Review: Amazon’s ‘The Peripheral’ is cool, complex sci-fi if you’re up for the challenge

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews 'The Peripheral' on Amazon Prime Video

“F**k You and Eat Sh*t.” No, not you. We would never say that about you, dear reader.

That’s the name of Episode 6 of “The Peripheral,” which drops Friday on Amazon Prime.

The series is a must-watch for sci-fi fans after five gripping episodes so far. It was created by Scott Smith, whose 1993 novel, “A Simple Plan,” became Sam Raimi’s 1998 movie gem, and executive-produced by “Westworld” creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, the brother of Christopher Nolan who has given us mind-benders from “Memento” to “Inception.”

Based on the 2014 novel by cyberpunk scribe William Gibson, the story is set in the near future as Flynne Fisher receives a virtual-reality headset from her ex-military brother Burton, allowing her to operate an avatar on a lifelike mission to witness a potential murder. Turns out, it’s not virtual reality; she’s operating an avatar 70 years in the future.

Chloë Grace Moretz is coming into her own after her superhero breakthrough in “Kick Ass” (2010) and horror remakes in “Let Me In” (2010) and “Carrie” (2013). In “The Peripheral” she deftly plays multiple roles — (A) Flynne’s normal self, (B) Flynne operating a future avatar, and (C) her lifeless avatar, waiting for Flynne to put the headset back on again.

She bickers with her brother, played by Jack Reynor (“Midsommar”), sort of a more fiery Chris Pratt. He’s a hothead, but a sympathetic one, having received cybernetic implants while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps’ “Haptic Recon” unit, literally connecting him with his war buddies. If one was bullied as a kid, the others will innately want to kill that bully on sight.

This “haptic” concept of a shared soul also creates romantic sparks between Flynne and Wilf Netherton (Gary Carr, “The Deuce”), the future guru who hired Burton to protect a now-missing woman named Aelita (Charlotte Riley). He’s warmhearted, but with a cold exterior, due to his upbringing by adopted parents who changed his name from Wolfgang to Wilfred.

Much of the character work in the first five episodes is Flynne learning to trust Wilf, who is remotely her best protection from two figures in her normal timeline: Evangelical druglord Corbell Pickett (a deliciously callous Louis Herthum in three-piece suits) and bounty hunter Bob the Butcher (a methodical Ned Dennehy), who’s hired to kill her by a ringing phone.

The biggest baddie exists in the future timeline: Cherise Nuland (T’Nia Miller of “The Haunting of Bly Manor”), who runs the Research Institute, one of three pillars of the dystopian society. She stacks three pieces of toast in an analogy for: (A) the Research Institute, (B) a criminal mafia known as the Klept, and (C) the Metropolitan Police.

Life is different in this future version of London, which is largely depopulated due to a cataclysm known as the Jackpot. Directors Vincenzo Natali (“Splice”) and Alrick Riley (“Once Upon a Time”) paint a hazy atmosphere with giant statues towering over the city to serve as air filters, while the building interiors appear high-tech and slick.

The fun is spotting all the sci-fi nuggets envisioning everyday life in the future, from invisible cars parked on the side of the road, to skyscraper floor panels that disappear to make you think that you’ll fall. The weapon of choice is a surge gun that blasts not bullets but a propulsion wave, which is a ripoff of “Minority Report,” (2002) but cool nonetheless.

While the gadgetry is engaging, don’t watch “The Peripheral” late at night if you’re tired. The story jumps around in time so much that sleepy eyes might lose track of who is an avatar versus who is real across parallel timeliness of the near-future and the future-future. If, however, you’re up for a complex sci-fi challenge, it’s a rewarding watch on Friday nights.

Wait, what are you doing still reading this? A new episode just dropped! Time to fire up Amazon Prime Video and hit play to see why Episode 6 is telling us: “F**k You and Eat Sh*t.” D.C. region viewers can only hope that it’s a message from Jeff Bezos to Dan Snyder.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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Entertainment News | TV News

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