Episode 1 works like a mini-movie, introducing audiences to some impressive world-building and an engaging narrative. The Peripheral is expertly realized with superb visuals and a cinematic score.
We recap the Prime Video series The Peripheral season 1, episode 1, the “Pilot,” and so it will contain spoilers.
The dangers of futuristic technologies have been woven into stories for centuries now, warning of mankind’s unquenchable desire to tinker with unknown powers, be that time travel, artificial intelligence, or a whole host of other life-altering gadgets. Veteran science-fiction writer William Gibson (Neuromancer) made a highly successful career out of these fascinating tales of futuristic worlds and apocalyptic inventions. Although his work has been notoriously difficult to translate over to film and television. Thankfully, one of his most recent novels, The Peripheral, has been adapted by Westworld creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy for Prime Video. The series opens with a feature-length epic that vividly brings to life Gibson’s scarily-realistic future visions.
Recap – what happened in The Peripheral season 1, episode 1?
Episode 1 opens in 2099 in London, with enormous, towering statues dominating the skyline. A man nervously waits at a park bench. He is soon met by a young girl who walks barefoot over to him. She speaks with a wisdom that doesn’t quite match her years and talks of saving the world. It’s an intriguing opener that I’m sure keen viewers will be smart to remember.
Then we cut to Blue Ridge Mountains, 2032, where Flynne Fisher (Chloe Grace Moretz) looks after her blind mother in a large, rural house. She checks up on her brother Burton (Jack Reynor), who makes a living playing immersive VR games in his airstream. Flynne worries that Burton has been stealing his mother’s pills and goes to give him a good telling off. Burton convinces Flynne to play in his game instead though, so he can afford to pay for more medicine. Flynne happens to be a bad-ass pro when it comes to these particular games and eagerly enters the VR experience. The game play is beautifully realized, feeling fresh and visually unique. Flynne of course wins Burton some money and goes to the cash machine to withdraw her funds.
Director Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Westworld) sculpts a believable and well-thought-out future as Flynne bikes to work. These subtle hints to a near-future make for excellent world building. Flynne is an employee at a 3D printing shop, where she gossips with best friend Billy Ann. They discuss Flynne’s infatuation with police officer Tommy, who is soon to be married, and Flynne’s squandered endeavors. She’s clearly capable of much more in life, but prefers to live within her means, instead of selling out in Burton’s fantasy worlds.
That very same morning, Flynne is handed a futuristic headset from an elusive, Colombian company. Burton has been offered to test out this cutting edge technology for a generous fee. They were impressed with his VR gaming skills and believe he is the ideal candidate. Of course it was Flynne’s services that they were really after and Burton asks her to test out the kit in his place. She’s hesitant at first, but accepts, struggling to contain her excitement.
The game takes Flynne to London, 2099, as witnessed in the opening scene, with those looming historic statues. Flynne inhabits Burton’s avatar and rides a motorbike through the city streets. A narrator directs Burton towards Buckingham Palace and a swanky party. His first task is to seduce a mysterious woman and then kidnap her. There’s a tense sequence that follows involving Burton fighting a knife-wielding robot that hints at the cinematic qualities of the series. And then Burton gets to meet the woman who was ordering his avatar about all this time. She is Aelita, played by Charlotte Riley (Peaky Blinders).
Flynne returns to the real world and explains the experience to a rather jealous Burton. In the game, Flynne can feel everything, even pain and she raves about the ultra-realistic game play. That night, she journeys into town to retrieve her mother’s pills. Here she has a run in with some vulgar gangster types and is heroically saved by Conner, a drunk, triple amputee with nothing to lose. He helps her to complete the transaction as intended, making enemies with the thugs in the process.
The next day, Flynne finds out from her mother that Burton was in fact gifting her with his extra pain meds not taking them away from her, and she is quick to apologize. Flynne then re-enters the game for an entirely different experience. She finds herself on an operating table as Burton. The woman that she kidnapped, Mariel, was needed for this important piece of surgery. They replace Burton’s eye with Mariel’s. Flynne feels everything during this excruciating and gruesome operation, but manages to control her heart rate to cope with the pain. It’s a terrifying slice of body horror thrown into this sci-fi thriller that likens the series to Black Mirror.
Next, Aelita and Burton drive to a secret location and use Mariel’s eye to scan their way into the building. An elevator takes them down 95 levels to an unusual structure. Here, Burton uses his own eye for another retina scan. This one is equally painful, although they are interrupted mid-flow by an intruder. Aelita orders him to fight, but he is quickly apprehended, whilst the unknown enemy moves on to Aelita. Burton somehow squirms out of his ties, revealing a robotic arm underneath his prosthetic skin. The killer asks Burton for his real world name and location, strongly suggesting that this game has real world consequences. Burton is then killed by a sonic weapon and Flynne wakes in her reality.
Flynne vomits and declares that she is never playing the game ever again. At work the next day, she is contacted by Milagros Coldiron, the company that paid for her services. Wilf from the opening scene is the man on the phone and he warns her that she is in imminent danger. A bounty has been put out on the dark web and Wilf believes that Flynne and her family are the targets. She races home to find Burton throwing a small gathering with his friends. He laughs off her story, but Burton’s friends send out a precautionary drone to assess the situation just in case. The drone picks up on a gang of gunmen heading for the home.
What did you think of The Peripheral season 1, episode 1? Comment below.