Ed Jacobson (Timothy Spall) is just a normal man who works in a train station. Compared to the high-intensity sci-fi instalments Channel 4 viewers have become used to, this third episode of Electric Dreams seems to, on face value, slow the pace down a bit. Like all of the best dystopian fictions, the mundane setting of a train station provides the perfect backdrop to a hard-hitting story.
The tale is not revolutionary; humans struggling with their own lives seek their own solice, which in this case, is Macon Heights. To get there is simple: You have to need to escape your life. Ed, who seems to know every train station in the land is desperate to find out where this mysterious town a woman has been asking him about. It seems that this “Insurance” worker i merely luring Ed to Macon Heights, understanding that he is in need of some escapism.
Prior to his discovery of the mysterious and fog-covered town, Ed and his wife, Mary (Rebecca Manley), struggle with their deeply troubled son, Sam (Anthony Boyle). Becoming increasingly violent and harder to control, Sam becomes a burden on his family.
That is where the real story lies. Yes, The Commuter has its science-fiction leaning, but without a doubt, the heart of this instalment is a family drama. Timothy Spall hits every note of his nuanced performance beautifully. Ed is a man who considers, for a moment, leaving everything and moving to this “perfect” town, but that would involve losing everything he loves. The climactic scene between Ed and the Insurer is perhaps on of Spall’s most powerful performances. Ed sees what he can have, but accepts that life is life and the bad comes with the good.
It is hard to judge whether the ending was happy or not. Sure, Ed made his own decision and returned to his family, but the reality of it is that he has returned to a fractured life of which he was promised by Mrs Insurance would involve Sam getting worse and eventually ending in prison for his life. Happily ever after it is not, but in a weird way, it was a positive outcome. Spall’s Ed made the decision that made him “happy” even though it is physically not a very “happy” situation to be in.
The Commuter is one of Dick’s finest hours, showing the darkness of humanity in an unusually beautiful way, matched by an impeccable and nuanced performance by Spall.
Next week: Anna Paquin’s space policewoman shares a headspace with another in a terrifying tale of human connectivity.
Contributed by Helen Daly
Electric Dreams Continues Sunday on Channel 4 at 9.00pm