Editor’s Note: this review is (mostly) spoiler-free: enjoy!
It’s hard to really put a one-sentence explanation of Falling Water into words. Heck: it’s hard to put it into an entire paragraph, let alone base a whole review around its first few episodes. Mostly because it doesn’t seem as though the series really wants to let us in on what it’s after yet. The Inception-ism of it is certainly one thing (and its similar ties to Sense 8 another) but the show also attempts to go one step further, imbuing mystery into the plot as well: who’s messing with your dreams? What does it mean? And for how long will their caper last?
But can it pull such a heady POV off? Even in a post-Mr. Robot world? Well…
Falling Water follows three seemingly disconnected people—Tess (American Horror Story: Asylum‘s Lizzie Brocheré), Burton (David Ajala from Black Mirror and Jupiter Ascending), and Taka (The Wolverine and True Blood‘s Will Yun Lee)—as they come to realize they’re dreaming separate parts of a collective dream, all on the hunt for something different. For Tess, it’s searching for a missing child; for Burton it’s a girlfriend; for Taka, it’s a cure for his catatonic mom. Its conceit is impressive, its construct? Ambitious. All three of their journeys, apparently selfish in origin, converge in mysterious, odd ways — an undulating mystery imbued with an almost British sense of style.
I applaud USA Network’s efforts to continue to push new ground when it comes to nontraditional TV storytelling. And with an impressive team behind the series—including the late Homeland EP Henry Bromell, as well as Blake Masters and The Walking Dead‘s Gale Anne Hurd—there’s no shortage of intelligence or pedigree behind the project. But to tell this complicated and nuanced a story is no small feat, particularly when it must be handled visually rather than through written word on the page.
Visually, the show does well to differentiate and imbue a sense of unease into the dream sequences (and those in real life). Though at times relying a bit too heavily on science fiction visual tropes (what a stark, grey world we live in! Oh, how colorful and alive the dreams that come!), its visual Britishness sets it apart from other series on American television—to its benefit. Additionally, Wet Hot American Summer‘s Zak Orth does very well as the seemingly megalomaniacal (and rich as fuuuuuuck, clearly) Bill Boerg, who seems like exactly the sort of misguided maybe-villain to unfurl the series’ dramatic stakes. But so far, the tension has felt more tailored to give the illusion of stakes and mystery and gravitas rather than a filter for legitimate urgency—and his role, too, feels ripe for potential tedium. Shady research? Unending wealth? Little gained, little given? A pair of clear glasses that show it’s “tech serious”? Dubious methods at best? Check, check, and check-check-check, my friends.
USA Network has gone above and beyond in their attempt to get the potential audience to understand the hypothetical reality of being able to “hack” a person’s dreams, but it lacks enough structure as a conceit to actually stand on its own as a plot device. As it currently stands, the series’ scientific acumen—is it possible to mess with someone else’s dreams? Can you take control of them? Can you infiltrate them? Can you, in dreams, take control of how a person sees the world?—does more to confuse and obfuscate the series’ plot more than anything else, its attempts at intelligence are actually hindering the plot rather than helping.
It’s hard to say whether or not the promise of the premise will hold up in its TV translation. We’re simply going to traverse a few more dreams to see.
2.5 out of 5 dreamy burritos:
Falling Water premieres on October 13th on USA Network. Are you tuning in? Let us know in the comments below.
Images: USA Network