This week’s episode picks up right where last week’s last off, with Mara in her sister’s burning apartment. As it burns, the apartment, and Derealization Ghost Brynn, shatter and dissolve away from Mara, leaving her standing in the middle of the street with a car about to run her down. A man jumps in and pushes her to the side of the road, just in time.
Mara is left stunned, trying to figure out what’s real and what isn’t, as she clutches the grass she’s lying on. The man who saved her introduces himself as Oliver Hill and says they need to talk. He also needs to eat, so they go to a diner.
At the diner, Oliver explains that he started Onira Tech with Alexis. He’s the brain part of the brain computer interface, or BCI, and Alexis is the computer. Oliver fidgets nervously with his Zippo lighter as he eats. Mara can tell that he should be on psych meds, but he says that he isn’t. Oliver says that despite what Paul told her, they don’t help with Reverie 2.0 derealizations, so he stopped taking them.
Oliver tells Mara that he’s been keeping an eye on her situation for a while, because before her, he was the person who had spent the most time in 2.0. Because of that, he knows that she’s in danger of losing her mind. He’s been stuck going in and out of derealizations for years, without being sure which is real. Sometimes he burns himself to figure out if he’s in reality or not.
According to Oliver, Onira Tech wants to sweep this potential complication under the rug and release the new implant anyway, with the hope of attracting 100 million users within 5 years. All of those people could potentially be doomed to the same derealization nightmare that Oliver and Mara are experiencing. That’s why Oliver wants Mara to help him stop the release by being his ally inside Onira Tech, since he’s not allowed inside.
Mara is overwhelmed by what he’s told her, and needs to leave. Before she can go, Oliver stops her and says that they’ve already removed his name from all publicity materials for the company and from the product, even though he was a founding partner. She’s never even been told of his existence. They don’t want to hear what he has to say about 2.0.
Mara can’t believe that Charlie, a man she’s trusted for years, would go along with something like this conspiracy. Oliver says, “Except that he did.”
That much is obvious just based on what’s happened to Mara so far.
Oliver asks her to think about what he’s said, and not to mention it to the Onira Tech people, because they’ll just say that he’s lying and crazy. She knows that neither of them is crazy.
The next morning at Onira Tech, security is collecting IDs and everyone is under suspicion. A BCI set was stolen from their facility 4-6 weeks ago, but it was just discovered during inventory last night. The thief had to be one of the employees. Mara wonders why someone would bother to steal a BCI set when Onira Tech tries to make them as easy to acquire legally as possible.
Time to meet the case of the week, an anxiety-ridden shut in named Glenn. His OCD means that he needs everything in his environment to be arranged perfectly, or he’ll have overwhelming anxiety. He has a shelf full of meds in his bathroom cabinet. Glenn lives across a courtyard (with fancy fountain in between) from a 9 year old boy named Quincy and his mom, Liz. Quincy has a severe, terminal respiratory disease.
Glenn is friends with Quincy and Liz, but their relationship hasn’t progressed because Glenn is unable to leave his apartment due to his many phobias, including his inability to go out in sunlight or be in the presence of the color blue.
We meet Glenn, Quincy and Liz when Quincy brings Glenn a large envelope that was left too far from Glenn’s front door for Glenn to retrieve it comfortably. Glenn lets Quincy open the letter, which contains a classic Roberto Clemente baseball card. Liz arrives to take Quincy to the doctor for his regular treatment. Glenn gives Quincy the card so that Quincy will have something to read at the doctor’s office. Liz thanks Glenn, then invites him to stop by their place sometime, if he can find a way to get past his phobias and make his way there. Glenn says that he’s working on it. There’s clearly a mutual attraction between the two.
After Liz and Quincy leave, Glenn picks up his stolen Reverie device and enters his library. He opens a door that leads to a loading dock and parking lot for MRL delivery trucks. The sun is bright in the parking lot. Glenn screams in pain or terror as soon as he steps out into it. He tries to walk across the parking lot, but only makes it a few steps.
Mara looks up Oliver Hill on her work computer, then asks Dylan for more information. You’d think someone who’d worked with the cops would understand how to be more stealth about the black sheep of the company. She finds photos that show Oliver and Olivia posing together as the cofounders of Onira Tech.
