NBC’s new series gets off to an intriguing start in the Reverie premiere, “Apertus”, as a former hostage negotiator is hired by a technology company to delve into people’s virtual lives and convince them to return to the real world.
In the Reverie premiere, the word apertus means “open”. Speak it to a near-future tablet programmed with one’s social media footprint, and your consciousness swirls into an idyllic land of make-believe assembled from all the best bits of your own life. The virtual world is indistinguishable from the real one; so advanced and immersive, in fact, that some people don’t want to leave. They detach their consciousness from their physical body, and the husk starts to wither and die.
The Reverie premiere stars Sarah Shahi as Mara Kint. A former hostage negotiator, she now teaches interpersonal skills to students who have grown up so immersed in screens that they never had a cause to learn them. Fairly early in “Apertus”, she’s recruited by the company behind Reverie as a negotiator of a different kind – one that ventures into the wild imaginings of those who have abandoned the real word for their new, constructed one, and convinces them to return.
Shahi is playing a lot here. She’s wounded and withdrawn; tortured by a failed negotiation that resulted in three deaths, one a child’s. She’s excited and sceptical; by the technology of Reverie and its implications. She’s beautiful and charming, but tough and cynical. Dennis Haysbert lends proceedings a touch of authority and thinly-veiled mystery, and Sendhil Ramamurthy is on-hand for tech-support as the engineer who guides Mara through Reverie’s delicate cyber landscapes, but the whole thing is anchored by Shahi. She’s a winning lead.
It might be NBC’s new summer series, but the Reverie premiere isn’t exactly light-hearted, nor does it give any indication that it intends to be going forwards. Reverie as a technology is predicated on clients being so unhappy with their own lives that they’re willing to delve into a new one. “Apertus” concerns a widow who has reunited with his late wife, but left his daughter at his bedside, crying over his comatose body.
That having been said, and although the twisting conceptual DNA it shares with Black Mirror shouldn’t be overlooked, Reverie lacks that show’s sense of misanthropy and nihilism. “Apertus” introduces us to relatively plausible technology and concepts – AI, VR, etc. – and includes enough familiarity that we believe they might be within reach, even if everything does work a little too seamlessly to be entirely convincing – not when I can’t unlock my iPhone with my thumbprint roughly eight times out of ten. But, really, what the show is interested in is the psychology of those who would seek out this technology; how we interact with our phones (when we can unlock them) or how much of ourselves we pour into our social media profiles. There’s enough pathos to add real emotional weight and impact (and the Reverie premiere has both) but the procedural nature of Mara convincing people each week to abandon their safe constructions and confront their trauma head-on gives the show an undeniably optimistic slant.
Jaume Collet-Serra directs the Reverie premiere with his usual briskness and sense of creativity, which is something I’d like to continue as the show progresses, even though the ending of “Apertus” hints at side effects and software bugs that plague one’s waking consciousness after they’ve delved into Reverie. That kind of thing is par for the course, and it’s difficult to say how much or how little those foreboding wrinkles will be explored in subsequent episodes. But thus far the uncertainty is part of the appeal. If everyone’s mental landscape is entirely unique – which, let’s face it, it should be – then Reverie has a virtually limitless well of psychological playgrounds to explore. I’ll be plugging it to see what happens next. I hope I get out again.