The Peripheral Pilot Throws Us into a Intriguing Future (or Two)

Flynne's face with her eyes closed as she is logged into the headset
Courtesy of Amazon Prime

The following contains spoilers for The Peripheral S1E1, “Pilot” (directed by Vincenzo Natali and written by Scott B. Smith, based on the book by William Gibson)

I don’t know about you, but I’m actually getting a little burnt out on stories involving alternate universes. Thankfully, with The Peripheral, it’s clear from the jump that the devil will be in the details, and I infer from the pilot that the many worlds result from people messing with time. We don’t quite know how any of this works yet, exactly, but that’s part of the fun. This first hour loads me with questions that I expect it may take some time to find answers to, so I’m going to focus here on articulating the questions.

I should note as we get going that I have not read the source material for this show. I am familiar with the work of William Gibson generally, and recognize him as the master of cyberpunk that he is, so I do have confidence coming in that everything will get even more compelling as we go. Plus, the world (or should I say ‘worlds’?) of The Peripheral is immediately intriguing.

Burton in a chair in his trailer, with a VR headset over his eyes
Courtesy of Amazon Prime

The basics are relatively straightforward: By 2032, virtual reality video games have really taken off, to where it’s possible to earn money by completing tasks for people within them. Our protagonist, Flynne (Chloë Grace Moretz) is super good at these games, but she largely eschews them at this point because they’re not real. At least, this is what she tells her friend Billy Ann (Adelind Horan) when they talk about it, but Flynne is pretty easily persuaded by Burton (Jack Reynor) to test out the new headset tech he’s received to beta test, and her motivation doesn’t exactly seem to be primarily the money he says they can earn. She’s into this stuff, and obviously thrilled by her first experience with it.

Flynne gives Burton a look as they sit in his trailer
Courtesy of Amazon Prime

Of course, things take a really dark turn when she logs in for the second time. Seducing, drugging, and kidnapping Mariel (Poppy Corby-Tuech) was already pretty dark, mind you, but if you’re operating under the presumption that you’re playing a video game, such a sequence of events isn’t all that disturbing. In contrast, waking up unable to move before having your eye removed from its socket without benefit of anaesthesia is rather disturbing, game or no.

But this isn’t a game, as you may have guessed from the get-go. It’s something else. Flynne gets suspicious because when she lost the skin on her hand she discovered she was a machine underneath, which would just be weird game design, but everything else about what happens in the “game” also points to such a conclusion.

A shiny black robot at a party holds some hors d'ourves
Courtesy of Amazon Prime

Apparently, people in the future hire people from the past to inhabit robots and do crimes for them. That’s what I’m gathering anyway, but there are a number of further wrinkles that could indicate that this isn’t quite right. Why, for example, does Flynne feel things so vividly, like they’re really happening to her, if she is inhabiting a robot? Is this robot like the other robots we see in the future she visits, like the driver of Mariel’s car she dispatches? Obviously not insofar as Flynne looks like a human being (Burton, to be precise, since she’s using his avatar for him), but is this the only difference? I’m wondering if perhaps the other robots are programmed in such a way that they couldn’t be used to break laws, leading to a kind of black market that requires an actual human consciousness in order to work.

To be clear, this is all speculation on my part at this point. I did look up the term ‘polt’ because Aelita (Charlotte Riley) uses it to describe Flynne in this episode, and the definition does start verging into territory The Peripheral the TV show has not fully laid out yet, but in another way that information is already here in the pilot if you can piece it together.

Aelita leaning with her mouth slightly open
Courtesy of Amazon Prime

The episode begins in 2099 before jumping to 2032, and in the London we start in old-timey ships appear to be battling in the river that Wilf (Gary Carr) sits near. A young Aelita (Sophia Ally) approaches him to say some cryptic things about not wearing shoes and how she’s off to save the world (but not this world, which she agrees cannot be saved), before spacing out.

The older version of Aelita asks Flynne whether she’d change her life if Aelita told her she’d likely not exist in another decade, and while she’s kind of musing to herself more than anything in this scene, I think we can take this as evidence that Flynne’s world is indeed in peril—however that works and whatever that means.

We can also infer that whatever Aelita is trying to access using Mariel’s eye has to do with her goal of saving whatever world it is she wants to save. Whether we should be on her side in all of this is more questionable. (Side note: never lose sight of the fact that the more we begin to depend on biometrics like eyescans, the more we create a world where people will be motivated to do things like kidnap people in order to steal one of their eyes. Perhaps continuing to use keys is not such a bad idea?)

Mariel looks over quizzically
Courtesy of Amazon Prime

We don’t really know what Aelita was after, but given the straightforwardness of her remark to Flynne that what would come next would be an “eye-opening experience” we should maybe take seriously the remarks she makes about it being infinity in the palm of your hand. Maybe this is somehow what enables all of the messing about in time, the creation of alternate universes and so on. Or maybe it’s something else. Either way, I do hope we see Aelita again and get some more insight into what exactly her failed heist was all about.

