Episode 1 of The Peripheral starts in London, in the year 2099. A man sits on a bench. A young girl walks up to him. He asks her what mess she’s got into now.
The girl, Aelita, replies that he got her into that mess. They talk about how she once saved him. Aelita claims she is, even now, saving a world, just not this one. She says goodbye to the man she calls Wolf. She blinks and the young girl’s face grows blank.
A short scene shows us a table holding a white model of a house, its surrounding area and the people in it.
We shift to Blue Ridge Mountains in the USA in the year 2032. Flynne Fisher does chores around the house. She gives her mother, a woman who has recently lost her eyesight, a cup of coffee and some medicines. When she sees that some pills are missing, she goes to the trailer outside their house and asks her brother, Burton, about them. He is playing a game with a VR headset on. He tells her he has something big coming tonight that will give them enough money for more medicines. He hands her his headset, so she can win the level for him.
Flynne enters the game, taking on her brother’s persona. She easily wins the game, finding a map that the others hadn’t been able to find all this while. She tells Burton to wire the money to her.
Later, she cycles through town and withdraws cash from an ATM. There, she meets Tommy, the town sheriff. They discuss his upcoming wedding and he tells her he’s asked for wedding decorations to be made at the print shop where she works.
At the print shop, Flynne’s colleague Billy Anne teases her about still having a crush on Tommy. Two boys at the shop show her the decorations Tommy asked for. When they realise there is an extra figurine of the groom, one of the boys breaks it. Flynne later finds the broken figurine and keeps it.
The boys then give her a box that came for Burton. It has a metal contraption in it and was paid for by a Colombian company called Milagros Coldiron.
At home, Burton reveals that he was asked to beta test this sim since he crossed level 100 on another game. Except, it wasn’t him but Flynne who had done that. Since they’ve been offered a lot of money for the gig, Flynne agrees to test it. Burton puts it on for her and she counts back from ten.
When she opens her eyes she’s in the sim, in Burton’s body, riding a motorbike. She’s in an iridescent city with large statues looming over it. A voice in her head welcomes her to the sim. When she says she can feel everything, the voice tells her she will also be able to feel pain. She has to do whatever the voice says in order to earn her keep.
The voice guides her to an extravagant cocktail party in Buckingham Palace, hosted by an organisation known as the R.I. or Research Institute. It leads her to a woman named Mariel and tells her to convince her to take ‘him’ home. Flynne, in Burton’s body, manages to do so. In the car, the voice tells her to take the glass ampoule from her pocket and open it under Mariel’s nose. Flynne does so and is attacked by the driver, a robot, but overpowers it. The voice in her head muses about the power it has in simply planting words in Flynne’s head, like seeds. Flynne drives the car to a dead end. When she says the words ‘I’ve arrived’ the wall in front of her opens and she drives inside to find a woman standing there. She is the woman whose voice has been in Flynn’s head. She tells Flynn they will resume tomorrow.
Flynn gets out of the sim and raves about how real it feels. She feels a bit dizzy on standing up but then decides to go get her mom’s medicines. At a bar, she pointedly looks at a group of four men and two of them meet her outside. She gives them the money for one pill but the men claim it isn’t enough. They try hassling her for more ‘services’ when a disabled man, with only one arm, comes out from the bar. Conner attaches his monowheel to a larger automobile and threatens the men into giving Flynne the medicine. He and Flynne head home.
The other men return to the bar to see an old man in a suit waiting for them. He gives them a dressing down for being bullied by Conner.
At home, Flynne sees her brother hunched over in pain in his trailer. He has marks engraved into his skin across his arms and back that are softly glowing and seem to be the cause of the pain.
In the morning, Flynne washes her mother’s hair. Her mother reveals that Burton has been giving her his pills, to help her deal with the pain.
Later, in Burton’s trailer, Flynne apologises for accusing him of stealing the pills. She then logs onto the sim, excited, but finds herself in a surgery room, unable to move. The woman from earlier is there and she tells her that Flynne can’t leave the sim without her permission. The surgeons begin the process of removing Flynne’s eyeball and replacing it with the one they took from Mariel. The woman tells Flynne to rein in her heart and control her mind to deal with the pain. Flynne does so and the woman lets her ‘sleep’.
The next time she opens her eyes she finds herself in a car, sitting across the woman. The woman takes her to a building and uses her new eye to get access inside. They reach a chamber with an inverted pyramid hanging from the ceiling. The woman talks about giving Flynne a gift and tells her to put her own eye, not Marian’s, to the lens. Flynne does so and jerks away from the pain of a laser shooting right into her eye but the woman pushes her head forward.
Suddenly, a man appears and the woman tells her to take care of him since he is there to kill them both. Flynne tries but the man ties her hands behind her back. He uses a gun that shoots sonic punches to attack the woman and make her reveal her intentions. Flynne gets her hand out and in the process sees the skin peel off to reveal a robot arm underneath. She helps the woman, who runs away, but the man then turns the gun on Flynne. In her own reality, Flynne wakes up and vows to never log onto that sim again.
The next day Billy Anne tries to cheer Flynne up. Flynne admits to having a crush on Tommy. She then talks about the sim and theorizes that it’s actually a real place where she inhabits a robot body.
While at the print shop, Flynne gets a phone call from Wolf who tries warning her about some impending danger but she cuts the call.
Elsewhere, a policeman notices two suspicious cars and follows them but they disappear. When he stops his own, a man pulls a gun on him from behind and tells him to stand in the middle of the road. An invisible force knocks the policeman down. It turns out to be one of the cars cloaked in invisibility.
Flynn is closing the print shop when the lights flicker and Wolf’s voice is heard through all the machines around her. He claims her life is in danger and there is a bounty of 9 million dollars on her head.
Burton and his other ex-military friends are sitting around a fire when Flynne arrives and tells him what happened. They initially think it’s a joke but when they use a drone to check, they see a group of suspicious people coming towards them.
The Episode Review
The Peripheral starts out with a slow and leisurely episode that sets up its futuristic world. Flynn and Burton are both compelling characters while our 2099 counterparts are shrouded in enough mystery to keep one watching. The show’s intro is infused with iridescent lighting, suitably apt for a story like this one. I think we can definitely expect some stunning visuals and set pieces in the episodes to come.
While the episode is quite long it does well to let viewers slowly absorb all the information — from the two time zones to the multitude of characters and the technology. Now that we are well versed with Flynn and her world, we can move on to more exciting things.