Sometime in the future, small town teenage girl Foster (Annalise Basso) moves East with her mother (Maura Tierney) to a city where security and terrorist prevention is top priority. At her new school, she quickly finds herself as a social outcast due to her not having a “Dex”, a piece of advanced personal technology that also allows for her whereabouts to be constantly monitored, eventually gaining one through some unscrupulous means. She forms a friendship with a friendly, apparently omnipresent, tech support operative who soon leads her to believe that a dangerous terrorist plot is about to be perpetrated by people in her school and that she must take steps to stop it from happening.
Straight off the bat, this episode is amazing to look at. After the last two episodes which had more of a dystopian feel running through them, “Safe and Sound” is incredibly bright and colourful, showing off plenty of futuristic cityscapes as well as shiny new technology (sometimes reminiscent of Black Mirror‘s “Playtest”, sometimes Spider-Man’s tech suit interface) and costumes that show a wide range of bright colours. The superb visual quality of “Safe and Sound” instantly draws you in and ensures that attention never wavers; the episode is directed by Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World and (apparently) Game of Thrones) and he “steers the ship” brilliantly.
Of course, all of that would be pointless without a solid story but thankfully, the plot of this episode is intriguing and entertaining from beginning to end; there’s relatively minor plot elements to enjoy, such as the “young girl moves to the big city” stuff, the relationship between a mother and a daughter, and even the joy (and confusion) of operating a brand new, exciting piece of personal technology but the main theme of “Safe and Sound” is personal security and the crippling paranoia surrounding terrorism, including issues of prejudice, bigotry and the social stigma attached to being an “unknown”. Dick’s original short story looked at Cold War paranoia (as did a few other of his tales) but a story like this is perfectly relevant today and this particular episode was made to be about “corporate entities exploiting youthful anxiety for profit”, all of which is a fascinating and topical part of the episode – it suggests that, in this age of “fake news”, the powers that be could very well have ulterior motives and the episode is also unbelievably relevant seeing as how it shows heightened security measures at a school.
But even with the comparisons to real life, “Safe and Sound” is simply a great piece of TV sci-fi drama because the plot is easy to follow, the aforementioned visuals are always stunning, and it is continually exciting to watch; it has a well written central character who goes on a compelling journey and for the most part, it’s hard to know whether there is indeed a conspiracy afoot or whether Foster is losing her fragile mind. By the very end, you begin to see just how it’s all going to wind up but the episode is handled so well, playing out with such style and panache, that that doesnt matter and you’re just happy to go along for the ride.
The episode has a great cast and at the centre is Annalise Basso, who plays the naive Foster, an innocent everyday teenager who just tries to live her life but is sucked in to a dangerous and scary plot. Importantly, Basso is very likeable so we easily support her throughout and later on in the episode, she very effectively appears to lose her mind as she is forced into paranoia and insanity, showing plenty of real emotion as we feel for her during her ordeal. Maura Tierney is also a strong supporting character as Foster’s mother, a principled woman dedicated to cutting through the “fake news”, constantly urging her daughter not to sacrifice her independence for the sake of security but clearly caring about her regardless. “Safe and Sound” also has solid performances from Anna Lee, Martin Donovan, Detroit‘s Algee Smith, and Connor Paolo as the voice of the initially friendly tech support operative (who I was CONVINCED was Michael Cera!) who seems perfectly nice but you just know that he’s not all he seems . . .
So “Safe and Sound” proved itself to be a cut above many of the other episodes in this anthology – it looks gorgeous, it has an excellent cast, and it has a plot that is constantly compelling, unpredictable, topical, and just so much fun to watch unfold. A breath of fresh air.
Next week: Dee Rees closes the series with a story about a politician who encourages violence. With mysterious results.