Dylan says: Oliver Hill is a neuroscientist and was a founding partner of Onira Tech. He left the company 19 months ago. That’s all the information I’m authorized to disclose.
As Mara says, that’s not suspicious at all. Does Charlie have a special group of henchmen who scrub the web of references to Oliver? Otherwise, what’s the point of trying to hide the known history of a public figure?
At this point, Charlie and Paul just happen to interrupt Mara’s investigation. They’ve found someone in Reverie using an unregistered BCI, and since there’s only one that’s unregistered, it has to be the thief. They need her to go in and get an ID on the thief right this very minute.
Mara sits there gaping at them, trying to change gears. She’s just discovered that there is a potential conspiracy, and now they’re being weird about the stolen BCI. Charlie asks if something is wrong, because she needs to go in and find the crook, RIGHT NOW.
But how about that timing, huh? It’s not like the device was stolen more than a month ago or anything, and the guy/gal could have been using it the entire time, and will probably continue to use it. Nope, gotta drag Mara away from asking questions about Oliver Hill as quickly as possible.
Mara goes to her reclining nook and enters Glenn’s Reverie. She starts out in his library, with four doors, each to a different fantasy. The first door opens into a clinical corridor with blue and white tile on the floor. The blue tiles look like they’re made of water. The second door lead to his apartment courtyard, including fountain. Mara enjoys the fountain for a moment, then moves on.
The third door takes her into a factory storage room filled with shelves and boxes. Glenn is there, and becomes upset with her for being in the wrong place. Mara’s presence ruins whatever scenario Glenn wanted to act out, so he exodus’s out of the program before Mara even finds out his name.
Once Mara leaves Glenn’s Reverie, she goes to Paul. Between them and Dylan, they quickly figure out that Glenn is trying to steal something from Medivax Research Laboratories in Huntington Beach, a pharmaceutical company that makes treatments for respiratory and circulatory diseases.
Charlie turns up again at that moment to tell them that a BCI tech has confessed to stealing the missing set and selling it to a buyer on a Dark Reverie site for $50k in Bitcoin. Mara is confused, so Paul explains that name brand Reverie has built in limits to what the avatars will do. There are certain moral boundaries built into the code. Paul seems quite passionate about that.
But some people think that there shouldn’t be any rules about what the avatars can or can’t do. They think Reverie is the best place to act out their worst impulses and darkest fantasies. They illegally break into the Reverie code to alter it so that the prohibitions are gone. The Reverie designers call it the Dark Reverie.
The Onira thief didn’t get the name of the buyer, so Charlie orders Mara to go back into Reverie and get any identifying information she can. Mara asks why he’s not bringing the case to the police. Charlie explains that press and publicity come with the police, and he’s trying to avoid those.
Mara asks if there’s a secret he’s trying to protect. She’s upset that Onira Tech is riddled with secrets that she’s only told when she stumbles onto them, like Dylan being Alexis’ brother and the risk of derealizations. Now she discovers that there’s a Dark Reverie that no one mentioned. When Charlie wonders why this is all coming up now, Mara asks about Oliver Hill.
She explains how she met Oliver the night before, when she had a life threatening derealization and he saved her life. Charlie balks at the thought of Mara going to her sister’s house, and is angry at the idea of Oliver following Mara, but has no reaction to her near death or the fact that it was caused by Reverie.
He got her this job and is a father figure to her. Shouldn’t he be more worried about her, rather than expressing concern over everything that has to do with Reverie, which is what we’ve seen him do so far? At this point, I never believe that his concern is without a secondary, but probably actually primary, agenda.
They go see Alexis, who is also unsympathetic. She orders Mara to restart her medication. According to Alexis, the severe derealization happened because Mara went off her meds. Once she’s back on them, everything will be fine. Alexis is as dismissive of Mara as ever.
There’s no discussion of the fact that this product requires a strict medication regimen or it becomes life threatening. The 1.0 version has also become life threatening to a significant number of people for other reasons. Does the FDA know about this?
