This Colony review contains spoilers.
Colony Season 2 Episode 4
The ultimate crime one can commit in Colony’s world is to set all feints, pretenses, and gaslights aside and openly communicate with someone else about the truth of their experience. To do so will warrant you a trip to The Factory. Then again, so will lying. But which lies are you permitted to tell, and which are labeled as dishonest according to the standards of The Occupation? Also, which ones will cause the least amount of harm in the long run?
If there’s a breakout character this season, it has to be Jennifer McMahon.Watching her claw her way through the power structure shakeups at Homeland Security to cling onto her job is a hyper-realized slice of the corporate lifestyle that echoes experiences we’ve all had at some point during our own personal quests for wage glory. We’ve watched her change trajectory rather quickly over time. We’ve watched her struggle with a conflict that’s been chewing on her ever since The Arrival happened, boiled down to two questions – “Do I have what it takes to be ruthless?” and “Do I have what it takes to survive where I don’t want to be?” Answering these questions determines where each character in the Colony universe falls on the spectrum.
Jennifer forces herself to answer these questions once and for all in “Panopticon,” an episode that lives up to its name. Our characters have no privacy anymore. The concept doesn’t exist; it’s a forbidden fruit, if not a forgotten luxury.
“Panopticon” quietly skirts around being a meta-experience. We watch Jennifer watch Will and Katie reunite and catch-up with each other, clearing away several episodes worth of story-arc cobwebs and miscommunications. It’s not that she’s trying to find dirt on them to keep the high pressure job she doesn’t actually want to have in the first place anymore. It’s that she’s living vicariously. Jennifer is alone in the world, a fact we are confronted with at every turn of her journey this episode. She has no friends or family or loved ones. This makes her a perfect candidate for The Occupation, according to Dan Bennett, Homeland’s stricter new boss who is also quick to remind her that she doesn’t have the skill set necessary in order to keep working in the espionage business.
So of course Jennifer would get swept away by the highly emotional (and, let’s be honest, slightly convoluted) dramas that happen in the corner of the world that the Bowmans are fenced in. Of course she would be constantly glued to the screen in her office, living like an omnipotent fly on the many walls of their home. Of course she would want to escape the pressure of working at Homeland while fooling herself into think that she’s helping.
This meta-experience is understated, never consciously stated or brought to our awareness, but it permeates. A slight allusion to this is made during the lunchroom scene where Jennifer sits down to speak with another lonely employee. When asked about her night, she says, “My friend let me borrow the season DVD of Friends.” She watches Friends because she has no friends… just as Jennifer binges Will and Katie’s science fiction soap opera antics because she doesn’t have a significant other or a long term relationship to speak of. (Her fiance Jason was killed during a terrorist attack after The Arrival, remember.)
So just like us, Jennifer gets caught up in the fantasy of what’s going on. And how could any of what Will and Katie are talking about not sound fantastical in any way, shape, or form? By the way, a family reunion for the Bowmans actually translates to getting all of the characters on the same page by processing exposition and sharing information to fill in missing gaps in their knowledge. And this is how Jennifer’s surveillance is tongue-in-cheek way of framing these affairs. There’s no way in hell that any sci-fi TV show could maintain a sense of realism while digesting all of the loose threads that have been dangling since before the season one finale. No amount of tears or emotional delivery will make efficiently exposition heavy dialogue sound realistic, although Sarah Wayne Callies and Josh Holloway do their very best to sell every line to us. So changing our perspective by creating distance and letting the main story arc become a TV show within a TV show, so to speak, is a stroke of genius.
Having the Bowmans back together (minus Bram) in one place is… odd, to say the least. Perhaps even anticlimactic. Maybe that’s because they spend all of their time getting on the same page, expositing with the utmost efficiency. There are moments during “Panopticon” when Katie and Will cease to be the mythical tragic heroes we view them as and instead become TV characters who have to keep navigating through the events of the over-arcing narrative, plain and simple. Thus we have moments sprinkled throughout this episode in which Katie tears up while Will recaps his side of the story with as much angst as Josh Holloway can muster in as few words as possible to save running time.
If there’s one main idea that’s being spoonfed to us these days, it’s that Charlie is different now. Warped by traumatic experiences living under Solomon’s rule in the lawless Santa Monica Bloc, the littlest Bowman boy is now distant, street smart, and more cold hearted than before. Since we the audience met him only a few episodes back, it’s hard to view him as anything else besides a moody little kid that doesn’t resemble our lead actors much and has ugly hair. Which is why I was practically cheering at the screen when Katie gave him a haircut. But even if this makes the kid more aesthetically pleasing, I have to admit he is my least favorite new addition to the show this year. For me, his storyline and characterization feels very similar to that of Connor from Angel – another prodigal son figure that felt more trouble than he was worth sometimes.
Now, impressive as this all is, there are a couple bits here that don’t make sense to me. For instance, if literally everything happening (in the LA Bloc, anyway) is being observed and transcribed by The Occupation by thousands of surveillance crew members, why wouldn’t there be any reports or logs for Katie and Will Bowman’s house already logged by another transcriptionist? Certainly Jennifer wasn’t the only person keeping tabs on their household – especially after Will went missing? Oh well.
“Panopticon” ends on a bleak note, with Jennifer choosing to take her own life via a pill overdose while watching footage of her ex-fiance on a smartphone she had stashed away in her kitchen. She’s overheard Will call her weak, she’s been called incompetent to her face…but is that a bad thing in Colony‘s universe? Perhaps she’s the strongest one out of them all, because she refuses to live with the lies any longer.