Fans of science fiction/mystery series like “Fringe” and “Mr. Robot,” anxiously gathered around their televisions on Oct. 13 to watch USA Network’s latest contribution to the now-crowded genre, “Falling Water.”
Part surreal mystery, part science fiction thriller, the new series centers on three characters who find that they — or, rather, their dreams — exist in a single, interconnected world and who must discover what their dreams might tell them about their actual lives. On the surface, it seems that the mystery which underlies the show could be engaging and fascinating, but there is one glaring problem: after the first episode, there is no indication whatsoever as to what that mystery might be.
In fact, after the first episode, the viewer has little idea of what the show might even be; the pilot introduces a complex web of shallowly developed characters and partially explored motifs which coalesce into an incoherent mess of confusion. The plot is so entangled, in fact, that the viewer is left with a few disconnected ideas and practically no notion of why those ideas are significant or how they will play into the narrative of the series.
The episode does show some promise, however, in the development of the three principal characters: Burton (David Ajala, “Kill Command”), Tess (Lizzie Brocheré, “American Horror Story”) and Taka (Will Yun Lee, “The Wolverine”). The creators of the show effectively bring out deep conflicts and personality traits in these characters in the single episode, revealing with subtlety and taste some of their deepest and darkest secrets.
The viewer becomes aware that each of the three characters has some weakness, some emotional demon which haunts them and frustrates their desire to maintain control of themselves and their situation. The three also lack a propensity to trust others, a deficiency almost certainly stemming from the personal demons haunting them in their dreams.
Still, these interesting and well-developed characters are brought down by a sea of obnoxiously underdeveloped characters that surrounds them. These characters often have considerable amounts of screen time and dialogue, yet the viewer learns practically nothing about them from the episode.
There are even characters who seem poised to play a significant role in the show but are then left with less character development than Marcello’s, a restaurant referenced by the characters with unusual frequency.
One case that stands out is Bill Boerg, as there is even reason to believe that he is the otherwise unnamed narrator. This lack of development of some major characters presents a serious problem for a show which professes to explore the “ripples in the Jungian collective unconscious.”
Tragi-comically, the show’s greatest power, its ability to confuse the viewer’s delineation between dream and reality, is ultimately its greatest weakness. While watching the show, the viewer is never quite sure whether or not a character is dreaming.
This unique feature is impressive, and it lends the show flexibility in that any viewer theory is possible because anything that contradicts itself in the show can be dismissed as actually being part of a dream. Still, this actually takes away from the thrill of watching. If any theory is possible, no theory feels correct, and the suspense viewers love so much about watching science fiction mystery show disappears.
For now, after the release of the pilot episode, the show is ambitious and at first intriguing, but it is weighed down by an inconsistently developed cast of characters, an absurdist narrative style which puts Samuel Beckett to shame, and a barely embryonic plot. If “Falling Water” does not offer viewers something new and coherent in the next few episodes, a second season might exist only in its dreams.