Some peripheral thoughts on The Peripheral
We’ve finished watching The Peripheral, and I’ve been thinking about how amazing and hopeful it is that this wildly successful mainstream hit is entirely about accepting the existential threat of climate deregulation and the thing I’ve been calling the Eschaton and Gibson calls the Jackpot—and about convincing people that something can still be done about it.
The central conflict of a major television series is (finally!) the necessity of Doing Something About It.
It's not dystopian, which is a weird thing to say about a work of fiction derived from the oeuvre of William Gibson, but there you are. It seems like his work has been becoming progressively more hopeful, though no less clear-eyed, as time has gone by. He was always one of the best of the Cyberpunk writers in part because his work was never merely about “Live fast, die young, leave a highly augmented corpse.”
But this book—and the series derived from it... It’s about doing the work. Even if you can’t fix everything. Even if you can only fix one small thing, right in front of you.
I’ve been thinking about grief lately, and how we’ve all been creaking under the strain. And how that grief manifests as anger, as sorrow, as depression, as somatic crisis (our bodies giving out), as being mean to strangers in the grocery store or on public transportation. Plague, insurrection, food insecurity, war, financial stress, medical stress, loss, unkindness... living through the Eschaton is hard on everybody.
But there’s still work to be done.
These are themes I’ve been exploring in my own work for twenty years, so of course it resonates with me on a deep emotional level. But also, I felt when I read the book that Gibson had levelled up in terms of maturity and range. And honestly I feel like the show improves on the book in terms of narrative structure. The throughline is cleaner and less confused, and there’s more narrative momentum.
I would have liked more Lowbeer (#teamLowbeer forever) but saving her for an end boss was inspired, and I think maybe the edge would have come off her if she’d been a more central figure early on.
And of course, the book came out before Trump, before Covid, and before war returned to Europe. The series has the viewer’s awareness of those compounding crises to rest on. Which makes me even more impressed that a show about surviving the end of the world is neither sexy bleak despair nor rah-rah fight the bad guys and save the world, but rather a mature, nuanced, and deeply intelligent (and to me, narratively satisfying) set of character moments.
Despair always seems sexier when you’re young and you don’t know yet how much there is to lose, and how fragile everything good in the world is. Awareness of the mortality of everything means treasuring those things. The older I get, the less attractive nihilism becomes. And the more I want to talk about mitigation, evolution, compassion and collective action.
Edginess looks a lot like selfishness in the long run.
Anyway, I loved the show so much I’m not even mad it stole the ending of Undertow. Also, I thought of rightminding first. :D