(++ WARNING: This review contains spoilers for Episode 2 of Tales from the Loop ++)
Episode 2 of Amazon Prime’s slow burn sci-fi series, Tales from the Loop, continues to cast its spell on the viewer as we return to the family of the first episode who will clearly be a large focal point for this series going forward. It would be so easy to simply check in with IMDb to garner clues, but I’m watching this old-school style, avoiding all but the trailer and enjoying it as the mysteries mount up, rather than unfold.
With the change in weather and the story told in this sophomore episode, this series is clearly designed to keep you on your toes and keep you guessing. Especially as the mother, Loretta, who discovered her younger self in the debut issue, barely makes an appearance in this instalment as we focus on the eldest son, Jakob (Danny Zolghardi) and his best friend, Danny (Tyler Barnhardt).
The story told in this episode is not necessarily the most original, but it’s in the execution of the story that the real interest lies and the subplots hinted a in the background. Like the previous episode it dares the viewer to piece together what is happening. So, when Jakob and Danny enter the local woods (always a place of mysticism and magic going-ons in fairy tales) and come across a rusting sphere – yet another example of the retro-futuristic designs of of Simon Stålenhag paintings, themselves reminiscent of the classic covers of sci-fi of yore – that dot this rural, sleepy Ohio town, it takes a moment or two for the audience to realise that they’ve swapped bodies, after Jakob enters into the bowels of this reject from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Like Freaky Friday but more melancholy in tone.
What follows is a slow burning anger as the two friends agree to stay in one another’s bodies over night. Jakob clearly wants to inhabit the stronger, fitter body of his mate, while Danny quickly comes to realise the benefits of remaining in his pal’s body given his life – Jakob’s life – is destined to be one of success and confort, as we discover that Jonathan Pryce’s patriarchal figure, Russ, runs the loop, meaning nepotism will ensure Jakob a bright future. Not so for Danny, who struggles at school and is seen in one scene copying off his more academically minded friend. A friend who would rather chase his dreams of becoming an artist, against the wishes of his family.
These gently played out moments are, paradoxically, tinged with unspoken tension as Jakob tries to quietly rebel against his destiny, and the destiny of so many others, one imagines, in this sleepy town. Like the mining industries of old, or the farming industries of today (I don’t think it’s a coincidence this is et in Ohio), there does seem to be a grim hopelessness to living here and an expectation that it’s the loop or nothing. Although, Danny would happily take up a job in the loop. He just doesn’t have the grades.
But, in taking over Jakob’s body and then refusing to swap back, Danny can get what he wants. And does. This leaves the entrapped Jakob in something of a quandary. And, after confronting his friend, Jakob takes off to find the sphere in the woods in a desperate attempt to swap his mind back. With tragic consequences that, sadly, echo an earlier conversation at the top of the episode where he is asked by Danny whether he would rather be invisible or be able to read people’s minds. Then, Jakob opts for being invisible, deciding, “then maybe I’d stay away from people.” Well, in a way he does get this wish and again we get an ending that doesn’t feel final. There is more to come, I have no doubt, but that is for another day and another episode.
Again we get the sublime music of Phillip Glass in collaboration with Dredd composer, Paul Leonard-Morgan that punctuates scenes to evoke a particular emotional response, but it is not as pervading as incidental music can be in other shows. For a lot of the time, there is no music, which only adds to the slow, haunting atmosphere that hints at more of the supernatural, even though this is clearly a sci-fi series with heavy leanings towards the supernatural.
Another point worth noting is the timeline. While Loretta (Rebecca Hall) isn’t a main player in this episode, she’s clearly a very important character, as we recognise from the first episode. But, there is simply no mention of the central earth-shattering incident from the first instalment here. Are we to assume that this second episode takes place before the first? After all, the weather is in stark contrast to the all encompassing snow of the previous one and there is no mention of the younger Loretta whatsoever. Furthermore, with her own father, Russ, running the loop and having literally introduced this series, there is clearly more to this family and their dynamics than first meet the eye. Especially when we overhear an argument between the father, George (played by Paul Schneider) in which George takes the side of his son. Why is Loretta so fixed on her talent eldest going to work at the loop? Curiouser and curiouser. And, like Alice in Wonderland, I am more than happy to go even further don the rabbit hole and see what happens next.
Intriguing, definitely beguiling, Tales for the Loop is a great antidote to some of the more action orientated in-your-face action sci-fi out there, and spellbinding. There are no simple answers here, and so it’s ripe for fan speculation.
Tales from the Loop is streaming now on Amazon Prime.