Thursday, November 23, 2017
TV and Media

Review: USA's new sci-fi/conspiracy series 'Colony' has echoes of Iraq War

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Colony, USA's new sort of sci-fi, sort of geopolitical conspiracy series, gives up its secrets slowly. In truth, it hardly gives them up at all. As the hours roll by, the facts of life in the show's near-future Los Angeles remain vague. We know that much of the city has been surrounded by a shiny metal wall hundreds of feet tall. But who put it there? What do they look like? Are they extraterrestrial? Sorry — maybe next week.

To be fair, those answers are also elusive for the residents of the encircled and occupied city. They speak of an event called the Arrival when, we're told, defense systems were wiped out in a matter of hours — but they now live under a puppet government of other humans, the only evidence of their real masters being occasional flashes of light outside the wall.

Carlton Cuse and Ryan Condal, the creators of the show (whose 10-episode season began Thursday night), meticulously build out their scenario, locating us in a seemingly idyllic Southern California and then slowly pulling back to reveal the razor wire, the red-capped paramilitary troops, the burned-out skyscrapers beyond the wall. (Cuse has experience in the care and feeding of mysterious story lines from his days as an executive producer on Lost, and perhaps he's determined this time around to keep things under control.)

But it's the least apocalyptic of post-apocalyptic settings, and the science-fiction elements remain in the background while the show delivers an elaborate parable about life under foreign occupation and the moral dimensions of armed insurgency. To that end, the show borrows, in surprisingly obvious ways, language and details from the U.S. experience in Iraq.

The post-Arrival government is called the Transitional Authority, echoing the allied coalition's Provisional Authority. The heavily guarded part of the city supposedly safe from rebel attack is the green zone. Checkpoints, drones, torture, snatch-and-grabs, show trials and ad hoc prisons all figure in the action. While coffee and organized sports are just memories, the Department of Homeland Security is still around, now the combined military and police apparatus of the colonizers, whomever they may be.

Putting a human face on this are another Lost alumnus, Josh Holloway, and Sarah Wayne Callies of The Walking Dead as a husband and wife, Will and Katie Bowman, who end up on different sides — he, a Homeland Security agent; she, a member of the resistance. Holloway's hair and grin are as magnificent as ever, and he and Callies, along with the show's modest, quiet style and pace, keep us engaged through the early episodes.

Eventually, though, what seemed intriguing starts to feel slack and inconsequential, as the focus remains on police-procedural investigations and the duplicities in the Bowmans' marriage. You start to hunger for answers — if we can't know who the invaders are, can we at least know why the bar Katie owns is named the Yonk, after Yoknapatawpha County? What's Faulkner got to do with it? Maybe in Week 10.

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