In its second episode, “Transpose,” Tales From the Loop fully embraces what it is capable of. While the first episode built out an interesting and mysterious world, it was missing a major element. It didn’t provide any answers to most of the questions it raised. And it didn’t reveal any consequences to the mysterious nature of the world. “Transpose,” wastes no time getting down to business, making it clear that the wonders of this world have dire consequences. It also makes it clear how each of these anthology episodes will fit together into a larger tapestry.
“Transpose” isn’t a perfect episode of television. But it shows Tales From the Loop‘s complete capability. The episode dials up the existential kind of dread that high concept sci-fi is so good at. Shows like The Twilight Zone perfected the model of instilling psychological terror from a single anthology episode. That model is comprised of three stages: introducing an unusual concept, showing the ways it can be good, and then pulling the rug out with an unintended consequence. “Transpose” utilizes this classic model perfectly, in a way that leaves audiences uneasy for an entire episode, expecting that inevitable drop. Yet, in the end, the reveal still manages to feel unexpected.
“Transpose” centers around two teenage boys. The first is Jakob Willard, Loretta’s oldest son and Cole’s older brother, who we met in the first episode of the series. The second is Danny Jannson, Jakob’s best friend and polar opposite. While Jakob is small, artistic, and academic, Danny is big, athletic, and has a hard time in school. The two are as close as friends can be, they’re also set off on entirely different paths in life. Danny has an easy time talking to girls, while Jakob pines for his crush from afar. Jakob is academically gifted and his father runs The Loop, so he’s guaranteed whatever job he wants after school. Danny is still having a hard time resigning himself to working for his uncle at the rock quarry. So, from a sci-fi point of view, it isn’t especially surprising when they find a machine that lets them switch bodies.
Wisely, the writers never try and convince the audience that this body-swapping is a good idea. When Jakob climbs inside the machine, and the two discover they’ve accidentally switched bodies, the swap back immediately. But then, in true teenaged boy fashion, they decide to swap for a day. The same way that kids would trade SIM cards and use each other’s phones for a class period when I was in high school. And with the same kind of blase attitude. As if Freaky Friday-ing each other is the best way to get through an otherwise uneventful afternoon. Of course, something goes horribly wrong.
The Turn of “Transpose”
While the switch initially benefits Jakob, who now has his own smarts combined with Danny’s physical abilities, it’s Danny who decides he has no interest in switching back. With both young men getting ready to leave high school, Danny realizes that he has far more opportunities in Jakob’s body than he does in his own. So when it comes time to switch back, he declines. Jakob takes Danny’s body back to the machine they used to make the switch. In a desperate move, he climbs into the machine without anyone else to switch with. When Danny finds him hours later, he is unresponsive.
Of course, Danny feels terrible about the consequences of his decisions. He goes back to the woods to try and undo the change, but the machine is gone. With Jakob on life support, Danny resigns himself to spending the rest of his life as Jakob. But just as he’s settling into his new life, a strange noise lures Danny out into the night. He walks outside to find a strange robot staring at the house. Danny asks the robot if he is Jakob. It motions, as if to nod, and then runs back into the forest. The robot was the closest thing to the body-switching machine when Jakob climbed in.
Changing the World
Both boys deal with troubling fates by the end of “Transpose.” Jacob is trapped in the shell of a robot, maybe forever. And Danny has to live with a terrible secret. His choices have sealed his best friend’s fate. And he is now stuck living a life he’s not prepared for. In its second episode Tales From the Loop is now two for two in telling painfully human stories with high concept science fiction premises.
But even more importantly, Tales From the Loop has opened up the door to a whole new world of possibilities. By centering its second episode around a background episode from ‘Loop,’ the show has left the door open for answers in future episodes or future seasons. The first two episodes left unanswered questions about Loretta’s identity and Jakob’s fate. But now it’s clear that Tales From the Loop is telling one big story, with each episode looking at that story from a different angle. So while the overall world stays the same, the point of view is constantly changing.
What did you think about “Transpose?” Are you still enjoying Tales From the Loop? Do you think we will get answers to all of our questions? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook. And be sure to check back every day for a new recap from the first season of Tales From the Loop.