Tales from the Loop: Episodes 5-8

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Tales from the Loop with its soft string and piano instrumental soundtrack and arty direction is a more calm and thoughtful proposition than most other science fiction shows currently on offer on Amazon or Netflix. All eight episodes of Tales from the Loop run around the fifty minute mark and you have to accept the quiet moments where all we are shown is water dripping off a leaf for instance. There are many such moments but not once did I feel bored by them.

The series was inspired by the near-futuristic paintings of Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag, so perhaps it’s no surprise that sometimes watching the show is akin to walking around an art gallery. Each episode has one central sci-fi theme and a different director. Nathaniel Halpern (Legion, The Killing) is the creator and lead writer, and it is his vision that binds together the episodes into a philosophical and beautiful looking series.

The small American town whose inhabitants are central to the show is built above MCEP, an underground scientific research centre colloquially known as The Loop. Many of the adults in the town are scientists and mathematicians who work at the centre and the boss, Russ Willard, is played by Jonathan Pryce (Brazil, Tomorrow Never Dies) with member of his family central to many episodes.

I wrote about the first four episodes of the show some time ago and its taken me some time to finish watching the season. That’s not because I didn’t like it, I just got very distracted by the Marvel shows on Netflix. Anyway, this post isn’t about them, it’s about the second half of this rather unique show. Be warned there are major spoilers below.

Episode 5 – Control
Director: Tim Mielants (Legion, Peaky Blinders)

This episode hinges on the performance of Dan Bakkedahl (Veep) as Ed, the father of comatose Danny from Episode 2. Danny’s soul is now trapped in his unfortunate friend Jakob’s body while a walker robot may or may not hold the transposed soul of Jakob. Ed works as a repairman for the power company but due to lack of cash cannot sort out the fusebox in his house which often trips out. There is also a prowler around town who has been standing outside the house at night looking at his daughter’s window.

Ed’s daughter is deaf and she is talking to Danny trapped in Jakob’s body via sign language at night. Even though Ed has the police round to the house, she is unwilling to tell him about Danny, perhaps because he won’t believe her. Ed wants to exert some sort of control over his life and protect his family so he gets an advance from work and buys a scrapper robot which works from a clever arm interface. He stands on guard at night with the robot to scare off the prowler. The scrapper robot should not be confused with the walker robot which may or may not hold the transposed soul of Jakob.

Bakkedahl is great as Ed, but the episode is rather weak when viewed in the wider context of the whole show. It feels a bit like a filler episode to help the body-swap story along a bit. But then, as Ed would say I don’t have kids so I wouldn’t understand the depth of the emotions he is going through. I do understand feelings of powerlessness and a need for control, but I have long learned to only worry about the things I can control and let the other things go. Perhaps therefore I was frustrated over Ed prioritising buying a robot above fixing his fusebox!

Episode 6 – Parallel
Director: Charlie McDowell (Silicon Valley)

Ato Essandoh (Jason Bourne, Blood Diamond) plays Gaddis the security guard at the entrance to The Loop. He has a notebook that he writes in and obsesses over a photo of man playing the piano. He is also trying to fix a floating combine harvester which has been abandoned in a field. Once it is fixed, he starts it up and without moving is transported into a parallel world.

He goes home to the small hut he lives in which is beside a much larger house and finds it empty. He hears piano music coming from the big house and goes to investigate. The door is opened by this parallel world’s version of Gaddis. Siggy and I are currently watching the comedy show Living With Yourself on Netflix which has a similar premise although the method of duplication is cloning rather than transport to another dimension.

Gaddis then meets Alex (Jon Kortajarena) the man the other Gaddis lives with in the big house. It’s the guy in the photo that he’s been drooling over and eventually the inevitable happens and it all goes a bit Pete Tong. Trapped in this alternate world, but having nothing to go back to, Gaddis eventually finds his soul mate in this parallel world in the form of someone he had rather disregarded in his original world because he wasn’t into the same music as he was.

The effects are very good and the Essandoh does well playing the two versions of the same character, however I found the episode to be one of the weaker ones of the show, perhaps because it had very little connection to the other episodes of the show apart from Gaddis showing up in the background of a bar scene in the previous episode and of course on duty in his booth in some of the earlier episodes.

