We open in the kitchen of a lovely suburban house to Josh Holloway making breakfast for his kids. (Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that’s Sawyer from Lost being adorably paternal and culinary . . . swoon.) The menu choice is cereal or eggs, and there is some joking about the grossness of eating unhatched baby chickens. Cereal is settled on, and the trio are joined their mother, Sarah Wayne Callies of The Walking Dead maternal fame.
We almost immediately start to sense, however, that everything is not alright with our breakfasters. Dad freaks out just a little too much when he accidentally breaks an egg. The camera lingers on various family photos that show a fourth child who is apparently missing from the scene.
Sure enough, as soon as Dad embarks on his commute to work, we find a very altered Los Angeles. The population at large seems to be getting around primarily by bicycle. Massive walls snake between neighborhoods. Creepy, high-tech drones patrol the skies. The streets are crawling with SWAT vehicles and black SUVs occupied by a strangely dressed police force.
Our main characters are surviving along with the entire L.A. population (and the rest of the world?) in a massive network of what are essentially concentration camps since “The Arrival,” an invasion by an unseen alien host. Human collaborators are employed to govern and enforce the strict restrictions set in place.
This is a world of deprivation, rations, and black markets. Mandatory curfews are enforced. Disappearances and family separations are commonplace. Medications for a certain diseases like diabetes are denied by the alien overlords. Movement between walled-off zones is severely restricted with some of the best border patrol techniques I’ve ever seen.
And, of course, there’s a Resistance actively involved in sabotaging the proxy government. Operating as outright terrorists, they are treated with almost equal disdain by general population as by the Collaborators who are their targets. Collateral damage is clearly not on the top of the Resistance’s list of concerns.
Colony did two things right out of the gate that I really appreciated. First, the visual elements of this new world are quite subtly portrayed. The alien invaders keep themselves well out of the everyday fray of managing their new real estate. Beyond the clearly-not-human architectural achievement of the massive walls separating the various “Blocks,” the alien presence is kept well away from our main story (so far), so in many ways Los Angeles still looks very much like the real thing.
That’s not to say that there isn’t some very nice CGI work. Colony delights in showing us vast cityscapes with stunning alien architecture and technology, alongside regular evidence of what was probably a fairly fierce fight during the “Arrival.” And, in a particularly impressive scene, the show makes it very clear that there is very definitely an alien presence out there, as remote as it might seem in the rest of the episode.
Second, the writers are making an early effort to position all of the players in this story on a wide spectrum of gray between the black-and-white moral extremes. There’s a strong case to be made for the motivations of all sides: Collaborators; Resistance; and the common blokes just trying to keep their head down and survive. That is, of course, assuming we’re correctly discerning these motivations in the first place. I suspect we’re going to be seeing a lot of double-agents, betrayals, back-stabbings, and shocking revelations of dirty secrets as the series progresses. Naturally, much of this will be taking place right in our seemingly tightly knit family unit over a lot of breakfasts to come.
On a negative note, the writers slipped a couple of times into some amazingly stilted exposition (perhaps thinking that all of this subtlety was going to go over the audience’s head). This was especially unfortunate as it reduced a couple of potentially interesting secondary characters into mere fact-spewing machines.
On a personal note, I’m happy to see Colony quickly take advantage of its 10 p.m. network slot to give us a wonderfully adult sex scene. Not quite Game of Thrones level, of course, but sufficiently steamy to make me very glad to have Josh Holloway in a leading role where he has the opportunity to take a proper shower now and then.
All in all, I found Colony to be very promising both in terms of science fiction world-building and interesting character relationships. If the writers can exercise some control in their rationing of exposition and keep up the nice sense of tension and mystery about those pesky alien overlords, I believe they can really take this story to some fascinating places.