Episode 101, “Pilot”
So the star of 80’s throwback Intelligence and the terrible wife from The Walking Dead lead the cast of an alien invasion show? Is this Christmas again, so soon?
OK, that’s a little unfair, if not a little bit accurate. We do, in fact, have Josh Holloway (Intelligence, Lost) and Sarah Wayne Callies (The Walking Dead, Prison Break), and it is set in the aftermath of an alien invasion, but Holloway and Callies are hardly to blame for the failures of a show. And both get a lot more abuse than is necessary or accurate.
Holloway was fine in Intelligence, even if the show was kinda awful, and Callies’ problems as Lori in The Walking Dead were the writers’ fault, not hers. Seriously, the seasons she suffered through as an actress were some of the rockiest of the show’s run — on screen, and behind the scenes — and while we bashed Lori all the time over in our Walking Dead reviews on this very site, it was always the character, not the actress, we couldn’t stand.
So let’s leave the past in the past, shall we, and look at the show that the USA Network has rolled for us. Set in the world that follows an alien invasion, we are given little actual back story as to the event itself, and like the excellent The Expanse, we are thrown into the world and expected to follow along. I like that myself, as I enjoy being inside the story and learning about the world organically as opposed to giant info-dumps, but it can be a tricky thing, and time will tell if this works for Colony.
Initially though, it’s pretty solid, with the signs that we’re even in a post-invasion world being as simple as the loss of a valued and rare egg for breakfast, the increased presence of bicycles and the shortage of much-needed penicillin, let alone the giant walls that separates the cities from each other and the larger world.
We don’t even, for example, know how much of that world was conquered… is it all of it, just the US, or is it regional?
And we don’t even see the aliens themselves, just the humans who are their agents in running this damaged Los Angeles, and some flying drones that are — one presumes — of alien origin. We see what they’ve done, and that’s kind of terrifying in its scale: Walled off cities under a massive-scale martial law, run by human agents and a military force that at least appears to have become an occupying force that serves our new alien overlords, decked out in disturbing black and red uniforms.
Think about that for a moment. It’s a world that looks a lot like today, where the military/police and the civilian authorities have completely become agents of an alien power. The logistics of such a thing are astounding. Giant walls, uniforms, checkpoints and a security apparatus… these things take time and money and effort that make the occupation of Europe by the Nazis look like a cosplay weekend.
And yes, I went Godwin there on purpose, because what this show evokes more than anything is the world that should have played out of the seminal 1983 miniseries V, updated for modern times. For older fans, that series was groundbreaking, and showed a world dealing with the arrival of an alien fleet that at first claimed to here in peace, but quickly became an occupying force, with many one-to-one parallels to the rise and influence of the Third Reich. It was playing to an audience that included many actual survivors of the Second World War, both military and civilian, and had a real emotional depth to it as a result.
It’s a depth that the 2009 remake didn’t have, and at least initially, Colony seems to. Holloway and Callies play Will and Katie Bowman, parents of two children in the walled-off LA. Both are wounded deeply by the loss of their third child, Charlie, who was separated from them and is, they hope, alive somewhere inside the walled city of Santa Monica. Our story begins as truck driver and mechanic Will tries to sneak into Santa Monica through a smuggling route, but finds himself the prisoner of the Colony Transitional Authority after a Resistance attack on the LA checkpoint exposes him.
Katie, not knowing Will is a prisoner of the OTA, is trying to find black market penicillin for her sister-in-law’s son, because apparently either the OTA or the aliens view helping those with diabetes or other such illnesses as “unworthy of treatment”. What she finds is a chemist dealing tainted drugs and reveals that she has a gun — something that could get her and everyone around her killed by the authorities — and the news that her husband is missing, following the explosion at the checkpoint.
Will, meanwhile, finds himself the guest of the Proxy Governor of LA, collaborator Alan Synder, who reveals that he knows that Will is not who he claims to be. It seems that there may have been purges or executions of much of the old military and civilian authorities, because Will is actually a former FBI Special Agent and Army Ranger — and Synder makes a point of saying there aren’t any of them left — and Snyder makes Will an offer of the can’t-refuse variety: infiltrate the Resistance and help destroy it, or be exposed and have his family sent to the labor camps. Will agrees, if Snyder will help him get his missing son back.
Katie, of course, is not thrilled by this, but not merely for the reason that Will is going to be working for the OTA. She and Will are actually supporters of the Resistance, with Katie apparently one of the very leaders that Will has been tasked with hunting down.
I’m liking this so far, and it is nice to see Josh Holloway and Sarah Wayne Callies have interesting parts to play, but I do have a couple of concerns. One is the casting of Peter Jacobson as the willing collaborator Gov. Snyder, and it has nothing to do with Jacobson’s skill as an actor. He is, in fact, an excellent actor, and he’s been doing great work for over 20 years, but Snyder is such the cliché. I don’t doubt such people exist; in fact, I know they do, but he’s just so… awful and, at least here, predictable. Of course this is the pilot, and the introduction of the character and he’s hardly the main character, but I do hope that the writers give Jacobson more to work with than just what we see here.
The other major concern I have is with the aliens themselves, or rather the lack thereof. Of course I have nothing against an alien occupation show being focused on the lives of the occupied, but what this episode is missing for me is the threat the aliens pose to humanity. We see the damaged buildings that still dot the landscape, and we see the walls, sure. We see the humans being threats to other humans and we hear about the threat of the camps, but again, we’re looking at a sizable impact on our world here, without seeing those who made the impact. That these creatures, apparently called “Hosts” or “Raps”, are rarely seen is a part of the storyline, it seems, but I’m already wanting to see them, so how much Colony manages to keep the cause of this massive shift in the lives of humanity off-camera may swiftly become an issue.
Oh, and one other thing. The show is called Colony. Not Invasion, or Occupation, but Colony. Is Earth the colony? Have the Hosts come to colonize our planet? Our own experience with encountering indigenous populations have not been… the best for those populations, have they?
And if Earth is not the colony, then what is?