What a ride this one was! If you haven’t seen one of Amazon’s latest shows, The Feed, Season One is certainly worth the good ol’ sci-fi binge. That said, the season wasn’t without its quirks.
The Feed is an Amazon Original set in the near future. Imagine the all-encompassing Big Brother that social media can be today but add: much more powerful, much more ubiquitous— and in your head, not just in your face. That, in a nutshell, is the Feed.
The season centers around the family that started it all, the Hatfields. Lawrence Hatfield (the father) is a megagenius, the creator of the Feed. Much like the social platforms we use today, the Feed instantly connects people. You can call, leave a message, and even hologram video chat in the Feed. It also stores your memories in bite-sized bundles called “mundles.” These mundles give the user constant access to any past memory (as long as the user was on the Feed at the time). The general population has accepted the Feed; the Resisters are a (you guessed it) resistance group.
The season begins with a scene in which a Feed user, overtaken by something that appears to be a virus, is being controlled by an unknown force. After an attempt on Hatfield’s son Ben’s life, a series of meltdowns across the country results in users falling into the grip of the virus. Through the season, the mystery of the virus is gradually revealed. We learn that something from somewhere has been overtaking Feed users and inhabiting their bodies.
My first thought: “Hmm, I see where this is going. A rogue algorithm developed into a self-contained AI that eventually gained enough power to take over the Feed!” I felt quite proud of myself for figuring out the plot by Episode Three.
Except I was wrong. What I thought was a classic AI versus humanity trope turned out to be a ghost versus the living trope.
Here’s the gimmick: A unique feature of the Feed is Save Me. It’s like a back-up disk for your brain. Everything about you is continually stored in Save Me in case the Feed goes haywire and you no longer exist (or if your relatives want to—literally—keep your memory alive after your passing). At the end of the season, we discover that Lawrence Hatfield had a secret bunker where he did hundreds of experiments on the human brain and consciousness. In one such projects, Lawrence acquired the Save Me banks from thousands of deceased Feed users.
Those users’ banks , stored in Lawrence’s lab, were eventually abandoned after Lawrence ditched the project. Unbeknown to Lawrence, however, those Feed users learned how to control the Feed and began resurrecting themselves by taking over the bodies of living Feed users. If all of this sounds a bit confusing don’t worry. It’s still somewhat confusing to me.
At the end of the season, Lawrence’s son Tom, Ben’s brother, attempts to erase all the Save Me banks from his father’s project in order to prevent millions of living Feed users from being taken over. Unfortunately, he fails and the takeovers succeed..
Phew, that was a lot to unpack.
Starting out thinking that the show was just the usual tyrant-AI-takes-over flick, only to have my expectations torn apart, was a nice diversion from the usual fare. That said, the show was soaked in a reductionism about human beings that undermines its plausibility as sci-fi. The creators’ understanding of consciousness is quite clear: The brain is just a computer so a smart guy made copies of a bunch of brains and they (the copies) came back from cold storage to kill a bunch of people.
In reality, consciousness is a mystery and assuming it is anything like a wholly material process is assuming we have answers to questions that we have yet to even consider. There are many reasons to be suspicious of reductionism and of the emergent consciousness hypothesis. But even without underlying assumptions, the image of all life as a material process is a disservice to science at best. I could go on about the shortcomings of reductionism, but that would very quickly turn into a book.
Overall, as entertainment, I enjoyed the show. Despite the poor ratings it received (3.4 out of 5 at Amazon; 6 out of 10 at IMDB, and Critics 50%/Audience 80% at Rotten Tomatoes), I do think it worth a watch if you’re a hardcore sci-fi fan who just loves the genre.
My one itching criticism of the story arc so far concerns the Takers (those ghosts who take over the bodies of living Feed users). Every Taker is violent, evil, and homicidal. It’s never made clear why that should be so. These, supposedly, are the minds of a broad range of people. Surely, they wouldn’t all be evil and murderous?
At any rate, The Feed was a season that I enjoyed and I would recommend you give it a watch. If you’re a Prime member, it’s free.
If you enjoyed this review by Adam Nieri, you might want to check through these as well for thoughts about films that might interest you, brought to you by Mind Matters News Sci-Fi Saturday:
How To Become Human A Mind Matters Short Film Review. This new film turns a conventional sci-fi storytelling premise upside down. Rather than an AI struggling to become human in a human-dominated world, we watch a human struggling to be more like an artificial intelligence in an AI-dominated world.
The Outer Worlds—A Mind Matters Game Review: You must discover the dark secret of the Halcyon space colony, despite the greed and corruption of a handful of powerful corporations. After the raging dumpster fire that Fallout 76 (2018) turned out to be, I hesitated to invest my time and money in another role-playing game (RPG) epic. But I am glad I did.
Another Life All fun and games till an AI falls in love. Then it descends into a convoluted drift of uncertain storytelling. And the victim is not primarily the viewer, who has other options. The victim is the art itself.
Alita, Battle Angel A Mind Matters Review: If you love anime and felt betrayed by the flop of Ghost, I would highly recommend Alita.
Ad Astra: The Great Silence becomes personal. The film images the fate of those seek significance in the stars and may well wait indefinitely. In a world where the divine touch of extraterrestrial intelligence doesn’t elevate human existence to any level of significance, we are left with Ad Astra: a slow, methodical decay of human significance.
Love, death, & robots Despite the trash and ruined expectations, several shorts were enjoyable and downright fun to watch
Simulation: Would a simulated universe even make sense? A well-crafted short sci-fi film suggests, intentionally or otherwise, maybe not. I’ve seen quite a few sci-fi short films over the years and Simulation is certainly one of the better ones. However, beyond that, I’m not sure this film knows what it is; it’s an identity crisis.
Sprites: Will plausible robots replace movie stars? A short film prepares us to think about it.
Terminator: Dark Fate—A Mind Matters Movie Review. Aside from the fact that it felt like a retextured version of Terminator 2, I was constantly being reminded of the film’s obvious political agenda. Movies like Terminator: Dark Fate don’t seem to be made by people who care about the narrative. They seem to think that they need only make something that looks like a movie but acts as a medium for broadcasting their message to the masses.