Episode ABC.2.4: "Dream Thieves"

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Max Headroom: Episode ABC.2.4
Title "Dream Thieves"
Production No. 2.4
UK Air Date NA?
US Air Date 9 Oct 1987
Length 48 minutes
Creative Teleplay by Steve Roberts

Story by Charles Grant Craig

Directed by Todd Holland

Edited by Andrew L. Cohen / Dennis C. Vejar

Watch for: A wedding day in the Fringes.

Some notion of what Edison dreams about.

A rather racy moment between Reg and Dom (answers that question about their relationship...)

Bryce's tech version of a napkin.

Reg's silent opinion of Carter's mood.

Carter's silent opinion of Max's question about the grapes.

Reg's musical (and street-fighting) inclinations.

Crew Series Crew, Season 2
Actor Role
Main Cast
Matt Frewer as Edison Carter

Max Headroom

Amanda Pays Theora Jones
George Coe Ben Cheviot (credit only)
Chris Young Bryce Lynch
W. Morgan Sheppard Blank Reg
and Jeffrey Tambor Murray
Guest Starring
Mark Lindsay Chapman Paddy Ashton
Jere Burns Breugal
Concetta Tomei Blank Dominique
Jenette Goldstein Bella
Ron Fassler Mr. Grieg
Vernon Weddle Mr. F. Finn
Robin Bach  ?
Vince McKewin "New" Mahler*
Stephen Pershing  ?
Rob Narita Asian Controller (Dong Po?)
Steven Rotblatt  ?
Timothy Dang Mind's Eye Tech 3 (Asian)
Peter DeAnello  ?
Patricia Veselich  ?
Gary Dean Sweeney  ?
Dalton Younger  ?
Unknown Cast
 ? Harry (Controller)
 ? Peter (name callout)
 ? Interviewed Fringer (male)
 ? Interviewed Fringer (female)
 ? Network 23 Announcer (female)
 ? Dream Vu Announcer (female)
 ? Dream Vu Receptionist
 ? Dreaming Candidate (male)
 ? Dreaming Candidate (female)
 ? Dreaming Candidate (suit)
 ? Dreaming Candidate (redhead girl)
 ? Dreaming Candidate (blonde girl)
 ? Mind's Eye Tech 1 (dark hair)
 ? Mind's Eye Tech 2 (short hair)
 ? Mind's Eye Tech 4 (balding)
 ? Mind's Eye Tech 5 (bearded)
 ? Dreamer 32
 ? Dreamer 36
 ? Dreamer 18
 ? Various Fringers
* Tentative role match, pending confirmation.

Unknown roles represent credited cast members with no certain matching role.

Unknown cast represent roles with unknown, possibly uncredited actors.

The fourth episode of the second ABC series season brought us a dark tale of people being stripped of their dreams... profitably, fatally, and with connections to Edison Carter's rise as Network 23's star reporter under Murray.


20 minutes into the future, we find Edison Carter walking through the celebration of a wedding in the Fringes, about to go on the air. He threads his way through a marketplace and sets his camera up on a barrel, just in time for his cue. He is at an old movie theater, a place people used to go to watch the same pictures at the same time. His activities haven't escaped the notice of a few denizens of the street.

As he does his opening, explaining what a "movie theater" was used for - and it's a weird concept - he interviews some of the Fringers in the street. They remember stories about movies but aren't sure what they were, exactly. Then Carter lands on a figure who was following him, who has a concise but bitter opinion about what movies were, before TV "choked the talent out of the business." Murray is enthralled at the "fighting talk" this will bring to the board room and ratings, until Carter asks the speaker who he is. "Don't you recognize me, Eddie?" he smiles. "It's Paddy Ashton."

Murray gasps, and Carter immediately cuts the link and suggests he and Paddy get a little drink. It appears they know - knew - each other.

At Dream Vu Micro-Light Cable, a soothing ad preview is convincing viewers to subscribe to the hottest programming anywhere - shows they won't see on the networks. Bella has brought in a hot new property that people will love to pay for, even in a world where TV is free. The channel executive tells her to close the deal for the material.

