Reverie Season 1 Episode 5: Altum Somnum Recap

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This week’s episode starts with a boom, then a crash and a fireball. During the cold opening, we watch people come and go for a minute before a terrorist explodes a bomb in an office building lobby. Mara will be asked to trick information out of a dying woman who was injured in this explosion.

Mara is getting coffee in the Onira Tech break room when Charlie finds her and tells her to come with him. He gives her no explanation for why he wants her, and just happens to have an armed military guard with him. Mara is understandably freaked out.

Dennis Haysbert has one of the great actor voices of all time, as we all know, and he can use it for good or evil. Can you imagine having your boss tell you to come with him and an armed guard, with that voice, and what you’d think if he didn’t add something like, “It’s not about you”? I’d be having a heart attack. Terrible boss move, Charlie.

Monica, Alexis, and Paul are also in Charlie’s office, so either the entire senior staff is in trouble, or it’s about something else. Alexis is playing on her phone, because she doesn’t believe in showing emotions, no matter what. Paul is playing Grumpy Cat and moral compass. It’s Monica’s meeting, and she’s all business, despite the temperature of the room.

Charlie asks to speak with Monica privately before the briefing starts, but she refuses, saying there isn’t time. She explains to the room that this is a classified operation and they couldn’t be told anything until they were in a secure location.

Mara is confused. She thought Monica was simply an investor in Onira Tech, either as a private citizen or as the lead for some private company. She’s surprised to learn that Monica represents the US Department of Defense, which own 30% of Onira. That’s a significant amount.

Paul and Alexis already knew that, but Paul looks unhappy about it (no shock there) and Alexis says that she thought investors were supposed to be hands off. Monica agrees that Onira doesn’t take orders from the DoD. She’s there today to ask for help with a terrorist attack.

Monica brings them into the briefing room and tells them about the bombing from the cold opening. A masked man who calls himself Silas sent them a video taking responsibility for the attack, and threatening more attacks if the government doesn’t quickly make restitution for the illnesses suffered by the people who live in his city, which the government used as a toxic munitions dump:

“Did we get your attention? Good. Because the people of Doyle County did not ask to be your dumping ground. But you still buried your guns and munitions here. Your depleted uranium shell casings. Now the ground water is poisoned. Dozens have died and more are dying every day. Why? So you can greedily buy more. Keep the corporate machine humming. Pay reparations. Relocate the townspeople and clean up the site. Or we will visit upon you days and days of reckoning.”

All of the relevant agencies have been notified that more bombings are expected, but Monica hopes that Mara can get them information from a witness who’s in a coma and dying. Denise Lang was a security guard who, according to security footage, appears to have gotten a good look at Silas shortly before the explosion. She’s already been moved into the Onira medical wing.

Denise’ injuries include third degree burns over 60% of her body, and lacerations to her liver and spleen. The doctors give her 6-10 hours to live at most. Alexis and Paul would need to design a Reverie from scratch that would allow Mara to go into someone’s dying mind without their knowledge or consent in the hopes that Mara can find what she’s looking for and get out before the patient dies.

Alexis is intrigued by the challenge. Paul isn’t sure that it would be good for Mara, and is concerned about the ethical implications of putting an unconscious person into a Reverie without any kind of consent or preparation just because the DoD has decided it’s essential.

He also isn’t sure what would happen if Denise died while Mara was in her Reverie, or if a Reverie can even be successfully created for a comatose, dying mind. Monica says that her people have looked at the source code and don’t see any problem with creating a Reverie for Denise. That brings up a new issue. Alexis didn’t know that giving the DoD their source code was part of the investment deal.

Paul is still concerned about Mara getting trapped in the Reverie of a dying brain. They simply have no precedent to predict what would happen. That makes Charlie think twice about sending Mara in. But Mara’s been looking at the photos of the explosion that Monica accidentally on purpose left on the coffee table. Seeing the bodies, which include children, makes taking the risk worth it to Mara. She doesn’t want future bombings on her conscience, and she wants to catch the bomber so he can be brought to justice. But she makes sure to tell Monica that she knows Monica left the photos there to manipulate her.

Once the meeting adjourns, Dylan, Paul and Alexis explain to Mara that the hormone noradrenaline, which stimulates the amygdala, where memories are formed, will be key to this mission. Stress increases levels of noradrenaline, which blocks memories of traumatic events. But just the right amount of the hormone can help witnesses remember the events preceding trauma.

