How Dee Rees' 'Electric Dreams' Episode Acts as a Potent Warning About "Groupthink"

Elizabeth Sisson/Courtesy of Sony Pictures Television
Louis Herthum (left) and Mel Rodriguez, whose character dares to question a political leader's deadly edict.

Showrunner Mike Dinner and EP Isa Dick Hackett discuss the timeliness of the "Kill All Others" episode of the Amazon anthology and why "complacency, apathy and indifference are truly the enemy."

With the "Kill All Others" episode of Amazon's sci-fi anthology, Electric Dreams, director Dee Rees, who helmed 2017's Mudbound, took an alien-invasion story and morphed it into a haunting political allegory.

As with the rest of the series, the episode is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick — in this case, "The Hanging Stranger." It tells the future-set tale of an everyman, Philbert (played by Mel Rodriguez), who hears the nation's only presidential candidate (an eerie Vera Farmiga) instruct viewers to "kill all others" during a campaign appearance, prompting violence. Philbert fears for his sanity when it seems his fellow citizens are apathetic about the candidate's statement and the violence it provokes.

"There are some people that are going to point to it and say, 'This is about the political era that we've entered,'" says executive producer and showrunner Michael Dinner. "It feels like a very timely story, but certainly when we got the first draft it was long before the results [of the election] had come in."

Indeed, Rees adapted the story way before the 2016 presidential election. But executive producer Isa Dick Hackett (daughter of Philip K. Dick) agrees on its timeliness: "I think this mention of 'the others' is more relevant now than perhaps when she began writing it."

Each of the 10 stand-alone Electric Dreams episodes had the challenge of creating a universe. Rees' installment was the third to shoot in Chicago. "She started from scratch with a crew that was a little tired at that point, and she had to come in with a whip and get them going," says Dinner, who credits Rees with establishing an effectively relatable future world. "What I think is interesting is when you take a piece that's set in the future and yet it's still reminiscent, we still recognize the world that we came from."

For Dinner and Hackett, the theme of the episode is clear and especially timely for today's political climate.

"There's a powerful message about groupthink and how dangerous that can be," says Dinner. "To somehow see to the heart of the matter and see the truth and not be swayed by the mob, I think that's a really powerful message." Adds Hackett: "That is essentially it. Beware of that sort of groupthink. People should stay awake — and complacency, apathy and indifference are truly the enemy."

This story first appeared in a May stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.