Carter and Paddy are in The Ouzo Bar, and Carter uncomfortably asks Paddy "what's the news?" Paddy says Carter is... after all, he's history, as "Eddie" beat him mostly fair and square. Carter says he remembers when he was the down-and-out and broke one, and Paddy was the one buying the drinks. Carter has left his camera linked, and while it only shows their feet, Theora and Murray can hear the conversation. Theor asks for the story, and Murray tells her that when he made producer, they were both up for the top slot, elite reporter on his show. (Which is an interesting take; just whose show is it?) Carter and Paddy had worked their way up together - Communications Room, Tape-Ops, Local Controller, Infield Reporter. Then they were both up for the top job... and Carter beat Paddy to the big story, and won a Viddy, and got the job.

Paddy is still bitter, obviously, and believes Carter got the job because he had Murray in his pocket... and was a nice guy... and had the killer instinct. But now it's time to show Carter how Paddy earns his living, these tough days. There might even be a story in it...

Back at Dream Vu, Grieg and Bella are grilling Mr. Finn of "Mind's Eye" and driving a hard deal for his material... after all, they have his "padded expense accounts" right at hand - information is their business, and figures are trade. He agrees. They review the enormous potential profits - 116 million credits per screen minute. They have the most devastating weapon in subscriber programming... and might even be up to the challenge of denting network TV.

Paddy takes Carter to the other side of his "dream palace" story - to a "dream factory," where people get paid to talk in their sleep... just like network executives. He's sleeping his nights away, selling his dreams - like selling blood, but they empty your head instead of your arm. It's in the old movie theater, where people used to come to get their dreams... and now come to give them up. Paddy, quoting Shakespeare, leaves Carter to go to work dreaming, and says he'll call about that story... sometime.

Carter is back at home, playing with a team-signed baseball and trying to explain dreaming to Max. Since Max doesn't have this "weird biological in-between state," he doesn't understand the subconcious mind, or why people wait until they're asleep to release their imaginations. Max goes off to re-run some of Carter's dreams - "I'll see-see you in your dreams." Carter decides to go back and find Paddy.

Carter makes his way through the din of Metal Row, asking for Paddy and vague directions when he's not just told off instead. He finds Paddy's "cardboard condo," with a Fringer looting it. "Where's Paddy?" he demands, and the Fringer points him to... Breugal's body van, loading up some unfortunate. It's Paddy, of course, reddened eyes staring at nothing. Breugal says they've gotten a few like this lately. Carter pays Breugal to ensure that Paddy makes it to rest at "Glad Hands Meadow," to rest in one piece for all eternity... instead of being broken up in a body bank. As he drives away (being traced by Theora), Carter picks up Paddy's hat and journal... and begins to read.

Theora and Murray find Carter, looking "ghastly," asleep at a console in control. Murray is flippant until Theora tells him that Paddy was killed... and they start to try and make sense of it all. Murray objects to Carter feeling responsible - Paddy was a nice guy who was "betrayed by the limits of his own potential" - his "drivel" notes prove it. Theora is outraged at Murray's insenstivity, and Carter is convinced he is chasing something that was important to Paddy - a story that he never got to tell. Theora takes over the search of the memory banks and immediately begins making connections that had eluded Carter all night. It's all about dreams... and nightmares. And some combination of related research that leads to "deep psychological damage" from night terrors.

Over Murray's objections not to waste time unless it's a story, Carter sets out for the "dream factory" to find out why Paddy Ashton died. Dressed much like Paddy, he joins the line of candidates signing up to participate in the "research." He finds himself in the loge of the old movie house. As Theora tries to follow him, her console shows it's "Mind's Eye" - Finn's company - and that there are no securicams installed for her to tap. Carter is seated and given a pair of wired goggles to wear - he's number 7; we other dreamers who are numbers 32 and 36 - and a tech gives him a small glass of something that will "help him dream."

The tech leaves and Carter, tossing the medicine, takes off the goggles and begins to look around. Out comes his vidicam, and he whispers that he's in trouble - he needs to move and can't. He needs Max to dream for him. Theora catches Bryce "working" (it looks like playing with neon tubes) and tells him to get Max... who is "in offline standby - the closest he can get to sleep." Carter hooks the goggles to his cam's output and tells Max to re-run an old dream so he can look around without his absence being detected. Bryce tells Theora it won't work - dreams last only a little while. It's too late: Carter is gone from the connection. "Run a lot of dreams, Max" Theora pleads. Max is fine projecting dreams... but warns that he's not a censor.

