The Peripheral S1E8: “The Creation of a Thousand Forests” (Season 1 Finale)

Flynne and Wilf face each other in The Peripheral S1E8
Courtesy of Amazon Prime

The following contains spoilers for the Season 1 finale of The Peripheral, S1E8, “The Creation of a Thousand Forests” (written by Scott B. Smith & Greg Plageman and directed by Alrick Riley)

There is a fine line between an avant garde storytelling structure and an incoherent one, and I’m afraid The Peripheral tends more towards the latter side than the former. In the beginning, I praised the show for trusting its audience by filling in the background of its story obliquely, then I called it out for engaging in some massive exposition dumps that did the exact opposite. Now, as Season 1 comes to a close I find my criticism flipping once again, as the biggest problem with “The Creation of a Thousand Forests” is that it does not explain nearly enough, and whether the series trusts me no longer feels as relevant as the fact that I’m not sure I trust it.

What exactly is going on in The Peripheral as Season 1 comes to a close? How are we to understand the events of this season finale?

A digital diagram of stubs
Courtesy of Amazon Prime

Ash tells Dr. Nuland that the stolen data is in Flynne’s brain, taking her side over Lev’s out of fear of what the Klept would do with that power, and a hatred of her boss. This leads Nuland to decide to hasten the Jackpot in the stub by means unknown in order to wipe out Flynne and the whole area she lives in, which she says she really didn’t want to have to do because she doesn’t want to lose the research.

As an erstwhile academic, I get that well enough, but still I’m not sure we’ve been filled in sufficiently about the value of this particular stub to the RI for Nuland’s hesitation to land properly. Moreover, from what we know of what Lev wants to do with the stub, is it really worse than what the RI is already doing? I’m not sure it is, though I suppose Ash doesn’t know everything we do. Still, it feels like quite a turn when just last week she was advocating for the neoprims. I’m not sure this quite makes sense.

Dr. Nuland looks stunned
Courtesy of Amazon Prime

That’s OK, though, because of course we care more about Flynne and the others we’ve gotten to know in the stub than we do about Ash, and they are going to all die because of this. So it tracks that Flynne wants to win the game. She hatches a plan to foil Nuland, which involves creating a new stub…and here’s where the details become murky. I am not sure I understand what happens in the rest of the season finale.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that The Peripheral has to give us a long lecture on how stubs work or how any of this is meant to function technologically speaking. We can accept whatever is going on with the pocket watch and easily interpret her crushing it as covering her tracks. I am more confused about how Nuland seems to know Flynne did all of this and how that relates to Flynne’s plan…which I thought involved tricking Nuland?

The final act of The Peripheral S1E8 isn’t intriguing and full of mystery; it’s just confusing. I’m not sure I comprehend what we’re shown on even a surface level.

Lowbeer sits with hands crossed in front of her
Courtesy of Amazon Prime

From what happens, we can gather that Flynne opened a new stub, had Conner kill her in the old stub so that Nuland will think she is no longer a threat, and then somehow returns to her peripheral to sit down with Lowbeer before the credits roll. But is this a new version of Flynne from the new stub? Does she nevertheless somehow know what the old Flynne knew? If so, how? If not, how does she end up sitting with Lowbeer at the end?

Just how sad should we be watching the scene of Flynne’s putative death? It’s heart-wrenching for Conner to be pulling that trigger, but to what extent does the Flynne we’ve come to know and love perish? Will she be dead from the point of view of her mother, who we’ve just seen express an acceptance of her own fate because of the possibilities it will open up for her daughter’s future?

Ella looks on serenely
Courtesy of Amazon Prime

This scene could be absolutely devastating or not that huge of a deal in the grand scheme of things, and “The Creation of a Thousand Forests” really doesn’t tell us which way to read it. All we know for sure is that some version of Flynne survives. We see her in the closing moments of the episode, but is it the same Flynne we were rooting for earlier on?

I am of course tempted to engage with the problem of personal identity here and veer into metaphysical type concerns, but my lament is that I don’t even feel clear enough about what the surface level story is that I am being asked to accept to be able to do that.

It’s a terribly odd way to end a season of television, and while one might argue that it amounts to an attempt to hook us into clamoring for Season 2, an effective cliffhanger hinges on tension and intrigue; to try to hang one on bewilderment is certainly novel, but not in a good way.

Jasper looks on, anguished, his face lit by the fire he's looking at
Courtesy of Amazon Prime

And the other threads left dangling at the end of S1E8 are equally messy. Tommy frames Bob for killing Sheriff Jackman, but Corbell isn’t dead, though we also don’t see him wake up. So Tommy may or may not be in a heap of trouble very soon from his decision to fight back instead of playing along with the forces of corruption. Jasper gets mad at the other members of Corbell’s crew and kills them with a train even though he tried to go back on that decision but couldn’t get the car off the tracks in time.

I suppose these things matter, but there is also the threat of Nuland causing that attack on a missile silo that would wipe all of these people out of existence. I guess that’s not happening now because of what Flynne did, but it’s weird to lack confirmation.

Aelita purses her lips as she stands in a field, with trees out of focus behind her
Courtesy of Amazon Prime

I had expected the Season 1 finale to bring Aelita back to the fore, but though Wilf finds her the scene feels rather separate from the rest of the plot. The Klept killed their parents and five million other people. She wants Wilf to remove his implant so he’ll remember, and tells him about the data in Flynne’s brain she intends to use to take on the powers that be in the world…

Which is all intriguing except is this even still possible given whatever happened with Flynne? Is the data still available to anyone, or did it get lost when Conner pulled that trigger? We didn’t actually see Flynne die, but we do then see Flynne in her peripheral talking to Lowbeer… Again, dear reader, you may have come to this article because you were confused and hoped I could clear things up for you, but I’m afraid I cannot. This finale is just confusing.

Lev sits around a table with higher ranking Klept
Courtesy of Amazon Prime

Perhaps it all makes sense to someone who has read the book, but this is no excuse. A TV series or film should stand on its own feet even when it’s an adaptation, and I’m afraid “The Creation of a Thousand Forests” simply fails when it comes to the most basic aspects of its storytelling.

The Peripheral S1E8 has a post-credits scene, but it’s not helpful either since it basically just consists of Lev being threatened by his superiors, and I’m not even sure what the overall stakes are at this point that would allow me to situate what impact this is supposed to have.

All of this might be fine if this weren’t the season finale, or even if we knew for sure there would be a Season 2. But as it stands I’m not even entirely convinced The Peripheral deserves one.

Large statues in the style of the ancients tower over a decaying city skyline
Courtesy of Amazon Prime

At its best, The Peripheral is an amusing romp with sci-fi accoutrements. At its worst, it’s a muddled incoherent mess. It’s not always clear how the storylines hang together, but each is entertaining enough on its own that we can ignore that.

At the same time, though, I’m really struggling to be able to say what this show is about, or what its stakes are. Is the Jackpot inevitable, or are we hoping Flynne can somehow stop it from happening in the stub? Is she even going to be trying to do that? I’m really not sure.

My hope is that in a Season 2 (should it be renewed for one), The Peripheral will do a bit better of a job in finding its bearings and establishing the tone it wants to have. The characters are all great, and the visuals are stunning. It may seem like I’ve been railing against the show, but truly I am just disappointed that it isn’t as good as it could be.

I want to see what happens next, and so do you, so #RenewThePeripheral it is!

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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