In a masterful adaptation of William Gibson’s novel, we see a realistic vision of VR hell.
It’s no secret that one of the last places to enjoy non-woke art is science fiction. As the mind virus makes its Borgesque conquest of all entertainment, sci-fi has become a bastion of storytellers seeking to skip intersectional purity. It’s refreshing to watch a show trying to tell a compelling (if at times convoluted) story rather than a lecture on morality. The Peripheral shines in this lack of moral certitude.
The Peripheral is an eight-part series that received minimal buzz, which is a shame because it’s excellent. Executive Produced by Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan’s brother and the co-writer of classics including The Dark Knight and Interstellar and based on a novel of the same name by William Gibson. It centers on a young woman named Flynne and her brother Burton living in rural North Carolina in 2032.
It excels in world-building by crafting a believable vision of the future. We see economic degradation and hopelessness alongside well-worn technology that terrifyingly seems to be around the corner. Most people are addicted to painkillers and spend their time playing video games in VR. You get the sense that the country has become the third world with better gadgets.
Burton, played by Jack Reynor, is a veteran of an unspecified Civil War when Texas seceded. He spends time playing a badass VR version of Call of Duty: Medal of Honor with his marine buddies. His sister Flynne played by the excellent Chloë Grace Moretz, hustles to make enough money to keep her sick mother alive.
In the VR world, they receive a cryptic message and a job offer from the future, requiring them to sync into and control robots 70 years later. The future is a sterile vision of a post-apocalyptic London, free of overcrowding, rebuilt and rebranded; it feels designed by Silicon Valley. Society is governed by an oligarchy run by an obscure bureaucracy, a powerful scientific elite, and the kleptocratic families controlling industry. So essentially, our society.
It’s undeniably a work of William Gibson. His novels crafted our vision of the future more than any other artist. In Neuromancer, he inspired The Matrix and coined the term cyberspace, while Pattern Recognition foresaw the coming corporate monoculture and the effects of globalization. Gibson’s novels are exceptional not because he presciently describes future technology, but because he recognizes how it will alter the people who use it.
The Peripheral succeeds because the world seems real. The 3D-printed weapons and medicine, VR, armed drones, and augmented marines don’t seem like the imaginary tech we usually see in sci-fi but rather realities just over the horizon, waiting to alter our lives.
It’s refreshing to see rural southern characters, even the villains, shown as clever, fully-formed people rather than bumbling racists. They openly carry firearms, listen to country music, and drink beer in bars festooned with American flags while trying to navigate a world that has left them behind. It’s a low bar for TV, and the show certainly has some flaws, but it’s a great piece of entertainment for those looking to get a terrifying glimpse of the future.