The Peripheral's Dual Timelines & Apocalypse Explained – Screen Rant

Amazon’s The Peripheral incorporates multiple timelines while hinting at an apocalyptic event sometime in the future. Here’s what we know so far.
Get acquainted with the multiple timelines, possible futures, and impending apocalypse of The Peripheral. Based on the 2014 book by William Gibson, The Peripheral stars Chloë Grace Moretz as a (reluctant) star gamer who stumbles across something far greater while testing out what she thinks is prototype VR technology. As you'd expect from the minds behind Westworld (Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy), The Peripheral is a sci-fi experience with no shortage of secrets, mysteries, and reality-bending head-scratchers.
The Peripheral's opening two episodes are split between two contrasting timelines – 2030s United States, and London circa 2100. Both are markedly different, but there's a connective thread between the two eras, which The Peripheral is only just beginning to explore. Fortunately, episodes 1 & 2 leave just enough breadcrumbs for audiences to begin figuring out what's going on between the gnarly eyeball removals and backseat make-out sessions.
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Episodes 1 & 2 of Amazon Prime Video's The Peripheral largely take place in Clanton County 10 years into the future. This fictionalized depiction of 2032 has seen VR simulations become big business, and players with money to burn hire ex-military personnel like Jack Reynor's Burton Fisher to help them navigate tricky levels. Despite only being a decade ahead of reality, Burton and his fellow soldiers are all fitted with implants that link them to each other and connect their vision to drone cameras, as seen in The Peripheral episode 1's closing moments. Predictably, these implants leave their hosts with painful and debilitating side effects.
Burton may have the training, but his younger sister Flynne (Chloë Grace Moretz) is the far superior gamer, renowned for her record-breaking post-level-100 achievements. Despite her sim-skills, Flynne works at a local 3D printing store, highlighting how that particular industry has become commonplace by The Peripheral's 2032, with even medicine manufactured through this method. Indeed, the only other industry thriving in this timeline appears to be illicit pharmaceuticals, since the legit stuff has become too expensive for families such as the Fishers to buy. The dystopian developments don't end there, sadly. Through the brown river and Billy-Ann's cleanup work, The Peripheral alludes toward how 2032's natural environment is rapidly falling apart.
Chloë Grace Moretz's Flynne believes she's playing a VR simulator in The Peripheral episode 1, but eventually learns the truth in episode 2. Her consciousness is jumping 70 years into the future (this was already mentioned in Amazon Prime Video's promotional material), but the bigger question is how a small-town girl from 2032 is roaming around futuristic London. The Peripheral drops clues that (more or less) explain what's occurring between timelines.
By The Peripheral's 2100, technology has developed to the point where communication with the past is possible through "quantum tunneling," but this isn't time-travel in the traditional sense. Based on episodes 1 & 2 alongside William Gibson's original novel, the future can only reach back in time via the past's technology and computer systems. In the case of the Fisher siblings, someone in 2100 noticed Burton's VR sim account, Easy Ice, had racked up big points (they weren't aware Flynne was actually playing on his account), so contacted the veteran in his own time, asking if he'd test a "prototype VR headset." These headsets actually allow figures from the past to be mentally present in the future by dropping them into robotic bodies akin to Westworld's cyborg hosts. Viewers can infer these robots demand expert handling and operation, and are not easily acquired – available only to the exceedingly rich like Lev Zubov.
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As an added bonus (or a massive drawback, depending on your situation), every sensation the robot feels is experienced by its headset-clad controller in the past. Naturally, The Peripheral's robots possess superior physical attributes to the person driving it – just like in a video game. This is how Burton performs gymnastics down the hallways of Buckingham Palace, while Flynne is shown in trailer footage deploying expert martial arts moves that Kick-Ass' Hit-Girl would be proud of.
2100's ability to communicate with the past obviously has wider, more sinister applications than just recruiting skilled gamers to pilot drones. Even if they can only affect 2032 through technology, those in the future hold great power over history, especially since they already possess foreknowledge of events to come, and The Peripheral implies this problem is already starting. Burton's headset comes from a fictional Colombian company called "Milagros Coldiron" – obviously a shell corporation for those in the future to operate in the past. But if agents in 22nd century London can set up companies in decades gone by, transfer funds, and possess advance knowledge of those eras, it's difficult to understate the influence they might have. It's Biff's sports almanac from Back To The Future Part II, but much, much darker.
