RogerBW's Blog

Colony, season 1 09 August 2016

2016 science fiction drama, 10 episodes. Aliens have landed and conquered Earth, ruling through drones and human trusties. But there is, of course, a resistance.

This is a series that bravely avoids the whiz-bangs which usually take up the budget and attention of Earth-invasion stories (even such initially low-key affairs as Falling Skies). Although it's less than a year after the invasion, we don't see those events: the fight was overwhelmingly in the aliens' favour, and nobody's been able to stop them from building huge walls all over Los Angeles. (And presumably the rest of the USA and the world, but part of the point here is that communication has been cut off and people don't know what's happening elsewhere.)

What is never clear is why the aliens are doing what they're doing. They took over at once, and rounded up and shot all the police and military types (except for those who became trusties, apparently including all of Homeland Security)… but why? Why are they bothering to keep the humans alive at all, rather than wiping them out? They don't seem to object when the trusties shoot people, though most prisoners are sent to "the factory" and nobody ever comes back from there. For that matter, why did they invade in the first place?

What we actually see is humans being nasty to each other. There are the "Proxies", senior administrators doing the aliens' bidding, and the "Redcaps" (aka Homeland Security), the uniformed thug squad. And there's the Resistance, focused on the name "Geronimo". But unlike V, the obvious inspiration for this series, the Resistance isn't all heroic, and the collaborators aren't all evil, even though that's the assumption with which you're meant to start. This is a very good setup for what seems to be the producers' primary goals, of telling individual human stories against a science-fictional backdrop rather than concentrating on the pyrotechnics. So far so good.

However, this is all brought to the human level rather clumsily, as our protagonists are Will Bowman (Josh Holloway doing his best Sean Bean), a former FBI agent who's been living under a false name, forced in the first episode to join the investigative part of Homeland Security, and his wife Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies), a Resistance operative who keeps that affiliation secret from Will. ("He's an unwilling collaborator. She's a resistance agent. They're married!") Secrets under the house roof are a good generator of tension, but the real trick here is making both sides appear to be at least partly in the right: the Resistance is helping get people across the walls, but it's also setting off bombs that don't seem to harm the invaders but most certainly do kill innocent bystanders as well as collaborators. Nasty people don't become saints just because they're working on the "right" side, whichever that may be.

I think that SF world-building isn't really the writers' priority; it's more of a background flavour to let them write a story about Nazi-occupied Europe crossed with a modern American militarised police force and surveillance state. Drones can turn up at the site of gunfire to laser everyone to death within minutes, but the resistance members still manage to meet secretly after curfew without being arrested, because if they couldn't the plot wouldn't work.

This is a world which contains people who think that, with random stop-and-search checkpoints run by the alien collaborators, powered vehicles reserved for the trusties, huge walls dividing cities with nobody allowed to cross them, shoot-on-sight curfews every night… they'll still be allowed a phone call when they've been arrested. Aw, they're so cute.

It does get a bit unrelievedly grim at times, and plot twists have a habit of popping up out of nowhere, but when the script-writers calm down, forget about the incompetent collaborator cops pursuing the case of the week in a dystopian police procedural, and allow their characters to do the things that come naturally to them, there are some excellent moments here.

The Big Mysteries don't get much development in these ten episodes… and the principal showrunner is Carlton Cuse, best known for being one of the people behind Lost. So we can be pretty sure that the producers don't actually have any answers, and instead will keep piling on more mystery until the viewers lose interest and the show is cancelled with a hasty and lacklustre conclusion. What's more, this is one of three shows Cuse is running or co-running simultaneously, and he's developing a fourth, so it's not surprising there's little consistency of tone from one episode to the next.

The series has been renewed for a second season, but I don't think I'll be along for the ride.

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