The following contains spoilers for The Peripheral S1E3, “Haptic Drift” (written by Scott B. Smith and directed by Alrick Riley)
The Peripheral S1E3 finally provides some explanation to the towering Greco-Roman statues that I noted last week, as Dr. Nuland (T’Nia Miller) mentions to Daniel (David Hoflin) that Orion was one of the first scrubbers. This also provides some meaningful information as to what happened in the 70 years between the present the Fishers live in and the future London Flynne (Chloë Grace Moretz) visits—global warming, of course!
I wonder at this point how much more detail The Peripheral will provide. It’s easy enough to fill in the gap in broad terms, though the caesura fires the imagination. I almost hope they don’t tell us more, or at least continue to only dole out nuggests obliquely.
Of which there is another in “Haptic Drift”: when young Aelita (Sophia Ally) and young Wilf (Curtis Baffoe Djadja) are adopted, their prospective parents ask whether they’ve been immunized. So perhaps there has also been a pandemic in the world of The Peripheral, making all of this very far-fetched and unrealistic.
None of this explains why the scrubbers that remove carbon from the air are styled after, e.g., Orion, however. That’s a choice. Perhaps it’s obvious enough: “Orion” means daybreak, and this is the dawning of a new civilization. He’s the hunter, seeking without regard for lines between humans and the gods, and representing a kind of transcendence by taking his place in the sky. (N.B. “Orion” is also my favorite Metallica song.) So if the Research Institute sees themselves as enacting a re-renaissance of sorts, it makes some sense why they’d pull on the symbology of the ancients.
I do hope we learn a bit more about the culture of the Research Institute and the broader world of circa 2100 in this story. It’s worth noting, too, that insofar as the threats are very real, we have to consider whether those at the Research Institute like Dr. Nuland might be the “good guys” fighting to save humanity. I don’t think this justifies their brutality, mind you, but it is an interesting wrinkle to ponder—we don’t have much of any idea what the goals of Lev (JJ Field) or Aelita (Charlotte Riley) are, in contrast, so it’s possible that our friends are playing for the wrong team from something like an objective point of view.
Are there threats so existential as to warrant an iron fist?
I would certainly argue that the answer is no, and The Peripheral S1E3 drives home the theme that the ends do not justify the means through the somewhat parallel story of how Corbell Pickett (Louis Herthum) came to power. In 2015, as a mere car dealer in Clanton, we see him trap all of the members of a nefarious gang in decked out vehicles he’s sold them, and once they’ve passed out from the heat it’s clear he strung them up on crosses and killed them, displaying their corpses for all to see. He tells Burton (Jack Reynor) this is how he secured the peace in their town. Clearly he feels justified, and unashamed of indulging in what he calls the pure animal joy of cruelty.
There is an honesty to Corbell, which somehow makes him feel like less of a cartoon villain than Dr. Nuland even as he chews the scenery almost as much as she does. And don’t get me wrong, I love both of these performances. The characters in The Peripheral are a ton of fun, and for a cyberpunk story it’s fitting to have some figures that are larger than life.
My favorite might be Lev, as he chides Wilf (Gary Carr) for being a romantic in assuming they keep Flynne’s peripheral in a bed when she isn’t using it (you keep things in boxes, Wilfred), and then turns around with a silver-tongued assurance to Flynne once she’s arrived that of course they don’t keep her in that wooden crate on the floor.
What Lev wants with Flynne’s stub remains the biggest mystery in The Peripheral; or, rather, it’s the biggest mystery if we also lump in the question of what Aelita wants with this world, which I think is something different. Everyone talks about this particular stub as though it has some special significance, while implying that there are others that unremarkable. There must be some reason why this is so, but I appreciate that The Peripheral isn’t going to just come out and bluntly tell us.
Big clues reside in links between Flynne and Aelita, if “links” is the right word. Flynne’s hand is still messed up from when she tried searching Aelita’s name on the internet, which is weird and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense if we’re beholden to the laws of physics (Though why should we be? This isn’t hard sci-fi we’re watching here, it’s dystopian cyberpunk!), but certainly remains noteworthy.
When Wilf and Flynne find Aelita’s place “where Snow last fell in London,” the former discovers a diorama of the property she lives on, complete with little plastic figurines of Burton and his Marine pals, etc. That’s weird. But weirder still is the fact that the broken grandfather clock reveals a secret door when Wilf moves the hands to match the time on the broken clock in Flynne’s home. (It was at 11:50 and he moves it to 2:15, if you’re keeping track). Either there is some quasi-metaphysical quantum entanglement kind of thing going on with all of this, or Aelita has carefully laid things out for Flynne to discover. Or both.
Speaking of spooky action at a distance, S1E3 takes its title (“Haptic Drift”) from a phrase Burton uses to describe how technologically enabled consciousness merging can feel a lot like love if you don’t know the difference. He’s had the relevant training as a Marine, but Flynne engages in something similar with Wilf in the future for the sake of their mission, before he ends up kissing her as a part of his ruse to get away from the cops. So we’ve got another layer to try and parse in terms of what’s real and what isn’t.
As The Peripheral S1E3 comes to a close, Wilf retrieves an implant he says Aelita removed from herself to avoid being tracked (though we don’t actually know what this implant is or does or even if we should believe him), and Daniel tells Flynne that she took something, only to have his head cut off by the attack robot he arrived with before he can say what. I guess Dr. Nuland wanted that to happen, though I’m not sure I think Daniel was about to spill the beans.
The bigger question is what Flynne could have possibly taken. It seems it must have been when she looked into the inverted pyramid thing in Episode 1, but she was in Burton’s body at that point, or rather a peripheral made to resemble Burton’s body. Either way the physics doesn’t quite track. We might think about how Wilf said what they’re engaged in isn’t time travel but merely data transfer, enabled by quantum tunneling. So I suppose Flynne could have something like a data packet now hidden in her subconscious mind. Good times.
Aelita told her in the pilot that what they were after was eternity in the palm of your hand, and given her confirmed propensity for riddles we should perhaps take her remark there along these lines. But I’m afraid I don’t have any answer to suggest for you as of yet. I didn’t even know John Snow was a real person. I thought that was just the name of a guy who knows nothing on Game of Thrones. Turns out 19th century John Snow made significant contributions to epidemiology and the development of anesthesia.
“Anesthesia” is the name of another Metallica instrumental, and both it and “Orion” feature bass solos by Cliff Burton. Burton is the name of Flynne’s brother. But I’m pretty confident this is just a coincidence and the greatest bassist of all time isn’t somehow the key to unlocking The Peripheral’s mysteries.
He died in a bus accident accident, you know. Cliff Burton. He was only 24. I like to imagine some alternate reality where he didn’t.
See you next week.