‘Falling Water’ narratively sinks, visually swims

Tuesday, October 18, 2016 - 4:32pm

Riding on the success of “Mr. Robot,” USA has delivered a new series that capitalizes on the same eerie sweet spots of the network’s break-out hit. From producer Gale Anne Hurd of “The Walking Dead” comes science-fiction thriller “Falling Water,” where dreams are not random manifestations of the subconscious but, instead, fated to reveal a world-shattering truth. The premiere offers a first taste of the mystery that promises to unravel throughout the season and sets up potential for the the series to become remorselessly addictive.

Three seemingly unrelated individuals are connected by their dreams, each holding answers to the others’ recurring subconscious improvisations. The premiere first introduces Tess (Lizzie Brocheré, “The Wedding Song”), a trendspotter looking for the next big thing, who dreams of a son she does not remember having. She is sought out by Bill Boerg (Zak Orth, “Wet Hot American Summer”), a scientist whose interest in her dreams are shady at best. Bill promises Tess answers about her son if she cooperates with his experiments, in which he asks her to walk into other’s subconsciouses. Interwoven with Tess’s story are corporate businessman Burton (David Ajala, “The Dark Knight”), who dreams of an elusive Woman in Red, and Taka (Will Yun Lee, “The Wolverine”), a detective with horrific dreams of his catatonic mother. 

It’s nearly impossible to differentiate between their reality and sleep, as the pilot waltzes in and out of the vivid dreams of the three main protagonists. The storyline is purposely constructed to be convoluted; perhaps the difficult to follow plot intends to trick the audience into sticking around for some answers. But confusion breeds frustration in a restless audience, and nobody is going to wait around too long before completely giving up on a directionless story. “Falling Water” runs the risk of alienation in a premiere so oversaturated with questions that even the audience doesn’t know what’s real and what’s not. 

Comparable to “Mr. Robot” in look and feel, “Falling Water” is visually intriguing from the opening sequence. The series stays true to a consistent aesthetic: muted colors and an eerily silent soundtrack blanket the screen as the characters move through a cold, urban setting. A few thematic elements make frequent appearances; for example, running water, often played in reverse, recurs in both the protagonists’ dreams and realities, perhaps to provide an origin to root the show’s title. Yet there is a great deal of innovation and versatility in the visual construction, as lighting and shadows create personality in a show that is objectively colored by grays and diluted tones. In fact, most of the pivotal plot points lie in the visuals rather than extensive dialogue or narration.

While the series may be confusing narratively, it’s far from boring, allowing the cinematography to tell most of the story instead of the screenplay. So if the audience can stay engaged long enough for “Falling Water” to establish solid footing, USA might have a new hit on its hands.