The first episode was aired nationwide on November 1st, 1997 in the 9 PM slot. For a long time, I was under the impression that this one was titled simply "Pilot"-- partially because of it being the series' pilot, and partially because it focuses on the Morpheus Institute's first "patient"-- Air Force pilot Ben Costigan (Jeffrey D. Sams). However, the true title eventually made itself known: Something Is Buried In Bethlehem.
Our first image is of Ben, sitting wearily inside a dim subway train. He watches as a black crow flies past him, vanishing into the next car. When he gets up and goes to check it out, he sees a dark figure rising up in the next car-- standing over a dead body, and gripping a bloody knife in one hand. The figure turns to Ben, revealing that it has no face, just a black, featureless void. The figure lunges toward him, and Ben, startled, takes off running from one car to the next. The figure chases him to the end of the train, where Ben jumps out the door, onto the tracks. As the train speeds away, Ben sees that he's landed staring down into a puddle of water-- from which the faceless man suddenly appears, lunging for him. It's from this jolt that Ben awakes in a cold sweat. He looks over at his wife and sleeping son, then gets up and goes into the bathroom. Where he glimpses the faceless man again in the mirror-- and smashes it in a fright.
Kate and Steve are outdoors in a canyon, exploring the rocky terrain. They come upon a locked door embedded in the side of the rock. Kate doesn't want to go in, and warns that Nathan wants them to turn back. Steve, however, is enjoying the mystery, and convinces her to join him in exploring what's beyond this locked door. Busting the lock, Steve is the first to venture inside-- and is almost immediately overcome by a blasting force that pushes them both out of the tunnel... and out of the dream that they are both sharing.
They are each laying in pods at the Morpheus Institute-- large plexiglass-covered beds, where they are monitored by cameras and by tiny sensors stuck to strategic places on their scalps. By laying in these beds, and by being hooked up via computers, Kate and Steve were able to "share" the same dream -- to act and interact in the dreamworld just the way they would when awake. As Steve sits up, exhausted from the dream (worn out from sleeping-- tsk), Vince, the operator of the computer hardware running the pods, lets him know that his vital signs and general overall physical state after pushing so hard in the dream are not in the best of straits. Steve laughs it off, but Kate is a little more concerned. It was her dream, and her locked door, which she had not wanted to go through. Nathan agrees fully. He warns the two that the science they are exploring is all new, and that there could be grave danger in pushing the limits too far in dreams. Steve scoffs again-- but Kate, privately, reminds him of the motives behind Nathan's worry. "He's thinking about McCaig," she whispers, "about what happened at Stanford." This will be addressed later on.
Outside the Institute, a worn Ben is approaching the many police cars parked around the entrance. He watches as a mother is happily reunited with her son-- after what crisis, we don't know; but when she tearfully thanks Nathan, who's standing outside watching as well, it's clear that the doctor had something to do with the reunion. Ben approaches Nathan, introducing himself.
Inside the Institute's receiving room, Nathan and Kate listen as Ben relates the trouble he's been having with nightmares. He tells how he used to be a pilot with the Air Force, until he slammed a jet into the floor of a desert. He confides that he's been having increased health problems, and Nathan suggests that the intense dreams may be a sign that his body is turning on itself. Recollecting the plane he crashed, Ben recalls that "there was something in the cockpit" with him-- a strange presence, the shadow-man that's been chasing him through the train in his dreams. He adds that this shadowy figure has been showing up more when he's awake lately, in mirrors. Ben acknowledges that his piloting days are probably over, but that he doesn't want his baby son to grow up without a father, as he did.
All this while, Vince and Steve have been monitoring the conversation through a neat double-sided painting hanging in the receiving room -- Fuseli's Night Mare. (Quite a clever improvement on the cliched interrogation-room double-mirror!) Vince notes that Ben is so tense and upset that even the equipment that's monitoring his brainwaves is asking for a prozac.
Ben is gathering his things, and catches sight of a nurse, leaving a room at the end of the hallway. Curious, Ben ventures down there to see what's hidden behind this particular door. Inside he glimpses a woman, laying peacefully in bed, in an oxygenated bubble. She's clearly not just asleep. Leaving the room quietly, Ben finds Kate out in the hall waiting for him. "What happened to her?" he asks. (Because an comatose person isn't exactly heartening to find in a place reputed to solve sleep disorders.) Kate tells him that the woman was in a car accident, is now in a coma-- but doesn't say who she is or why she's housed there. Ben is curious: "Ever wonder what her dreams are like?" "All the time," Kate answers, rather reservedly.
In the pod area, Vince briefly fills Ben in on how the pods and the concept of sleepwalking work. The dreamer is tranquilized to a degree, and once dreaming, the visiting doctors are electronically synced up to his brainwaves, so that they are literally all dreaming the same thing. Nathan warns that once asleep, Ben must retain full control over his dream, for all their sakes. In dreams, imaginary danger is very real, and anything that tries to hurt Ben will also try and hurt Nathan or Kate. The dreamers don't go alone, however: Kate sleeps with her hand encased in a sensory "data-glove", which she uses to "type" updates to Vince on what's happening as she walks though the dream. Armed with all this, Steve and Kate make their first jump into Ben's subconscious.
