|Aliens invade Los Angeles!|
But lately there seems to be a rising number of aliens on TV — and I’m not just talking about the media circus surrounding the U.S. Presidential election shenanigans. Even The X-Files made a brief reappearance! A few of the new aliens have been invading Earth and setting themselves up as overlords, whether for nefarious or benevolent purposes. The recently aired Childhood’s End was a good example of this, based on Arthur C. Clarke’s classic book from the 1950s.
But my favorite new sci-fi show is Colony, set in a not-too-distant, dystopian version of southern California that has been divided by giant walls into separate blocs ruled by an outside force that has yet to be seen. Aliens have invaded and divvied up their spoils, and apparently taken away cell phones and the Internet, but this has already happened off screen before episode 1 begins. Colony focuses on how people respond to the invasion, how they reorganize amidst the uncertainty and to whom they swear allegiance.
And I’m thrilled that it stars some familiar faces — one in particular who has been missing far too long from my weekly TV screen, Josh Holloway, aka James “Sawyer” Ford from one of my favorite TV shows of all time, Lost!
If you like science fiction and Sawyer, I’ll talk about why you might like Colony after the jump. And don’t be surprised if I throw in a few photos to ogle. Because Josh Holloway.
|I get this same expression on my face a lot lately, too|
First and foremost, Colony is a thriller, chock full of action and espionage. The question isn’t how does the invasion happen. The question is how do people move forward under the totalitarian control of an unseen alien leader. Some sell out; they join forces with the Occupation in exchange for comfort and looted luxuries. These are called collaborators. Others actively rebel, even though they don’t know what they’re up against. Loosely organized into the Resistance, these insurgents don’t know who’s in charge or what, if anything, lies beyond the wall that surrounds them. They live in constant danger of discovery by the menacing drones (which look like flying bike helmets) and “red hats” (which are heavily armed men) that constantly patrol the streets.
The story centers on the Bowman family of 5, who were separated during transportation to their bloc. One son ended up in the San Marino bloc, and the dad is attempting to sneak through a heavily guarded gateway in search of him when a bomb set by the Resistance explodes. The dad gets arrested and makes a deal with the Proxy Governor: he’ll help the collaborators catch the infamous Geronimo, leader of the Resistance, in exchange for (1) not sending his family away to The Factory (from which no one ever returns) and (2) help getting his son back.
|The light and dark sides of family life in Los Angeles colony|
The problem is that, unbeknownst to him, his wife is a major mover and shaker in the Resistance. Oops.
|She’s had lots of practice already...killing zombies|
The first three episodes were heavy on setting up the stories, introducing all the characters, and lining up the teams who are working with or against each other. After a promising start, it seemed to get bogged down for a couple of episodes. But things began to gel in episode 4, and I’ve been completely invested ever since. I’m still not sure where the story is going, and I try to avoid spoilers, but I’ve read that we’ll see the aliens before the end of the season. (If all goes according to plan, I watched the season finale last night, but didn’t have a chance to add my reactions to this post.)
I love science fiction. I was raised on The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Dark Shadows, and Star Trek. I’m always thrilled to discover a new sci-fi show with a clever premise and high production values, because I much prefer to ponder the vast moral quagmires and quandaries of this mortal coil when they are set within a fantasy realm. They seem more palatable that way. Colony creates a familiar-yet-mutated microcosm for exploring how people respond to the unknown, and to forced subjugation that promises an end to war, violence, and uncertainty in exchange for relinquishing autonomy.
This was also a theme of Childhood’s End. Childhood’s End had a very easy-on-the-eyes and likeable hero, and it had Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) playing an alien Overlord named Karellen who looks like The Devil, which was kind of funny. I couldn’t help but imagine him looking like that while laying down the law on Game of Thrones. Ha!
|Lord Tywin the Extra-Terror-estrial|
But Colony has Sawyer. I mean Josh Holloway. I’m not even going to pretend that he had nothing to do with me watching it. Because he had everything to do with me watching it. Out of all the new sci-fi series hitting the airwaves this year, I picked Colony first.
His character, Will Bowman, reincarnates many of the Sawyerisms I’ve missed: he’s the sexy, scruffy, smartass antihero who looks oh-so-buff without his shirt.
I don’t really know much about Josh Holloway, but I remember his birthday well. (He was born on the same day that American astronauts first set foot on the moon!) He grew up in the southeastern U.S., close to where I grew up, and I almost saw him once in a confectionery in the tiny town of Dahlonega, Georgia, where we both happened to be passing through. But I was too shy to run across the street to stalk him, and by the time I worked up some courage I saw only the back end of his car driving away. Sometimes I still mentally kick myself about that.
