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Recap / Philip K Dicks Electric Dreams S 1 E 2 Impossible Planet

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"Of course, you're going to tell me that things have changed, that Earth back then is not Earth today or some such thing, but... If my life has taught me anything, Mr. Norton, it is that some places want to change, and some places don't want to change. And I think I know which one Elk River is."

"We're ripping off an old lady so you can go on a holiday, and so I can move somewhere I don't actually wanna go."
"We're not ripping anyone off. We're weaving dreams. We're artists, me and you."
"Con artists."
"What other type is there?"

Brian Norton is a young tour guide working for a company called Astral Dreams, taking wide-eyed travelers to see the natural wonders of the universe on the starship Dreamweaver. Unfortunately it's not as glamorous as it sounds — a lot of shuttling back and forth between highly-trafficked tourist traps, blatantly cheating to give his passengers their money's worth by using "visual enhancements" on the display windows to make supernovas more spectacular than they really are.

His colleague Andrews, who works in tech support, is happy to make a living fleecing the rubes so he can get drunk and watch porn in his off hours, but Norton wants something more. Not helping is his girlfriend Barbara back home, who keeps ramping up the pressure on him to graduate from his entry-level job for something more lucrative and secure.


Then one day a dotty old lady by the name of Irma Gordon shows up at the Astral Dreams office, accompanied only by her robot servant, seemingly out of touch with reality — unable to operate the automated ticket kiosk or to understand that she's arrived after normal business hours. It only gets worse when she reveals she's come to book a ticket to Earth, a planet that, according to Andrews, everyone knows no longer exists.

Then the robot reveals that Ms. Gordon is, in fact, so out of touch that she can't use electronic banking, and instead has brought with her her entire life savings, in cash...