One curious scene in The Peripheral's opening moments shows a miniature replica of the Fisher family's home, complete with surrounding forest and figurines of the locals. Viewers might assume this is just an artistic way for The Peripheral to switch between timelines… were it not for the hand moving said figurines around. This board is most likely located in the future timeline and owned by the Research Institute, highlighting just how deep their knowledge of the past goes. The model might also explain the assassins that appear in The Peripheral episode 1's closing sequence – how they know where to go, who to target, etc. Importantly, these assassins are not visitors from the future. They're similar to Burton and Flynne – residents of 2032 hired by agents from 2100. The hi-tech cloaking machinery was presumably sent to the killers via a similar method to the headset.
In 2100, the world – or at the very least London – has become obsessed with history, which is clear not only from the opening shot of toy boats reenacting an ancient sea battle on the park lake, but also the massive, towering statues of historical figures dominating the landscape. Although The Peripheral's future timeline looks shiny and utopian on the surface, there's evidently a dark truth bubbling beneath the surface, as Gary Carr's Wilf Netherton and his friend Aelita believe their world is "long past saving."
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The Peripheral's future is brimming with architecture, technology, and other classic sci-fi TV show hallmarks. Looking a little closer, however, almost everything appears reliant on one technology specifically: nanobots. Called "Assemblers" in William Gibson's novel, The Peripheral hints that much of what audiences see in the 2100 timeline is constructed from these tiny nodules. The clearest indication comes when Flynne (using her brother's avatar) walks into the Buckingham Palace party and a tile pattern on the floor reassembles into a robotic waiter. It's an indication that this future is predominantly built from Assemblers – the robotic Westworld host-like assistants, the historical buildings, maybe even the giant statues.
The Peripheral heavily implies that the group responsible for this dystopia is the Research Institute. They operate out of an underground HQ in early-22nd century London, and hire assassins to kill Flynne and Burton in episode 1. Although Wilf and Lev play coy on the matter, The Peripheral episode 2 confirms the Research Institute's technology somehow allows those in 2100 to root around in 2032, and that Aelita has been letting others get their hands on this technology. Fortunately, the "Milagros Coldiron" group appears akin to a resistance movement, although how far they can be trusted remains to be seen thanks to the incredibly sketchy Lev Zubov.
Glancing at 2032 U.S. and London in 2100, The Peripheral's future timeline may seem a natural progression from its past, but Aelita hints this isn't the case. Speaking with "Easy Ice" after their first mission together, Aelita tells her new friend he'll likely be dead in a decade, signaling an apocalypse-level event is scheduled for 2042. This was called the "Jackpot" in The Peripheral's novel, and the cause was a myriad of factors that'll feel scarily close to home for an audience in 2022. Still, how bad can the Jackpot be if the world is looking so healthy in 2100?
Thanks to the aforementioned nanobot tech, The Peripheral's future may not be as rosy as it seems. The Assemblers could've simply built new structures over the decimated remains, which explains why episode 1's Buckingham Palace clearly isn't the original Buckingham Palace (and why the royal family clearly aren't using it). More worryingly, The Peripheral only shows London in the far-future, keeping the rest of the world's status a mystery.
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Stopping The Peripheral's apocalypse is more complicated than you might think. If Milagros Coldiron and the Research Institute are both influencing the past, The Peripheral's rules of time-travel mean they're creating completely separate timelines, which episode 2 refers to as "stubs." That'd certainly explain what Aelita means when she tells Wilf she's "saving the world… I didn't say OUR world." Preventing the past from succumbing to her own dystopian future might reveal why Aelita is dragging Flynne and Burton between timelines in the first place – her own reality is screwed, but she can at least create one history where the bad guys don't win.
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The Peripheral continues Friday on Amazon Prime Video.
Craig first began contributing to Screen Rant in 2016, several years after graduating college, and has been ranting ever since, mostly to himself in a darkened room. Having previously written for various sports and music outlets, Craig’s interest soon turned to TV and film, where a steady upbringing of science fiction and comic books finally came into its own. Craig has previously been published on sites such as Den of Geek, and after many coffee-drenched hours hunched over a laptop, part-time evening work eventually turned into a full-time career covering everything from the zombie apocalypse to the Starship Enterprise via the TARDIS. Since joining the Screen Rant fold, Craig has been involved in breaking news stories and mildly controversial ranking lists, but now works predominantly as a features writer. Jim Carrey is Craig’s top acting pick and favorite topics include superheroes, anime and the unrecognized genius of the High School Musical trilogy.


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