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Review of 'The Peripheral' 1.6-1.8

Highbrow Lowbeer

By Paul LevinsonPublished 2 months ago 6 min read
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Now or Soonest

A really high-octane high-intellect episode 1.6 of The Peripheral on Amazon Prime Video -- by which I mean the action, as good as it was, was easily surpassed by the ideas and razor sharp conversation.

And the height of the conversation was offered by Inspector Lowbeer, given a tour-de-force performance by Alexandra Billings, who at her best barely let my near-namesake Lev get a word in edgewise as she spelled out what she thought was going on and what she wanted. Lots of gems in that one-way conversation, but my favorite was her response to Lev asking her when she wanted to see the three peripherals and their operators -- i.e., our heroes from the near future -- that Lowbeer had instructed Lev to summon. "Now -- or soonest," she responded. That order is both a paragon of presumptive and reasonable, at the very same time.

Lev, though, contributes something more substantive in the subsequent conversation, in which he explains how every contact in the past provokes a branching of a new reality, which Lev and his people call a "stub". That's as good an explanation as you'll find of what travel to the past can do, and how indeed it is even possible -- whether the travel is physical or informational -- because it explains how you could want to travel to the past in the first place, or want to change something there, if you succeed on interfering back then and changing that something. Without branches, that very change in the past that you wanted would remove the very reason you wanted to change that something in the first place. It would erase the very motive for the erasure. In other words, what some people (like me) usually call alternate realities, which any interference in the past generates -- or, as I like to say, is tripped off by any time traveler's tip or drop of the hat -- is called a "branch" by Lev, who adds: "we call" that "a stub".

And in a further linguistically sweet part of the conversation, Lowbeer then wonders why "stub" -- not because it reminds her of something you see on Wikipedia (I don't know if they have Wikipedia in that reality) -- but because stub "sounds nasty, short, brutish". Lowbeer continues, "wouldn't you expect the fork's new branch to continue to grow?" Lev responds, "we do" (I agree with Lowbeer and Lev, of course -- fine acting by J J Feild in that role, too, by the way). It's left to Ash (well played by Harry Potter's Katie Leung) to explain that calling the branches "stubs" makes it easier for this future to practice imperialism on the past.

Wow! I don't think I've ever thought of the future manipulating the past as a kind of imperialism -- or "colonialism," as Lowbeer then quickly puts it -- but it's a powerhouse concept, and just one of the reasons I said I thought this episode was sheer intellectual dynamite.

The Unreliable Genie

Let's just start with what I thought was the most significant moment in The Peripheral 1.7, an episode which I thought was laden with significance. Which, I think is a good thing. As I've been saying throughout these reviews.

[And, of course, spoilers follow ... ]

That moment comes when Lowbeer -- who again plays a highly informative narrative role in this episode, in just about everything she says -- but the most significant moment comes, in my opinion, in what she doesn't say, when she declines to answer the third question Flynne puts to her, after telling Flynne that Lowbeer would answer three questions, just like "a genie". And that third question to Lowbeer is: do you have the power to sever our connection, i.e,, Lowbeer's connection to Flynne?

Lowbeer's demurral -- stated as an apology for "overpromising" -- is notable for more than one reason. First, Lowbeer refuses to answer that question after she in effect robs Flynne of her second question, categorizing Flynne's clarification of her first questions as the second question. (Flynne's first question was "What's your biggest fear?" Lowbeer answers: "the past". Flynne replies: "What, like where I'm from?") And Lowbeer says that's a second question? Come on. Not fair. At most, it's a quarter question, or maybe an eighth of a question. But ruling that fragment a "second" question shows that Lowbeer is unfair, not completely honest, and not really wanting to answer Flynne's questions.

Even more important, it shows Lowbeer doesn't want to answer that question. Which is reinforced by Flynne's immediately preceding not being able to answer Lowbeer's follow-up question of why Flynne would not want to cut the connection between their two worlds. All of which reinforces the flashing neon sign that this is one crucial question indeed.

I know if we'll find anything close to why it's such a pivotal question in next week's concluding eighth episode of this first season. But we'll likely get some more intriguing glimpses of what travel by avatars to the past can do, who lives and who dies in the alternate realities that are engendered, and that's more than fine with me, in this powerhouse of a story, in which, as I said before, the intellect provides even more punch than the doodad which provides a title for this seventh episode.

The Putin Diaspora

Well, if you've been reading these reviews, you know how I am regarding what strikes me most in an episode: it could be a word, a phrase, that a character utters, something that has a special relevance either to our own world outside of the series, or something in the series, or both.

In the case of the season one finale of The Peripheral, the phrase is uttered by one of those three gents -- probably too nice a word for them -- in that gentleman's club in that brief coda after the closing credits. One of them talks about "the Putin diaspora," which was a big factor in their world. Nice current touch, a reference to the fascist dictator who has been terrorizing Ukraine for nearly a year now with an attack which clearly cannot succeed.

The mention of a "Putin diaspora" in the future -- or maybe "a" future would be a better word -- suggests that something Putin did led to a mass exodus of Russians from Russia. That would certainly be a logical result if Putin continues his monstrous aggression in our all too-real world. Good for The Peripheral for calling our attention to that.

[Spoilers follow ... ]

Now as to the rest of the season one finale and its science fiction: It's good to see Flynne and Lowbeer united, my two favorite characters in the series. But I didn't like Flynne's ingenious solution to the problem at hand -- setting up a new stub -- because, well, I didn't like Flynne being killed, in any manner, shape, or form. Even if being killed in the stub in which this narrative began was necessary for Flynne to confound Cherise, and flourish in a new stub in which Cherise, at least for now, can't find her.

Flynne's death in our reality does makes some sense, though, given Flynne's not wanting to live here with her mother dying in less than a month, and neither Flynne nor Lowbeeer or anyone apparently being to stop it. The reason for that, though, is still not clear, at least not to me.

All in all, an excellent finale to an excellent first season, more than enough to make me sure and eager to watch what comes next.

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About the Creator

Paul Levinson

Novels include The Silk Code & The Plot To Save Socrates; LPs Twice Upon A Rhyme & Welcome Up; nonfiction includes Fake News in Real Context, The Soft Edge, & Digital McLuhan translated into 15 languages. Details here. Prof, Fordham Univ.

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