  • Abled in the Adaptation: Partially. Mrs. Gordon in the original story is completely deaf and can only communicate with Andrews and Norton through writing or through her robot. In this version Irma is only hearing-impaired, claiming she can "hear some people (Norton) better than others", and can communicate more or less normally with the aid of an assistive device.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending:
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Geraldine Chaplin as Irma Gordon is far more beautiful (even for her age) than Mrs. Gordon was implied to be. Ends up Promoted to Love Interest for Norton.
  • Adaptational Heroism: In the original story, Norton was Captain Andrews' subordinate who expressed disgust at the idea of conning an old woman. Here, Norton is "promoted" (or Andrews demoted) so that they're equally ranked employees of a larger corporation, and Norton, rather than Andrews, becomes the viewpoint character/protagonist. He also goes beyond simple discomfort with Andrews' idea for a con to actively sacrificing his life out of his irrational sympathy with Irma's Tragic Dream.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Arguably, Andrews, who in Dick's original represented the cynicism of the modern era but wasn't as blatant about it as he is here.
  • Adaptational Job Change: In the original story Andrews was the captain of an independent vessel. Here Andrews and Norton are both low-level employees of a corporation. (Notably nobody ever addresses Andrews or Norton as "Captain".)
  • Adaptation Name Change: Minor example. The surnames all stay the same (despite Andrews' Race Lift), but in the original story the old lady was a widow named "Mrs. Gordon". In this story no mention is made of whether Irma was ever married, but it is a significant plot point that she inherited the surname "Gordon" from her grandfather.
  • After the End: A full Apocalypse How Class X. Some sort of solar event caused an Earth-Shattering Kaboom — far enough in the past that most humans don't seem to even care, and Earth's solar system is just known by its serial number "2483B65". The database entry for Earth clearly tells us there's no planet there even left to fly to, just vapor, necessitating the Emphor III con.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: "Do you ever dream of me, Barbara?"
  • Artistic License – Astronomy:
  • Big "WHAT?!": Andrews' reaction, shouted at RB29, when he realizes Brian and Irma have run out of oxygen and died. Possibly also a Defensive "What?", given that the whole situation spiraled out from his own moneymaking scheme.
  • Blatant Lies: When Irma sees Brian pull out two spacesuits right after Andrews said there weren't any, Brian just smiles and says "Mr. Andrews doesn't know everything." Turns out Andrews knew perfectly well those spacesuits existed, and knew they weren't safe for any excursion longer than making emergency repairs.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: Getting his hands on this from Irma's robot is Andrews' entire motivation.
  • The Caretaker: RB29 is this for Irma.
  • Comically Small Bribe: Andrews initially tries to get rid of Irma with a coupon for a free cocktail at the hotel, while effusively praising his own generosity.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: We learn very little about Linus Primo himself, but Andrews appears to believe he got where he is just by "picking a few pockets" (although see below).
  • The Cynic: Andrews has an extremely dim view of everyone he meets, humanity in general and especially the tourism industry he works in.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Andrews, constantly.
  • Death World: The real Emphor III. Even from within the safety of the Dreamweaver Andrews claims he can feel the planet's hostility to life.
  • Earth That Was: A highly cynical example. Earth was destroyed long ago, the only information about it that remains is one paragraph in a database, and the only person in the universe who seems to care is Irma.
  • Egopolis: Primo Central.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Brian Norton waxing lyrical in his tour guide narration about the beauty of the nebula while quietly loading up a graphical enhancement when it doesn't show up with the desired vividness. Andrews blowing off his job to watch porn.
  • Fake-Real Turn: Something like this happens with Norton, where the initial idea to do the bare minimum to keep their con intact — a quick flyby of Emphor III — turns into a quixotic desire to get as close to fulfilling Irma's Tragic Dream as possible, until he's willing to risk death to make it happen.
  • Fantastic Romance
  • Flatline: The onboard monitor for the spacesuits' O2 levels makes this sound when they drop to zero.
  • From a Certain Point of View: RB29's justification for lying to Irma. Interestingly, once confronted with the sheer bleakness of the real Emphor III, Andrews spits at this idea, even though he was using it as a justification to Norton the day before.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: RB29's eyes light up when he realizes he and Irma have been lied to.
  • Grumpy Bear: Andrews. Norton, too, but not to the same degree — he's still willing to admit he finds some of the tourist attractions they fly past "pretty".
  • Henpecked Husband: He hasn't married her yet — he can't, until he gets that promotion he's been promising her — but this is Brian and his girlfriend Barbara to a T.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: Andrews doesn't seem like much of a hero at first, but he happily admits to being "trash" compared to Norton and hopes that Irma's money will help him finally achieve his dreams. When it looks like Norton is going to die from asphyxiation he screams that he'd be happy to steal his share of the money and leave in a desperate attempt to get him to come back.
  • Hollywood Hacking: RB29 is able to break the security on the Dreamweaver flight computer seemingly without effort.
  • Identical Grandson: Played with. Brian looks exactly like Irma's grandfather, Bill Gordon — but, as far as we know, they're not biologically related, though he may be his reincarnation. And in the ending, Irma physically becomes her own grandmother.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Andrews' con might seem to be vile exploitation of Irma's naivety, but as he argues to RB29, this is the only way that Irma can possibly achieve her dying wish.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Andrews. He's a slob, a drunk, a porn addict, casually rude to everyone he meets and seems to have no qualms about cruelly ripping off an old lady. But he seems to genuinely care about his coworker Brian and to be in extreme distress when it looks like Brian and Irma are about to die of asphyxiation.
  • Last Request: Irma's desire to see Elk River, Carolina, before she dies in two months of her heart condition.
