A young boy -- blue-eyed, blonde, and delicate -- plays at a dripping water fountain behind the counter of an empty Manhattan restaurant. Set to the jazzed pace of a rolling drum and smoky saxophone, he turns from the camera and runs back to the kitchen, pushing through the saloon style doors to find himself in a barren hospital room. The next doorway leads to an early 20th Century apartment, where a woman maternally holds the boy’s hands through a quick swing-around dance. He exits right to find the entryway to a tunnel. A bright blue light shines from the opposite end, illuminating a steady stream of water running at the boy’s feet and into a sewer drain, where an unknown, shadowy beast is heard roaring below.
All the while, there’s a narrator urging audience’s attention.
“There’s a war going on -- a war for control of our dreams. And the outcome just may hinge on the fate of a single person -- a special and powerful person,” he says. “Now you can believe me or not, but what if your dreams are trying to tell you something? What if they’re trying to tell you your life is at stake?”
It’s the final sequence in the pilot episode of Falling Water, USA’s new hour-long psychological thriller. It follows the intertwining storylines of Tess (Lizzie Brocheré), Burton (David Ajala), and Taka (Will Yun Lee), who inexplicably have the ability to enter others’ dreams. While they are each in search of something -- Tess, her son; Burton, his lover; and Taka, his mother -- it remains unclear what they have to gain from one another.
This series from the producers of The Walking Dead and Homeland builds a lot of intrigue right from episode 1, titled “Don’t Tell Bill.” It may be a lot to chew at first, but the moving parts are already slowly coming together and leaving us wanting more.
Here’s what you need to know...
Tess may be that “special and powerful person.”
As a trends analyst (and a good one, at that), Tess reads consumers’ aspirations and dreams for a living, but she’s having trouble decoding the meaning behind her own. In the episode’s opening, our main protagonist dreams of giving birth to a baby boy. When she is told she lost the baby, Tess stands to leave the hospital bed when she steps into a puddle of water coming in from the main corridor. Eerily enough, the young blonde boy is there staring at her, silhouetted by the light in the hall. It’s the same boy, it’s later learned, she herself has been drawing obsessively in her notebook. She wakes with a start, so certain the dream is actually a repressed memory that she goes to three separate doctors to confirm that her body has given birth. There’s no evidence of a birth and no one believes her.
No one, that is, except for Bill Boerg, an Icelandic billionaire played by Zak Orth, who we come to learn is also the series’ narrator. He has proof of her son’s existence. Promising more information in exchange for her help, Bill convinces the reluctant Tess to join him in a hotel suite where she and an anonymous man will be monitored while sleeping next to one another. She can predict millions of others’ dreams; can she predict a single person’s dream on command? Bill is convinced that Tess will be able to enter this man’s mind -- and miraculously, she does.
The sleeping man, Andy, is not surprised to see her in the dream, but he tells Tess to lie to Bill about what she sees. Though the actual encounter has them meeting in a hotel lobby while Andy digs a tunnel and escapes the room through the floor, he tells Tess to tell Bill that he was playing a Cole Porter song on the piano. Once awake, Tess recounts the events of the dream to Bill, lying as requested, and it’s evidence enough that they did, indeed, connect. Bill is thrilled.
Dropping more breadcrumbs further down the rabbit hole, he provides information about Tess’s son, as promised, in the form of a hospital receipt billed to Tess for an epidural. Strange, considering there’s no account of her ever being a patient there.
So will Tess venture to St. John’s Hospital to further unveil the truth in the next episode? All signs point to yes.
Burton gets caught up in a waking nightmare.
Burton is the second of the three Falling Water protagonists. He gets swept up into the dream drama when tasked with running an internal investigation within his financial firm on a man named Jones (Michael O'Keefe) who is suspected of insider trading. It’s also learned early on that Jones has some sort of tie to Topeka, Kansas; Burton finds the city’s name scrawled on one of Jones’s cocktail napkins.
Simultaneously, Burton is wracked with dreams -- or are they? -- involving a beautiful, nameless ex-lover, simply credited as “the woman in red.” This may be the point in the show where reality and dream-state are most thoroughly interchanged. Was there ever a woman? Not according to local hotel records. Then who is she? And why, when Burton and she exit the restaurant in his dream, does he see Jones exiting a bar across the street? And why, in that same dream, is Burton run down by a speeding car before waking? As Burton is slowly losing sense of what’s real and what’s not, Jones becomes an increasingly malicious presence in his day-to-day, mysteriously making comments that imply he knows Burton has been dreaming of this woman. What does Jones know that he’s not letting on?
One night, Burton watches from afar as Jones takes a call from an unknown caller. It must be bad news, because the color drains from his face. Burton also sees a fellow colleague, Woody (Kai Lennox), corner Jones and promptly explode in anger. What had him so upset? Burton decides to follow Jones home that evening to find out and eventually makes his way up to the businessman’s penthouse balcony.
“What did Woody say to you?” Burton asks.
“Nothing,” Jones says. “Woody doesn’t matter. It’s Topeka. It’s always Topeka. So much bigger than we could ever know.” And by “bigger,” Jones clarifies, “It’s everything. You, me, Woody, your girl.”
The conversation is cut short when Jones promptly pulls out a handgun and shoots himself dead, leaving questions unanswered.
Taka’s struck by Topeka, too.
And that brings us to our third protagonist: NYPD officer Taka. Taka is shown early on caring for his elderly mother in an assisted living home; she seems to be a prisoner of her own mind -- unblinking, paralyzed, stuck staring straight ahead. It’s a play on this very image that haunts Taka’s dreams: his mother sitting in the same hospital room chair in the middle of tree-lined suburban street, paralyzed from the neck down, but shaking her head every which way. Her face is masked and wrapped in duct tape.
Taka later finds himself in that same suburban neighborhood he’s been dreaming of when an elderly woman’s mysterious death within the consulate brings him to the residence linked to her name, Ann-Marie Bowens. Inside her home, he finds a circle of seven adults in the living room stripped to their underwear and green sneakers, all dead. Written backwards in bold block letters on the wall is one word: Topeka. He later learns that the dead woman’s name is not Ann-Marie Bowen at all -- the real Ann-Marie Bowen was in fact a person who was outside the residence when he discovered the bodies; she called 9-1-1 for him.
Thinking the real Ann-Marie may live across the street from the crime scene, Taka goes back to the neighborhood, but is unable to find her. He instead finds an elderly woman living in the home. He leaves the woman, lost in thought, when a stone fountain two houses down catches his eye. It’s a fountain identical to one he’s been seeing in his dreams. Walking over to the fountain, he finds soaking within it one of Tess' drawings of the young boy. His pause of curiosity is interrupted when the home he just left rightly explodes.
It all comes to leave us questioning the narrative realities of Falling Water. Who’s dreaming? Who’s awake? How are they dreaming of each other without ever having met? Who’s the woman in red? Where or what is Topeka?
No matter what, one thing is certain: we cannot believe everything we see.