– By Paulie Spiceflow –
Colony is a show hitting well above its weight class. Forgive the sports metaphor but there isn’t a better way to say it. The dystopian drama is head and shoulders better than its cable sci-fi competitors but has yet to gain recognition or see record-smashing ratings on USA. Better than Falling Skies, better than Under the Dome, and better than The 100, it has yet to receive the recognition it deserves.
Josh Holloway (Lost) and Sarah Wayne Callies (The Walking Dead) headline a solid cast as Will and Katie Bowman. The two live in the LA block ten months after an alien invasion put an end to their comfortable suburban life. The world lives under occupation, divided into blocks separated by massive silver walls, patrolled by deadly drones, and ruled by a collaborator government called the transitional authority. Katie cannot sit by and watch her kids grow up in a brutal police state. She joins a shadowy resistance movement desperately fighting to break free of the occupation.
The authority learns of Will’s previous occupation as an FBI agent, which usually means death. The aliens don’t want anyone from the military or law enforcement alive and breathing. Instead of killing Will, the authority decides to recruit him. They task Will with finding and terminating the resistance cell. Husband and wife are placed on different sides in a clandestine war.
Many recent dystopian dramas are essentially American underdog stories. The desperate struggle for freedom is portrayed romantically. Some characters even quote Thomas Jefferson or Patrick Henry. Colony does not romanticize rebellion at all. The best word to describe it is…complicated.
The True Evil of the Police State
Few movies, books, or TV shows truly capture the evil of the police state. Some present them as brutal for brutality’s sake. Others defang the police in order to give the heroes a fighting chance at victory in the time allotted. Sure, the bad guys are evil, but not the diabolical evil that exists in a totalitarian regime. They utilize numerous physical and psychological means to break the will of their subjects.
Few of us can truly fathom what it would be like to live in such a nightmare. Most Americans like to think they would grab a gun and resist without hesitation. For some this is probably true, but the choice should not be so simple. Colony demonstrates the complexity of the decision. When Katie Bowman joins the resistance, she knows that everyone in her family will be punished if she is captured. The transitional authority not only punishes you but everyone you love. Sometimes they will punish your neighbors for not informing on you. All to create an incentive for neighbors, friends, even family, to spy on one another and to keep them in line. As a result, Katie cannot tell her family, not even her husband, of her subversive activities.
Our Mighty Alien Overlords
To make the fear overwhelmingly real, you must have an occupying force that seems truly dominant, even omnipotent. Resistance is futile. Here, the alien invasion ended in a day. The vast armies and arsenals of Earth failed to put up a fight of any kind. There are drones flying around with deadly ray guns. The enormous walls dividing up the former Los Angeles metro area are not only hundreds of feet tall but look to be a hundred yards thick. Communication between the blocks is almost impossible.
Among the collaborators, some begin to see the aliens or “Raps” as divine beings. Their arrival is sort of a second coming or rapture for humanity. Other than Childhood’s End, I have not seen an alien story with such a powerful alien foe.
The American cultural tradition is one of cheering for the underdog. Think Rocky, the miracle on ice, the American Revolution itself. We don’t like to think that any enemy or foe will ever have such decisive advantages. Any giant can be beaten.
History teaches us otherwise. Many countries have been conquered that at one time believed they could resist any invader. They swore they would fight to the last man. Today, the only place you’ll learn of these countries is in history books.
What separates Colony from similar series is the complex depiction of the collaborators. Some in the transitional authority are mere sociopaths who get off on power. Others serve to save themselves and their family. They have no love or loyalty to the authority or the Raps. It is not their cause. The same choice was given to Vichy France and many other occupied peoples.
Again, Americans like to think none of us would ever collaborate. If offered the hypothetical the decision is easy. In Colony, Will Bowman’s choice is not so easy. If he does not work for the transitional authority, he will be shipped to the factory (located on the Moon), his family thrown out of their home, or perhaps sent off to the factory as well. Most believe that anyone sent there dies within a few weeks or months. In the few scenes we see the factory, it resembles a Nazi concentration camp complete with giant shower rooms.
Colony does a fantastic job humanizing the other collaborators including Will’s partner Beau and their tech expert Jennifer McMahon. Yes, they are the bad guys but they are not evil. Their choice to collaborate eats at them. Several of the characters demonstrate obvious signs of depression and a sort of cognitive dissonance. Instead of thinking about what they are doing, they compartmentalize or disassociate, as if someone else is doing it.
Why Isn’t Colony a Ratings Juggernaut?
First of all, Colony does not take the typical American approach to rebellion or resistance. This isn’t an underdog story. It is an under-under-underdog story. The resistance isn’t just outmatched, they have yet to find a way to win! When Americans think rebellion, they think hope. Just like the Jyn Erso line in Rogue One, there has to be hope. Colony has not provided much of that through 16 episodes. To date, the Bowmans have largely fought merely to survive or keep the family united. For some viewers, that might be a bit too depressing.
Katie has hope. She doesn’t know how to beat the Raps, but she knows she must fight. She must resist. Maybe that is the instinct some possess. In the face of overwhelming force, most people in LA kept their heads down. Not Katie, or her partner Broussard. To Will Bowman, there is no point in resistance without a remote chance of victory. Without it, the resistance is merely getting people killed for no reason.
Without hope of victory, the show is steadily getting tougher to watch. Before the end of season two, Colony needs to give its audience hope. Otherwise it may die a slow, agonizing death, and that would be a real shame. This show is so close to being a classic.
Paulie Spiceflow is a regular contributor, movie reviewer and unbelievable smart ass. He prides himself on his excessive knowledge of movies, TV, books, internet memes, and pop cultural references. During college, he spent minimal hours studying but took full-advantage of the free internet and lack of bills to broaden his knowledge in numerous genres including spoof comedy, fantasy, Shakespeare, military history, zombies, and cartoons.