Mara says that Oliver told her the derealization episodes would get worse. Alexis dismisses Oliver as not knowing what he’s talking about. Mara asks if Oliver was lying about his own worsening episodes, and about being a founding partner in the company. Charlie jumps in and says that it’s true that Oliver and Alexis were partners in founding the company, but Oliver was unstable long before they formed Onira Tech. He’s brilliant, but mentally ill.
Mara tells them that Oliver said they’d try to discredit him. Charlie replies that they had to fire Oliver and get a restraining order against him, which is why he went to Mara. Charlie conveniently doesn’t make the case for why they needed the restraining order. Because he knows Mara would be on Oliver’s side?
Mara says that Oliver told her they were going to release 2.0 to the public. Charlie says the release is years away. They’d never release a product that wasn’t fully tested and proven safe. He says that Oliver is trying to manipulate her.
As she leaves the office, Mara wonders if Oliver is really the one who’s trying to manipulate her. Once she’s gone, Alexis tells Charlie that Mara didn’t believe their story. Charlie says that Mara didn’t believe the story because it wasn’t true. If Mara were told the truth, she’d believe it.
Charlie follows Mara to her office to continue his damage control campaign. The man is a tireless administrator, I’ll give him that. He’s also the chief secretkeeper. But he’s really nice to everyone for as long as possible while he’s enforcing the skullduggery, and a great listener (which is part of how he knows the secrets).
Charlie pulls out the trust card, making Mara recite how long she’s known him (10 years) and confirm that he’s always been there for her, through every tough time. He tries to get her to concede that he’d obviously never knowlingly do anything that would hurt her, but Mara stands her ground. She reiterates that what happened to her last night was a big deal. Brynn specifically said that Mara was there for a reason. Charlie says that if that’s true, they’ll figure it out, and he’ll still have her back.
Mara changes the subject to the BCI thief. She’s tracked down the fountain in the thief’s Reverie to a downtown apartment complex. She and Charlie determine which apartment must be the thief’s according to the angle Mara was seeing the fountain from when she looked through the library door. She assumes that the library door mimicked the angle of the thief’s apartment door.
They run into Liz and Quincy in the courtyard before they get a chance to knock on Glenn’s door. Liz lets them know about Glenn’s quirks so that they don’t have an issue with Glenn before he even opens the door. Charlie hides his blue pocket square.
Glenn opens the door, but threatens to call the police. Mara and Charlie threaten to call the lab that Glenn plans to rob. Given the stand off, Glenn decides to talk to Mara, but he won’t let Charlie in. He tells her that he’s a freelance coder. Glenn quickly puts things away and turns off monitors so that Mara won’t see his preparations for the robbery, and tells her not to touch or move anything because of his OCD.
Mara and Glenn bond for a minute, but just when Mara is beginning to make progress with Glenn and starts to ask him about the heist, Charlie interrupts and becomes intrusive, disrupting Glenn’s space. Glenn escapes by going into his Reverie, passing out on the floor. They take him to the Onira Tech hospital ward, where Alexis can’t wait for him to come out of his coma so she can send him to prison. When Mara worries that he’ll die in prison due to his OCD, Alexis stays unfeeling and says, “You reap what you sow.”
I’m getting the sense that everyone who works for Onira is a sociopath and the only differences between them are how well they cover it up. Alexis isn’t even trying, while Charlie is a master of disguise.
Seriously, he bought a stolen implant that’s widely available, and Alexis wants to sentence the guy to death? It seems like something worth a fine and some community service.
Paul is the only one that I even remotely trust, and he’s already told us that he literally has a room full of secrets. Mara goes straight to him with the news that they’ve caught the thief. He figures out that she’s also still conflicted about Oliver, and worried about what Oliver’s condition means for her.
He tells her that he shouldn’t be showing her everyone’s private medical files, which is true- major bad HIPAA violation, bad Paul- but then he closes his clear glass office door so that no one can see what he’s doing, and shows her anyway.
Paul pulls up brainwave files from himself, Alexis and Mara from before Reverie use and during the use of Reverie 2.0. There’s slight variation and volatility in the Reverie files, but they’re all within normal range. Then he pulls up Oliver’s files. Oliver’s brainwaves were strikingly abnormal before he went into Reverie, then absolutely chaotic once he had the implant.
