The Peripheral

The Peripheral (Amazon Prime) doesn’t mess about. It drops you right in, and you’ve gotta keep up. You may struggle, as I did, because it takes no prisoners. But it’s worth it.

The year is 2032. There’s been an internal US war of some sort. VR is pretty immersive now, and ex-soldiers make a living in ‘sims’ – violent video games. But one soldier is continually outplayed by his younger sister, so when a new VR device arrives, and the money’s too good to pass up, he asks her to take his place. She lands in London, in a simulation so real she can actually feel what’s happening to her. It does not go well.

The future comes thick and fast and in deep grandeur. London is overlooked by statues the height of mountains. Sure, you think, whatever – it’s the future. But there’s a reason. There’s always a reason.

Everyone is intelligent and does the smart thing in any given situation. Everyone is capable of absorbing new information without requiring half an episode to freak out and be talked round. Everyone is gracious under pressure. Essentially: everyone behaves exactly as you’d hope you would if your reality were upended. But despite doing everything right, *it all still goes wrong*. I like this.

While everyone’s smart, some of them are proper psychotic. You think you’ve seen it all, but this show comes up with some truly appalling ways to behave. Geez. It helps that half the cast are Brits and the others have southern US accents to die for: the Brits sound super sinister in comparison. Plus they all get to say interesting stuff *all the time*, and are charismatic to a fault. One showdown in particular is just phenomenal – you’ll know it when you see it.

It’s not really a show you can make predictions about. From time to time you think you’ve got the lay of the land, but then there’s some whirlwind of new ideas and probably an unexpected robot and whoosh – everything’s different. Just enjoy the spectacle. This is to be expected as it’s based on a William Gibson novel: it stays true to his form. You just land in the world, and there’s a lot that’s incomprehensible for a while. It throws you the odd bone, but you spend a lot of time trying to stay afloat.

If you wanted to be a cheap critic you could say it exploits the sunk-cost fallacy. It’s a lot of work to figure out what’s going on, and your brain really does not want this to be a waste of your time. So it’s in your interest to think you’re enjoying it, and the threshold for backtracking is super high. And I agree that when people do this in the real world it’s a grubby trick. Continental philosophy innit. But for entertainment: bring it on. Exploit me. Manipulate my emotions as much as you like. Do whatever you gotta do to get me invested – that’s what I’ve signed up for.

I don’t think it’s all a trick, though. There’s enough food for thought that your brain chews on it for a day then cheerily spits stuff out when you want to sleep.

All in all: loved it; very exciting; favourite sci-fi since The Expanse; did I mention the adorable southern accents, you’ve never heard people tell each other to fuck off like this, come the metaverse I’m giving myself a Texas drawl.