Halpern tried to replicate that human-technology relationship in the show. Like Stålenhag’s art, the loop in Ohio uses three massive cooling towers. They’re visible in the background of countless shots but never questioned or explored up close. A floating tractor is treated the same way in episode six. Though it plays a critical role in the story, its ability to hover is simply accepted in the world. None of the characters gasp or run away when they see it hovering in a field.
Like Stålenhag’s drawings, the show is set predominantly in the 1980s. Or at least, it seems to be. Unlike Stranger Things, the show isn’t packed with obvious pop culture references that give the exact year away. Every room isn’t littered with Star Wars memorabilia or original NES cartridges, for instance. And the show isn’t crammed with iconic tunes like the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Instead, the historical nods are more subtle. You can approximate the time period based on the clothes that people are wearing, the cars they drive and the appliances in their suburban homes.
Halpern said: “I didn’t want to fetishize the time period and say, ‘Look at these clothes from the early 1980s!’ Or, ‘Do you remember this?’ I didn’t want that element of nostalgia [in the show].”
It’s unusually difficult to pinpoint the exact year that most of the drama takes place, though. The homes in Ohio, for instance, often feature objects from a few different decades. You might theorize that the show is set in 1982, only to see a typewriter or rotary phone that feels closer to the 1960s or 70s. It’s a departure from Stålenhag’s art, but an intentional one. Halpern wanted the show to have a “timeless quality” that reinforced the show’s own history. The household objects are supposed to be a visual reminder and representation of prior generations that lived in Ohio.
“They show that it’s not just the stamp of right now, but there’s much from the past that carries forward,” he explained.
The writer didn’t abandon the Scandinavian aesthetic entirely, either. The main family in the show drives a decades-old Volvo, for instance, and often wears jackets and knitted sweaters that feel more European than American. Halpern justified these touchstones through the scientific community that has traveled from across the globe to work at the loop facility. “So while, yes, it is [depicting] America, it is kind of an aesthetic unto itself,” the writer said.
The show’s visual language compliments the one-shot episode format. One story grapples with time travel, however that mechanic isn’t revealed until the final act. The timeless aesthetic therefore helps to mask the fantastical element, though it’s still possible to guess what’s happening through dialog and character reactions. Another episode involves the death of a major loop employee. In one scene, two characters step inside a mysterious structure that, through a series of echoes, can reveal how long you have left to live. Later, the employee chooses a relative as their successor, indicating that life is cyclical and the choices we make echo forward through time.
“It goes back to that word timeless,” Halpern said. “And so much of the show is about our experience with time.”
Halpern hopes the self-contained stories evoke a sense of wonder. He felt the same emotion while looking at Stålenhag’s artwork and worried that any single loop effect would lose its intrigue over an eight-episode season. “It becomes a little too normal,” Halpern said. That’s why each episode tackles a wildly different idea. The breadth keeps the show fresh and ensures the viewer is never certain what the rules and narrative boundaries are. “There’s always something new if you keep watching,” Halpern hinted. “And I think that’s what I was chasing, ultimately. Just never losing that sense of wonder.”
“So much of the show is about our experience with time.”
The show does have story beats that evolve and carry over between episodes, though. So if you watch the entire season you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the cast. In episode one, for instance, you might think the loop’s security guard is a throwaway character. By the end of the show, though, you’ll know more about him and view his earlier mannerisms differently.