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Inner Worlds of ‘Tales From the Loop’ Might Be the Prescription During Meditative Times
April 15, 2020  | By Eric Gould  | 261 comments

What Tales From the Loop is not, is standard sci-fi fare with actors in elaborate rubber prosthetics and big-budget computer starships.

That does not, however, disqualify it as compelling science fiction because its cinema-like brand of dolly shots, painterly photography, and detailed character studies also happen to make it compelling drama.

Oh, and the eight episode series, now available this month on Amazon Prime Video, happens to be the first series I am aware of inspired by an artist’s series of digital paintings.

Those 2014 works by Norwegian artist and designer Simon Stålenhag portray enigmatic ordinary rural and small-town landscapes with ordinary people encountering robots and futuristic technology.

For those looking for a lockdown binge, that obtuse nature of Tales may be the downside of the series, brilliantly headed by Legion veteran Nathaniel Halpern, since the first season revolves around the strange effects on the small town of Mercer, Ohio due to the “The Eclipse” -- a large black orb discovered underground. It has become the center of an underworld lab complex and particle accelerator where physicists are studying the phenomena caused by it. The locals refer to it as “The Loop.”

Details involving the orb's origins and others, such as the series’ 1980s-setting with mid-century ranch houses and rotary phones, contribute to that oddball air, which pervades the series. 

But for those willing to take a deep dive into Halpern’s world notable for its absence of cell phones and laptops, you will get some rewarding reveals that stick the season finale landing, which, in retrospect, will make the puzzles all the more rewarding.

With that, Halpern has adapted Stålenhag’s scenes (at times seemingly like Twilight Zone merged with an Ingmar Bergman film) to conjure a quiet, contemplative space that examines our experience of time, ego, atheism and perhaps most importantly, the strength – and shortcomings – of the love of family.

The family drama follows the Loop’s elder physicist, Russ Willard (Jonathan Pryce), and his daughter-in-law, Loretta (Rebecca Hall), who works with him. 

Rebecca’s children, Jakob and Cole (Daniel Zolghadri, left, and the wonderful Duncan Joiner, top, respectively), also figure prominently as the lead subjects of their own episodes, most notably when Jakob finds a way to step outside his own life.

Time, and our inability to make new love last, are explored in the off-balance episode three, “Stasis,” when a brainy high school girl (Leann Lei) encounters cast-off equipment from the Loop. 

About new love, she wonders, “why can’t things stay the way they are?” and discovers it’s a dangerous question to ask -- and maybe it’s better to deal with her own sense of ongoing alienation instead of looking for someone else to wash it away.

Episode six, “Parallel,” also examines a similar plight of aloneness when a security guard at the Loop (Ato Essandoh, left) must encounter himself in an utterly new context and discover his ideal of romance is probably little else than that.

Other episodes in Tales From the Loop also deal in that deep interior of our psyche and how we come to change -- and how change is more often forced upon us. This is perhaps best seen in the series finale (directed by Jodie Foster), when Cole finally unravels some of the mysteries of “The Eclipse” and his brother’s fate on an amazing child’s journey of his own.

If lockdown has given you the time and space to willingly (or maybe unwillingly) ponder your own predicaments, Tales From the Loop might take you into those questions – rewardingly – a little more deeply.

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