Wednesday, March 29, 2023

REVIEW: 'The Big Door Prize' - Dusty Questions How Happy He Is When a Machine Arrives With Certain Answers in 'Dusty'

AppleTV+'s The Big Door Prize - Episode 1.01 "Dusty"

Family man and teacher Dusty Hubbard begins to reevaluate his life and happiness after the arrival of a strange machine called the Morpho.

"Dusty" was written by David West Read and directed by Anu Valia

Dusty enters the general store and notices a new machine has arrived. It claims to tell a person their life potential. At first, Dusty sees it as nothing more than a novelty item. It's not something he needs to partake in. He is already happy with the life he has. Quickly though, the town becomes obsessed with the messages the Morpho machine delivers. It reveals new facets of their lives they otherwise would never pursue. It's all a matter of choice. People put their faith in this machine. It determines the next chapter of their lives. That's the path they are willing to pursue. Dusty believes it's insane to surrender that much power to a machine. It doesn't know a person better than they know themselves. Every individual deep down knows who they are and what they want to achieve. Sometimes it takes the right push. It's not insane to put faith in the readout of this machine. That may only work if the message is positive. When it's not, then it can have a devastating effect on the person seeking clarity. Dusty celebrates his 40th birthday. He is content with his life. He has the perfect family and job. He married his high school sweetheart. Their relationship has remained strong throughout the years and the added pressure of raising their daughter. Dusty knows he can rely on them. If he asks for something on his birthday, they will give it to him. He doesn't ask for extraordinary things. He's thrilled over a new shirt and scooter. He rocks out as he takes his maiden ride to the high school to begin work. That's exciting to him. The cool factor plays out in his head. However, he also engages with the community. All it takes is one look or a nod for him to communicate a message with his neighbors. He's part of this environment. It's endearing and understood. It took time developing these relationships. And now, they are strengthened simply by him remaining present. That's all he needs. However, the machine offers the promise of more. Dusty doesn't want to believe he has already achieved his life potential. He's happy with the stability of his life. He doesn't feel the impulse to suddenly chart a new course. That massive change already occurred when he was young. His family immigrated to this country from Ireland. They planted down roots. That was a scary prospect. Dusty took advantage of all that this new world offered him. He has built a life for himself here. He has never questioned his happiness before. He has never questioned the happiness of his family either. And yet, he is forced to acknowledge the many things he has missed because he has been blissfully ignorant. That's true both within his family and within his community at large. He can't control how others react. He quickly feels the pressure to conform and make a big change just like everyone else.

Of course, the show spoils itself by robbing the uncertainty of Dusty's choice. The series opens with him going into the Morpho machine to receive his message. As such, the power comes from what it actually says. That's not really the basis for the story though. Instead, it's all about the existential crisis this throws Dusty into. Sure, he and Cass tease Trina about not singing loudly enough at the restaurant. That's all done in good fun. It's after that when Dusty becomes plagued with the uncertainty of life. He has always been so confident. But now, he no longer wins at the restaurant games. He can't have sex with Cass more than once. He doesn't understand the blue dots suddenly appearing on his body. He's out of control. Instead, Cass shares her unhappiness from not saying anything in response to her husband's question. Jacob is the one to inform Dusty that Trina has been dropping most of her classes. It's even as trivial as him never knowing that Cass could whistle as well. Previously, that was only his defining characteristic. That's what made him special. It's the special talent Cass points out immediately. It's not something to brag about. In fact, it could be an annoyance sometimes. But that's who Dusty is. He has already achieved his life potential. That's not a comforting position. He was expecting to be told something drastically different. Instead, he's positioned back to the life he is already living. He was happy with that just a few days ago. It's no longer good enough. He lays awake at night unable to stop his mind from wandering. Everything was good. He didn't want to invite chaos in. He did so anyway. He's disappointed that the results aren't better. He questioned the purpose and accuracy of this machine. He did so long before he saw what future is written for him. Moreover, the true twist may come from how the machine produces these results. The way it reads people is by having them submit their social security number and fingerprints. Everyone has to be completely willing to give away that private information. Dusty doesn't blink when prompted. It's something he easily does. He does all of that just to be told he is already living out his full potential. He puts so much weight on this card. Everyone does. They ask philosophical questions. They seek guidance for what to do. It may ultimately be nothing more than a choice. It's a battle over whether they believe they maintain autonomy over their lives. Do they still have a say in what their life becomes? Or do they surrender their power to an all-knowing machine? As such, it's an effective allegory for the prominent ways technology has invaded our lives with the intention of making things better. That information comes at a cost. The world is still grappling with those consequences. And now, it's personal to Dusty because he's the protagonist of this story. He's the one who endures a change overnight. He notices it. It's not comforting. It's what the world has become though. He can't undo it. He simply has to live with it.