In “Altum Somnum” the crew of Onira-Tech is tasked with foiling a terrorist plot, and while it more or less works on its own terms, Reverie’s hopeful optimism is started to harm its drama.
It was only a matter of time. After a few weeks of hopeful hippie do-gooderism, it was inevitable that the Reverie program would be used by the government to foil a terrorist attack. There are only so many moving family reunions this technology can facilitate before the military-industrial complex gets their blood-stained paws on it; in “Altum Somnum”, which translates as “deep sleep”, if you were wondering, Onira-Tech’s shady investors call in a favour at the behest of Uncle Sam.
As it turns out, you don’t get to take money from the Department of Defence without any strings attached. After a terrorist bomb results in countless deaths and a video message promises more to come, Onira-Tech are tasked with constructing a Reverie around a comatose survivor who can identify the ringleader of the group responsible.
Paul, true to form, thinks this is deeply unethical; Alexis sees it as an intellectual challenge, although in the course of the Reverie-building investigation she quickly realises that life beyond ones and zeroes is a little more complex and less straightforward than she thought.
Of course, there’s more to the identity of the survivor than anyone first assumed, which is becoming par for the course in Reverie. I won’t spoil, as perhaps more so than usual, enjoyment of the episode is predicated on the gradual reveals that occur outside the program. As it happens, in “Altum Somnum”, there’s very little of note that occurs within Reverie itself, although it does play with another interesting new concept.
See, the coma patient is dying from her injuries. When she snuffs it, what happens to the Reverie? What happens to Mara if she’s still inside? As a ticking clock device it works, more or less, but I never got a sense that the show would really commit to the idea, and I was right. It makes for a nice sequence in which Mara has to escape from a rapidly-disintegrating idyllic fantasy, but without any real sense of what might happen if she doesn’t make it, it isn’t exactly fraught with tension.
No matter, really. As always, the underlying tone is pleasant and uplifting, even in the face of great tragedy, so there’s no surprise that “Altum Somnum” manages to manufacture a typically happy ending. Even the no-nonsense DoD shark gets in on the end-of-episode let’s-all-be-friends toast. If there’s anything that NBC’s series is lacking at this point, it’s a sense of long-term consequence; that the main cast might be in some kind of legitimate danger. Even Mara’s mental issues were completely side-lined this week, and the terror group at the heart of the plot was not at all the one you might have been expecting. After all, I wouldn’t expect a frothy major-network sci-fi show to get too political.
All in all, though, and as always, I enjoy Reverie for its optimism and its cast and its ideas, and “Altum Somnum” had all of those things, even if it didn’t have much in the way of actual drama. We’re probably not deep enough into this first season to make any major judgements either way, but I’m starting to suspect that for all the show’s positivity and idealism, the only way it’s going to feel memorable is by allowing the tragedy to spill out of the program and into the real world.
“Altum Somnum” was the fifth episode of Reverie‘s first season. Check out our full series coverage.