I wasn’t planning on reviewing any more episodes of this show until the season had finished, but I just watched today’s new episode, BOB, and I had to review it. It’s such a sweet, moving episode, I was actually brought to tears by the end of it. It took five episodes, but Dimension 404 has definitely managed to reach its full potential. Per Hulu’s website: “As a holiday terror threat looms large, an Army psychologist races against the clock to treat the strangest patient of her career – and the only one who can save Christmas – BOB, a depressed NSA supercomputer made entirely of human flesh.”
This episode of Dimension 404 is all about a supercomputer made entirely of human flesh (presumably brains) who has gotten depressed over the fact that he is unable to find the country’s most-wanted terrorist – who is rumored to be planning an attack in the imminent future, maybe on Christmas day itself. So, the NSA brings in the army’s top therapist in a last-ditch effort to rehabilitate BOB to the point where he can find the terrorist.
At first, this seems like it’d be pretty hokey. And at first, it is pretty hokey. But as the episode goes on and Jane, the therapist, and BOB interact more, the episode takes a sudden shift towards the emotional. The question of what makes someone a human is a common theme in stories about artificial intelligence, but never before has that questioned been examined in quite a remarkable way as Dimension 404 examines it in this episode. Large chunks of the episode are spent with Jane trying to get under BOB’s “skin” and connect with him in a purely human way. There’s a beautiful scene about halfway through the episode where BOB gives intelligence to the army that leads to the death of a target as well as the deaths of three civilians. It’s here that Jane finally figures out the key thing about BOB: he loves everyone. He’s in charge of watching, tracking, and knowing everything there is to know about every person on earth and as a result, he has come to love everyone.
It’s here that the two storylines really connect: storyline one is about Jane and her dedication to her work at the expense of her relationship with her family (her wife and daughter); storyline two is about BOB and the pain that comes with his job and how it’s keeping him from finding this one target. With the revelation that BOB loves everyone and that Jane does what she does because she needs to feel needed and useful, the episode elevates itself from silly science fiction to something truly moving. Through this connection, Jane is able to help BOB almost find the terrorist, but they’re too late and the terrorist successfully launches his attack, killing tens, if not hundreds or thousands, of people. As a result, the NSA decides to shut BOB down.
Jane, feeling as though she’s failed BOB and the country, decides to give BOB one last wish. His wish? For Santa Claus to be real. So Jane literally commits treason and has BOB reactivated so he can deliver Christmas miracles to the world (forgiving debts, fixing the US economy, and even managing to lead the FBI into capturing the terrorist). It’s a Christmas miracle, really. And it’s this combination of sappy Christmas special and hokey science fiction that made this episode stand out to me so much.
I went in expecting something along the lines of the past four episodes of Dimension 404: something fun and science fiction-y. And I got that, but I also got a story about humans and love and goodness in the world. And that hit me really hard emotionally. BOB’s last act as “Santa” is to ensure that Jane makes it home to her family on Christmas Eve. He’s literally dying, but he makes sure she gets there. And the relationship the two of them share is just so moving, and it’s so odd since BOB is literally a block of brain-like flesh with a computer eye in the middle. But it’s beautiful.
It’s all helped with the brilliant writing and directing in the episode (unfortunately, I can’t seem to find who wrote or directed the episode; presumably the creators Dez Dolly, Will Campos, Dan Johnson, and David Welch had something to do with the writing), particularly the directing, cinematography, and music. The usage of Christmas carols throughout the episode really help bring the sentimental “Christmas spirit” into the episode, and the way BOB is filmed is just brilliant. They’re able to show so much empathy in this wall of flesh by the way the camera films him and the way there’s tear-like liquid constantly dripping from him, and the usage of his electronic eye. It’s just done really well.
The acting is top notch as well. Megan Mullally is wonderfully hateful as Director Stevens, Constance Wu shines brightly as Jane, and Tom Nooman delivers a powerhouse of a performance as BOB. It’s these three who really carry the episode, and they do it with the perfect amount of grace, gravitas, and human emotion.
I can’t emphasize enough how good I thought this episode was. It’s one of the best episodes of science fiction television I’ve seen this year. If the folks at Dimension 404 can produce TV this wonderfully, they deserve the chance to keep telling stories in this format with further seasons of Dimension 404.
I give this episode 5 out of 5 wands. It’s truly wonderful.
Dimension 404 airs Tuesdays on Hulu.