To no one's surprise, Carter's dreams are romantic, erotic, a little panicked... and almost all about Theora. She watches... and smiles. Bryce, on the other hand, just gapes.

As Carter watches, Dreamer 32 begins to thrash and moan. A faint voice announces, "Number 32 is in REM trauma. Get her offline, fast!" He tries to wake the woman, then barely hides as three techs come to haul her away... with red, bleeding eyes just like Paddy's. "We've had a lot like this, lately," he hears Breugal say again. But then a tech has found and snatched up his vidicam, calling for his boss, Finn.

Finn comes into the control room, where a tech is reviewing the woman's recorded nightmares, and talking about the losses. "Maybe we pushed the dosage too high," the tech says; the casualties should not be happening. "The Fringer last night had a weak heart!" Finn snaps. "That's why they sign an all-risk clause!" They are admiring the profuse dreams of Number 7 when the other tech bursts in, carrying Carter's vidicam. Theora calls Edison, but the face bending into view just as the cam shuts down is Finn's. "He's in trouble," Murray says. But Carter has escaped to the street, and pulling off Paddy's knit cap, he's no longer recognizable.

Carter goes, not to network control, but to Big Time TV and Blank Reg. He hammers on the locked door until Reg opens it, and bursts in to find Blank Dominique frantically tugging her skirt down over her garters and hose. "Don't say anything, just sit down and listen!" Carter tells them. "...I need your help!"

Finn shows Grieg and Bella the Network 23 camera and tells them there's been another fatality. Grieg doesn't care; they have millions rolling on the startup of Dream Vu, and ads go live in just hours. It's essential that Mind's Eye stockpile as much dream footage as possible, before ordinary people realize their dreams have value... and could be exposed to millions. A "few exhibitionists" won't be enough to feed the demand once it starts. This is the micro-channel's chance to hit even Max Headroom... he's just one mind, and they will have thousands. Finn tells his staff to step up the recording... and start covering their tracks.

Bryce is telling Max that he doesn't dream - he does subconscious calculations all night, like mental jogging - when Carter breaks in on the link. Theora arrives with Paddy's book, and asks Bryce to figure out the code. A piece of cake for a hacker like Bryce... except that it turns out to be poetry, not his strongest point. It will be up to Bryce's logic and Max's insight to figure out the meaning of Paddy's notes.

At Big Time TV, Fang the dog is getting his big break as the world's first dog VJ as Reg confers with Carter and tries to calm him with a cuppa tea. Dom is bemused by both Fang and Reg's behavior and predicts, with a giggle, that the dog will be doing the accounts soon. Reg assures Carter that they're behind him, and takes Big Time off the air to "go walkies" and help Carter find the truth. Dom takes the relay link and shows... unusual style in communicating with Theora as the rickety pink bus makes its way through the crowded streets to the dream palace.

Reg gives Carter a small "infrared camera used by sewer inspectors." It's short-range and has a small battery life... but it's very useful for nefarious activities in the dark, "if you know what I mean." Reg bamboozles the Mind's Eye gatekeeper, to Carter's dismay, but then they are both back inside the dream palace. Reg takes out the technician with an "old skinhead" head butt, and puts his dream goggles on him; Carter switches the goggles on another dreamer to his. Infrared camera in hand, they set out to investigate.

In the control room, we see that the technician's dream is a loop of Reg headbutting him. That's "a bit repetitive," but more interesting to the techs is that "the guy on 14" - who they assume is Carter - is dreaming he's a girl...

Reg uses the camera to find what he thinks is the light switch, but it powers up an old projector, which begins showing them the Mind's Eye commercial. Theora and Murray, watching, see a clip of Carter and Murray at a party (which we saw earlier) - and Murray exclaims, "It's us, celebrating my promotion, five years ago!" Carter watches, aghast, as Reg apologizes for mistaking the light switch... but Carter claps him on the shoulder. He's cracked it. The images are obviously Paddy's dream. "They're stealing dreams... and it's killing people!"

Bryce - with Max's help - has cracked Paddy's notes and made sense of the allusions and references. It's all about the pineal gland, once a sort of "third eye," now the chemical gatekeeper to subconscious... to dreams. Under certain conditions, the gland actually makes the eye project dream images... which is what Mind's Eye has learned to record. Even Max starts to yawn at Bryce's extended technical discourse, though. For some reason, Bryce adds, the dreams can only be captured on film, through a telecine process.

