‘The Peripheral’ on Prime Video: Sci-Fi Thriller Is an Addictive Puzzle Box

These days, seeing a show with the hype line “from the creators of Westworld” is not necessarily a call for excitement. The amount of homework required to follow Westworld in its convoluted final seasons is just plain silly. The good news: if you’re still doing your homework, you can skip it now. Your time studying complicated sci-fi stories is better spent on The Peripheral.

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The main reason for this: the new series from Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy is much easier to follow. That’s not to say it’s not a difficult puzzle. The General Plan: Two worlds are connected through advanced technology, which is exploited by different factions for good and evil.

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Thankfully, the events of The Peripheral unfold through the eyes of a young blonde protagonist, much like Westworld’s Alice in Wonderland figure, Dolores. Except Flynne Fisher is not a murderous sentient robot. It comes from the pages of the source material for The Peripheral: a 2014 novel by influential cyberpunk writer William Gibson. If you’ve never heard of Gibson, here’s how influential he is: he coined the term cyberspace.

Jack Reynor in formal attire standing in a large room

Jack Reynor plays Flynne’s brother, Burton.

Amazon Studios

Chloe Grace Moretz could be the perfect choice to play the Flynne genre. Moretz is from Georgia, so his singsong southern accent is what a southern accent is supposed to sound like. Flynne and his ex-soldier brother Burton – Jack Reynor of Midsommar, whose accent also sounds realistic, despite not being from Georgia – live somewhere in rural America about 10 years from now. They provide medicine for their sick mother (Melinda Page Hamilton) by doing various jobs, including playing a virtual reality video game called “sim”.

The alternate reality prepares Flynne and Burton for great rewards and even greater danger. The best part is seeing Flynne, a more talented player than her brother, become the crucial chosen one for a secret group’s big plans in the game Future London.

The best part is every time Flynne gets over her innocent girl schtick stuck in a small town. Unexpectedly, she will punch someone in the game, compensating for her many real vulnerabilities, including intimidation by local drug dealers.

Unlike recent slow-burning sci-fi efforts from Amazon – Outdoor beach and night sky — The Peripheral has more than a few ashes to fuel its narrative. More than one significant plot point explodes in the first episode. There is no shortage of intense, sometimes ruthless action scenes.

Chloe Grace Moretz in a sleek black outfit and lipstick, standing in a London street next to Gary Carr

Flynne meets Wilf (Gary Carr) in Future London. Yes, he is mysterious.

Amazon Studios

Still, for better or worse, over-the-top Westworld-esque characters have found their way into this new world. Future London is populated by a cast of smartly dressed power figures who gesticulate, enunciate and pontificate in grand fashion. Although making a stark difference between future Londoners and rural Americans seems like an intentional choice, it still sometimes elicits a smirk.

The worst (and funniest) part of The Peripheral is a character who literally says, “This can all be quite confusing, even for us.” Perhaps we should stick to the more pressing matters and trust the secondary details that will fall into place. It sounds like the Clemence Posey character in Tenet (directed by Jonathan Nolan’s brother, Christopher) saying, ‘Don’t try to figure it out. Feel it.”

Still, The Peripheral isn’t as overwhelming as it could be. Of course, alternate realities and unfamiliar technological terms begin to pile up. You are going to have to learn “stub” (parallel timeline); “jockeying” (playing games for other people); and “device” (an android into which someone’s consciousness can be inserted). But the design of the series’ near-future double is surprisingly minimalistic and smartly integrated. Some of the technology – digital arrows on the road indicating where automated cars are going – should exist in our world. Dystopia sounds like what Joy and Nolan were actually looking for with Westworld.

Sometimes simple really is the best. Joy and Nolan have struck the right balance between likeable, relatable protagonists and their journey down a labyrinthine rabbit hole of technology gone wrong. In other words, The Peripheral conjures up just the right amount of mind-bending force, without breaking the illusion.

Friday, episode 1 of The Peripheral arrives on Prime Video.

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