If Denise still has the memories of the minutes before the explosion in her brain, Alexis hopes to use Reverie to get her to relive them. They have surveillance videos of the lobby that show what happened, but no one caught Silas’ face except for Denise. They can set up the Reverie like an instant replay, and when Denise sees Silas face again, Mara should be able to see it as well, since Reverie 2.0 connects their brains.

Alexis and Paul get started. Alexis dives into her laptop, already thinking about issues she’ll have to work around. Paul calls the entire design team into the studio.

Mara asks if he’s okay with the mission now and he says no, it’s unethical and it sets a bad precedent, but he’s still going to make sure she’s okay in there.

Paul explains to his team that this is a classified mission and they’ll be going dark for the duration. He gives them all of the schematics and video footage the DoD has, then tells them to use their imaginations to fill in the rest. They have an hour at most to get the program up and running.

We see more of the design process than we’ve ever seen before. Paul wanders the office, checking progress and making suggestions. He goes in and out of the Reverie, looking at how the details are shaping up.

Mara visits Denise in the hospital wing. She’s covered in bandages and alone. A respirator breathes for her.

When it’s time for Mara to go into the Reverie, Paul tells her where the failsafe mandala exit is and how long she’ll have before the explosion. Alexis instructs her to pretend the Reverie is real and avoid letting Denise know that anything unusual is happening. They don’t want her to panic or shut down.

Inside the Reverie, the first thing Mara sees is the giant mandala. The next thing is the young girl who died. Then she sees Denise, who’s disoriented. A brief conversation with Mara doesn’t improve Denise’s mental state much.

Charlie and Monica have an argument in his office about whether or not this is a justified use of the program. Charlie feels that Monica created a reason to use Reverie so she could show it off to her bosses, but she shouldn’t be using it to put Mara in unnecessary danger. Monica feels that this is exactly the kind of use that her bosses need to see to take Reverie 2.0 seriously, and Mara’s a capable operative who understands the risks of her job.

Monica’s bosses thought of Reverie 1.0 as a toy, so she needs to help them see the possibilities for 2.0. Using it to get information from a mind that would otherwise be lost and then saving lives with that information is an undeniable success that couldn’t happen without the brain to brain link. Then she can convince them of its usefulness for training, PTSD treatment and strategic planning. Charlie throws in intelligence gathering. Monica agrees. She suggests he worry as much about the people they’re trying to protect as he does about Mara. He tells her not to guilt him, because she knows… And her phone interrupts him from saying the actual useful information this conversation could have provided.

It’s mildly interesting that they both play both sides of the argument. It’s like they had to have it for the surveillance cameras to record.

Monica is informed that the real Denise Lang has come forward to the LAPD. She’s been on extended leave for a month. Mara is in the Reverie with an unidentified woman who forged a security guard’s badge.

When the moment comes for “Denise” to see Silas’ face, her memory doesn’t fill in his eyes or his upper nose and forehead. When she sees this, she gets upset and calls out to him by name. She could only have known his name before the bombing if she was one of the terrorists.

Dylan identifies the woman who isn’t Denise as Ashley Trent, age 20, from Santa Barbara. The real Denise’s work status had never been updated in the company computer, and the company security guards rotate through multiple buildings, so no one noticed the change, and the authorities missed it after the bombing.

Mara doesn’t think that Ashley seems like a terrorist. She didn’t feel like a brutal killer who wouldn’t care who the bombs hurt. She plans to go back in and talk to Ashley again after she’s gotten more information about the young woman.

Alexis becomes impatient with the process. She notes that they did what Monica asked. According to her, anything else is Monica’s problem, including any other bombs that are out there. Alexis was in this mission, and probably all missions, for the intellectual challenge. With that gone, she doesn’t care about the humanitarian or law enforcement angles, so she’s out and returns to her room.

Charlie follows Alexis out of the room and they argue about her role in the company. She never wants to know any of the details about company operations. She prefers to do her coding and not be bothered by anything else. But she also wants to have opinions about Charlie’s decisions after the fact, to somehow retain sole control of the company, and to never have anything to do with people or money.

He tries to tell her that business doesn’t work that way, but she thinks that Steve Jobs got rich through “vision” alone. She should actually look up Steve Jobs sometime. His job at Apple was to wrangle people and money. Steve Wozniak was the one who designed the code, alone in a room, like her. He’s also rich, but he didn’t stay at Apple long.

Charlie gives up on trying to explain life to her, and says they’re going for a ride.