Carter and Reg have been discovered in the projection booth, and they find it has one door... and a small film reel elevator. They squeeze past stacks of film reel, many prominently labeled "Paddy" or "Ashton" - and Reg climbs into the lift. There's a shout and a crash, then the lift is back for Carter. He apparently falls, too - "Sorry," Reg says, "Didn't want to hang about..." They escape to the street, where Fringers are still lining up to sign up for their 20 credit deal, and make it safely to the bus, where Dominique is "guarding her turf" with an enormous-barreled weapon and Fang's growl.

Carter, on the link, is outraged and Murray tries to calm him - the process only may be lethal, and Carter has a personal involvement. Carter refuses to budge, and goes back in for the story. Murray is furious at his unprofessionalism, and worried... and calls for Angela Barry, the chopper to take him there, a ten minute window for an upcoming Edison Carter story, and for an assistant to take over for him in control.

Carter and Reg race back into the dream palace, shouting for the dreamers to wake up. Finn is on the line to Grieg, in a panic, ready to bug out, when Carter bursts into the control room. He finds his vidicam and slings it into position. Seconds later, Theora has him live, and he begins to list the accusations against Mind's Eye. Finn threatens to throw him out. "Try it," Carter growls, live and direct. Murray comes up the steps, shouting for Edison as the dreamers wake and rip off their goggles. Carter is pressing the attack and then takes it physical, outraged at Finn's lies about Paddy's death. He slams Finn to the wall and decks the technician just as Murray walks in - and cuts off the broadcast.

Carter is in a rage, but Murray cuts him no slack - he's gone beyond the limit. They're not judge and jury, they're objective investigative journalists. It's not a personal vendetta. Carter roars back at him, but Murray has the last word... he broke Paddy's dreams, too, back when he chose Carter over Ashton. "Paddy died a little then, too... so go ahead, knock me down, too." He shoves Carter, who does not respond. He insists again that he deserves a punch... but Carter is still frozen. "I think you owe someone an apology," Murray says. "I think we both do."

At the memorial garden, they stand in front of Paddy's column. Murray has nothing he wants say. "I'll just say I'm sorry... to both of you," Carter replies.

Notes & Commentary

We see Rik's motorized rickshaw pulling the bride and groom in the opening shot... but it's not Rik driving.

A brief shot of a blonde show host on a Fringer TV seems to be Fred Holliday, seen briefly in Episode ABC.1.3: "Body Banks". Leftover footage?

Actor Mark Lindsay Chapman would go on to a recurring role in "Max Headroom"'s nemesis, "Dallas," and would appear together a few years later with Jenette Goldstein in "Titanic."

Besides her role in "Titanic" as the Irish mother, Jenette Goldstein came to her role in this episode directly from her role as the Marine "Vasquez" in "Aliens."

Two figures in the party scene of the first dream recording appear to be Carter and Murray. We find out later that it is them - in a dream of Paddy's, from Murray's promotion party five years ago. That first inexplicable encounter is a little disorienting, though.

Theora is again seen using the "Security Systems Inc. Information Network" to track and locate people, including Carter (who is at "InnerMetro Complex A-102 in Sector N-2116-L)... the Ouzo Bar.

Rick Ducommon, who played Mahler in the first season, has been replaced by a "new Mahler" - as Breugal is cheerfully willing to explain. Roles for Ducommon in "Spaceballs," (1987) "Die Hard" (1988) and a 1987 television movie probably got in the way of renewing any contract.

"Glad Hands Meadows" turns out in a second reference to be a crematorium, answering the prior question about what is done with at least some remains. We see its memorial garden at the end - as they exist in Max's world, they aren't much different from the Vu-Age temple, with video monitors of the deceased on pillars.

Theora locates the original dream-recording research... done at the "Reagangrad Clinic." In the waning years of the Cold War and during some of its most tense ongoing times, "Reagangrad" spoke volumes about Max's world.

The same screen seems to have search options for "Freudian," "Jungian" and... "Edwardian." Huh?

