Mr. Robot was a thrilling experience because it touched on real-world issues and concerns in a way that felt visceral and grounded. And now, USA’s latest drama, Colony, seems to be pulling off the same trick—only for an alien invasion story.
Colony is a dystopia that you can actually see yourself living in. It’s scary and disturbing, in ways that compel you to watch. This series doesn’t put its focus on the mysterious, maybe-extraterrestrial entities who are ruling over humanity—instead, it follows a group of scrambling suburbanites who face tech fears that are all too familiar to us in the twenty-first century, from human-hunting drones to militarized police.
Just as Mr. Robot picked present-day threats that feel imminent and relevant, yet futuristic and cyberpunk—mass data breaches, digital identity theft, income inequality—Colony takes other modern dangers and puts them in a near-future setting. That, and and placing two great leads in a largely normal-looking, recognizable Los Angeles (save for the absence of all cars and a giant wall surrounding the city), make Colony feel relatable, accessible, and scary.
Creators Carlton Cuse and Ryan Condal draw on a lot of real-world fears, all of which show up in the pilot: Ruthless cops with assault rifles who demand to check citizens’ digital IDs, police drones combing streets to alert the nanny government of rebels, terrorists with IEDs, and a gargantuan wall that prevents anyone from entering or leaving the city.
Colony centers around a family living in seemingly modern-day Los Angeles, led by parents Will (Josh Holloway of Lost) and Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies of The Walking Dead). For the first ten minutes or so, everything looks completely ordinary—Dad’s in the kitchen making breakfast, junior’s helping sis with homework or something—but you sense something’s a bit off. Is the marriage on the rocks? Did somebody get detention at school today? Nope! The real answer? Humanity’s been usurped by an evil force that’s turned our civilization into a futuristic puppet state, ruthlessly ruled by an iron-fist entity only known as The Hosts.
Society has been very clearly divided into haves and have-nots, which is another actual, troublesome hallmark of twenty-first century America that the show takes and runs with. Middle class? What middle class? In Colony, you’re either a Host-sympathizing socialite who enjoys champagne and caviar in the Hollywood Hills, or you’re not. Colony’s quaint, all-American suburbia is actually an Orwellian hell, where coffee’s an old world luxury, and where folks must barter food and medicine to survive during the day and be home by curfew at night.
At times, the dog-eat-dog totalitarian state, depicted side-by-side ho-hum everyday life, is jarring. Like the scene when the high schoolers are just chilling on the bleachers by the football field on a beautiful sunny day, smiling and cheerfully chatting like they’re in a JCPenney back-to-school ad... while also bartering backyard fruit for homemade tortillas. All of a sudden, a burly bully in a backpack appears, here to reclaim his turf: “No trading goes on without me getting my beak wet,” the teen threatens, and a brief physical altercation follows. I get what they were going for, it just seemed a little... silly? I dunno, I hope the show doesn’t veer into a weird Lord of the Flies or Brave New World (the episode’s title) wannabe.
I also hope it doesn’t lean on “the invasion” too much as a gimmick. We—and maybe even the characters?—don’t know exactly what happened, and who, or what, took over. But again, the scenario easily plays into contemporary, real-world dread: Was it a takeover by a foreign government (or our own government)? Was it tech-savvy terrorists? The AI uprising? World War III? Or aliens?!? It’s also interesting because, unlike Into the Badlands, in which the humanity-razing Event happened centuries ago, Colony’s apocalypse seems to be extremely recent. When Proxy Governor Snyder drops by the house for a surprise visit to lure Will to join the Collaborators, for example, teen son Bram instantly recognizes the scent of bacon, apparently now a rare delicacy.
Thankfully, based on the previews for the season, a lot of the show seems to generate drama from the looming conflict between the two leads—Will’s pre-takeover background in law enforcement prompts Host Collaborators to help him sniff out insurgents, but Katie uses the family’s new in as an opportunity to become a mole for the Resistance.
Holloway is great in this, but for me, Callies’ Katie is the real narrator; the heroine we follow and identify with. I got a sense of a good person trying her best to navigate the new world; terrified for her family’s safety but determined and seemingly capable of preserving it. I liked the scene when she tried to secure dog insulin in a mason jar in exchange for booze, but when the barter goes south, she pulls a gun and bails—but not without a “shit, sorry” when she accidentally stumbles into some of the homeowner’s chickens as she’s backing away with her weapon drawn.
USA seems very aware that Mr. Robot has put the network under a new spotlight, and Colony is clearly the companion piece to the acclaimed hacker show. If Mr. Robot represents the dystopia that’s happening right now, Colony is the dystopia that’s just around the corner. Whether it’s extraterrestrials or nuke-wielding superpowers (what was that huge light show, anyway?), Earth is under siege, and the overlords are using tech and fear tactics that feel awfully recognizable. We’ll see how Angelenos begin to retaliate in the rest of the promising season’s nine episodes.
All images courtesy USA
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