Paul: Oliver was unstable long before he got a BCI. And, he’s wrong. He hasn’t spent more time in the program than anyone else. Since he left, Alexis and I have spent much more time in there. And we’re not insane. Are we? Don’t get me wrong. 2.0 can be a profound experience. If you have issues, it can find them. It did for me. But it finds them. It doesn’t create them.
Mara says that she wants to believe Paul. For now she’s going to keep working. It’s good to focus on other people’s problems because it helps you forget about your own. A light bulb turns on in her head. She knows what Glenn is doing.
Glenn is still unsuccessfully trying to leave his library by walking through that sunny parking lot. Mara confronts him and says that she’s figured out that he’s not robbing the lab for himself. He’s robbing it for Quincy. Glenn says that Quincy has Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, which he says is, “Doctor speak for ‘Your lungs suck, and we don’t know why.”
MRL has a treatment for Quincy’s illness that’s in clinical trials. Patients were chosen for the trial by lottery, and Quincy wasn’t picked. Glenn wants to get the medication for Quincy anyway. He’s hacked into the security feeds, gotten the layout of the building, and done everything he can to ensure the success of this operation, but he can’t get himself to go outside.
Mara tells him that it’s time to give up. Glenn tells her that, because of his own illnesses, he watches the world through a window from his tiny life in his tiny apartment. Since the day that they moved in, he’s watched Quincy grow up and watched Liz bravely fight to take care of him. He won’t give up on them. They’re the best part of his life, and this is all that he can give them.
Mara comes up with an idea. Glenn will leave the Reverie and cooperate, as long as Onira helps him complete the robbery. Charlie takes Mara and Glenn’s deal to Monica. Glenn knows a lot about Dark Reverie that can be used to shut sites down. They’ll need Monica’s help for part of the plan.
Glenn walks Mara through his plan. On the day of the robbery, Mara will pick up Glenn before dawn so that he can make it to the car before the sun comes up. Then he makes his way into the lab facility. His next obstacle is a blue and white tiled floor in a corridor. The blue tiles look like deep water to Glenn. Mara shows him that he can hop on the white tiles to avoid the blue. He has to wait until someone opens the correct door, then hop down the hall to catch the door before it locks again.
Now he’ll be in a storage room. He needs to take a key card from a security guard’s jacket, and use it to get the correct medicine from a climate controlled room. Once he’s got it he’ll leave through the door to the loading dock and parking lot. He just needs to make if across that sunny parking lot, into his waiting getaway car. But he still can’t handle sunlight well enough to make it across the lot.
Mara works with Glenn to get him past his phobia. She gives him a green die to mess with so that he has something for his hands to do, and something for his brain to focus on. He makes it outside a few feet, then turns back in fear.
Charlie confronts Oliver outside his apartment. Oliver asks about Charlie’s ex-wife and estranged daughter. Charlie tells Oliver not to upset him. Oliver remembers what happened the last time he made Charlie angry, right?
None of this looks good for Charlie. So far he sounds like a mob fixer.
Charlie tells Oliver that he assumes Oliver’s encounter with Mara was a bid for attention, so Charlie’s here to find out what Oliver wants. Oliver is mad that he’s been erased from the company, and he wants back in. Charlie calmly tells Oliver that they both know that’s not going to happen and why. Oliver admits that he made mistakes, and blames the program. He wants to help fix the program. Charlie definitively tells him no, then asks if Oliver’s taking care of himself. Oliver becomes irate, and screams at Charlie to stop pretending that he cares about Oliver. Charlie, still with the ever-present calm of someone who has all of the control in the situation and is happy to wield it, looms threateningly over Oliver and tells him to take his meds and stay away from Alexis, Mara and Charlie himself.
He doesn’t mention Paul.
Oliver looked maniacal and desperate during parts of that conversation, and he was shaking during a lot of it. This won’t end well.
Charlie was like a very scary, threatening, brick wall. When you combine that with his loving, protective father mode, it makes him seem even more like a mobster.
On the day of Glenn’s big heist, Mara picks him up at 5:30 AM, while it’s still dark. She assures him that it’s okay to be scared, and gives him in-ear communicators like all the cool criminals use, then sends him out to commit a felony. The robbery goes off as planned. When Glenn gets to the loading dock, it takes all of his strength and concentration, but he makes it to Mara’s car.
