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Recap / Philip K Dicks Electric Dreams S 1 E 3 The Commuter

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  • Alternate History: Linda's power appears to be creating bubbles in which the past turned out the way someone deeply wishes it did rather than what actually happened. Macon Heights, a town that her father poured all his hopes and dreams into that was never built, is the locus of this effect.
  • Batman Gambit: Linda showing up pretending to be a regular commuter and feigning ignorance that the Macon Heights stop doesn't exist. Turns out this is her way of recruiting people.
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  • Blank White Void: Any part of Macon Heights or the adjacent alternate timelines that Linda hasn't "filled in" appear to be this.
  • Chekhov's Gun: When Ed and his boss interrogate Linda she gives them the name of her workplace. This turns out to be the only way to find Linda in Macon Heights when she refuses to come to you.
  • The Conspiracy: Averted. The journalist Ed contacts tells him there is no effort behind the Masquerade surrounding the Macon Heights phenomenon — simply that those caught up in it generally don't want to leave, and there's no obvious way for those not caught up in it to pick up on it.
  • Don't Try This at Home: Opening the door of a moving train and stepping out based on blind faith.
  • Enfant Terrible: Played for drama. Both the child and the adolescent Sam seem lovable... at first glance, until you learn what he's put his parents through, and will put them through.
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  • Equivalent Exchange: Something like this seems to happen with Linda's meddling with the timelines — the world where Ed has a happy life alone with his wife is the same timeline where his boss, formerly happily childless himself, now has three different children by three different mothers. On a deeper level, the Aesop of this episode is that the changes Linda makes to the timeline are fundamentally this — the joy Ed experiences from the happier timeline can't outweigh the guilt and pain of simply knowing it exists at the cost of his son's life.
  • Facial Horror: The Middle Eastern immigrant Ed runs into was the victim of a hate crime that left the flesh on his left cheek completely torn away.
  • False Utopia: Macon Heights, as an ideal town that almost exists is able to take people's suffering away. Bringing too much truth into the town reveals the false facade.
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  • Fisher Kingdom: Of a sort. People who come to Macon Heights to stay seem to blend in to the town and forget their traumatic lives in the outside world; people who commute back and forth, like Ed does, find themselves in an Alternate History version of their outside lives where the biggest problem they used to have is now fixed.
  • Flying Dutchman: A highly ambiguous example. Linda "disappeared" shortly after her father, the failed creator of the original Macon Heights, was Driven to Suicide. She now looks exactly the same as in that photo, having apparently not aged since then, and is arguably not truly alive anymore. The real people who have become "residents" of Macon Heights — as opposed to "commuters" like Ed — may be in a similar situation.
  • For Want of a Nail: Visiting Macon Heights sends Ed into an Alternate Timeline, where details in his and his wife's relationship played out differently leading to his son never having been born.
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: The charming town of Macon Heights is populated with NPCs created by Linda who repeat the same events, over and over, on a daily loop. It's being subjected to the announcement of a happy couple's engagement the third time that makes Ed lose his patience with the charade.
  • Holodeck Malfunction: Ed's hostile presence in Macon Heights when he begins to try to return to reality causes the illusion to break down. The town starts to slowly disappear, buildings turning into mere facades, and the real people in the town begin to regain their real-life appearance and remember their Dark and Troubled Past.
  • I Choose to Stay: Ed's fellow train passenger ends up confiding in him that he, too, has been tempted to abandon his commute to Macon Heights and return to face his true life in the real timeline — but unlike Ed he can't, both because he's not as strong as Ed and because the life he ran away from is far, far worse.
  • It's a Wonderful Plot: Subverted, harshly. The world where Sam doesn't exist really is better for Ed and his wife — even the neighborhood is now a nicer, happier place. Linda even argues that it's a better world for Sam, since Sam's existence was filled with torment and anguish (although Ed's boss Bob seems to have had his life changed for the worse). Ultimately Ed rejects it anyway.
  • Name's the Same: Just like the following episode, "Crazy Diamond", this episode stars an ordinary working man named "Ed" whose life is turned upside down by a mysterious Femme Fatale.
  • The Omniscient: Linda. She not only knows everything about Ed's past, and knows how to alter it to bring it in line with Ed's desires — she also claims to have perfect knowledge of the Bad Future if Ed stays in the "real world", which Ed doesn't even try to argue with.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: Somehow, in his sleep, Ed's desire to see his son again causes him to cross Linda's Blank White Void and find the VHS tapes of Sam from his old life, watching every scene of Sam's life that he can find. It seems like just a metaphor for him going through his memories but when he wakes up, they're still there.
  • Rape as Backstory: The friendly waitress at the cafe.
  • Reality Warper: It is implied that Linda is one of these, and is the true creator and controller of Macon Heights through some unspecified power she has.
  • Refused by the Call: The journalist who has been studying Macon Heights says she's never been there because "the door wouldn't open for me".
  • Refusing Paradise: Ed's final decision.
  • Reluctant Psycho: Sam.
  • Ret Gone: What Linda does to Sam.
  • Ripple Effect-Proof Memory: Only Ed remembers Sam's existence in the new timeline, since it was created for his benefit, although it's implied that unlike other visitors to Macon Heights he is consciously refusing to let go of his memories of his son — fleeting glimpses of Sam keep showing up both in Macon Heights and in his new home.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Linda pulls this on Ed and his boss in her first few appearances.
  • Stepford Smiler: Ed in the real world, according to his wife — burying himself in his job and superficial friendliness to his customers to avoid the horror of his home life. Ed's wife wishing he would stop doing this — because his real emotions are valuable and true even if they're painful — is foreshadowing of Ed's ultimate choice.
  • Subways Suck:
    • Linda gets Ed's attention at first as a distraction from the everyday grind of dealing with the petty breakdowns and delays on the London Underground.
    • Memetic Mutation: "FUCK Basingstoke!"
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Linda may be a near-omniscient reality warper, but the Insane Troll Logic by which Macon Heights works — you have to get off at the imaginary subway stop of the town that was never built — means that Ed can thwart her simply by shutting down the train station or warning everyone who comes through that Macon Heights is a trap. He's able to use this to bargain with Linda to get her to let him go.
  • What Could Have Been: In-universe. Macon Heights was carefully planned, down to the last detail, before politics and bureaucracy kept it from ever being built. The version of Macon Heights Linda created appears to be powered by the human race's collective longing for "what could have been".
  • You Are Worth Hell: Unspoken, in the final shot of the episode when Ed locks eyes with Sam.
  • Your Heart's Desire: Macon Heights seems to offer this.
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