Reverie: 1.01 Apertus
We all dream of a better world, a place where we can be happy, where bad things don't happen to us and we can be our best selves; in this new sci-fi series, people can do just that. Imagine there is a technology where you can enter a dream state, relieve those fond memories or create new ones? That's what Reverie is selling and it can be a wonderful and dangerous place.
In this first episode, former hostage negotiator turned social studies teacher Mara King (Person of Interest's Sarah Shahi) is recruited by her former boss Charlie Ventana (24's Dennis Haysbert). Charlie is now working for a private company that specialises in virtual worlds and several people have become trapped in their own minds; so enticing are these fake worlds that their bodies have slipped into comas as Mara is needed to enter those dream worlds and bring them back. It's a great little hook and the dream worlds she navigates through are sure to provide plenty of drama in the weeks to come - not to mention looking visually fantastic.
There is a surprising pace to Apertus, so much so that it plays a very fine line between world building and rushed plot. Half way though, we've already learned about Mara's tragic past, failing to use her negotiation skills to talk down her crazed brother in law and stop him from shooting her sister and niece dead. Shahi is instantly likeable and engaging, but coveys that pain and suffering well (drawing no doubt on her tortured performance Person of Interest). She is keen, intelligent and throws herself into her work but is struggling to keep herself healthy; the daily does of drink and self-medication festers beneath the surface.
We're also given a whistle stop tour of Reverie, the mastermind behind it (Jessica Lu's impulsive Alexis Barrett) and Sendhil Ramamurthy (of Heroes fame) as Paul Hammond, the man that guides Mara through her whistle stop training. This fast pace hits all the key points, though some of the expositiony dialogue is a little on the nose for my liking, but it is carried well by all the performances involved.
You get a hint of where the series is going to go when Mara navigates her way through the dream world of Josh Bitton's Tony Lenton, a man who is living the dream 10 year wedding anniversary trip to San Francisco he never got to have. There is a compelling narrative in his plight - his wife dying in a car crash caused by him - and his desire to live out his life with her regardless of the real world outside. There are some plot holes (like how he managed to afford to use Reverie when he was financially crippled dealing with his wife's medical bills and who was looking after his step daughter the whole time), but Britton is an engaging, endearing presence too and you can forgive some of those shortcomings as you follow his story.
There are some wonderful, colourful visuals at play, from the hot air balloons over the San Francisco skyline to Mara's journey back to the lantern festival of her youth. There's even some cool Inception-esque such as the moments Mara is able to manipulate the dream world around her and I hope we see more of this as the series progresses. But it all rests on the characters; while a number of these personalities need more fleshing out, Mara certainly stands out and the scene where she tearfully reveals her own loss to Tony is well done. I also like the use of her detective skills to deduce what the butterfly in his dream world means.
There are some great psychological and moral twists at play too; is it really safe to manipulate the mind to ignore the dangers of the dream world and what effect will that have on you in reality? There's also a hint at something more insidious at play. Just what does the Department of Defence want with the Reverie technology? I'm reminded of the corporate use of fantasy-inducing technology in Dollhouse that led to something altogether apocalyptic in the end.
The first episode of Reverie was certainly glossy and fast paced but it did a good job of setting up the premise, the core characters and the larger world. I'll be intrigued to see where it goes next and will be bringing my thoughts on this week's second episode soon...