It’s hard to describe what USA’s new drama “Falling Water” is about, and that’s largely because it’s hard to tell what it’s trying to be about. The first few episodes of the science-fiction series present a gray, sterile world where water flows portentously and dreams are hard to distinguish from reality. In the most clearly plotted arc, a woman named Tess (Lizzie Brocheré) gives birth, but then opens her eyes to a hospital room deserted of people; her baby, like everyone else, may have never existed. When awake, Tess is convinced that her child is still alive somewhere, and she meanders into a test-subject arrangement with Bill (Zak Orth), a suspicious, exposition-spouting scientist who believes that there’s more to her dreams than subconscious fantasy. Through Bill’s cutting-edge tech company and shady research methods, Tess discovers that it’s possible to share dreams with others — and that Bill, not-so-subtly, hopes to exploit this connection for some kind of profit.
Tess’ journey is intercut with the dreams and realities of Burton (David Ajala), a wealthy man who keeps dreaming of a woman in a red dress, and Taka (Will Yun Lee), a detective whose mother is catatonic. At first, it’s difficult to tell which of the scenes in “Falling Water” are dreams and which are reality — which sounds like a fun storytelling device until partway into the first episode, when it becomes nearly impossible to find the story arcs amid all the lovely imagery.
If the story were just a little bit clearer — or the plotting just a little tighter — “Falling Water” might be able to coast on its visuals alone, which can be acutely beautiful and terrifying. Dream-logic carries with it a certain seductive potency that TV shows as varied as “The Sopranos” and “The Simpsons” have used to great effect. “Falling Water” is at its best when it explores the confusion, wish-fulfillment, and significant non sequiturs of dreaming, capitalizing on the inherent fluidity of the state to pivot into moments of stomach-dropping horror.
But when it’s not producing an interesting image, “Falling Water” is so perplexingly opaque that it becomes deadly boring. The show’s promotional literature explains that Tess, Burton, and Taka are all channeling different segments of a single shared dream, but in the story, many others are in that dream, and at first only Taka — investigating a cult-like murder — is onto the notion that there is anything larger at stake besides their own subconscious states.
The plot is so dense and muddled that Bill has to explain, with a Bond-villain’s wealth of self-incriminating detail, how exactly all the shared dreaming works. Perhaps, if one took copious notes, consulted the show website’s “About” page, and discussed each element thoroughly in a subReddit, the convolutions in “Falling Water” would yield rewards. As it is, it’s hard to imagine finding the time for this dull, plodding thought experiment.