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Mara meets with Ashley’s mother, who is there to be with her daughter. She says that Ashley had a normal childhood until she was 13, when they discovered that her father had conned a lot of people out of their life savings. Mr Trent is serving a life sentence in prison, but the civil lawsuits stripped Ashley and Mrs Trent of everything. The kids at school were especially cruel to Ashley, and the girl who’d been lively, intelligent and funny turned bitter and angry. Mrs Trent hasn’t seen her in a year.

Once Charlie and Alexis are out on their drive, Charlie yells at Alexis to get off her phone (she’s working, not texting or on Instagram), and come with him into the house they stop at. She argues back, but he tells her that she has to start paying attention to the whole company or stop questioning his decisions. A good place to start is by getting out in the world more.

A woman answers the door who says her name is Margaret. She goes to wake up Edith, the woman they’re looking for, but they can tell she’s lying, so they follow her after a moment. There’s evidence that Edith forged Ashley’s fake ID badge, so they chase Edith to the backyard. She tells them that Silas’ reign of fire begins today, and will burn them out, then shoots herself in the head.

Great choice for Alexis’ introduction to fieldwork, Charlie.

Mara decides to go back into the Reverie as quickly as possible, this time wearing Edith’s body. Paul warns Mara not to speak too much, because they didn’t have a voice template for Edith. Ashley sees responds to her immediately. She tells Edith that she still feels weird and wrong, and that everyone and everything around her is also wrong. She sends Edith to a closet door, but when Edith/Mara opens it, there’s a new Reverie inside, with a forest and a log cabin. Edith/Mara pretends that all she sees is the closet.

Ashley becomes sure that something is terribly wrong and they’re being punished. She says that Silas was wrong. Mara jumps in and tries to convince her that they can stop it from happening by going to the police and telling them where the bombs are. But Ashley passes out before she can answer.

Mara comes out of the Reverie and is told that Ashley’s lung collapsed. Mara wants to go back in as soon as Ashley’s stable, but Monica’s team has been given a tip that she wanted Ashley to confirm. Now there’s no time.

Paul is fascinated by the new Reverie that Ashley’s building. Spontaneous portal generation is a totally new phenomenon. Paul theorizes that her traumatized brain is rejecting the official Reverie, so the BCI is drawing from her other memories of places that are important to her and making a refuge for her.

Mara is determined to go back in, even though the risk is only increasing. She visits Mrs Trent, who sitting at Ashley’s bedside, and asks about the cabin. Ashley’s mom tells Mara that the family built the cabin together when Ashley was a little girl. Mrs Trent also used to read Alice in Wonderland to Ashley every night. Ashley had a copy with her things when they found her effects at Edith’s house.

Mrs Trent talks about the way they kept Ashley sheltered from the truth of her father’s crimes when she was little. She realizes now that it was to protect herself more than Ashley. Ashley felt like everyone in her life exploited her. Mrs Trent understands why Ashley was so angry. Mara figures out that no one gave Ashley what she needed- the truth.

Just as Mara goes back into the Reverie, Monica calls to say the tip was a hoax. They’re still depending on Mara to find the bombs in time.

Mara finds Ashley in her log cabin, sitting in front of a fire. She doesn’t know what’s real any more, and is afraid to talk to Mara, thinking she’s one of the blank people from the lobby. Mara tells Ashley that she understands, given how often Ashley’s been lied to. But she’s here to give Ashley the truth.

Mara explains how the Reverie works, and what’s happened over the course of the day, inside and outside the Reverie. She tells Ashley what her true medical condition is. Ashley accepts that she’s dying, saying that she can feel it. She gets upset when she discovers that the bomb has already gone off, because Silas promised her that no one would get hurt.

Silas found Ashley when she was down and alone, then he took advantage of her. Ashley feels like a monster. Mara tells her that she isn’t. She tells Ashley that her mom is sitting by her bedside out in the real world.

Ashley didn’t discover that the bomb was set to go off right away until it was too late to stop it. Mara convinces her that she can still save lives by sharing the location of the next bomb. At this point, Ashley’s Reverie is having earthquakes. It’s losing its integrity because she’s getting too close to death for her mind to sustain it. Once Mara has the location of the next bomb, she runs for the giant mandala emergency exit, barely making it in time, as the Reverie disintegrates around her.

She goes back to Ashley’s room to share with Ashley’s mother that her daughter saved lives by giving Mara information about the bomb with her dying thoughts. She also sent a personal message to her mother, and asked Mara to read Alice in Wonderland to Mrs Trent. Mrs Trent cries, but is comforted by Mara’s use of Reverie to give her some closure with her daughter.

