Please note that this is a recap and discussion rather than a review, so there are spoilers below for the premiere episode of Reverie, "Apertus." If you haven’t seen it yet and are wondering what we thought of it, just know we liked it enough to want to talk about it each week.
Reverie, which premiered tonight on NBC, is a tech-fueled drama that reminds us where empathy belongs in a world increasingly lacking in human connection. It’s not a dystopia, but it’s set in the near future where virtual reality can create the world of your dreams. It can fulfill your fantasies and even bring people back from the dead. There’s just one problem: some people become addicted to this fake world, called Reverie, and don’t want to leave it.
Enter Sarah Shahi, who plays Mara Kint. She’s a former hostage negotiator, and Charlie Ventana (played by 24’s best president Dennis Haysbert) brings her in to figure out how to communicate with people who are lost within their Reveries. Mara works with Alexis Barrett (Jessica Liu), the brains behind the tech, and Paul Hammond (Sendhil Ramamurthy), who constructs the fantasy worlds of Reverie so it seems fully real to figure out how to enter these VR worlds and to convince people to leave their fantasies behind.
But Mara has trauma of her own. She left the police force two years ago, after she was unable to save her sister and niece, Brynn, from her brother-in-law, Ray. Now, she must confront those painful, difficult memories as she tries to save others.
Our first case is with a man named Tony, whose Reverie centers around his deceased wife. He’s been in the program for two weeks, leaving his stepdaughter Iris behind. Mara must figure out the secrets behind Tony’s Reverie in order to reach him. She discovers that he feels responsible for his wife's death because of a car crash, and realizes that he may want to be with her in this fake world. But what Tony needs is the chance to say goodbye, and then walk away.
In the end, the answer is empathy. When we’re first introduced to Mara, she’s teaching a class on reading body language. She calls empathy “the most important tool of all.” To be clear, she’s not against tech; Mara simply is worried about the effect it’s having on teenagers. It brings up questions that resonate through the entire episode, and indeed, that will recur over the series. It’s a show about futuristic tech, but empathy is at Reverie’s core. It's part of the personal connection Shahi had to the show, as she explained in an interview with FANGRRLS.
It’s a fascinating premise, and the cast is excellently chosen. Here are a few takeaways and questions I had from the first episode, which balanced the procedural nature of the show with the overarching, serialized story that will clearly be important as the season progresses.
What is Onira-tech hiding?
Onira-tech is the company behind the VR technology, and clearly there’s a lot Mara doesn’t know about what’s going on. When Mara goes in to Tony’s room to connect with him for the first time, Paul and Alexis have an interesting conversation that will probably become clearer in future episodes.
It’s clear the company is in trouble because of these seven Reverie users, but Paul isn’t happy about letting Mara into others’ Reveries. Alexis, however, is less risk-averse, and is willing to risk Mara’s life because if they don’t, “Andy’s people” might die. The question is, who is Andy? Is he someone who is stuck in a Reverie as well?
Does Mara have a condition she’s not telling people about?
When Mara comes out of her first Reverie with Tony, Paul mentions a spike in her brain waves. Mara said it was nothing, but the quick flashback — to a child holding a stuffed bunny rabbit — makes it clear Mara was lying. Later this same child appears to Mara in her apartment. It’s Mara’s (deceased) niece Brynn. Mara drops the bottle of prescription pills she’s holding as a result.
Earlier in the episode, a doctor reviewed Mara’s brain waves during the Reverie. She wasn’t concerned about the spike in brain waves. What did give her pause was underlying markers that could mean that Mara has a psychiatric disorder. The question is, does Mara have one, and if she does, does Mara know? The pills tell me there’s more going on here than the viewer is aware of.
What interest does the Department of Defense have in Onira-tech?
At the end of the episode, Charlie meets with Monica Shaw (Kathryn Morris), who is a venture capitalist. She talks about her “investment” in Onira-tech, and is clearly worried about the additional cases of people falling into comas in their Reveries. It’s understandable that an investor would be concerned in technology she’s put money into being potentially dangerous.
The real kicker here, though, is that she says the DoD is interested in the VR tech. The question is what kind of interest, and for what application?
What happened to Dylan?
Dylan is the childlike artificial intelligence that powers Onira-tech. But, as a scene late in the episode makes clear, it was also the name of Alexis’s brother. Something happened to him as a child — did Alexis put his consciousness into the AI? Or did she merely base her program on her beloved brother?
What are the limits of Reverie?
This is more of a long-term question, but what are the possibilities and limits of this VR system? We've only just begun to understand the shape of Reverie. I have a feeling we'll see a lot more of it — both good and bad — to come.
Representation on Reverie
It’s not a question, but simply a comment I want to make about the show’s casting. Reverie boasts an incredibly inclusive cast in terms of actors of color. I had the chance to ask executive producers Mickey Fisher and Tom Szentgyorgyi about it.
“If you’re writing a show about the future, that is the future,” Fisher said of the casting. “In front of the camera and behind it, in the writers' room and the directors, in the characters, the stories that we tell, it was important to us for the betterment of the show, and for richer storytelling, that we have as many diverse people as possible.”
“It's a show about fantasies,” Szentgyorgyi added. “It should embody as many different kinds of fantasies as possible. It should be a show that everyone can feel like that they too could have a Reverie.”
Well, I’m sold. Catch the next episode of Reverie on Wednesday, June 6, at 10 PM ET/9 PM CT, and drop by FANGRRLS after that for another recap!