Charlie appears at the car window and leads Glenn and Mara inside the lab facility, where they ask Glenn to give the stolen meds back. Monica is inside with the company president, who’s been told that Glenn had been using Reverie to test the company’s security systems, then offered a real life demonstration of the weaknesses Glenn found. The president is so impressed that he offers Quincy a spot in the medication trial, Glenn’s preferred reward for his work.
When Glenn tells Liz that he got Quincy a spot in the trial, she cries and gives him a huge hug. He goes with her, across the sunny courtyard, to tell Quincy the good news.
Oliver approaches an Onira tech security guard and offers him $30,000 to steal a BCI set. Oliver says that he wants to live out his fantasies and get back the girl who got away.
Alexis and Mara talk in Mara’s office. Alexis says that Charlie’s always right. I can’t tell if she’s joking or not.
Then Alexis tells Mara a little about her relationship with Oliver. Oliver thought of the brain as a time machine, while Alexis thought Reverie could turn the brain into a teleportation device. Mara says that between them, they’d covered time and space. Alexis says that they worked as a couple, right from the start. They were in love, but he was always unstable. At first all of his good qualities outweighed the difficult ones, but then he started getting worse, and blaming his problems on Reverie 2.0. They had a big fight about it, then later that night he tried to set her house on fire with gas and his Zippo lighter.
She didn’t go to the police. She says, “Charlie talked to him, fired him, got the restraining order, and paid him off enough money to get him to go away, at least for a while.”
I wonder if Charlie also set up the fire, so that there would be a reason to get rid of Oliver? That zippo lighter detail just strikes me as too specific to be real.
Mara tries to convince Alexis that she has nothing the be ashamed of, and that she doesn’t need to keep this a secret. Alexis contradicts her, saying that the higher ups and many of the others at Onira would love to have a reason to discount her. She won’t give them that reason. She asks Mara to act as though their conversation never happened. Mara tacitly agrees.
Alexis is a little paranoid, too, but it’s probably justified. Or it might be coming from a manipulation by Charlie in order to protect the product’s reputation
Wow, that was an exposition heavy episode. Now that the introductions to the basic concepts and characters of the series are accomplished, we’re moving on to the 2nd story arc of the season, where the conspiracy/mystery arc is fleshed out. Oliver’s story and the Dark Reverie network are sure to be connected in some way. Either he was the creator of what developed into the Dark Reverie, or he figured out the nefarious purposes some of the others were planning to sell Reverie for, and he was purposely pushed into insanity by a faction within Onira Tech.
It felt like parts of this episode were rushed. With all of the creative uses of Reveries and flashbacks in this show, surely the basic facts of Oliver’s story and the founding of Onira Tech could have been shown more creatively than in plain rapid fire dialogue. Even if they’re having each person give us a different version of events, they wouldn’t be the first to show flashbacks of the same event from different points of view, then eventually show what really happened, or to show a Reverie of what Mara eventually pieces together as the truth.
But they probably didn’t have time for that, and couldn’t afford it, since they were spending so much time in Glenn’s world. They tried to do too much in this episode, with introducing Oliver’s character and backstory, plus devoting so much time to Glenn’s story as a way of introducing the Dark Reverie. It would have been better to introduce Dark Reveries and Oliver in separate episodes.
When Paul explains the Reverie coding and behavior restrictions to Mara, Paul and Charlie stare at each other intensely during the entire explanation. Charlie says that some people disagree with the restrictions. It sounds like this could be an ongoing argument between them, or it could be an issue that comes up frequently from external sources. It may be that their military investors want the restrictions removed. Or that Charlie thinks Reverie would sell better with the restrictions removed, but Paul isn’t going to condone abuse and certain types of violence. He’s probably more sensitive to certain things since he was abused himself.
It lowers my opinion of Charlie to see him equating Oliver’s mental illness with him being a liar and manipulator. Those are two separate things, and one doesn’t necessarily cause the other. Alexis stays silent during the “Oliver is crazy and a creep” conversation. Her character is written to be in perpetual silent, angry, damaged victim mode, with Charlie as the overprotective dad who goes too far in trying to keep her from getting hurt again.
