This Colony review contains spoilers.
Colony Season 1, Episode 3
I love spy-fi shows about double agents. Watching the various iterations of La Femme Nikita that have surfaced over the years (yes, this includes Alias) have whetted an appetite that I never knew I had. In the absence of such TV shows in the current climate of popular culture, I feel like there’s a sweet spot that’s not being hit. Sure, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is an on-the-nose entry into this genre, but it swaps real life consequences for comic book conceits, dissolving its sense of verisimilitude in the process. We also have its great-aunt Agent Carter too, but again: it’s a Marvel property with Marvel trappings.
If I were to classify Colony as a spy-fi series, would anybody argue with me?
Oh wait. This is the internet. Of course they would.
I don’t care what the detractors say. Colony’s emotional and thematic landscapes are about as spy-fi as you can get. If you look at this series hard enough, you’ll find that it has all of the usual ingredients. Espionage? Check. Duality? Check. Gadgets from five minutes into the future? Check. Moodiness? Check. Main characters working for shadowy organizations they’ll never fully trust as a means to an end to facilitate their own self-interests? Check! Forbidden romance? Hmm. Well, I wouldn’t say forbidden exactly, but Will and Katie’s love does have this dark, ominous cloud hovering over it. So we’ll call that a partial check.
The biggest carryover trope from the spy-fi genre, and what I enjoy about it the most, is the notion that you must hide who you are. Concealing your true self from harsh surroundings in an act of self-preservation while continuing to play the games you’re expected to play, even if you don’t believe in them, is Colony’s real hook.
Isn’t it ironic how Will and Katie are in the same boat when it comes to the cloak-and-dagger intrigue, yet Katie is the one who feels the most pressure, since she’s technically a triple agent? Her involvement with the resistance is riskier than anything Will is up to as a faux-Collaborator, and therefore significantly more riveting for the audience to watch. I liked that this episode focused on her side of the story more than Will’s, as it’s more relatable.
Case in point, the beginning moments of “98 Seconds” focus on Katie going through her very first resistance hijacking of a supply truck manned by red caps that quickly escalates into a full blown massacre. After fleeing back home from this botched operation, Katie enters her home to find that it isn’t really her home anymore. Her children’s private tutor, mandated by the Occupation, is waiting inside to greet her (and scoper her out.) Maintaining her composure while still in shock, Katie makes her way to the bathroom where she strips down in the kind of scene we’ve seen before in dozens of paranoid conspiracy flicks. When Will walks in to check on her, she takes all of her built up tension out on him in an explosive sex scene that’s sure to leave the stay-at-home-mom demographic feeling hot and bothered. (“Oh Sawyer!” I can hear them gasp.)
It’s fascinating to see how sexuality is again used as a pressure valve for this “power couple.” Copulating with her husband is Katie’s release from an oppresive world that looks so sadistically familiar. When she can no longer breathe underneath the masks she wears, or when she is confronted with another loss, her libido kicks in to do something useful with all of that internalized anxious energy. After this steamy love scene, she shuts down and isolates herself in the bathroom again. This gesture reveals so much without saying anything at all, and I can only imagine how it will influence her actions later on this season. When Will confronts her later that day about this, she lies and uses the recent emotional memory of finding their lost son’s baseball as excuse without missing a beat. This off-handed deceit is smartly conceived, and further endears me to how this show is written.
After the tone for this episode has been established, we switch gears back to Will’s side of things. Again, much like in the previous episode, he investigates the fallout from the Resistance’s attempted hijacking that Katie helped with, fulfilling the duties of his new role as a peace-keeping detective of sorts for the Occupation. He’s actively working against her again, which piles on more dread.
We know just as much about the Insurgency as we know about the Hosts, which, three episodes in, is still jack squat. But what we can tell is that as an omisicent spectator, we don’t trust either of them. If any TV show could benefit from the use of an iconic tagline, it’s “Trust No One.” This classic X-Files slogan is far more appropriate for Colony than it is for the seminal science fiction program that could never commit to a set of rules for its world, as it is more aligned with its themes. It’s a shame that was already taken.
(Speaking of which, the premise of Colony could work as a taut post-invasion version of The X-Files revival, with Mulder and Scully trying to navigate through the new world order that they spent so long trying to prevent. Talk about epic. But alas, that is not supposed to happen ever. Deal with it.)
So far, Colony’s narrative has two main objectives: find Geronimo, the terrorist leader of the L.A. bloc insurgency, and locate Charlie, Will and Katie’s missing son. Throughout “98 Seconds”, I couldn’t help but wonder if these two are linked somehow. I get that we saw the homeless man in the teaser broadcasting his pirate radio feed, claiming to be Geronimo, but that could have been a red herring. Is Charlie Geronimo? Just a thought, and sorry in advance if this musing turns out to be an unintentional spoiler, but I just had to talk about it with somebody.
“98 Seconds” may be light on action, but it’s heavy on substance. The third act culminates in an anticlimax of sorts, even if it invites us to the grand re-opening of Katie’s dive bar The Yonk. Of course the red hats, led by proxy governor Snyder (who still remains the show’s sole source of levity), have to crash the party to make a point: the Hosts are the ones who sanctioned this. They’re in control here, not the patrons or the owners. Public drinking is a privilege only, a reward for good bevhavior. Yet it’s more for the sake of fueling the colonizer’s need for efficiency than it is for the colonized, as Snyder explains to Will in a revealing speech:
“In my world, there are a lot of competing theories on governments. I believe that the softer hand is more effective. No one can change our present situation; it’s immovable. So instead, everyone needs to try to appreciate the good things. The city’s cleaner and safer than it’s ever been, there’s no worry about terrorism or unemployment. You can even catch a bus and go from anywhere to anywhere in twenty minutes. Bringing back places like this is one of the ways we give everyone something to put their energy into. That’s good for me. That’s good for you. That’s good for everybody.”
I get that this is a tactic that the Nazis used in Paris back during WWII, but I can’t help but think about how corporate this whole strategy to boost morale sounds. Could Cuse’s artistic statement include anti-corporate sentiments as well? Is he winking and nudging us into drawing parallels between the German Occupation pf France and the corporate takeover of America? Because if he is, that’s pretty slick.
Although Colony is so foreboding that it could very well be renamed Fear and General Malaise in Los Angeles, it’s so damn effective. The nuanced writing, the feature film caliber performances, the portenteous atmosphere, the carefully layered world building: this is a series that’s built on the shoulders of groundbreaking giants like Lost and Earth: Final Conflict. (Okay, the latter one isn’t that gigantic, but it’s surely a reference point.) It takes what worked from these shows and throws away what didn’t to build something new and more thoughtful. And so far, it’s a rousing success. More please.