This Colony review contains spoilers.
Colony Season 2 Episode 1
If Colony had been predictable, this is how its pilot episode would have begun: chronicling the lives of its main characters right before the big alien invasion hit. Watching how they responded to the unexpected. Witnessing how they are transformed alongside the world around them. Seeing why they chose become who they chose to become when their day-to-day reality is replaced with an dystopian nightmare.
Thankfully, Colony took a road less traveled. It introduced us to Will, Katie, Snyder, and Broussard after the fact, long since they’d shifted into their personal moral grey zones. If we’d met this bunch as they are shown here in “Eleven.Thirteen” – as ordinary people leading flashy yet mundane lives in the suburbs of Los Angeles – I wouldn’t have cared much about their fates. Not saying that they aren’t relateable. Just saying it wouldn’t have been the right time for us to meet them, that’s all. They were not yet the tortured antiheroes we identify with for some reason. They were just people living their lives. So seeing the whole Bowman family sitting down getting ready to eat breakfast on a sunny morning wouldn’t have mattered one bit to us if we had seen it back then. But here, at the opening of the season two premiere, this scene means just about everything to us because of everything that we know.
Colony’s nebulous storytelling style is its hook. Piecing together its story is half, if not all of, the fun. But ultimately, it’s pretty much exacty like its daddy Lost. At the end of the day, Colony is more concerned with the personal landscapes of its characters rather than unleashing whatever lurks inside the Mystery Box. But that doesn’t stop the show’s creators from achieving an impressive amount of world building in such a short amount of time. Ironic, seeing as how “Eleven.Thirteen” is a subdued hour full of small, quiet moments. But this is as info dump-y as I’ve seen the show get so far. Each clue we’re given about what exactly the inner workings are behind this post-invasion world blows our minds just a little, changing our perception of what the show is and the scope of what we’re dealing with.
Which is why I like Colony so much, not to mention why I recommend it to every person I know who says they like sci-fi TV, if not well produced serialized TV in general. It’s amorphous. It shifts around. It leaps in and out of genres, picking and choosing which it needs to adopt in order to get its point across. From episode-to-episode, you’re not quite sure what to expect. Occasionally it can seem as though Colony is made up of several different TV shows set in the same universe that are all competing for screen time. This makes the LA Bloc a vast playground of sorts, a stage upon which Condal and Cuse can act their grander ideas out upon.
You know what I look forward to whenever a new season of a television show begins? I like to see how its quality has improved since the I last time I set eyes on it. How the new wardrobe looks. How the scale has gotten larger. How a different style of lighting brings new life to familiar sets and locations. Basically, how a series “upgrades” itself to the next level. “Eleven.Thirteen” gave a good dose of this particular kind of TV magic, and for that I’m grateful. It lured me back into Colony’s broken world.
But to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to dive back in yet. The events of season one’s finale “Gateway” left the series in a depressingly maudlin heap on the Bowman’s kitchen floor, much like Katie herself. I felt small twinges of pain just thinking about spending the entire first hour of the season watching her clean up her life while Will goes off on a post-apocalyptic journey to find his own private holy grail – their missing son Charlie.
In case you forgot, Charlie is a powerfully charged symbol in the show’s mythology, one that is constantly held above the heads of our heroes. He represents “The Way We Were”. The exit from Eden. Life before wartime. It’s natural for there to be a quest for Colony’s knight in shining armor to go off on, because that’s something he would do to a.) feel useful to himself and b.) escape his emotional struggle with his wife.
Searching for Charlie is like trying to find for Samantha Mulder – you want to know the answers but you want the mystery to unfold over time. You need a good, solid motivation for your lead characters. One that manifests itself as a mission. Since he’s a cypher for the underlying problems in Will and Katie’s relationship and family life, Charlie is perfect for this. That’s why I’m in no rush for Will or anyone to else actually locate him.
Now that we’ve had a glimpse of the past, we know more about Colony’s major players. We know what lies behind Michael Broussard’s steely attitude. We’ve seen how his mother passed on during the invasion from shock. Sure, heard him tell Katie about it back in season one. Seeing it for ourselves is a different matter altogether. We also know more about Alan Snyder than ever before, including all of his secret financial activity and details about his personal life. And it’s clear the Institute for Global Advancement knew that the invasion was going to happen before it did.
But our trip to the past served another purpose. It introduced us to a face from the show’s future: Devon, Will’s ex FBI partner. Will is shown spending most of his time before the invasion wrestling with the idea that Devon’s unscrupulous connections to an Armenian gang helped her purchase a new home in Santa Monica. Will expresses his concern and creates a wedge between them that is apparently felt long after the Occupation begins, because when he shows up on her doorstep in the future, she doesn’t look very happy to see him. Although using flashbacks as a way to shoehorn in a new supporting cast member may feel sneaky, it fits into the fractured mandala of Colony’s major story arc nicely so I’m not going to protest.
There’s a lot to love about the cinematography of “Eleven.Thirteen”. Seeing pre-Occupation Los Angeles tilted askew through unnerving dutch angles reminded us that their world was about to be thrown off its axis. Characters are seen from far away, squeezed into distant corners of the frame. (They’re not quite themselves yet, anyway.)
All in all, “Eleven.Thirteen” did what season premieres should: get you excited for the road ahead while giving you reasons why you want to spend time in its world. It re-introduces characters you thought you already knew, changing your perspective on who you thought they were, and lays groundwork for an entirely new story arc. It’s almost as if a large piece of the puzzle has been unlocked by writer and co-creator Ryan J. Condal, one that we earned as a reward for watching Will and Katie’s relationship slowly deteriorate over the course of ten episodes.
Each chapter in Colony’s first season was surprising, intriguing, thought-provoking, deeply unsettling, and oddly comforting. Since all of these are adjectives I can use to describe “Eleven.Thirteen,” it looks like we’re in store for a mighty fine season of television.