TV REVIEW: THE PERIPHERAL, Season 1 (Some Spoilers)

Figure 1 – The Peripheral poster

It’s seldom that I speak so highly about a TV show, and seldomer (is that a word?) that I do it two columns in a row. Last time I talked about Poker Face, which impressed me mostly because of its star, Natasha Lyonne; the show held up throughout the episodes I’d seen (click on the name to read that column). This week, I want to talk a bit about a different show, helmed by the same folks who brought you Westworld (I admit, I haven’t caught up to that one with the new season yet). You might remember—if you’ve been with me for a while, that I did a review waaay back in 2014, of William (Bill) Gibson’s then-new book, The Peripheral, which I really liked (click on the book’s name to read that column). Wouldn’t ya know, they’ve made a TV series from the book.

It’s a series “based upon” the book in approximately the same way Game of Thrones was based upon the Song of Ice & Fire books by George R.R. Martin; i.e., they kept what they wanted and diverged when they felt like it. It seemed to work for GRRM’s books, at least up until the last episode, when I felt it all fell apart—to the extent that I have absolutely no desire to watch the new “prequel” about the Targaryens. I sincerely hope this series doesn’t follow that lead.

Anyway, a bit about the series setup. The book is enough different that—when I said to Bill G. that I would need to reread the book (it’s been 9 years, after all) so I could watch the series, he said it might not help, so I’m going to treat the two as separate entities and just mention here that 3D printing (which I’m a proponent of) occupies a much bigger niche in the book than in the series. The series takes place in the Blue Ridge Mountains—I assume West Virginia (all the blurb says is “Appalachia,” which covers a heck of a lot of territory), from John Denver’s song; there’s a bridge over a river, which I also assume—from the song—is the Shenandoah River. There is—on purpose, I guess—a decided lack of geographical signage in the actual show. I could be wrong; according to a quick Google search, “The Blue Ridge Mountains stretch 550 miles from north Georgia to southern Pennsylvania.” And knowing it’s in “Clanton county” doesn’t help, either; there’s one in NC, one in GA, and one in TN. Oh, well. TV isn’t reality, let’s face it.

It’s a sleepy small town that seems to be well behind the times—the year is 2032 when we start—in terms of 3D printing (only fused deposition—FDM—and SLA [vat-polymerized resin] seem to be available there; and cars, etc., all seem to be about what’s available here with two noticeable vehicle exceptions. The one major advance is pharmaceuticals—the company PHARMA JON, which deals in 3D printed drugs—has a store in the town, but their products are hella expensive (so expensive that Flynn pays the town drug dealer $1000 for one pill!). It has one main bar, and a doctor’s office, plus a sheriff’s station with several deputies.

In this town are several of our protagonists, including Flynne Fisher (Chloe Grace Moritz), her mother Ella (Melinda Page Hamilton), her brother Burton (Jack Reynor), and a couple of Burton’s ex-Army Ranger buddies: Connor Penske (Eli Goree), and Leon (Austin Rising). Also significant in the town are Deputy Tommy Constantine (Alex Hernandez)—who’s also Flynn’s secret crush—Tommy’s betrothed, Dee Dee the town medic (Hannah Arterton); Corbell Pickett (Louis Herthum) the bar owner, who runs the town, the sheriff, and all the illegal traffic behind the scenes; also his nephew Jasper Baker (Chris Coy) and his wife, Billy Ann (Adelind Horan), one of Flynn’s best friends. Remember, this is the U.S. in 2032-2033.

In London, 2099-2100, we will also meet Wilf Netherton (Gary Carr) (Figure 2), his adopted sister Aelita West (Charlotte Riley); his friend Lev Zubov (JJ Feild) and his two minions Ash (Katie Leung) and Ossian (Julian Moore-Cook). In future London also are the “forces of good” led by Ainsley Lowbeer (Alexandra Billings) (Figure 3)—essentially a very powerful cop—and her KOID (robotic AI) minion Beatrice (Anji Mohindra). Against them is the Research Institute (RI), led by Cherise Nuland (T’Nia Miller).

What? Did I say in future London? WTH? Yep. Here’s the deal: let’s assume you and I belong to the same timeline as Flynn and her crowd. At some point, there was a crucial event which spun off a different timeline which became Wilf Netherton’s, Lev Zubov’s, Cherise’s, and Lowbeer’s future in 2099 when we first met Wilf and Aelita. It’s possible that event was the war in Texas, some years from this now, where Burton, Connor, and his friends—all from this small town—have their haptics installed in their body so that they can carry out their battle in constant and wordless communication. In that war, Connor loses both legs below the knee and his left arm. It’s important, so remember it.

