TALES FROM THE LOOP Season 1: A Tale Of Love, Loss & Loneliness

Good sci-fi isn’t always the one that features intergalactic plotlines, time-travel mysteries, or alien invasions. But rather the one who knows how to elevate its scientific elements and use it to explore relevant subjects or hold a mirror to the human condition. TV shows like Westworld, Altered Carbon, and even Black Mirror have all done a pretty great job of examining humanity even when the sci-fi elements get increasingly complicated. And the newest addition is Tales from the Loop, a semi-anthology sci-fi that was released on Amazon Prime in April third. But unlike the three aforementioned shows, Tales from the Loop isn’t here to remind us about the danger of technology advancement. Instead, it’s quite the opposite: celebrating the magic and wonder of technology, as well as its complex relation to human beings.

More than a sci-fi

Created by Nathaniel Halpern (Legion) and executive produced by Matt Reeves, Tales from the Loop is inspired by a digital painting book of the same name from a famous Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag. The story takes place in a fictional small town of Mercer, Ohio, where a facility named Mercer Center for Experimental Physics or The Loop is located underneath the town and its people. If this setup sounds like a carbon copy of the widely beloved Stranger Things, don’t worry, it’s not. There won’t be any demogorgons or conspiracies. Even when it’s also set in the 80s, Tales from the Loop isn’t the kind of show that’s drenched in nostalgia or pop-culture references. What the show offers here is just a mundane look at the people of Mercer whose lives are highly affected by the big black orb inside The Loop known as The Eclipse.

On a lesser show, this black orb and how it’s able to affect the lives of the Mercer people will easily be the central mystery. But Tales from the Loop isn’t wasting any time to explain all of those. In fact, until the very last episode, the show is never interested in examining whatever it is the scientific theory behind the orb. And that’s not a bad thing at all. Oftentimes, sci-fi movies or TV shows only focus on explaining the idea behind the science, thus making all the characters’ actions only exist in the realm of the sci-fi logic, not because it’s the human thing to do. But by dismissing the mystery right from the get go, Tales from the Loop can put the focus more on the characters’ journey and explore more interesting subjects.

TALES FROM THE LOOP Season 1: A Tale Of Love, Loss, And Loneliness
source: Amazon Studios

Yes, at some point things eventually get otherworldly, even The Twilight Zone-level weird. There’s a lot of phenomenons that can’t be explained using any logic. But instead of entangling them, the focus of the show remains on the characters. In the first episode, a smart, young girl named Loretta (Abby Ryder Fortson) can’t find her mom Alma (Elektra Kilbey) and their house. Turns out, this girl is accidentally sent to the future after she touches a small piece of The Eclipse. And that’s why both her house and her mom aren’t there anymore because they’re in the past. How this small orb can send her to the future is never explained, but it’s her journey in the future that matters: she meets the adult version of herself (Rebecca Hall), and it’s revealed that her mom has indeed disappeared.

It’s also during the meeting of these two versions of Loretta that we learn about how absent and non-caring Alma was when Loretta was young. And this slaps the adult Loretta really hard because she’s been doing the same thing as Alma to her two children Jakob (Daniel Zolghadri) and Cole (Duncan Joiner) — burying herself in work and never caring enough with her family. It’s a moment of emotional whiplash when the adult Loretta begins to realize she’s not that different from her mother, and Hall excellently shows this look full of regret in her heartwrenching performance at the end of episode one. What we can learn from the first episode is that sometimes, even though our pain from the past is something that we want to stay buried, it can also be a reminder for us to not repeat the same mistakes that cause our pain in the first place.

A contemplative odyssey

Motherhood and a reminder from the past aren’t the only two things that Tales from the Loop explores. Each episode, which focuses on different characters, deals with a lot of other thought-provoking subjects. The second episode ‘Transpose” challenges us to ask ourselves what if we could step outside of our lives and be a whole different person? The sixth episode, in which Ato Essandoh gives an outstanding performance as a closeted gay man, reminds us that the life we’ve been yearning for, might not always what it seems. Then there are also lesser episodes that tackle loneliness and male insecurity. But the two most standout episodes are the third and the fourth ones, both of which will make you cry.

In episode three “Stasis”, a young woman named May (Nicole Law) finds a yellow bottle that’s able to pause time, and thus allows her to enjoy the moment as long as she wants without having to be afraid of the time that keeps on passing. She uses the bottle to spend time with the boy she loves, Ethan (Danny Kang). And for a while, the two of them are feeling happy. But after a long time of pausing everything and everyone, May and Ethan start arguing, and what first was a happy relationship is now fractured more than ever. They realize that by pausing the time, the feelings of excitement that were once there will only evaporate.

TALES FROM THE LOOP Season 1: A Tale Of Love, Loss, And Loneliness
source: Amazon Studios

In relationships or life, the passing of time is essential because it allows us to appreciate every moment. When we’re given the ability to not let the time pass by, it means that what’s left is just monotony. There will be no fun or challenges that will make our life or relationship more rewarding. This is a very interesting topic to explore, and one that’s rarely touched by other science fiction shows. But Tales from the Loop brilliantly explores this subject without losing the sci-fi elements. And while doing so, it also gives us an Asian representation that we rarely find in a story about love.

My favorite episode of the season, however, is episode four “Echo Sphere”, in which a young boy named Cole, is struggling to make sense of his first encounter with death. Jonathan Pryce unsurprisingly gives a phenomenal performance as Russ, Cole’s grandfather who is also the founder of The Loop. During a visit to one of his creations — a big hollow sphere that can predict how long a person will live based on how many times a person’s voice will echo when they shout hello in it — Russ asks his grandson to try it. And if the prediction is correct, Cole will have a long life. Cole asks his grandpa to try it as well. Russ is reluctant at first because without even trying the sphere, he knows that he only has a little time left to live. But he eventually does what Cole asks, and there’s no echo, which means that he will die sometime soon this year.

It’s not Russ, however, who can’t accept his mortality. It’s Cole. He struggles to accept the fact that his grandpa will leave him soon. And no matter how many times he tries to find the meaning of death, and eventually life, or whether there’ll be some kind of place like an afterlife, Cole still can’t seem to make sense of it all. It’s a very heartbreaking episode. But it’s not one that’s powered by melodrama. The show has found an inventive angle to deal with mortality. And it does so from the rare perspective of a young boy, which makes it all the more refreshing and unique. The closing scene of the episode where Cole once again tries the sphere and then we’re given a sneak-peek of his next phases of life will no doubt have you in tears.

TALES FROM THE LOOP Season 1: A Tale Of Love, Loss, And Loneliness
source: Amazon Studios

There are a lot of other things from the show that also deserve some praise. From the stunning visual and production design to the stellar direction of Jodie Foster (episode 8), Mark Romanek (episode 1), and Andrew Stanton (episode 4), nearly all aspects of Tales from the Loop are crafted perfectly with care and a lot of heart. But in the end, what makes the show so magical is its reflection on human emotions and psychology. Those asking to get answers for all the strange occurrences that happen throughout the show will mostly be disappointed. But those willing to embark on a contemplative journey will be rewarded in the end.

What do you think of the final episode? Let us know in the comments!

Tales from the Loop season one is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

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