Tales from the Loop (Amazon Prime)
Season One, Episode One – “Loop”
Written by Nathan Halpern
Directed by Mark Romanek
Tales from the Loop was inspired by the art of Swedish painter Simon Stålenhag, images that provoke a sense of nostalgia but also of the future. His pictures depict the rural landscape outside of Stockholm, with elements of dystopian science fiction peppered in. The presence of these pieces of technology doesn’t clutter the image, but they do dominate, juxtaposed against children in 1980s clothing observing the machines or only going about their daily lives with the monoliths looming in the background. This is the mysterious world of the Loop, out of time, and the home to luminous and breathtaking feats that break the laws of physics.
The Loop is the nickname of an underground scientific facility in an unnamed rural town, which is explained to us by Russ (Jonathan Pryce). In the opening episode, he is an enigmatic figure, playing a crucial role in the Loop for decades. This first chapter focuses on Loretta (Abby Ryder Fortson), a little girl whose mother works in the facility. One evening Loretta witnesses her mother experimenting with something she has stolen from the Loop. The next day the girl’s reality has changed, her house is missing, and no one seems to know who her mother is. You’ll likely figure out the answer to this mystery before the episode ends, but it’s the way the story is told that makes Tales from the Loop so beautiful.
This is a story about time travel and the inevitability of the core events in our lives. I was reminded of Netflix’ Dark with its melancholy, tragic take on time travel. I am always a fan of deterministic time travel, wherein the traveler thinks they are changing or subverting the established timeline only to discover they are causing the loop to perpetuate itself. The title of this episode, “Loop,” is a nod to that fact. Loretta’s life always ends up on this path, nothing she can do will stop that, and in fact, any action she takes is what she always does. These are the stories that make us ask questions about free will and if we shape our own lives or are guided by cosmic forces beyond our reckoning.
All that said, “Loop” is a deeply intimate story, yet presented with a poetic scope. Director Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo, Never Let Me Go) has shown a preference for small, human-centered stories that feel epic in scope. His sensibilities match wonderfully with the world of The Loop, where the fragility of humans is emphasized against a background of scientific wonders. Beyond the literal loop of time travel, Loretta sees herself playing out the same failure of parenting as her mother did, becoming distant from her future children and focusing more on her career in the facility.
There is a beautiful sadness to the story and atmosphere, this is not science fiction as popularly showcased in movies or cheesy television shows. This is a classic, yet not a wholly original story, the likes of which you would see in great written anthologies. The dialogue isn’t necessarily the best it could be, and the child actors can come across slightly wooden at times. Overall, it is an excellent introduction to the aesthetics and feel of this show, something I hope proves to be meaningful and reflective of the human condition.