Figure 2 – Wilf & Flynn enthroned

From Wilf, etc.’s, future, our present becomes an alternate timeline, or stub. (They’ve never really said so, but IMO, “stub” means it can be—or will be in the future—cut short.) Here’s the deal—in 2100 London (England, not Ontario), they have the technology to interface with our stub, because it’s not their actual past! They can control electronics, make phone calls, and do anything that involves controlling/sending/receiving data rather than something physical, due to “quantum tunneling.” (It’s a slight possibility in the physics we know today.) And they (meaning Lev, I believe) pay someone a bunch of dough to build (3D print, if Gibson has anything to say about it)—from files sent back in time—a new “VR headset” for Burton to put on.

The thing is, that Burton, while a good VR gamer—you can earn money by passing levels in some VR games—is not a top gamer; Flynn is. She’s really, really good at VR games; so good that she’s made level 106 in a game that hardly anyone else has reached level 100 at—but nobody outside this small group knows she did it under Burton’s avatar. He never even made level 100 himself; so Lev, thinking Burton was the hella great gamer, sent him the headset and promised oodles of money if he’d try the “new VR.”

Only, it’s not a VR at all; Lev (using all sorts of information only the future could get remotely) has built a robot body, a peripheral, that looks and feels like Burton himself. And when Burton puts on the headset, his mind is basically transported into the peripheral and London in 2100. But Burton wants all that promised money, and knows he wasn’t really who they wanted, so he talks Flynn—who needs money for her mother’s pills (they cost $1000 each, even from a drug dealer)—into donning the new “VR” headset. Flynn and Burton’s mother is blind; and has been basically bed-ridden since her vision went.

So when Flynn dons the new headset, expecting a new VR game, she feels like she’s physically in London in Burton’s body. And here’s where the real game—which at this point only Lev, Cherise, Wilf, and Wilf’s sister Aelita know about—begins. At stake is, not only London of 2100, but our world (at least, Flynn’s stub, which at this point might/could be our world in 9 years) as well are in danger. Aelita feels that their world is doomed; Cherise knows that Flynn’s is too—partially because of a future event called “The Jackpot.” (Shades of Robert A. Heinlein’s “Year of the Jackpot.”) A number of events combined, some time between 2032 and 2099, to reduce the world population to somewhere around a billion people, I think they said. The Jackpot is in Lev and Wilf’s past, but in Flynn and Burton’s (and ours?) future.

***SPOILERS****(skip to the next group of asterisks if you want to watch it without foreknowledge****

Here’s the deal: Cherise is manipulating events in Flynn’s stub as if the people (and they’re not in Cherise’s past, you know) were of no consequence; they can do what they want as if the past people were just lab rats. To be manipulated, killed, whatever; Cherise’s people (RI—the Research Institute—can do market research, play with social conditions, just do whatever they want. Which could have dire consequences for Flynn’s stub.

To convince Flynn—because Wilf & Lev know that it was she, not Burton, who picked up and used the headset and that this is real, Wilf says they can cure her mother with future medicine (he reveals to Flynn that her mother has a glioma which will kill her; he shows her the death notice in a newspaper). She agrees to help, and he sends the data to PHARMA JON—and pays for the medicine in advance.

Figure 3 – Ainsley Lowbeer (R) and Beatrice (L)

The other part of this is that Wilf’s sister, Aelita, working for a different group, has a spy inside RI, and while Flynn is inside Burton’s peripheral, takes an eye from her spy and implants it in Burton’s peripheral, enabling her and Burton to get into RI itself. Something else important happens, but I won’t tell you what—but it’s not “something Flynn saw that she wasn’t supposed to see”—and it sets Cherise against Flynn, Burton, and Burton’s crew.

***END SPOILERS**********

This show has everything an SF fan wants: high tech, futurism, time travel (okay, time data travel), intrigue, murder!

I could talk about so many things I liked about this series, but I don’t want to give you a play-by-play report on the series—and this is only Season 1—because that might decrease your impetus to watch it. I hope this review gives you enough information to make you interested enough to do so.

As I said, Bill Gibson wrote the book, but not the series itself; just like George R.R. Martin wrote the Song of Ice and Fire books that became Game of Thrones (and its “prequel,” House of the Dragon. The TV series became things unto themselves, even surprising the writers of the books; Bill tells me he’s enjoyed this season and is looking forward to the next. I, too, am looking forward with anticipation.

What do you think? Any comments? Talk to me here or on Facebook, or even by email (stevefah at hotmail dot com). All comments are welcome! (Just be polite, please.) My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!

Source: Auto Draft

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