It’s been a year and a half since the “Colony” pilot was screened at Comic-Con; a year since the show premiered on USA; a month since “Colony” Season 1 was available on Netflix; and a week since the second season debuted. So we’re officially stating now: You have no good reason for not giving “Colony” a chance. Yeah, “too much TV” is a real issue we all contend with, but this fascinating drama — which grounds a sci-fi premise so deeply in the dirt you’ll leave episodes unsure which world you live in — deserves your attention.
Using Vichy France and other historical occupations as its inspiration, creators Ryan J. Condal and Carlton Cuse’s nuanced drama takes on a version of Los Angeles under “outside rule.” (The show is initially a bit coy about this, but let’s skip ahead: We’re talking about an alien invasion.) And in its second season, “Colony” only continues to broaden its storytelling, with its premiere episode doing some valuable work in backtracking to the first day of the invasion. But from Season 1 to Season 2, one factor remains constant: My favorite part of the show is the part where the stars don’t show up.
The bulk of the action in this fully original sci-fi drama focuses around Will (Josh Holloway) and Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies) Bowman and their family. But nearly every week, “Colony” episodes begin with a look at life outside the Bowman bubble. Propaganda artists spread their message via street art. Government officials breathe deep into their yoga practice. Chinese-Americans remember those they’ve lost with paper lanterns. And a man separated from his old life stares out the window at home.
With each one of these scenes, the world of the show grows a little deeper and more rich, committing further to the show’s promise of a transformed city. These scenes don’t promise any answers to the show’s biggest questions. But they’re almost all the more rewarding as a result, especially if you’re burned out on wanting real facts about what’s really going on.
The most important bit of salesmanship “Colony” had to pull off was the idea that the show’s basic premise was the least important thing about it. From the very beginning of the series, which thrust viewers immediately into the middle of the action, it was clear that the creators wanted to hook audiences not with the show’s mysteries, but the present day life-and-death battles.
And that continues on in Season 2. While the Season 1 finale left us with some tantalizing details about just who, exactly, the “hosts” are, the emphasis remains on the quieter battles being fought on the street, in the bedroom, and within families.
Last week’s premiere flashed back to the day of the Arrival, when everything changed forever. (For those wondering how Los Angeles could have found itself divided into blocs so efficiently when the occupation began, your questions are more than answered.) Then, in Episode 2, “Somewhere Out There,” we see characters pushed even further as we go even deeper into this strange new world, where the events of Season 1 reverberate with dire repercussions.
Those repercussions have a significant effect on the show’s ongoing engagement with both the ethics and the effects of terrorism, which was perhaps the most striking element of the first season, and remains a thread running through Season 2 (albeit to a lesser degree). The execution has proven more effective than most shows which attempt to take on such subject matter in an allegorical fashion, because “Colony” is embedded at the ground level with both those working with the occupiers and the people trying to tear down this fascist system, offering an intimate look at the motivations of both sides, as well as the way one violent act begets another.
Revolutions against massively powerful authorities have been successful in the past, but “Colony” has a relatively cynical perspective on whether the fledgling insurgency we see depicted will ever be effective. One character even quotes George Orwell on the topic — “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever” — because man, sometimes this show gets bleak.
And that does make it hard to watch at times, especially during (as it’s become almost commonplace to say) “times like these.” This is the place where it’d be easy to draw the comparison between the totalitarian regime we see depicted on “Colony” and the real unease many Americans are currently feeling when it comes to the changes in our political climate. But that’s not the comparison worth making. Instead, what “Colony” inspires us to look to is how humanity copes with life in desperate times, how some people normalize the worst out of fear and how some people find the spark within them to fight.
“Colony” isn’t exactly dense with hope. But here in Season 2, it remains filled with great ideas that make it challenging television, in the best way.
“Colony” Season 2 airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on USA Network.