Cooper’s (Wyatt Russell) backpack is packed and he’s leaving on some sort of trip in the pre-dawn hours. He quietly escapes the house and gets into the waiting car. His mom calls but he ignores it. On his flight overseas, the plane hits some turbulence and he is asked to turn off his handheld video game. He complies and notices the little girl next to him seems a bit freaked out. He goofs around to put her at easy.
We see a montage of various European locales that Cooper has visited before we catch up with him on a double decker bus tour in London. He asks a few questions and is later eating and going through a dating app on his phone. He gets a match with a tech writer Sonja (Hannah John-Kamen) and meets up with her in a pub.
They talk about his travels and she says that this must be a trip about finding himself. He agrees but says its also about getting away from his family, and that its coming to an end. He’ll be back home next week. She says that that’s not much time.
The next morning they wake up together and banter while she makes breakfast. His mom calls and he ignores it. He explains the situation to Sonja. He was taking care of his dad the year before when he died. It had been a long time coming but was still tough because his father was his best friend. He doesn’t know how to relate to his mother. Thus the trip.
Later, when trying to take money out of an ATM, he gets denied due to insufficient funds. After a few calls, it seems that someone has been using his card elsewhere in the world. He doesn’t have the money for a ticket home. He calls up Sonja for a place to crash and explains his plan. He’ll use an app called Oddjobs to try and make some money. He responds to a listing from a gaming company looking for thrill seekers. Sonja explains that the company is huge in the gaming industry and are said to be working on some super secret project.
Cooper gets to the company’s complex and is greeted by Katie (Wunmi Mosaku). She leads him into a room to sign some paperwork and acknowledges that there is a small medical procedure involved, something similar to getting your ears pierced. The signature page from the contract is missing so she leaves the room to get it. Copper quickly jumps up and takes a picture of the tech she left in the room.
Katie explains the system as not so much virtual reality but more layered upon reality. He agrees and inserts a “mushroom” chip into the back of his neck. Then she starts to run some tests. She sets up targets on the table and uses a computer to create a version of a whack-a-mole game. The mole is a projection though. She can’t see it.
The mole waves a white flag to end the game and Cooper explains what the game was like to Katie. She tells him that that was the demo and she’d like him to try the beta version. She brings him to meet the creator, Shou Saito (Ken Yamamura). He and Cooper discuss games before he is asked to try the new horror game they are working on. It uses the player’s actual fears, via the mushroom chip, to make it more frightening.
They update the chip and then take him to another building, which he recognizes as a house from other games he’s played.Katie explains that there is no objective in this game. He merely has to last the night in the house. She will be watching from the control room and nothing he sees can actually physically hurt him. She leaves him to it.
He explores the house and gets a glass of wine, though he finds out from Katie that it is non-alcoholic.He talks about missing his phone and tv which Katie explains is kind of the point. It sets the mood for the 19th century, which is what they were going for. He starts to read and after a few moments Katie points out that his heart rate spiked. He says it’s because of the spider on the floor but there is no spider. It’s part of the game.
He crushes it and notices the light is now on in the painting of the house. Not only that but there’s a man in the window. When the painting man leaves, Cooper hears noise upstairs. He wants to believe it is old pipes but soon enough a creepy man appears and he resembles a bully from Cooper’s past named Josh Peters (Jamie Paul).
Katie points out that Cooper is being more talkative, which is a trait people tend to have when they are afraid. He opens a cupboard door looking for snacks and acknowledges that Peters will be behind the door when he closes it. It’s a Peters/spider combo which is just terrible and while he’s discussing it with Katie the comm system goes out. He walks back to the main room and there’s a banging on the door. He opens it to find Sonja.
She’s come to tell him that he is in danger. He keeps poking her and she tells him they have to get out of there. He doesn’t believe her. He thinks she’s being paid to be part of this but she contends that he is danger. The app he used has led to five other tourist disappearances.
He questions how she tracked him down, since he doesn’t have his phone and she takes out a knife. Sonja points out that she led him to the job. She tells him she hacked his credit card, that he should have called his mother when he had no money instead of her.She attacks him and he fights her off but not before being stabbed. He fights her off by ripping her head off.
Then Katie comes back online. There are no traces of the fight and he isn’t injured at all. She tells him this shouldn’t have happened, that there is no physical sensation and he calls stop. He wants out of the game. Katie talks him through the house so he can find the access point. He reaches the door and opens it, though he feels that there is something behind it to mess with him. It appears to be a bedroom and he asks Katie where the access point is.
She tells him she was “fucking with him.” There is no access point. They wanted to test if he would blindly follow instructions and he did. Katie continues to question him and he discovers that the chip is overwriting his memories. He won’t remember himself soon enough. He’ll end up just like his dad.
Katie and lab techs rush in when he tries to cut the chip out. She tries to override it but she can’t. The tech won’t let her. It has destroyed his mind. The techs drag him away.
Cooper wakes up in the chair where the loaded the chip. He was only in the simulator for one second. None of his experience in the house was real. He takes the money and flies home. He sees his mother, who insists on calling him while he is sitting right there.
It’s a glitch in the system. He was never involved in the game at all. His phone caused interference when it rang before he even played the mole game. The chip short circuited his brain, causing all the synapses to fire at once and kill him.
I liked this episode but was terrified of it. I don’t do well with horror at all and this was choke full of it. It would probably do really well as the plot of a movie. Russell was amazing as Cooper, completely convincing as a terrified guy but if I never see anything like this again I’ll be okay with that.