The Peripheral

The Peripheral

2022 - United States

A Convoluted Sci-Fi Mystery

The Peripheral review by Matt Owen

The Peripheral is a sci-fi mystery series that was created for television by Scott B. Smith and based on the 2014 novel by William Gibson. The show is also backed by executive producers Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, who together created the hit HBO drama, Westworld. In this perplexing world of multiple realities and traveling consciousness, answers to big questions often beget more questions. Bouncing between rural middle America and a futuristic, dystopian version of London, The Peripheral is a mind-bending mystery that will hold your attention, but the story starts to crack when examined closely.

The Peripheral
Chloë Grace Moretz

At the beginning, The Peripheral is set in the year 2032 and centres around a young woman named Flynne Fisher (Chloë Grace Moretz). Living in an impoverished, podunk town in South Carolina, Flynne looks after her sick mother with the help of her ex-Marine brother, Burton (Jack Reynor). Desperate for cash, Burton decides to beta-test a brand new virtual reality gaming headset and enlists Flynne's help. What follows is a puzzling rabbit hole of sci-fi concepts, illusive characters with mysterious motivations, and a complete questioning of the fabric of reality.

Early on, Flynne discovers that the VR headset is not a video game device, but rather a sort of portal into an alternate reality. When she dons the headset, Flynne's consciousness is transported to London, 70 years in the future and in a parallel timeline. Thrust into this mystifying world full of secrets, Flynne must navigate the treacherous politics of the future and choose her allies carefully, all while trying to discover the truth of the situation. Meanwhile, things are far from pleasant back in South Carolina, with problems popping up at home as the show progresses.

The Peripheral
Chloë Grace Moretz and T'Nia Miller

The story of The Peripheral is likely riveting on paper, but in the case of many book-to-television adaptations, something feels lost in translation. The start of the show is very good, especially as tensions steadily build in London. During her dives into the future, Flynne meets an extensive cast of new faces, all seemingly hiding ulterior motives. Unsure of who to trust and just as naive as Flynne, it's easy to get wrapped up in the danger of her detective work. However, the story is constantly held up by obstacles in her home timeline, which often amount to unfulfilling roadblocks that simply serve as a distraction from the main narrative. As a result, some of the best characters and concepts get left behind in the shuffle in favour of cheap, uninspired conflict.

In general, the story of The Peripheral is a mixed bag, as it's notably well-written but several plot decisions feel cumbersome. The show explores some very interesting sci-fi concepts, many of which will have you questioning your viewpoint on the world at large. Unfortunately, it also falls victim to several disappointing tropes, including a romantic subplot that feels tacked on, faceless cannon fodder enemies, and climactic revelations that don't quite make sense in the grand scheme of things. These problems pop up throughout the dual-world narrative, but the story threads in London stay interesting enough to break even.

It's easy to scrutinize the plot and writing of The Peripheral, as the show firmly paints itself as a complex and intellectual drama with countless subplots. Part of the appeal of The Peripheral is figuring everything out as information is slowly uncovered, so it's hard to ignore when the reveals aren't all that satisfying. Combined with intentional audience confusion and misdirection, the show tries to shake things up with intermittent scenes of excitement, but the action is often middling at best. Many of the fight scenes feel stilted, with disruptive editing to cover up the lacklustre choreography. However, the visual effects are well done and there are a few standout moments, redeeming some of the cheesy action.

The Peripheral
JJ Feild

Despite the show's missteps, The Peripheral still features a talented cast of actors and actresses who excel at delivering dense dialogue. Although her Southern accent could use a bit of work, Chloë Grace Moretz is admirable in the lead role, with commendable support from Jack Reynor as Burton. Eli Goree also rises above the pack with an emotional performance as Conner, a triple-amputee veteran with an appropriately bleak outlook on the world. The London side of the story hosts many of the show's best characters, including Gary Carr as Wilf Netherton, JJ Feild as Lev Zubov, and T'Nia Miller as the sharply intimidating Cherise Nuland.

The Peripheral

Overall, The Peripheral offers a decent tale of science fiction, with unique characters, a gripping world, and plenty of thought-provoking themes. At its best, it's a deeply intriguing story that refuses to dumb anything down, encouraging the audience to figure things out for themselves. At its worst, The Peripheral is unintentionally goofy, hard to parse, and lacks the closure needed for a fulfilling mystery. The enticing world and clever characters are worth seeing the story through to its conclusion, even if it fails to stick the landing.

Published on May 19th, 2023. Written by Matt Owen for Television Heaven.

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