This Incorporated review contains spoilers.
Incorporated Season 1, Episode 1
Incorporated imagines a special kind of future dystopia, one in which corporations have taken control of a world ruined by rising sea levels and other natural disasters. The pilot episode shows viewers how only employees of these mega-corps live relatively normal lives, but even they must subsist in a competitive corporate culture where disloyalty can mean death. The premiere skillfully sets the scene and draws in its audience, but it remains to be seen if viewers will identify and sympathize with the show’s protagonist.
That’s not to say Ben Larson (Sean Teale of Reign) isn’t intriguing. The understated nature of his presence as a mole inside the corporate Green Zone, rising through the management ranks at biotech giant, Spiga, is brilliantly subtle. It’s just that because he’s playing a role, it’s difficult to see the implied anguish he feels over losing the love of his life, Elena: his main motivation for having joined the clandestine resistance.
It’s like Laura, Ben’s oblivious Green Zone wife, says: “You’re always so sunny,” and of course he has to be, especially around her. Laura (Allison Miller of Terra Nova) is in some ways an even more interesting character, gaining audience sympathy both in her role as a plastic surgeon who reluctantly helps rich people change the appearance of their love slaves and as the manipulated daughter of the Spiga CEO, Elizabeth Krauss (Julia Ormond of Witches of East End). Now approved to have a child with Ben, she seems destined for heartache — undeserved even for a privileged Green Zoner like her.
But it’s been six years since the erstwhile Aaron took on the identity of intelligence engineer, Ben. Although it’s unclear what his handler, Hendrick (Damon Herriman of Quarry), wants Ben to do, the long game of spying does not include exposing himself by getting too high on the corporate ladder. Much of the premiere episode’s tension, however, comes from Ben realizing that the only way he can get to Elena, whom he just spotted on surveillance in Milwaukee, involves him getting a promotion.
Obviously, Ben is going to have to make questionable decisions to reach his goals, but such flawed heroes are becoming very familiar to genre audiences. In fact, many viewers might notice the obvious parallels to Continuum’s Corporate Congress and Colony’s zones, resistance, and infiltration; both shows contain protagonists that have to work in a moral gray area. Fortunately, because the world Incorporated inhabits is so expertly crafted, this familiarity works in the show’s favor rather than seeming derivative.
A subplot which should definitely garner interest is the story surrounding Elena’s brother, Theo (Eddie Ramos of Teen Wolf), whom Ben tries to help by funneling him cigarettes — with real tobacco! — to sell on the black market of the Red Zone in which he lives. Whether motivated by guilt or genuine caring, Ben unwittingly puts Theo on the path to becoming a cage fighter for the local thug, Terrence (Ian Tracey of the aforementioned Continuum). Theo’s emotional nature more than makes up for Ben having to keep his feelings hidden.
Other standout performances come from Dennis Haysbert of 24 and David Hewlett of Dark Matter, who are both embroiled in Ben’s plan to frame his boss for corporate espionage in order to acquire his position. Haysbert is deliciously evil as Julian, the head of Spiga security, and Hewlett is at his toadie best as the unfortunate manager, Chad. Ben’s use of riot-suppressing tech and blood DNA to carry out his plan felt like a great spy caper, with an appropriate amount of danger and possible unforeseen fallout later.
The real success of the Incorporated premiere, when all is said and done, lies in its believable future. When the white collar professionals party in the Red Zone, when Elizabeth wonders if art can be created without poverty and suffering, and when Terrence says, “Can’t make a buck in this world without a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit and a big set of balls,” it all feels real, like it could actually happen. Incorporated could definitely catch on with audiences who see the show, like all great sci-fi, as a mirror reflecting the society in which it was created.