In the meantime, Flynne would seem to have a team of commandos out to kill her due to her participation. Do people in the future know that polts are being tricked into thinking they are playing a game? Do they not know that, or do they simply not care?

Wilf has gone to great lengths to warn Flynne of the threat to her, and urged her to log back in so that he can help her. I would guess she might proceed to do that now that Burton and his buddies have discovered the commandos with their drones, but the pilot ends before we can find out.

So I guess we’ll have to wait until next week. See you then.

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

Caesar non est supra grammaticos


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  1. Gave up 1/2 way through the second episode; the burn-out continues. (Andor and Interview with The Vampire both worth watching, btw.)

    • I rather enjoyed the second episode. Working on my writeup on it. I guess I am intrigued by the details and enjoy the vibe of this one. But fair enough if it doesn’t grab you

      • FX being excellent and actors (or, um, eye-candy?) solid, however, dialogue shifts — sometimes good ol’ boy speak, sometimes not — along with serious gaps of script logic threw me off. However, with continual respect for your insight and thoughtfullness, I’ll wait for your take before I take this one off the will-watch-for-sure shelf.

  2. Based on your later reviews, you’ve discovered (and pointed out) potholes/speedbumps; I watched a couple more episodes out of respect for your enthusiasm, however, have now put it aside. Concurrently, saddened that Westworld has been canceled and the potential of this show — visually interesting as it is, script logic MIA notwithstanding — may deter the creator’s future projects.

  3. Hmm…

    Quite a heavy “Mary Sue” in the character played by the actress in latest “Tom & Jerry®” feature production.
    There are multitudes of ways where the artificial-bounds of text-only can get misinterpreted for the bad, so I would try my Best that I won’t come across as some curmudgeon.

    I guess that is so because in the fictional Appalachian county, the neoliberalism-envisioned Sheriff department is so full of integrity in his glorified-cameo that he sees pairs of “suspicious men”( WGBH’s MAG interpreted the cavalry as “imposing men”; the very same descriptor was invoked for Atticus & 3 others before their introduction in the scenes where Flynne “Mary Sue” Fisher gets into the bar to engage in black-market drug trade) and follows them, only to get instantaneously killed by the retired State terrorists now working as neo-age, freelancing contract-killers.
    Hope we get to see something just as equitable from Burton, as well. Otherwise, barring 2-3 moments — this episode rankled me as much the Mary Sue gets oh-so-rationally “rankled” by her elder-sister. Hopefully, the cliffhanger would give us an ample opportunity — but I’m afraid the oh-so-innovative promotion technique of shoehorning a sneak-preview( “Next[ Time] On..”) mid-credits spoiler the answer to the predictably inevitable gun-battle.
    You have:
    A) A sheriff who is genuinely there to “protect and serve” but not as much trained to escape getting killed instantly.
    B) Guns are very handy tools for self-defence. Who knows when and how you need it? Just bring all of the machine-guns, automatics to semi-automatics — for a drunk as fuck nighttime picnic.
    C) Ohhh.. Waiiittt! Did I just answer my own question as to why she is a Mary Sue? They are taking great-enough risk by making the Deputy Sheriff her still-unresolved crush since decades. I guess they would trample over that by retconning this all by shoehorning a scene with her and Wilf somewhere in dystopian London having a “bow-chika-bow-wow” even during a supposedly Human Civilisation-recurring work where every second is precious, as she can’t control her own avatarperipheral.

    Regardless of whatever they do to justify needlessly the runtime of freshman season, hope her imperfections start appearing just as soon as the episode made to point-out from her perspective, with the audiences simply being expected to take her words at face-value “‘cus she’s the SheRo! Don’t you get it? Why would a protagonist, and that too: A SheRo, would have mistaken-beliefs about her very own [bio-]family.”
    Appreciated that the show at least managed to avoid all of those Appalachian/hillbilly/Southerner types.[.. Yet!]

    Interesting to note that it was filmed in part on-location at the NY state without evergreen brib.. errmmm.. tax-incentives. I guess it must be those shots like skycraper that till-then unknown adult woman with “Burton Peripheral”/”Easy Ice”( that’s what happens when accessibility-in-media is outsourced to multiple vendors without any expectation whatsoever) entered after getting “his” eyes replaced with Mariel, Floor -95 below the surface?
    Speaking of.. Ahh.. Welp! If not the frequent strong-language, at least they spared us from substance use( save for liquid, ‘course) and “gorno” in that particular, non-consensual eye-transplant sequence which was very icky to watch even without a trace of blood. A full-on body horror, nonetheless.

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