In the tense and politically-charged times in which we live, Colony, from creators Carlton Cuse and Ryan J Condal, has never seemed more relevant or instructive.
With the new Trump Presidency firmly in the White House and showing an alarming tendency towards fascism, the idea of a rigidly-policed society controlled from behind the scenes by yet-to-be-glimpsed alien invaders doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
Indeed, science fiction has always excelled as an allegorical way of examining society’s darker proclivities and in that respect, Colony sits very comfortably in a long and venerable tradition, illuminating just how easily longstanding traditions and bulwarks against tyranny can be subverted and lost, and how many people will go with it, either to advance themselves or simply to survive.
As we rejoin the Bowmans, we find them scattered across two separate colonies, trying desperately to regroup as a family as they are forced to confront whether their differing approaches to dealing with the stealthy interlopers have been the right ones.
Will Bowman (Josh Holloway) is in the Santa Monica Bloc in search of son Charlie (Jacob Buster) and finding out that however bad things might be in food and freedom deprived Los Angeles, they are a factor of a thousand times worse in The Lord of the Flies brutality of Santa Monica.
Here warlords rule, with the tacit approval of the overlords as long as a steady supply of human labour is constantly given up to be sent to the much-feared The Factory, and Will finds himself needing to draw on every last bit of his FBI and military training to even make minimal headway.
In the end he has to lean on his ex-partner Devon (Carolyn Michelle Smith) who is connected to all the warlords where she acts as a bounty hunter; she proves to be the conduit through which Will finds and rescues Charlie who seems strangely disinclined to leave his life of street crime and who is, understandably angry that his father didn’t arrive sooner.
Meanwhile back in Los Angeles, Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies) is facing up to the fact that while acting on your ideals is all well and good, it comes with a heavy price.
Her role as a resistance fighter, at the same time as husband Will is working for the Hosts, as they’re euphemistically called – ironic given it’s our planet they have seized for themselves although given their vastly more advanced technological power it doesn’t look like humanity has too much say in the matter – has led to all kinds of complications such as son Bram (Alex Neustaedter) ending up in a labour camp, and Will’s onetime colleague Jennifer McMahon (Kathleen Rose Perkins) breathing down her neck in an attempt to get Katie to give up her close resistance friend and fellow-fighter Eric Broussard (Tory Kittles).
You can help but admire her for her bravery and her willingness to lay everything to lay everything on the line to fight for humanity’s release from alien tyranny but it comes at a huge price, one that is weighing heavily on her as the three episodes progress.
Her sister, Maddie (Amanda Righetti), by contrast, has found a safe heaven up in The Green Zone, a palatial area of luxury homes, greenery, relative freedom and bountiful food – in common with the tight flow of information and deprivation of liberties, food is very hard to come by in this cold, cruel new world – and while she helps with Katie where she can, it’s clear that she has thrown her lot in with the Hosts, even being inducted into their cabal which has a theocratic air to it with constant references to The Greatest Day when humanity will achieve its supposed true potential.
These stories, which are played out over the first three episodes, beginning with “Eleven.Thirteen” which acts as a chilling flashback to the day the Hosts revealed their presence and took control, are instructive lessons in the various ways in which people accommodate tyranny.
What is terrifying about Colony, and lies at the heart of its brilliantly-nuanced and unbearably slow-drip tense storytelling, is its depiction of how easily any society can succumb to dictatorial control.
In one short day – preceded however as “Eleven. Thirteen” portrays by years, perhaps decades of building a discreet and slowly-building presence on Earth – life as we know ceases to exist, with freedom, democracy, civil liberties and a slew of other facets of our Western liberal democracies, disappearing as quickly as the electronics that are lost to a worldwide EMP.
It’s all done with brutal, military precision as you might expect, but even more alarmingly, it’s accomplished in small incremental steps, all of which add up over time to a takeover that no one really sees coming.
Colony excels because it doesn’t sugarcoat the deprivations nor does it promise some sort of heroic resistance to the Hosts; there is a Resistance sure and its determined, mowing down anyone suspected of showing even the slightest allegiance to humanity’s shadowy new overlords as we see at the start of “Sublimation”, but ultimately any fightback will be long, slow, deadly and come at an enormous cost.
Even more chilling though in one sense is how eager people are willing to sell away their humanity for a seat at the table presided over with fascist efficiency by the Hosts who value “hard work” and “obedience” over thinking for themselves.
The people in the Green Zone, who are the human face of a government now controlled by extraterrestrials, are directly complicit in the new regime, seeking to position themselves for the new promised land of opportunity.
But there are legions more who rather than resist, which as we’ve noted, always comes at a high price, throw their lot in too becoming the Red Hats (military police who are everywhere) and arms and legs of the new fascist rulers.
The Resistance for all their verve and resolve are tiny by comparison, facing an enemy so powerful and determined that facing off against them might seem like a fool’s errand.
Colony, quite cleverly, doesn’t position itself as some sort of nakedly obvious moral compass; carefully and coolly, with a brilliant mix of heart-stopping action and character-driven interludes, it simply and powerfully documents the way in which the tyranny arrives, perpetuates itself and seems to be inexorably heading some sort of mysterious denouement.
The Hosts have revealed themselves as brazenly cavalier with human life, willing to kill as many people as is need to achieve their ends, an you have to wonder just what kind of fate awaits even those in what is euphemistically called The Circle.
As a lesson in the terrifying ability of tyranny to arrive in the slowly-unfurling blink of an eye and the willingness of the majority of people to acquiesce rather than militantly resist, Colony is incisive, pitch-perfect drama, a show very much of its time that is both compelling television and a lesson in what happens when good people choose to say nothing.