Charlie might also be going too far in protecting Alexis because she’s the source of Reverie, his cash cow. Mara is apparently someone he can risk sacrificing, because he’s just using her to keep Reverie afloat.
Charlie hired Mara knowing that she was still deeply traumatized by her sister and niece’s deaths, and knowing that she was using unhealthy means to avoid coping. After finding out about Oliver’s history, I think Charlie didn’t particularly hire Mara because it would help her out, which is what he told her, so much as because her history would be useful to him if things went wrong. He hired her because she was unstable enough that they could blame her deterioration on her documented preexisting mental condition if she followed the same path as Oliver. That way they could keep Reverie from being blamed for destroying a second person’s mind.
But Mara’s also fundamentally more stable and experienced than Oliver, so she has a better chance of success with the derealizations in the long run. Charlie was hedging his bets. Mara is test subject #2 in some kind of human experimentation program. The others may have spent time in 2.0, but they were also shielded from the worst of its effects, since they’re using it in purely clinical, rather than real world, situations. Paul used a lie of omission in the conversation where he showed Mara the brain waves. The Reverie gang love to leave out crucial information.
Mara is being exposed to all kinds of code and to the implants and brains of other dreamers. There’s no telling what effect that cross pollination could have on her. And we know for sure that Reverie is going into the other dreamers’ brains, picking out relevant information, then bringing it back to Mara, because we saw it happen in her first Reverie, with the butterfly. It’s probably happening more subtly now, with Reverie nudging her to notice the important clues inside the program and out in the world.
Why was Charlie so upset that Mara went to her sister’s house? He’s hiding some secret about that night. He turned on the sirens to approach the house when Ray was holding Jamie and Brynn hostage, an action an experienced cop would know was likely to set the suspect off. It’s starting to feel like Charlie did that deliberately to keep Ray from talking too much. Charlie could be worried that Reverie will help Mara put the puzzle pieces together about the real reason her sister and niece died. The apartment might still be empty because there are clues to what Ray and Charlie were involved in hidden inside somewhere, and Charlie is hoping that mara will eventually lead him to them. He could be angry that she went to the apartment without him.
What did Brynn mean when she said that Mara was there for a reason? Did Brynn mean that she brought Mara to the apartment for a reason? She could have been referring specifically to the fire, Oliver, or Jamie and Brynn’s death. Oliver set fire to the residence of the young woman he was involved with, while Jamie was murdered by her husband. Both are suspicious, and Charlie is connected to both. I feel like Reverie has chosen Mara to imprint on and is sending her warnings about ways that some factions within Onira Tech are trying to misuse the product. Some of those Dark Reverie coders could be working for Charlie and Monica Shaw on secret projects for their day jobs.
Crazy thought- Was Ray connected to the Reverie project? When he snapped and killed his family, was he having derealizations from some secret test program gone wrong? Ray could have been trapped in a cycle of Reverie nightmares fading in and out of reality, leaving him paranoid and violent. Or someone could have made him do terrible things while he thought he was in a Reverie, and either the guilt or the trauma sent him over the edge. You could easily turn someone into a Winter Soldier by using Reveries and derealizations as brainwashing/torture tools. Especially since we’ve seen the way that Reverie can get inside the dreamer’s head and send avatars/alter situations in ways that will be the most effective. Imagine if that were meant to harm the subject, instead of help. It could be the most effective torture tool ever created, in the wrong hands.
It’s possible that Oliver set fire to Alexis’ house to see if it was real, similar to the way he burns himself. Right now, the evidence for who’s telling the truth and who is trustworthy is all very confused and confusing.
But it’s a fact that the Onira Tech gang have withheld important information until a crisis forced them to reveal it to Mara several times now. It’s their standard policy. They also don’t seem to have much empathy for actual human beings. They’re more worried about protecting the product.
It’s also a fact that Mara came back to herself standing in the middle of the road after an extended derealization, and no one at Onira took it seriously. They didn’t even examine her or her implant. This is after Charlie’s had Paul monitoring Mara’s vitals and brainwaves without her consent. The kind of health event that Charlie was supposedly watching for, happened, and his major concern was discrediting Oliver. These things don’t add up.
Images courtest of NBC.