The situations that Anna Paquin’s Sarah and Terrence Howard’s George go through may initially seem different but the reality bending similarities tell of what all life is about: suffering and how humans handle it.
While essentially dead by the end, Sarah has arguably been living a “perfect” lie as she suffered more than George. It was him that made Sarah question their existence, worsening her existing PTSD.
To be teetering on existential crisis and than have that push, I would also desperately want to know whether the world around me is reality. Fiction has a history of playing with this trope, but Paquin’s vulnerability (along with Howard’s) made it more impacting. Episodes of television that deal with this motif often go for flash but not here. The other aspect of this episode that made it fascinating was how each of their narratives dovetailed into each other by leaving Easter Eggs and references to the other character’s respective trauma. Any interpretation of this episode relies on the characters’ relationship towards their Katie (George’s late wife and Sarah’s girlfriend).
The story begins with Sarah’s perspective of this existential divide. She failed to stop a crime during her time as a cop, killing dozens. Her colleagues massacred, Sarah can’t help but suffer from Survivor’s Guilt. Blaming herself for what happened, Sarah doggedly pursues whoever was responsible for the senseless tragedy that took away her friends while suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the field, Sarah is a top notch officer based on how her fellow cops talk to her but her demeanor remains hollowed out by her experience. Katie, her girlfriend, is Sarah’s only light in life. The label of a perfect life (successful relationship despite troubled career) is a double edged sword for Sarah as she constantly compares her situation to the officers who died.
2012 was when the boot dropped for both Sarah and George Miller, in severely opposite ways. Sarah uses the virtual reality that made George rich on his Earth in 2012. His partner/wife, this Earth’s doppelganger of Katie, was killed which threw George’s existence into darkness despite having more than Sarah ever could. His unsafe personal life and “perfect” professional life is a parallel to Sarah’s own life, complementing each other like pieces to a jigsaw puzzle. The guilt they both feel speaks to humanity’s own tendency to always feel that we are somehow missing parts of life.
The real theme of the episode was masterfully hidden behind all the jumps between reality and Anna Paquin lesbian sex. The simulation is just a metaphor for how humans can perceive life’s many hardships. One person’s melancholy could viewed as another person’s salvation, like how the one thing that George wants is something only Sarah has (a Katie, his deceased wife). She isn’t happy with the relationship even though she acknowledges that it’s perfect. Sarah’s PTSD prevents her from being optimistic. The connection both characters have to suffering and depression speaks to their humanity and justifies their reality, especially if you listen to philosophers.
The familiar sense of dread they both felt when they came across something the other experienced offered a nice difference in perspective. Her experiences in the warehouse offers the best evidence that both characters’ lives qualify as real. Before Sarah got there the only interaction we got there was with George, so where did she get that memory from?
The real one may have been established by episode’s end, but doubt still lingers. The explanation given is plausible enough, but the true theme of the episode comes from both lives, and tragedies, being real. Real is such a subjective word and the episode did a great job exploring it. If ever there was a more metaphysical argument about whether a glass was half-empty or full, I do not know what it is. The episode had a lot of fun with bending perceptions, but the actors made questions of reality devastatingly palpable in the end.
Did this episode have you questioning reality? Comment below your thoughts about “Real Life”.