Season 1 | Episode 1 | “The Loop” | Aired April 3, 2020
In some ways, Tales From the Loop is very familiar. It’s an anthology series around a small town in Ohio. It’s a company town, the type that was prominent in the American midwest not too long ago. But those towns were built on steel, coal, or cars. Mercer, Ohio, is (literally) built on a giant, mysterious, particle collider.
But that change isn’t as significant as one may think. And that’s the show’s strength. Tales From the Loop — like the paintings which inspired it — is about normal, everyday life. But The Loop touches every aspect of life.
Life in The Loop
The pilot episode of the show focuses on Loretta, a school-aged girl whose mother, Alma, works in the town’s underground lab. The facility, (the Mercer Center for Experimental Physics or MCEP) is the mystery at the heart of the entire series. One day Loretta comes home from school to discover that Alma has taken something from the MCEP to experiment on. Twenty-four hours later, after the next day of school, Loretta comes home to find that her mother — and their house — have vanished into thin air.
To help find her mother, Loretta recruits the help of a boy her age named Cole. Cole and Loretta search for Alma in the woods, even investigating a strange house where the snow falls up. But their best lead comes when Cole suggests that his mother, who also works in the MCEP, may be able to help. But when the pair arrive at Cole’s house, his mother is too busy with her work to listen to the problem. Despondent, the children bond over how busy each of their mothers is while going to see if there are any leads at the MCEP.
While the pair have a hard time getting their hands on any tangible clues, they nevertheless find their way to some answers. When Loretta and Cole ask the MCEP security guard if he has seen Alma, he tells them he hasn’t. Then he immediately picks up the phone to call Cole’s mom. She has a complete breakdown when she hears that Loretta and Cole were looking for a woman named Alma. And we soon find out why. Cole’s mother is Loretta.
Unfortunately for anyone coming off a Picard-high and excited for more lore-heavy sci-fi thrills, Tales From The Loop isn’t interested in answering your questions. After the reveal that Cole’s mom and Loretta are the same person, the rest of the episode is just those two talking to each other. And those scenes are excellent. Young Loretta comparing the feel of her own face and her older self’s is shot beautifully. Adult Loretta telling her younger self that there are things you can change and things you can’t was weighty as hell in a way high concept sci-fi oftentimes isn’t. And when Young Loretta told her adult self that Cole thinks she doesn’t like being a mom… oof.
But the show isn’t interested in providing answers. If you are waiting on bated breath to find out what happened to Alma, you’re not getting it in this episode. Nor are you going to find out how a child and adult version of the same person exist at the same time. That’s just not what this show is. And I think that’s okay. Too often audiences focus in on getting all the answers. But if the show is good, then the show is good. And Tales From the Loop is most definitely good.
More than that, Tales From the Loop is interested in people. It doesn’t want to spend it’s time making up a black hole time vortex and explaining all of that. The show wants to take the space to examine what would we actually say to our past selves if we had the chance. And what that past person would think of our current selves. Those fundamentally human questions, that everyone ponders, are way more important to Tales From the Loop than any sci-fi trope.
Because it’s a show about everyday life in a small town. It just so happens to be a small town with a giant mysterious particle accelerator built underneath it.