and couldn’t be more relevant in the days of MAGA caps and shock-and-awe politics.
You’ll probably realise pretty quick that writer and director Dee Rees wrote this episode in the midst of the US election in 2016. She’s taken bits and pieces from the original but made it her own. After all, the original was pretty weird. It follows a man who finds a body hanging from a lamppost. No one around him finds it strange. He soon discovers that the town has been taken over by insectoid aliens and the body was bait to find out who their brainwashing had missed. He runs away, finds some police, they turn out to be insects and he becomes the bait, the hanging stranger in the next town over.
In this updated version, the insects are gone but the brainwashing remains. And it’s a brainwashing we’re all guilty of – mindlessly giving our data to faceless corporations and allowing invasive ads into our lives. It’s the same with the politics. The election in this world is a farce, the debates resembling reality TV (so far, so Trump). The people are so disengaged with it all, they don’t even bat an eyelid when one candidate says they should “Kill all others”.
Except for our protagonist Philbert Noyce (an updated version of ‘Ed Loyce’ from the original story). Played by Mel Rodriguez, Philbert falls into the same trap as Ed. Most people ignore the call to “kill all others” but Ed kicks up a fuss – drawing himself out as someone who’s not fallen into line. This eventually leads to tragedy, like the original. What sells it is the really relatable performance by Rodriguez. His utter confusion and exasperation at being the only sane one left is absolutely convincing. If you’ve ever been at a party on in an office with people who all have opposing political views to you, you’ll latch onto Philbert in an instant. And when a bewildered nation watched Trump take office, this is likely to relate to a whole of people. And speaking of performances, Vera Farmiga can do no wrong in my eyes. So having her as ‘The Candidate’ can’t hurt.
It’s themes of the government and corporations brainwashing us aren’t subtle, but it’s call to wake up and see through the lies is a powerful one. ‘Kill All Others’ is the most outright political episode of Electric Dreams. And I think that’s the sort of sci-fi story Philip K. Dick would be proud of.
‘Kill All Others’ is excellent, I reckon. It’s powerful and sticks with you. It’s also important. We all like to think we’re Philbert, that we’re the others that can see through the lies. Or maybe we’re the rest, the people who blindly accept the prying and the lies. Though if recent news is to be suggested, the tide is turning and people are waking up to the idea that maybe politicians and faceless corporations aren’t always doing things in our best interests. Hopefully things continue this way, lest we end up like Philbert.
Reviewed by Jack