They are immediately thrown onto the tracks of the train-- Kate and Steve are, anyway. Looking around for Ben, they see him-- speeding away in the tail car of the train. Using the glove, Kate reports back to Nathan that they did not make it onto the train. This worries Nathan-- the group seems not to be in control of what's happening. Something is trying to split Ben and the doctors up.
Kate and Steve come to an extremely cool-looking, very dark and gloomy, nearly-destroyed shell of a brownstone apartment. The landscape around this structure is of a burned-out, ravaged city block. Climbing the stairs, Kate and Steve see something carved upon the door -- the two-faced image of Janus, god of the past and the future. Pushing inside, they explore the darkened, deserted interior of the building's lobby. They approach the elevator, an lattice-cage affair in the midst of the room-- and against Nathan's advice, they climb inside.
Kate nudges Steve, motioning him to take note of the elevator's operator-- an elderly black man with glazed, dead eyes. (That effect never fails to creep the hell out of me... I know they're just contacts, but man...) The old man turns to face them. "Some are born to sweet delight-- some are born to endless night," he intones darkly. Then turns away. The elevator stops at a subterranean floor, where the two find a wall upon which has been scrawled the word Nevur. Still no Ben in sight. Kate finds a dusty mirror, and reasons that since the shadow man seems to travel via reflections, perhaps the best idea is to concentrate-- will it to come to them. Steve entertains the notion-- for five seconds. "Good idea-- bad execution," he scoffs, and turns away-- to be face to face with the shadow man.
The apparition pulls a knife, tries to attack Kate. Steve tackles the figure, and both of them vanish into the mirror. He hits the ground on the train track, stumbles to his feet-- to find himself staring down a rapidly growing headlight of the dream train. Which immediately flattens him.
In the waking world: the crew rushes to save Steve, who has gone into cardiac arrest. Kate and Ben have wakened safely, but Steve is rushed to the hospital, almost in a coma, "scared to death" by being run down by a speeding train. In the waiting room, Kate remorsefully tells Vince how Steve never wanted to die of natural causes, and that his present condition is solely because he was trying to save her. She expresses disgust at the fact that they haven't seemed to learn anything from the last time-- "This is Stanford all over again!" she argues. Nathan firmly assures her "this has nothing to do with McCaig." He decides he himself will go into Ben's dream this time; there's no other way. "I'm not going to let this derail us," he resolves-- and the ironic choice of words is not lost on any of them.
This time, they decide to transfer the dream action to a "safe place" -- somewhere that Ben feels in control. Kate comes along, at her own discretion. They enter the dream and find themselves in a sunny forest area-- which Ben tells them is Bethlehem county, where he grew up. They see a young boy standing some feet away-- a younger version of Ben, who tells them "Nevur" -- the same word that was scrawled on the wall in the first dream. Ben recognizes the word-- it's the name he gave a toy wooden soldier that he had as a child. The boy turns into the black crow, takes off flying toward a farmhouse. There's a neato shot of the blue sunny sky clouding over with dark threatening thunderclouds in the space of a few seconds. Under this black sky, the group approaches the farmhouse. "There's no place like home," Ben murmurs, and they realize it's his boyhood home.
When they approach the door, it's opened by a black woman in a farm dress-- who then walks backward across the room and vanishes behind the kitchen door. It's Ben mother. There's an elderly man sitting at the table-- the same white-eyed man from the elevator in the first dream. This is Ben's father. He looks up at them and repeats the mystery word-- "Nevur"-- then gets up and walks backward into the kitchen, too. Nathan asks Ben what happened to the toy soldier Nevur, and Ben tells them he buried it in the basement of the house.
They go down to the basement, where Ben sets about digging up the dirt floor. An earthquake suddenly rattles the house, and from the spot where Ben's digging, a pair of hands reach up and grab him. It's the shadow man, and as it tries to strangle Ben he tries to pulls the black mask off the figure's face. He claws it away to find.... himself. And wakes up.
In the waking world, Nathan discerns that going to the real-life Bethlehem county is the only way to find out the meaning of it all. They travel there, and find Ben's childhood home in dilapidation. They go into the basement, as in the dream. This time when Ben digs up the floor, he finds a tin box -- which he opens to find the wooden soldier he buried there so long ago. Nevur is carved into the panel at the soldier's feet. Nathan deducts that since the shadow travels through reflections, the name itself might be a reflection-- instead of Nevur, it must be Ruven. "That clears everything up," sighs Ben.
Outside, as Nathan makes some phone calls, Ben and Kate stand by the car, waiting. Ben reflects on how businesslike Nathan seems to be, for a clinical therapist. "He used to be different," notes Kate. Seeing the look on her face as she gazes at Nathan, Ben takes it upon himself to ask whether Kate and Nathan are dating. Kate shakes her head: "I have this annoying habit-- I never get involved with married men." She then lets Ben in on the last detail concerning the coma-bound woman back at the Institute: that woman is Nathan's wife.
