Basically: A poor rural family is brought into a complex mystery that affects the future.
In this new era of high fantasy resurgence along with superhero dominance, I think there has been a lack of heavy science fiction. There is Westworld but, while that show has gone to some interesting places, it has drifted a bit. Now, Westworld creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have attached their names to Scott Smith’s adaptation of William Gibson’s The Peripheral. Gibson is a pioneer in the cyberpunk genre, and Smith really brings that feeling to the TV. I remember 90s cyberpunk shows on syndicated TV that could capture you like this does (but they were kind of cheesy).
In The Peripheral, Chloë Grace Moretz plays Flynne Fisher, a young woman who lives in North Carolina with her ailing mother Ella (Melinda Page Hamilton), while working at a futuristic 3D printing big-box-style store. She also helps her marine vet brother Burton (Jack Reynor) test VR games for money. Times are hard in the near future of 2032. Inflation and medicine have high costs, and the town they live in is run by a man named Corbell Pickett (Louis Herthum), who controls people with fear.
Flynne is Burton’s ace in the hole, she’s a wizard when it comes to gaming. The games’ graphical fidelity mirrors real life; for us, the gameplay doesn’t seem much different than the world we see, yet the players can clearly tell what’s a game and what’s real. Her brother and other vets in the town were part of an experimental military group, one that doesn’t get explained in the pilot but clearly has affected many of the men from their time in an undisclosed war.
Their world gets thrown upside down when Burton is sent a new type of headset, which looks like the one in the film Strange Days. He has Flynne put it on since it was her gameplay that got him this preview unit. This new game is different: Flynne can feel the air, smell, and touch everything, which takes it to an inconceivable level. To put it in context, it’s like PlayStation 5’s immersive haptics and adaptive triggers. The way the show portrays and explains Flynne’s awe is like how we feel with the latest gaming systems; for example, you feel resistance pulling the triggers on your controller as your character pulls the trigger of the gun in the game you’re playing. Those little touchstones add to this world and the realism it’s bringing you into.
The length of The Peripheral’s pilot episode and its events will feel satisfying, it’s an excellent opening for more. The adventures the characters go through will, like Westworld, make you feel like the show is exploring ideas of playing a game. But they will also open the story up for a more cyberpunk mystery drama than you might think. From what I’ve seen of the first season, it keeps up the momentum—it might be a bit slow or dense for some, while others will always want more.
In the End: The Peripheral is a fascinating concept that does well by telling its story in a relatable world before it takes you through the looking glass.