Did you sort of like the Christopher Nolan movie ‘Inception’ and the Wachowskis’ Netflix series ‘Sense8’ but feel that both were just a little too challenging and/or edgy for you? Good news! Now these two things have been mashed together and watered down for your viewing on basic cable. The show is called ‘Falling Water’ but probably should be called ‘InceptSense’ to acknowledge how derivative it is.
The premise: Dreams are, like, totally deep, man. They contain symbolism and stuff. Maybe, if you pay attention to them, they might even connect us all, or something. Really. Whoa.
Lizzie Brocheré from ‘The Strain’ stars as Tess, a photographer… I think? She works for either a fashion label or a style magazine. It’s never clear. We see her taking a bunch of photos of people on the street, and we’re told that she’s the absolute best “spotter” in the business for identifying emerging fashion and style trends. The only one we actually see her spot is a black teenager playing basketball, who has the shape of a crown shaved into his hair.
The pilot episode opens with Tess having a nightmare about being in a hospital in the middle of childbirth. As soon as she squeezes a baby out, she hears it cry but the doctors tell her that there is no baby and walk away. She gets off the operating table and walks around the dimly-lit hospital until she comes across a creepy little boy smiling at her.
Apparently, this is a recurring nightmare for Tess. She wakes up and draws a sketch of the boy, which she adds to a collection of similar drawings. In her waking life, Tess visits multiple doctors asking to be tested to determine if she’s ever had a child. The latest one tries to steer her toward psychiatric counseling instead.
Tess is just one of three lead characters. The next is Burton (David Ajala), a very serious man and a bit of a control freak. Burton works as a fixer for a major financial firm, providing security for and getting its executives out of various scandals, both personal and professional. He believes that one of his clients may be engaged in insider trading, based on some cryptic clues that contain the codeword “Topeka.” Burton’s recurring dreams are about a mysterious woman (Anna Wood) that he takes a shower with, runs into at work, and meets for dinner at a restaurant. He has a very involved relationship with this woman who doesn’t actually exist.
Finally we have Taka (Will Yun Lee), a detective for the NYPD whose elderly mother is virtually catatonic. Taka dreams of a scary woman with no face. (Could it be his mother, I wonder???)
Unbeknownst to any of them, these three characters are somehow connected. Figures from one’s dreams will show up in another’s, and they all see visions of a frightening shadow monster in their nightmares.
Taka catches a strange case at work when an old lady entered a foreign embassy and dropped dead for seemingly no reason. He visits her house to contact next of kin and discovers a ring of dead bodies lying on the floor in a circle, all stripped to their underwear. The word “Topeka” is written backwards on one wall of the room. Later, Taka runs the woman’s ID and the photo he gets is a completely different person. It’s a younger black woman that he saw in the house across the street. When Taka goes to see her, he finds the house occupied by an old man who says he’s lived there for years and doesn’t know the black lady. Taka notices a fountain in the front yard with pieces of paper floating in it. On the pages are sketches of the boy from Tess’ dream. As he looks at them, the house explodes behind him.
Burton sees the man he’s investigating receive a phone call at work. Burton follows him outside and watches the man take off pieces of clothing and drop them on the sidewalk. He trails him all the way to the man’s penthouse apartment, where Burton attempts to confront him. The man babbles nonsense about Topeka and about Burton’s girl, then pulls a gun and shoots himself.
Tess is approached by a wealthy weirdo named Bill (Zak Orth from ‘Revolution’) who says that he wants to hire her to participate in a dream research study. She thinks he’s a creep and resists at first, until he promises, completely out of the blue, to help her find her son. How could he know about that, she wonders? When Tess finally agrees, Bill asks her to lie on a table next to a hipster and take a nap. When she wakes up, all she has to do is tell Bill what she dreamed about.
Tess dreams about being on a bus with Burton. Bill is driving and mows down a bunch of pedestrians. He drops her off at a building, where she sees the hipster digging a tunnel through the floor. The hipster asks her to tell Bill that she saw him playing the piano. When she awakes, the hipster is gone from the room. Tess tells Bill that she saw the guy playing a piano. Bill is psyched. He blathers some gobbledygook about cerebral cortexes and “absolute connectivity,” then gives Tess some info on a hospital that has a record of her being admitted yet she has no memory of it.
The premiere ends with the creepy little boy running through a series of locations (a restaurant, a hospital room, an apartment) that connect the dreams of the three leads. Over this, Bill intones in voiceover something about a war for control of our dreams and a messianic figure that will learn how to harness the power of dreams. Or some crazy BS like that.
Episode Verdict / Grade: C+
‘Falling Water’ is not the worst thing I’ve seen on the air this season. It’s a handsome package, with slick production values and pretty decent acting. However, the premise and plot are very silly stuff played out with the utmost seriousness. The show is dark and brooding and filled with heavy-handed symbolism and stylized imagery. I counted 463 tight close-ups of eyeballs. Because, you know, windows to the soul and all that. Sooo deep, right? Ultimately, it just seems completely ridiculous.
The USA Network has so much faith in this show that the pilot episode was made available On-Demand a couple weeks prior to its official broadcast. I didn’t bother to watch it that way, preferring to record the regular airing on my DVR so I could fast forward through the commercials. The second episode is available in advance now as well. I was tempted for a moment to give it a shot to see if perhaps it played a little better or the pieces of the puzzle became more interesting, but decided not to bother. This isn’t something I need to continue with.