Tales from the Loop (Amazon Prime)
Season One, Episode Four – “Echo Chamber”
Written by Nathaniel Halperin
Directed by Andrew Stanton
The director of Finding Nemo and Wall-E is the filmmaker behind this entry into the Loop series, which is much less science fiction than it is a profoundly human and grounded story. “Echo Chamber” examines death and mortality against the fantastic landscape of the series. Yes, there is a technological wonder of the echo sphere, a hollow metal sphere where your echo reveals how much longer your life will last. But that’s just a background element to the relationship between Cole and his grandfather Russ (Jonathan Pryce).
Cole spends much of his summer days at his grandparents’ home, particularly learning and playing with grandpa Russ. Russ is also the head of the Loop, one of the original founders, and is contemplating how his life will end. A phone call from his doctor solidifies Russ’s mortality causing him to begin putting his affairs in order. Cole doesn’t take the news well, and it takes prodding from his grandfather to get the boy to spend time with him. Much of this episode is enigmatic and leaves the details up to the viewer to decipher and find their own meaning, much like a poem.
Two science fiction elements are paralleled here in a way that might hint this is not an anthology series, but more live a novel told in short stories. These are the Echo Sphere and the Eclipse. The Eclipse is the impetus of episode one’s story, the element that sends young Loretta hurtling through time to her own future. We never really get the details on how the Eclipse is being used by the Loop, but we know it does have temporal properties. The same attributes belong to the Echo Sphere in a more limited manner.
This episode possibly introduces the idea of the multiverse into the equation in a very muted way, not being overly showy about it. Russ has a strange scene, perhaps a dream, where he finds himself inside the Eclipse chamber and steps into the device, fading away. In the final scene, Cole returns to the Echo Sphere and shouts “Hello” inside, which leads to a sequence where, with each echo, we see Cole a decade or so older until he’s an old man. At that moment, the inside of the Sphere lights up with lightning bugs.
Lightning bugs appear at the start of the episode, with Cole catching them in a jar but not punching air holes. Russ has to dispose of the creatures the next morning, replacing each one with a penny in the jar while Cole sleeps. We go from dead lightning bugs to living ones appearing like magic inside the Echo Sphere, hinting that Russ made them appear somehow. It also brings into question how these elements interrelate. The previous episode, “Stasis,” allows the user to suspend time indefinitely, and “Transpose” allows consciousness to transfer into a new form.
We still have half a season to go, but thematically all of this technology has been based on regret and a desire to “fix” things the user perceives as wrong about life. Something very different is happening in “Echo Sphere,” we never encounter technology as a “careful what you wish for” story element. The regrets here come from a life spent fixated on lofty goals, which resulted in a neglect of family. Russ has a moment where he weeps outside his home in the dark before going inside to greet his wife, pretending as though he’s okay. Loretta is handed the reins of the Loop but reminded of her workaholic mother who neglected her. The ambiguity and quiet sadness of Tales from the Loop and the way it delicately unfolds a story are the reasons I love it so immensely.