Charlie stops by Alexis’ room to comfort her after their difficult day. He tells her to remember the good work she did, not the bad parts.

He also tells her an inadvisable story about a friend’s accidental suicide when he was a teen, which is supposed to help her. But Edith wasn’t the first person she’s seen die, she tells him, implying she’s fine. Also implying that she saw Dylan die. After Charlie leaves, we discover that she’s looking at photos of Edith.

At the end of the day, the team gathers in the break room to celebrate the successful mission. Monica has brought a bottle to share, and everyone toasts. Mara, a recovering addict and alcoholic, drinks whatever she already had in her mug, but joins the toast.


 

Altum Somnum is Latin for deep sleep, which has layers of meanings for the show. The obvious is Denise and her coma. There’s also Alexis’ purposeful ignorance of the workings of her own company. And then there’s whatever Charlie and Monica are up to, and Paul’s half-hearted resistance. He disapproves, but doesn’t take any action to find out exactly what they’re doing or to stop them. Like Alexis, he prefers to live in ignorance to just how deep the immorality and potential for corruption run.

Charlie’s office is vetted as a secure location, meaning it’s probably regularly swept for bugs and other types of clandestine surveillance devices. We already know that he won’t let Dylan in the room. I get the feeling that Charlie has blackmail material on everyone, but no one has anything on him. He might be the Godfather in disguise. He takes care of his people, but you definitely want to stay one of his people.

Charlie is just the most strangely written character. He sold the product to the DoD. They can call it an investment all they want, but they traded money for the source code. That’s a sale. The DoD owns part of the company, and Monica’s frequent presence says that they aren’t actually hands off at all. They’re watching closely.

Charlie’s a grown up, he knew what the sale meant. He tells the youngsters on the team to grow up and accept what it means. But he also wants to play innocent and pretend that Monica has used him somehow. He wants her to act like the business is a family, and she owes him and his designated people special treatment. He wants to pretend that he never expected the Department of Defense to use Reverie for the negative purposes that are its main business.

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I appreciate the show calling Silas, who is a white man, a terrorist. In reality, white men are rarely given that name by the mainstream media, no matter how horrific their crimes, how racist they are, or how undeniable they make it that they’re using violence as a tool to further their political or social agendas. Even Timothy McVeigh is conveniently forgotten by most people.

Paul isn’t wrong to be concerned about the moral implications of putting Denise Lang into Reverie. This is the kind of slippery ethical slope that leads to tools like Reverie ending up in the wrong hands, and being used for terrible purposes. It’s no coincidence that the person being forced into Reverie and exploited for information during her dying hours is a young (black) woman. We are used to seeing women’s bodies used and exploited on television, especially women of color.

The creators don’t want to focus on the exploitation issue right now, so they downplay the mindrape and lack of respect for a dying victim by using someone who gets very little respect in our culture anyway. That way the exploitation doesn’t jump out at the viewer the way it might if the victim was a white, middle-aged CEO with his lovely suburban wife and children crying at his bedside. The DoD would be much less likely to feel they needed to trick that person, or that it was an appropriate use of his final moments.

Note that they thought they knew the victim’s name, and didn’t try to contact a relative of Denise Lang for consent, as hospitals do with a patient who’s unable to give consent for themselves. They even kept what they were doing secret from Mrs Trent when they had the opportunity to get consent from her. She was right in the room with Ashley, so there were no excuses left about time or difficulty.

There’s nothing in the episode script as presented that says the character of Denise Lang/Ashley Trent had to be of any particular race or ethnicity. It may have been the director’s choice to make her a woman of color. The fact that both Silas and Edith are white, and both used and lied to Denise, makes the race issue more glaring to me.

This episode reminds me of all of the forced human experimentation of the 20th century that was perpetrated on minorities, the disabled, and people otherwise unable to protect themselves, often in the name of eugenics, and often without telling the victims  subjects that they were part of a study.

I do think that the show is slowly working its way up to confronting these issues more directly. I hope they get there before the end of the season. Human experimentation without informed consent is a big deal, and it still happens today. Lying to the subject of the experiment, especially as she’s dying, is a big deal. Not informing her next of kin that you’re experimenting on her is a big deal. It’s not okay in real life, and it’s not okay for a TV show to make it look acceptable.

I’m glad that they at least have Paul grumbling through out these episodes as the voice of reason and human rights, even if he hasn’t change anything so far.

 

Images courtesy of NBC.

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