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'Pas De Deux' asks difficult questions about suicide in Reverie

Contributed by
Jul 11, 2018

In my past recaps of Reverie, I’ve written about how the VR world is being treated as a sort of therapy device, but without any oversight by actual therapists. That changed in this week’s episode, called “Pas de Deux.”

The patient in question, Holly, was a dancer who had an accident and is now in a wheelchair. She began using Reverie with her therapist’s knowledge, but her sister is concerned because Holly has been using it more and more, rather than spending time in the real world. Now Holly has been inside her Reverie for 16 hours and Mara must go in to get her out. She does that in consultation with Holly's therapist, Chris.

From the beginning, it was clear that Mara and Chris had a history. Paul seemed extraordinarily interested in what that past actually entailed (hinting that he may, in fact, have some feelings for Mara). It turns out that Mara and Chris were a couple, but after the murder of Mara’s sister and niece, Mara turned inward. This included stepping back from a relationship where she could no longer hold her own, and it’s clear Chris has some resentment over that.

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Vivian Zink/NBC

They work together well, though, and Mara goes into the Reverie to find Holly dancing. When Holly learns why Mara has come, she hides from her. It becomes clear that there’s more going on with Holly, and this Reverie, than meets the eye, but the more Mara learns, the more flummoxed she is. Holly has been lying to those around her, and it’s not until Mara does some deep digging that she finds out why.

Holly not only lost the ability to walk in the accident, but she lost the baby she was carrying and can no longer have children. She’s recreated her daughter in the Reverie, and would rather die in the real world, spending her last moments with her daughter, than live without her for the rest of her life.

It isn’t until Mara discovers that Holly’s sister has been diagnosed with MS that she is able to get through to Holly, who finally emerges from her Reverie knowing she can never again enter the program. It’s another successful case for Mara, but it has personal repercussions as well. She goes to see Chris and tell him that she misses him, but she’s not ready for a relationship again quite yet. And then she makes another, shocking stop in the hospital.

Ray is still alive?

In Mara’s flashbacks to the hostage situation involving her brother-in-law, her sister, and her niece, Brynn, the fate of all three appeared to be very final. Ray shot his wife and daughter before turning the gun on himself. It turns out, though, that he’s not dead. He’s in a coma. We all know that this is going to become important at some point in the future.

What happens if Onira Tech lets people die in Reverie?

Holly’s case brought a new dilemma to the doorstep of the Onira Tech gang. When Mara informed Holly that she was going to die in the real world if she didn’t exit the VR world, Holly was okay with that. She was willing to use Reverie to commit suicide, in essence.

This brought up some interesting reactions from the crew. Paul, always the softie, asked why they shouldn't allow her to die — after all, isn’t it her choice? However, Alexis took a hard line: Reverie is not a place people can come to die. If it’s a choice between Holly continuing to refuse to leave and pulling her out by deactivating her BCI, Alexis is for the latter, even if it means brain damage. Paul argues that Holly didn’t agree to that, which begs the question: Why isn't that last resort included in the fine print? As a tech company, Onira Tech shouldn’t be deciding who lives and who dies. The last resort of pulling people out of the program should be open to them, and users should be aware of that. (This isn't a statement on whether I believe people should be allowed to choose when and how they die; it's an acknowledgement that any company that gets into that business is opening itself up to extraordinary liability.)

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Vivian Zink/NBC

A few thoughts on the storyline and depiction of people in wheelchairs

A question I had while watching this episode of Reverie was whether this storyline, which featured a woman in a wheelchair (which is a device of freedom, not a device of captivity) who would rather kill herself than continue to live with paralysis, was ableist. We later learn that paralysis is only part of the issue; what Holly is really dealing with is the loss of her daughter.

As an able-bodied person, I try to be mindful of these sorts of issues and the necessity of positive depiction of people in wheelchairs. It is absolutely understandable that someone would become depressed after such a drastic shift in the way they are able to get around on a day-to-day basis. But so many of the stories we’re exposed to focus on that, without balancing with a depiction of happy people in wheelchairs who don’t see everyday life as a struggle.

This isn’t a condemnation or even any sort of statement that this storyline was Bad. I’m the last person who should be making that judgment. It’s just something I noticed that made me think; it’d be nice to see a character in a wheelchair who isn’t grappling with these sorts of issues in a future episode.