  • Let Them Die Happy: RB29's motivation throughout the episode. Eventually Norton's as well.
  • Long-Lived: Thanks to advances in medical technology, Irma's grandmother lived to 279 before she died, and Irma herself is now 342.
  • Lost Common Knowledge:
    • Irma's initial monologue requires her to explain concepts like what oak trees are, and RB29 apparently can't help her put on her dress because physical fasteners are now obsolete. She remembers the location of Elk River Falls, NC only as "Carolina", and even though Andrews knows that Mars is the name of the god of war, he appears ignorant that it was also once known as the "Red Planet".
    • In a fictional version of this, Irma's homeworld of Riga II is a "tiny little outpost" Andrews had never previously heard of, even though it was one of Earth's first colonies.
  • Mad Libs Dialogue: The hilariously impersonal Multiple Choice Form Letter in video format that Norton gets from Linus Primo denying his promotion.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It seems like the rational explanation for the Ambiguous Ending is that Brian and Irma are dying of oxygen deprivation and only imagining that Emphor III has magically transformed into Old Earth. But the bizarre coincidence that Brian looks just like Irma's grandfather and the strange dreams he's had about Earth before even meeting her indicate something deeper may be happening.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • The cheesy branding of the ship's name Dreamweaver becomes more meaningful by the ending. Possibly also Irma's name ("Irma Gordon" = "Armageddon") given that she's searching for an Earth that no longer exists.
    • Double Meaning: The tourism company is called "Astral Dreams". The word "astral" literally refers to the fact that they travel to the stars, but can also refer to the Spirit World.
  • Mega-Corp:
    • Everything in this universe seems to be owned by Linus Primo and named after him, although his own family name may be some kind of title describing his position.
    • The parent company that runs all Faster-Than-Light Travel is "Primobility", the nearby hotel is a "Primotel", their most expensive cocktail is a "Primo Bellini".
    • Primo even owns whole planets; Brian grew up on "Primo 76" and his current goal is to get a promotion to the capital world of "Primo Central".
    • The other tourism outfit Andrews alludes to that does full-immersion expeditions onto exotic worlds is called "Primo Feels". In fact the company Andrews works for — Astral Dreams — seems to be the only commercial outfit without "Primo" in the name, though it is owned by Primobility.
  • Meta Casting: In a story about the lost, mythical past of Earth, the representative of that past is played by Geraldine Chaplin, associated by those who recognize her with classic films such as Doctor Zhivago and with her father, Charlie Chaplin.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Norton gains the first name "Brian" and Mrs. Gordon the first name "Irma", while Mrs. Gordon's "robant" is given the designation RB29.
  • Not His Sled: The whole point of the original story is that Emphor III was Earth All Along. This time, we are explicitly told that Earth's total destruction is a basic, known fact, a la "Marley was dead", and moreover told that this is a setting where humans have exhaustively mapped and cataloged the entire universe. Aside from the superficial similarity of being the third of nine planets, with one moon — which is what Andrews was searching for in the database — Emphor III cannot be Earth. And yet...
  • Older Than They Think: Dick used this title for a short story fifty years before there was a Doctor Who episode.
  • Race Lift: Andrews is played by Benedict Wong.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: A key theme of this episode. The Dreamweaver is designed to enhance the images that come in through its windows to give its passengers their money's worth while sightseeing. Andrews is adamant that this is the whole nature of the tourism business, and thus their con job on Irma Gordon is just an extension of what they always do.
  • Reincarnation: Played with. Based on the usual understanding of how reincarnation works, Irma can't actually be the reincarnation of her grandmother Louise, since she was born while her grandmother was still alive. But — perhaps — through some form of Genetic Memory she has come to identify with her grandmother as she ages to the point where she seems to become her in death.
  • Scatterbrained Senior: Irma. She claims to be "sharp as a tack", and she almost unravels Andrews' plan once or twice, but the plot rests on her seeming to have forgotten all about the destruction of Earth despite this being "Common Knowledge". Her Ambiguous Disorder may not just be dementia but something more mystical, considering that her obsession with Earth seems connected to her mystical link with Norton.
  • Seamless Spontaneous Lie:
    • Just at the moment Irma is about to Pull the Thread and expose Andrews and Norton's con job, RB29 suddenly comes up with a detailed story about how a "solar event" caused all of the discrepancies between the Sol and Emphor systems, having come to the decision to become The Shill rather than expose them.
    • I Love Nuclear Power: There is no way "radiation" could possibly have caused changes as extreme as giving the planet Venus a ring or Mars a Sickly Green Glow, but Irma comes to accept it.
    • Half Truth: There was, in fact, a "solar event" that affected the real Earth... it vaporized it.
  • Spotting the Thread: The plan almost collapses when they fly by "Mars" and she sees it glowing green.
  • Squick: If you take the episode completely literally, then Irma may end up having sex with her own grandfather, reincarnated.
  • Techno Babble: Irma mentions that humans have analyzed matter not only down to the atoms but to the "quadrons and minimons" (indicating a level of detail far beyond the present day).
  • Together in Death: Brian Norton and Irma Gordon... ambiguously.
  • Tragic Dream: Irma's desire to recreate her grandmother's experience of swimming in the waters of Elk River Falls, Carolina, Earth, before she dies.
  • Visions of Another Self: Brian seems to have been having mysterious flashes of the life of Irma's grandfather, before he even met her, indicating some kind of reincarnation may be going on (but see above). Based on what Irma says, Brian seems to share Bill Gordon's desire for the unknown.
  • Zeerust:
    • Compared to the rest of this series the future of this episode comes off as this, especially the character design of RB29.
    • Retro Universe: Applies not just to the Zeerust "present day" but also the past as Irma imagines it; her grandparents' clothes and bicycle have an old-fashioned 1950s look, and her photograph of them is in black and white, even though the fact that they emigrated from Earth to a different star system indicates they must have lived quite far in the future relative to 2018.

Example of: