Tales from the Loop (Amazon Prime)
Season One, Episode Five – “Control”
Written by Nathaniel Halperin
Directed by Tim Mielants
Tales from the Loop continues its interconnected anthology structure with a chapter that touches on events from episode two, yet you don’t have to watch that one to understand what is going on. In fact, I think you could watch this series on shuffle and still have the same experience as the connections are so light. There is even a brief reference to episode three that you don’t need to fully comprehend to follow the story being told here. The theme for this episode is Grief and how people work through that process while feeling powerless to do anything.
Ed and his family are reeling over their son Danny falling into a coma. There’s very little sign he will ever emerge from it, so they are forced to face this is as a slow death. The hospital bills are also piling up, which is something they were not financially prepared for as well as their aging home is need of significant repairs. What happened to Danny has left Ed feeling ineffectual, unable to protect his family. His daughter Beth is hearing-impaired, and that adds to his anxieties knowing the world will not always treat her with the gentleness he believes she deserves.
Ed decides to take the money intended to repair the house’s dangerously broken circuit breaker and purchases Scrapper, a giant junkyard robot. Scrapper is operated with a backpack unit and a motion-control glove that has the robot following the user’s every move. Such a piece of technology is instantly empowering for Ed. He even has Beth wear the unit and practice using the machine to defend herself. But Scrapper is just a bandage over a broken bone, unable to deal with the real pain going on in Ed’s family, giving him a false sense of security.
It would be easy to find Ed unlikable, he’s presented as foolish and pathetic because that’s how he feels. The people around him aren’t really doing much to help him. His boss does advance him a paycheck, his co-worker takes him out for a drink. They can’t really connect with Ed on an emotional level and don’t have a way to help him work out his problems. Kate, his wife, may seem like a nagging shrew, but she’s also going through the same emotional process, Danny is her son too, and she may not always make the best choices in how to communicate.
There’s an ongoing occurrence of the critical things in Ed’s life being forgotten. The circuit breaker eventually catches fire. The utility stations around the Loop start breaking down as Ed has ignored them. The episode seems to be saying that merely because you are grieving, you cannot become lost in your misery. People depend on you, and there are still responsibilities on your plate. If you really feel a need to protect and save your loved ones, make sure they have those basic comforts. In real life, we can see people who spiral into themselves after trauma and compensate by either becoming catatonic or going out and buying a gun. Ed has forgotten what makes his daughter feel safe is knowing her dad will keep things regular, that she can rely on a routine that represents safety.
I don’t think this is the best episode of Tales From the Loop, its themes are pretty plainly laid out without the viewer having to do much thinking. The acting is very well done, and the melancholy they feel is conveyed well. Once again, technology serves the story rather than the narrative being about showing off special effects, the main reason I appreciate this series.