But I’m happy to leave the man in peace and just enjoy watching his characters. I’ve been missing those characters, though, and I’m glad he’s back in a new role where he gets to snarl and swagger shamelessly and still be a totally lickable sweetie-pie.
The fact that Sarah Wayne Callies of Prison Break and The Walking Dead plays his wife, Katie Bowman, was another incentive for me to watch. They make a good team. (I’m not happy about where her other TV characters ended up, though I read she might get a new “ending” for Prison Break soon.)
|Keep your spouse close and your rebel operative closer...|
Katie runs The Yoknapatawpha (abbreviated to The Yonk so non-English Lit majors can pronounce it — but this drives the Lit major in me bananas), a local watering hole named after the fictional county created by American author William Faulkner. This provides a convenient setting for Resistance assignations and Occupation raids, and an excuse for frequently ducking out to a pay phone to warn other rebels what her husband is up to.
|...and closer still|
The human mouthpiece for the Occupation in the Bowmans’ bloc is smarmy, self-serving Proxy Governor Alan Snyder, played by Peter Jacobson. Formerly the mild-mannered plastic surgeon Dr. Taub from House, he now convincingly exudes the noxious arrogance and pretensions of unearned privilege. Yet there are occasional glimpses of compassion, which threaten to bring reprisals from his alien bosses. The more we see of other bloc leaders, the better this guy looks.
Other familiar actors create intriguing secondary characters: Kathy Baker (Edward Scissorhands, Saving Mr. Banks) as Will’s counter-intelligence boss at the Transitional Authority, Carl Weathers (Rocky) as Will’s Resistance-tracking partner Beau, Paul Guilfoyle (CSI) as Katie’s Resistance cell leader Quayle, and Tory Kittles (True Detective, Sons of Anarchy) as Katie’s Resistance mentor who goes by the alias of Broussard.
Much of the show’s look and feel derives from Nazi Germany. That’s another popular theme in the media lately. The Man in the High Castle, based on Philip K. Dick’s 1962 book and made into a mini-series by Amazon, was a good example. And although there weren’t any space aliens, there were “alien” versions of the U.S., after Germany and Japan had won World War II. In Colony, a general bleakness in the landscape, heavy military presence, and preponderance of propaganda are obvious.
|I expected aliens to be more original|
Before The Arrival, Will Bowman was in the special forces, so he’s a badass who’s soon hot on the trail of the local Resistance members. His wife is similarly tireless in her endeavors to warn her compatriots and keep one step ahead of him. How can they ever get their son back without taking each other out? Oh, what a tangled web they weave.
And so Colony reveals surprising layers as it examines intimacy, trust, and ethics within a marriage. Reminiscent of the central couple in The Americans, who are married KGB agents working undercover in the U.S., the commitment that Will and Katie have to each other and their family is at cross purposes to their conflicting political allegiances and assignments. It can be hard to tell where their jobs end and their marriage begins. They are committed to getting their son back and being a family, but the radically different ways they choose to seek their goal risk tearing their family apart. Will is pretty straightforward; he will take orders from the Occupation just enough to get his son back. Otherwise, he wants to throttle his badassness and keep a low profile for himself and his family. Katie seems so quiet and eager to avoid confrontation, compared to her husband, but soon emerges as the more complex and intriguing character in the marriage, and equally badass.
Colony has turned out to be a pleasant surprise for me. At first glance, it isn’t very original. It looks like a standard action plot with Aliens and a Hunky Hero. It re-uses countless tropes we’ve seen before in other shows and genres, but culminates in a payoff that is surprisingly engaging and fun to watch. It also lets us explore some serious and timely issues in a setting that’s at once familar but safely distant: “aliens” taking over our country, loss of personal freedoms, loss of democracy, Nazis, and walls, lots of walls. Such an interesting collection of current hot-button topics...
I don’t know what’s in store, but I’m sure Will Bowman will come up with a plan! And Katie will try to thwart it. And things will be complicated.
I was a huge fan of Lost, and this show has some similarities in storytelling style, most likely because one of the writers and producers is Lost alumnus Carlton Cruse. He also has a hand in the thrillers Bates Motel and The Strain. He’s good at drawing me into his labyrinthine tales by making me care about the characters, then keeps me coming back to see how all the complexities unwind.
I’m also sure that Will will be an absolute pleasure to watch, whatever might be in store for him. So grab your snacks and beverage of choice and come along for the ride!
Will Bowman now...
Are you looking for a new sci-fi series? Have you been missing regular doses of Sawyer since Lost ended? Or are you already a Colony fan? If you are, who are your (other) favorite characters?