Nathan tells Ben they need to go see the family doctor who officiated over his birth. They find the doctor in a senior citizens' home. The doctor, after praising how well Ben seems to have turned out, is questioned by Nathan over whether there was another baby born to Ben's family. After some hesitation, the doctor tells how there was, indeed, another son to be born to Ben's mother-- a twin brother to Ben. This son, though, was never carried to term. He had died in utero, so that Ben would survive. One son born to light, one born to endless night-- just like in the poem from the dream.
The group travels to the local cemetery to find the gravestone of the unborn twin. This is what the "shadow man" in Ben's nightmares is springing from. Even though he never consciously knew he had a twin, somewhere in the back of his mind he was always aware that someone was "missing". It's the guilt he has always felt from surviving this brother that is now hounding him.
Nathan tells Ben they have to go back into his dreams, in order to set the shadow at peace. If they don't lay it to rest, it will kill Ben, too. They make another dream jump. Ben thinks he awakens to find himself alone in the Institute's pod area. When he looks in the other pods, Nathan and the rest of the team appear to be dead. Ben searches through the Institute to find some sign of life, which he does-- the shadow man jumps on him. The two struggle, but Ben firmly faces the shadow down. "You can't hurt me anymore," he proclaims, and this causes the shadow to explode in a poof of dust.
In the waking world, Ben grimly notes how, even though his brother was never born, every time he looks in the mirror he will always see this missing person. The danger has still been averted, though; the doctors tell him that the threats to his health seem to be in remission. Ben can still never go back to being a pilot, but Nathan offers him a different job-- one at the Institute, making a difference for people in other ways.
The final scene takes place on a tranquil, sunny beach. Nathan is walking along... and ends up in the arms of his wife Gail, now wide awake and very healthy. (And blonde, instead of the near brunette she was in the hospital bed...) They happily share a kiss, and she entreats him to tell her what's going on in his life. Reluctantly, Nathan relates how Steve was badly hurt, almost killed. "In spite of everything I did... or maybe because of it." Gail insists that it was nothing he did. Nathan isn't too sure... but he appreciates her saying it. They indulge in more kisses, in being together for a while longer... and we see that in the waking world, Gail's comatose body has been placed in one of the Institute's sleep pods. Nathan sleeps in another, sharing dreams with his wife, allowed to be with her even in her coma.
I remember seeing this when it originally aired on NBC in November of '97, and being most impressed by the various creepy settings, the effective creepy mood. That gutted building in Ben's first dream is so cool... The ep was written by David S. Goyer & Stephen Kronish, and directed by David Nutter. The guest stars included Lewis Arquette as Dr. Ellison, Bobbi Sanders as Jill Costigan, David Kirkwood as Ben's father, and Fumi as Ben's mother. Michael Watson was also listed as a "guest star" in the role of Steve, even though he seemed to be part of the core cast. The reasons for this would be made clear later-- Steve would be leaving the show in a few more eps.
This pilot episode, as good as it is, might have been better used as a later episode of the series. While it does introduce all the characters well, and the plot itself is intriguing, it might not have been the best with which to start the whole thing. Perhaps they hoped the outsider-coming-in angle would help to ease the audience in, but this approach also kind of removes us from what are supposed to be the stars of the show: Nathan, Kate, and the rest of the Morpheus team. More than one viewer has commented on how stiff and reserved Nathan appears to be on this first case-- not quite the way to win your audience over. I myself was much more intrigued by the "secondary plot"-- the whole mystery surrounding Nathan's wife Gail and the Stanford incident that put her in that coma. We'll hear more about McCaig, Nathan's old partner, in the next episode of the series. But it would have been better to lay the foundation for all of that right off the bat. This may have been the one misstep that sealed the show's fate.
It's interesting to note how much attention was (or might have been) paid to each character's point of view; specifically, how every person present in a dream might have affected it in some way. This very point would be addressed in the next episode as well, but we get to see a bit of it here. Not in any of Ben's dreams-- Nathan is methodically careful not to taint client dreams in this episode. But when we first see Nathan's wife Gail, in the real world, in her coma bed, she is a brunette. Later on, when we see Nathan visiting Gail in her dreams, her hair color is blonde. One wonders whether this change is Gail's doing, psychically influencing her own appearance for whatever reason -- she felt blonde that day, wanted a change of pace-- or whether this is Nathan's view of her, and for what reason. Is he seeing her as an angelic figure? Or is he subconsciously wishing she was blonde-- like Kate, his partner in the waking world? This potential love triangle (and Gail's continuous color changes) will be touched on in later episodes, too.
In 2002, several Sleepwalkers episode were released on Region 1 DVD in Germany. If you have a player that takes that region's DVDs, check out our links page for places to buy them.
All the Sleepwalkers images on this page were very graciously provided by Anthony Larme-- thanks much, guy! :) Original copyright is probably held by NBC. Please go visit Anthony's homepage; he has a beautiful tribute to Naomi Watts, who portrayed Kate on the series.
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