The following contains spoilers for The Peripheral S1E5, “What About Bob?” (written by Jamie Chan and directed by Vincenzo Natali)
There’s a dictum you’ll hear that says to show and not tell. What this leaves out is that sometimes you should do neither. There are some out there who might call such an ellipsis a plot hole, but it’s really a matter of trusting your audience to be able to piece things together. Through the first three episodes of The Peripheral, I was praising the show for doing precisely this: not spoonfeeding us all of the details but presenting things more naturally, eschewing contrived dialogue, and creating mystery all around the margins that implied a faith that we were all smart enough to figure things out.
That’s seemed gone this past two weeks, with a massive exposition dump in “Jackpot” and now the cold open of S1E5: a protracted scene showing when Aelita approached Grace to learn about the RI’s secret doings, complete with a run-in with Mariel that seems completely shoe-horned in to create a space for a cringeworthy back and forth.
Was any of this necessary?
Surely we could put things together from what we’d already seen in previous episodes. We already knew that Grace provided Aelita with access from when Dr. Nuland killed her with bees. And we already knew that Aelita would gain access to this secure area by stealing Mariel’s eye with Flynne-Burton’s help. We saw all of this, making the opening sequence of “What About Bob?” feel worse than an exposition dump. It feels utterly superfluous.
Indeed the only new information provided in this cold open pertains to the details of the RI’s plans. Apparently they have been tinkering with the brain chemistry of Marines to make them unwilling to kill dogs? Which is a bad thing because the dogs are harbingers of bombs, and of course even more a bad thing because it is messing with the autonomy of real people (as Aelita notes), but the details are actually hard to follow through the quick back and forth dialogue, so it barely lands that the Research Institute is doing something really nefarious when you’re still reeling from how it’s bad to kill a dog…
In short, this whole scene is terrible and probably should have landed on the editing room floor.
Yet The Peripheral continues to withhold on the question I would really like more of an answer to: why does the RI want Flynne dead so bad?
It’s true that we have received something of an answer. Before their fight at the end of S1E5, Nuland claims Flynne stole a data packet (as I had already speculated), but we don’t know if Flynne even has it (though probably it is what is messing up her occipital lobe), much less what it is.
Perhaps this is supposed to be the big mystery, but it is hard to tell as the overall tone of The Peripheral has become a bit messy. Probably it relates to Aelita’s plan, but at this point I am also wondering why we don’t know what that is more clearly. I hope it’s not something stupid like stealing that footage Grace showed her and exposing it to the world. That would be lame.
If The Peripheral is going to be an over the top bang bang fightfest, featuring campy villains chewing right through the scenery that’s a good enough time, but throwing in a dash of contrived intrigue messes up the recipe. Questions and mysteries are one thing, exerting actual effort to not tell us something to manufacture tension is another.
Who T-boned Tommy in an invisible car to steal Bob from his custody, and why not pay off that tension in this episode by simply panning up from his feet? It’s either someone we haven’t met before, or it’s…Corbell Pickett probably? There aren’t a lot of possibilities for the imagination to work with here. I suppose it could be Burton or one of his buddies. Regardless, it’s more of a thing I’ll just wait for the show to tell me than something that will inspire theorizing in the coming week, so I’m not sure what’s gained by making us wait.
What About Bob?
Speaking of characters we haven’t met before, Bob the Butcher is a delight. Lop off that useless cold open to start with him and “What About Bob?” would already be a far better episode of TV. He’s witty and ruthless, and I’m happy that we’ll surely be seeing more of him now that he’s escaped police custody, though I’m not entirely sure what this story does with him moving forward. Is that how we should interpret the episode title?
The RI would seem to be messing with people in the stub in pretty much the same way that Lev wants to, so that’s worth noting. Of course, Lev is in it for money whereas the RI believes they are doing good and saving the world. Once again, this puts me on Team Lev just because I respect the honesty of the position more. Shame he isn’t in this episode.
We’ve had a few mentions of neoprims to this point. Now Wilf tells Flynne about how he violently killed some of them when he was 12 after they assaulted his school, but though he prefaces this by mentioning this is how he met Lev, I’m not sure I caught that part of the story. Was it weirdly missing?
I jumped directly last week to the conclusion that Lev was having his ancestors killed in any and every stub, but that presumes his ancestor in Flynne’s time has the same name as he does. Is it possible that it’s actually a version of himself that he had murdered? Could he somehow be that old? Maybe we’ve only seen him inhabiting a peripheral.
Regardless, if the neoprims are still around, it would be nice to see them factor in more directly. They may have a point in resisting these technological developments that allow future London to be what it is. If they aren’t, I guess the detail of their existence makes sense but it feels a little bit like information from the book they’re just finding a way to squeeze in.
And that’s OK. As much as it may not sound like it, I continue to enjoy what The Peripheral has to offer. This may not be the deepest or most thought-provoking show in the world, but it’s a ton of fun.
See you next week.