Whoo. Nice garters, Dom... we take it Reg's personal hygiene has improved? Reg and Dom are clearly an item now, if they were not before - and as of Episode ABC.1.6: "Blanks" she had never so much as hugged him. There's also the Pancho issue from earlier. But now he's apparently up her skirt sometimes, and possibly using the infrared video camera for "nefarious activities in the dark" - preceding the Paris Hilton video by some 20 years. Go, Reg...

Reg makes several punk/heavy metal references in his speech to the receptionist. "Punks of the world, unite" was a punk-era slogan playing on the Communist maxim, "Workers of the world, unite." "[Music is the] brandy of the damned" is a line from George Bernard Shaw, adopted by many alternative music proponents to the current day.

Bryce's explanation of how the pineal gland helps record and play back dreams on the retinas is, of course, complete baloney. What's puzzling is the added insistence that the dreams can only be recorded on film, not video - especially as the dream goggles are clearly video imagers themselves... there seems to be no plot or story connection for that assertion.

Angela Barry is referred to, as a chopper pilot, but not seen.

A rare episode where we see none of the Network 23 board, including Cheviot (even though George Coe is credited).

There is sort of a muddle between Dream Vu (the subscription channel) and Mind's Eye (the dream recorders). The Dream Vu ad keeps using the phrase "from the mind's eye" and the Mind's Eye logo as if it is their name. Is Mind's Eye getting a production or "studio" credit on the channel?

Opening Credits

This episode uses the standard second-season opening credits.

Subliminal Credits

This episode has no subliminal credits in the Zik-Zak montage.

A background shout early on, in the "Ouzo Bar," sounds like "Freds only!" - another Fred Raimondi embed?

Another audio embed is "Thank you, Todd!" - ostensibly from a background TV program in the Fringes. Todd-AO Glen Glenn is the series' post production sound unit.

