It seemed like just another basic cable science fiction drama. Aliens invade Earth, and pretty actors—many of them genre alumni—are forced into colonies where they plot to stop the aliens. The action is great, but the family moments are treacly enough to give you Falling Skies flashbacks. But Colony is actually good, guys. It’s really, really good.
Spoilers for Colony beyond this point...
The goodness starts in the pilot—though it has little to do with the premise as presented for the first three quarters of that episode. Husband Will (that’d be the Holloway) is a nice guy who works as a truck driver and auto mechanic and loves his family and is, like, super bummed that one of his children was in Santa Monica when the aliens attacked—because they haven’t seen that kid since. But when Will tries to break out of the colony to find his son, we discover he’s secretly a former Army Ranger and FBI agent, and the leaders of the colony need Will’s help to hunt down resistance forces still in the city.
Will is forced into working for the occupation that’s destroyed his world and kept him from his son, and yeah, that could be a pretty okay show—at least a step above the piping hot mess that was Fallen Skies. Grizzled badass, with lovely family at home, joins forces with Carl Weathers to fight the resistance and uphold a new and terrifying world order that neither man agrees with.
But then the last five minutes of the episode clock in, and we learn that Will’s wife, Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies), is part of that resistance—and is now planning to spy on her husband for it. It’s a fantastic twist for a show that often works hard to be milquetoast.
Yet since then, Colony has taken more and more risks. This show is gleefully certain of itself. It takes big risks and kills off great character actors, because it’s moving like a freight train towards an ending that I honestly can’t foresee. And in every episode, the show takes time to take a step back from the plot lines (some of which, like the sister having a sexy affair with a collaborator, or the teenage son going on runs outside the colony, are absolute stinkers) and pursue the actual themes of a show about victims of a forceful occupation. It’s not afraid to dig into these characters, and treat them as more than plot points navigating from point A to point B.
Specifically, Katie and Will and their simmering idealogical war. The two of them come from very different backgrounds, and they have very different ideas on how to deal with the problem (aliens) at hand. He wants to play nice until they can escape, and she wants to burn the whole damn thing down. The conflict alone is great, but the show refuses to let it get in the way of these two people genuinely loving one another. When they finally put their cards on the table and reveal the whole slew of duplicitous actions they’ve been piling up this season, it’s just good drama. Colony is happy to waddle about in the grays of morality and let us see both sides.
This is not something I expected to see from a show on USA.
And meanwhile, the show has finally started to delve into its science fiction elements. Until recently, Colony was a straight-up drama, with the science-fiction stuff firmly in the background. The aliens of the show are the “talked about, but never seen” kind, and our only hints that the world hasn’t just been taken over by a group of jackasses is in the enormous walls that spring up around the colonies and the drones that descend whenever there’s conflict and the eerie factories where misbehaving people are sent and never return from. Otherwise, Colony is a show that could be set in France in the early 40s. (I would give anything to see Josh Holloway in a proper suit and hat.)
Last week’s episode gave us our first honest to God look at an alien—though the creature was wrapped up in a cool techno suit out of something like Mass Effect.
The show also gave us our first glimpse of life in another colony—specifically Santa Monica, where Will and Katie’s son has been surviving as a street rat. While both those glimpses feel more like the plot of a video game (Katie’s impeccable and satisfying aim with a gun doesn’t help matters), this is still more science fiction than we got the earlier part of the season.
As the series’s world starts to expand, and the the status quo dramatically shifts, the show is maintaining the solid entertainment factor it’s had since the end of episode one. If it keeps this up, it could turn into one of the most entertaining dystopian shows of the last few years (its definitely more optimistic than The Walking Dead).