Episode 7 – Enemies
Director: Ti West (V/H/S and a bunch of other psychological horror titles)

A young George, played by Emjay Anthony who is the boy in Jon Favreau’s Chef, goes across the water to a mysterious island he’s been told not to go to by his father with two of his friends. Once onshore they make him go first to investigate the island armed with a stun-rod and his penknife. It turns out that they’re not great friends at all, because as soon as he is engrossed by the sounds coming from the interior of the island, they take their boat and desert him.

While he’s drying his socks on a wrecked canoe he is bitten by a nasty sea snake (some kind of instant karma for the boys earlier killing a snake they find under a rock) and he tries to patch the wound up with a wet sock. Deserted on the island, which appears to be inhabited just as rumoured, George shelters from a storm in a hollow log. He wakes to find a strange figure looming over him. He uses the stun-rod and the figure’s arm appears to drop off.

George’s ‘friends’ come back in the boat and find him passed out in the water. George wakes later in a hospital bed to find his arm has been amputated because the snakebite went septic. He is fitted with a robot arm and it was only at this point that I realised that the boy is a young version of Loretta Willard’s husband. You know the one with the robot arm, doh!

This adult George (Paul Schneider) is haunted by thoughts of the mysterious island inhabitant and goes to see his mother, Russ Willard’s widow. She tells him that Russ took the thing that he had created to the island to protect it from humans. She refers to it as his ‘first attempt’ implying that there’s at least a second attempt if not a series of attempts roaming around somewhere. It takes the basic Frankenstein idea and gives it an update. George can’t help but go back the island as an adult to see if the thing is still alive.

It is, and it turns out to be a rather Star Wars-y looking robot missing one arm and no doubt a character from one of Stålenhag’s paintings. No prizes for what happens next. George has a new arm in the next episode.

Episode 8 – Home
Director: Jodie Foster

The final episode of the show is a very much needed conclusion to the body-swap story in Episode 2 – ‘Transpose’. The young boy Cole finds it hard to comes to terms with his brother, who has started working at the loop, having moved out of the family home. When he goes to see his brother in his new home above a barbershop in the city, he confesses that in actual fact he is Danny inside Jakob’s body. He tells Cole that Jakob is inside the walker that hides in the woods.

Cole goes to tell his mother Loretta, now boss of The Loop since Russ Willard’s death in Episode 4, but she is away in the city. Cole decides to find the walker in the woods. He does find the machine and confirms that Jakob is indeed trapped inside. On his journey through the woods Cole crosses a mysteriously frozen stream despite it looking like it is spring or summer.

Before the reunited brothers can go find Loretta in the city to hopefully sort everything out, the walker is attacked by another robot and badly injured. There’s no real explanation as to why this other robot has beef with the walker and it’s the weakest bit of the whole show in my opinion. Cole gathers fir cones and lays them in a circle around the fallen body of the walker and then retraces his steps back to The Loop. On his way back he crosses the stream which is now unfrozen. There is a noise and when Cole looks back over his shoulder the stream is frozen again.

Back at the entrance to The Loop Loretta comes out to meet Cole and she is much older than when he last saw her. Time has passed quickly while Cole has been in the woods. Loretta says it is because he crossed the stream when it was thawed. Again no explanation, but the sadness at the passing of time, the death of his brother, and indeed his father and grandmother distract the viewer (who at this point might be rubbing the odd tear from his/her eye) from the patchy storytelling.

Cole goes back to school and returns a book he borrowed from one of the teachers who appears not to have aged like everyone else. She reveals that she is Russ Willard’s second attempt at creating artificial life by pulling off her face and showing Cole that she’s a robot. It has to be said that Willard’s second attempt is a great improvement on the angry Star Wars droid in ‘Enemies’.

The episode, like a number featuring the Willard family, is centred around loss and the passage of time. Despite the clunky story it’s very thoughtfully directed and looks beautiful. It rounds off the first season very poignantly.

I’m not sure whether there will be a second season of the show but I’d be interested to see where they might take it if there is one.

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