‘The Peripheral’ Review: Why It’s a Cautionary Tale About Technology

When T’Nia Miller was a child, she was faced with an unsettling albeit intriguing thought: “What about if we just are in a box in a laboratory somewhere?” she tells STYLECASTER, recalling her father saying. “You know, we could just be ants in a box.” Miller’s father is certainly not the first, nor will he be the last, human to question the nature of human existence. The Simulation Hypothesis, attributed to the Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom, theorizes that the world we understand to be real is merely a digital figment, simulated like a video game.

To take a more modern approach, the creators of Rick and Morty Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland suggest there are infinite realities with infinite versions of ourselves, thus our reality as we know it doesn’t matter. There’s a point to all of this. The reason we’re talking about existentialism is that it’s a theme explored in Prime Video‘s latest sci-fi thriller, The Peripheral, in which Miller (The Haunting of Bly Manor, Foundation) stars. Much like William Gibson’s 2014 dystopian novel
of the same name, the show is a cautionary tale about human existence and its increasingly complicated relationship with technology.

The Peripheral

Courtesy of Prime Video

The Peripheral is set in 2032. Because it depicts civilization a mere 10 years away, the themes presented in the series hit particularly close to home in relation to how humans interact with technological advancements. Miller stars alongside Chloë Grace Moretz, who plays the central character Flynne Fisher. Struggling to pay for her mother’s mounting medical bills, Flynne plays virtual reality video games on behalf of wealthy clients who pay her to level-up their character, using an avatar she and her brother Burton (Jack Reynor) share (this kind of thing already exists for online games like World of Warcraft; it’s called paid level boosting). When Burton is offered the chance to test out beta VR technology, Flynne plays in his stead, and she’s tasked with stealing a valuable secret from the mysterious Research Institute. But the assignment goes awry and Flynne realizes this is unlike any game she’s ever played. Using a simple headset, someone has managed to open the door to Flynne’s consciousness and she awakens in London nearly 70 years in the future. Everything she sees and feels is real. As beguiling as London is, it also comes with risks to Flynne’s life and that of her loved ones. If multiple timelines, philosophical questions and the pitfalls of technology sound familiar, it’s because The Peripheral is brought to you by Westworld creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy as executive producers.

London in the year 2099 is where we meet Miller’s character, Cherise, as the cold and calculated head of this secretive organization who will go to any lengths to reclaim what was stolen from her. She possesses “the power of Facebook”, i.e. the ability to wield more power than one person should, as Miller explains: “I’ve always sort of been attracted to the baddies and the villains because they’re seen as a bit more fun,” she says, delivering her Cherise dialogue in a particularly menacing yet dignified manner throughout her scenes.

Image: Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video.

The show made Miller echoes this sentiment. “I’m a troglodyte, I kind of live in my own little bubble,” she says. “I think I’ve worn a VR set once in my life, which is a lot of fun and advancing society is a great thing… But what’s so clever about The Peripheral is that a lot of sci-fi shows are set worlds away and they have nothing to do with our reality. But this? This could happen in the blink of an eye. This is not even 70 years in the future. It’s like 10 years in the future. Look at how far technology has already come and evolved, and if we’re not mindful, that will be our reality.”

If you’re familiar with Westworld, you’ll understand the feeling of watching a few episodes packed full of details you tend to ignore, only to realize how important they were upon reflection or a rewatch. Expect similar storytelling in The Peripheral, so pay attention; this is not a show you want to watch while mindlessly scrolling through your phone—in fact, that would actually be a little ironic.

The Peripheral is available to stream on Prime Video, with new episodes released Fridays. Here’s how to watch it for free.

Image: Courtesy of Penguin Publishing Group.

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