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What are the implications of forcing VR tech onto people who can't consent in Reverie?

Contributed by
Jun 27, 2018

I called last week’s episode of Reverie, “Blue Is the Coldest Color,” a game changer because it altered the frame of the procedural premise by introducing new elements that further the overarching storytelling. This week’s episode, “Altum Somnum,” continued that trend by following up on the government element that’s been looming over the show since the first episode.

The episode opened with an explosion at what looked to be a secure office building, and it was clear this wasn’t part of a Reverie. Monica Shaw, who we haven’t seen much of up until "Altum Somnum," explains that the explosion was a result of a terrorist attack, and there’s another one being planned. As a representative of the Department of Defense (which owns 30 percent of Onira Tech), she wants Mara to go into a Reverie with the only surviving eyewitness, a building guard named Denise Lang. The catch? The eyewitness is in a coma and dying, and no one knows what will happen if she passes while Mara is in the Reverie.

It’s an entirely new use for the Reverie technology, and the implications of what Monica is asking are not lost on Charlie or Alexis. There are a lot of applications for this technology for the military, and many of them are not good. This seems like a very dangerous first step to be taking. Mara recognizes she’s being manipulated, but is willing to take on the task because it might save lives.

But the team quickly learns that all is not as it appears. The eyewitness’s name isn’t Denise Lang, and she wasn’t a guard in the building. Her name is Ashley, and she was involved in the bombing. All of a sudden, the mission changes as Mara must see if Ashley knows anything about the threats of other bombs.

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Credit: Vivian Zink/NBC

Elsewhere, it’s clear that Alexis is incredibly unhappy about the way Reverie tech is being used. Specifically, she’s angry at Charlie for handing over the source code to the DoD. It’s understandable, as Alexis is the brains behind the software code. But Charlie points out that, until now, Alexis didn’t want anything to do with the business side of Onira Tech. She just wanted to be left alone to code in peace. She handed over the reins to Charlie, and he did what he had to do to secure funding. He understands if she’s unhappy with the decisions he’s made, but if she wants to be an owner of the company, she needs to act like it.

Alexis has been so aloof thus far, so it’s nice to see someone actually encourage her to take an active role in the company. It’s not easy to get through her icy exterior, but it’s clear that she cares about both the company and the technology. While Monica is putting Reverie to impressive uses in this episode, it’s also a harbinger of darker things to come.

Back in the Reverie, Mara finally is able to get through to Ashley by being honest with her. She tells Ashley that she’s dying, that there isn’t a lot of time, but she can save a lot of people. Ashley explains that no one was supposed to get hurt, that she was lied to and manipulated — Mara ends up getting the information she needs in the nick of time, and they’re able to stop the second explosion.

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Credit: Vivian Zink/NBC

What role will the DoD play in Onira Tech going forward?

Alexis made clear that even though the DoD owns 30 percent of Onira Tech, the company operates independently of its financers. What Monica was asking for was a favor and some help; this wasn’t an order or coercion. But Charlie later pointed out that this was the perfect way for Monica to point out to her superiors that her faith (and investment) in the Reverie technology was a smart one.

The question going forward is will the DoD try to strong-arm Onira Tech into doing more jobs like this in the future? While the team will always be on the side of saving lives, there are many less savory applications for the technology. This use was a form of interrogation, and while it paid off because the person in question was cooperative, that might not always be the case.

This also brings up the ethics of using the Reverie technology on a person without their consent, as Paul protests in the episode. Reverie relies on your own memories; what are the implications of forcing that technology upon someone?