HBO may have ordered Westworld to cease all motor functions, but The Peripheral is already avoiding one of the sci-fi western’s biggest drawbacks. The Peripheral and Westworld share much in common. Both are based on respected sci-fi works, both plunder from the genre’s more philosophical vein, and both count Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy among their creative minds. One key difference, however, is that The Peripheral is still airing. Despite requiring only one final season to wind up its main narrative, HBO canceled Westworld season 5 following a steady viewership decline (via Julia Stoll) and the ongoing upheaval at Warner Bros. Discovery.
Pinning why Westworld was canceled to one specific factor is impossible, but a frequent criticism cited among both viewers and reviews was the HBO series’ tangled approach to mysteries. Big questions and ongoing areas of intrigue would often be stretched over an entire season, sometimes longer, and when answers did finally come, Westworld typically delivered them in annoyingly ambiguous fashion, almost conjuring the Matrix sequels in its reluctance to provide a straight answer. Mercifully, The Peripheral is avoiding that same trap thus far.
The Peripheral Finds A Balance Between Mystery & Clarity
Echoing Westworld, The Peripheral is a story built upon high-concept mysteries and game-changing twists. Through its first five episodes, however, The Peripheral has provided a steady drip-feed of relatively clear-cut answers to the questions it poses. Rather than save the most seismic reveals for one mighty exposition dump in its season finale, or substitute narrative conviction for evasive allusion, The Peripheral season 1 refuses to leave viewers pondering the same mysteries for too long, thereby avoiding one of the most common gripes aimed toward Westworld.
The Jackpot, for instance, acts as one of The Peripheral‘s biggest early mysteries. The apocalyptic event is teased across the opening quartet of episodes, and could feasibly have remained unknown until The Peripheral‘s season 1 finale. Instead, Flynne discovers the full, undiluted truth as early as episode 4. During that same period, viewers learn more about the Research Institute’s goals, the purpose of stub timelines, and the changes upon Flynne’s body. No single mystery is left sitting in The Peripheral, and the answers given, while still deliciously complex, avoid dancing around their questions. The Peripheral successfully cooks up sci-fi intrigue without the side dish of frustration Westworld mysteries often served.
How The Peripheral’s Mystery-Solving Compares To Westworld
The Peripheral‘s approach to “mystery box” storytelling is markedly different compared to Westworld‘s. From the very beginning, the true purpose of Delos’ host-filled parks provided a key Westworld mystery. Although Westworld season 1 dropped hints that a deeper meaning existed, the truth only started to emerge in season 2, but even then, the answer changed depending on each specific character’s perspective. For the hosts and their creators, WestWorld was designed to lead hosts toward the center of “the Maze,” pushing them toward consciousness. William spent an entire season mistakenly believing the Maze was for him, only to get the rug-pull treatment.
Initially, William intended WestWorld as a secret data mine, with scanners fitted into every guest’s hat. This secret purpose secretly evolved into a super-secret purpose, whereby that data was used for an immortality experiment. Data from said experiment was then coveted by three separate villains for three separate purposes, but ended up in the Sublime where it was used by the disembodied hosts for something entirely different. Westworld more or less joins its dots, but that audiences might lose their understanding or interest along the way is obvious. The Peripheral is far more forgiving for viewers who prefer not taking notes, but still crafts a rich, enigmatic story.
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The Peripheral continues Friday on Amazon Prime Video.