Quotes & Caps

  • Carter: "Edison Carter, live and direct. I want to show you something rare. This... was a dream palace. Years ago, people came here for their pictures, to share dreams and adventures together. These were the days when people sat in groups and watched a single movie - sometimes hundreds of people at one time. It must have been a weird experience: people watching the same screen, and the same program."
Murray: "I can't use more than 30 seconds. Nostalgia isn't what it used to be."
  • Paddy Ashton: "They were a shared experience, Mr. Carter. People gathered together in communal escapism to share adventure, excitement, laughter, romance. They shared these vicarious emotions together. That was before they choked the talent out of this business - gave us game shows, and chat shows and news."
Murray: "Great. That should stir it upstairs. Stay with it.
Paddy: "Before the world became ratings and people became demographics and everything became the product."
Murray: "Yeah... fighting talk."
  • Grieg: "People love to pay, Bella. It... massages their self-esteem."
  • Carter: "I've been there. I know. Time was when you bought me a drink, when I was broke, remember?"
Paddy: "One swallow doesn't make a summer, pal."
Carter: "Well, you haven't lost your sense of humor, anyway."
Paddy: "No, but I lost everything else. It's the most portable thing I got left."
  • Murray: "They were good friends and they were great rivals, and uh, I don't know, that's it."
Theora: "No, no... no, that's it, they're at the Ouzo Bar. I mean, what happened to Paddy?"
Murray: "Edison, uh, beat him to the big story... Edison won an award - the Viddy... and it got him the job."
Theora: "No, Murray - you gave Edison the job."
Murray: "...Right. I chose the best. That's it."
  • Paddy: "If I'd had half your edge, I'd be in your position now. Maybe I was just too human for the job."
Carter: "Thanks a lot! I'm due for a microchip service any day now... my mind's a computer, you know."
Paddy: "Yeah, I heard. How is 'Max Headroom'?"
  • Paddy: "I can't sleep nights where I live - I'm in the cardboard condos on Metal Row. They weld all night. It's like being in a belfry in an earthquake."
  • Carter: "You go near a body bank... I'll kill you."
Breugal: "I believe you will. He will be safe. Cash is honor, Mr. Carter. High principle attends high payment."
Carter: "Where's your other colleague, Breugal?"
Breugal: "Mr. Mahler? I was short of stock one night. He made the supreme sacrifice. This new Mahler is on approval." (He drives away.)
Carter: "Theora? Run a sat-cam trace on that van."
  • Network 23 Announcer (female): "This is your Network 23 Sunrise Report, bringing you only the good news. Economic indicators are up, and a baby alligator has been cloned at the Children's Zoo! These stories and more, after this word from Zik-Zak."
  • Max: "Lis-Listen, I don't mind being the projec-jec-jec... the projectionist, but don't forget, no-no-no one's paying me to be the censor!"
  • Finn: "Step up the recordings. A shredding party for the paperwork. Call someone about that girl... call Breugal!"
  • Bryce: "Fortunately, I don't dream. I perform subconscious calculations... my equivalent of, uh, jogging?"
Max: "How do-How do you know you don't dream, if you're asleep? Hmmmm?"
Bryce: "Ah - it's something I calculated." (laughs)
Carter: "You're becoming quite a humorist, Bryce."
Max: "Ah! Ah, Edison! Uh, he's my pupil. Not very good. He keeps trying to analyze all the pun-pun-punch lines so he can tell them at the beginning, to save time."
  • Carter: "How are you at codes, Bryce?"
Bryce: "Oh, brilliant. What do you have?"
Carter: "Some sort of word game."
Bryce: "Ah. Easy. This'll be like cracking the password on the old Cray computers - a piece of cake. You know, I used to be a hacker in my youth." (opens notebook) "Ah. Dear. Poetry."
Max: "Ah, poetry. Not his strongest point..."
  • Blank Reg: "Look, uh... mind if I say something? I've listened to what you've said. I know how it feels to lose a mate. But you can't wear your 'eart on your sleeve all the time. Messes up your appearance."
Carter: "Forget the tea."
Reg: "Oh, it's 'With us or without us,' then, is that it? ...It's with us. Just don't forget 'oo you are... as well as Paddy's friend. But! Let's be off. Dom, stow the tea, (whoops) make room for me, get ready for sea. Fang... station announcement, please, my son. Two hours off-air. Tell 'em... we're gonna go walkies."
Carter: (pats dog) "You're a pro, Fang."
  • Theora: "Hello? I'm sorry, hello... who? Dominique, is that you?"
Blank Dominique: "This is the Edison Carter rolling infield relay unit, requesting link. Do you read me? Ten-Five - damn - Four! We are rolling, Control. Over!"
Reg: "I'm afraid it's the actress in her, mate."
  • Dominique: "I have you loud and clear. Bandits anticipated at angels niner-zero. Over."
Theora: "Dom? Dominique, what are you talking about? I've got satcam zero-six-eighty in orbiting lock-on."
Dominique: "Tally ho, Control!"
  • Blank Reg: "How much, and what for, son?
Mind's Eye Receptionist: "Twenty creds to sleep and dream. You should be fabulous, dear... old punk dreams."
Reg: "Heav-y metal, mate! Muuu-sic of the ages! Brrrandy of the damned! Punks of the world, unite for love! Give it a bit of the willie! Huh-hey! Raaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!"
  • Blank Reg: "I'm sorry, Edison, I thought it was the lights."
Carter: "Doesn't matter. You cracked it, Reg - that's an ad up on that screen!"
Reg: "An ad? but, fr what?
Carter: "Dreams. They're stealing dreams... and it's killing people. They killed Paddy Ashton."
  • Carter: "A girl in there... had a nightmare trauma. I know that's what happened to Paddy. It killed him. Those people killed them, Murray. They know this process is lethal!"
Murray: "Can be lethal... maybe. Now take it easy, Edison. You have a personal involvement here and I can't let it influence your judgment, particularly if this thing is killing people. ...All right, I need a clear view here..."
Carter: "I'm going back in, Murray... I want this! Those people are using dreams as entertainment and they're killing people to get it! It's mind rape! The only way we can stop them is by proving they're killing people. ...Don't take me off this one, Murray." (he disconnects)
  • Murray: "Well, congratulations. You've just gone live and direct to millions of people with pictures of the world's top telejournalist punching out an interviewee. I expect that's what you call "breakthrough television"?
Carter: "Back off, Murray! He killed Paddy! He's selling this stuff to a lousy subscriber channel! He deserved it!"
  • Murray: "Are you okay?"
Carter: (his voice breaks) "Is that a professional inquiry?"
Murray: "No."
Carter: "How long is it since anyone told you you're a great guy?"
Murray: (smiles just a little)