‘Colony’ Features An Alien Invasion Without Aliens, And That’s Good

Towards the end of its second act, the premiere episode of Colony — which airs tomorrow night at 10 p.m. ET on USA, but is available to watch online now — pits prisoner Will Bowman (Josh Holloway) against government official Alan Snyder (Peter Jacobson) in a game of verbal chess. Snyder, who serves as proxy governor of the Los Angeles block, tells Bowman that “the most important day in human history is coming.” Doesn’t he want his family to be on the right side of it? After telling the proxy to “piss off,” Bowman asks, “How do you do it, Snyder? Slap on a suit and smile and dick over your own kind?”

More than any other scene, this best encapsulates the entire premise of executive producers Carlton Cuse (LostThe Strain) and Ryan Condal’s (HerculesColony. Which is the story of an alien invasion, but told a) after the fact and b) with almost no sign of the aliens themselves — save a giant metallic wall, automated security drones and a semi-regular light show. The initial trailer emphasized these in order to get viewers’ attention, but when it comes to the show itself, it’s all about what the audience hears as opposed to what we see.

Like The Walking Dead before it, Colony presents a world in which the major event has already happened, and life as depicted struggles to move on from that point. As if Falling Skies‘ human resistance hadn’t persisted as long as they had, and instead were immediately quelled by the invading forces. So, most of the drama unfolds as a result of confrontations between “collaborators” like Snyder — humans who serve their generous “hosts” by keeping the peace — and “resistors” like Broussard (Tory Kittles) and, to a lesser extent, the Bowman family. Little green men from outer space aside, Colony is all about Homo sapiens.

Will, his wife Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies), and their two surviving children live in the Los Angeles block. He works as an auto mechanic, while she oversees the family’s daily trades and makes sure the kids get to school. If it weren’t for the barbed wire, nightly curfew, and random arrests made by Homeland Security’s “red hats,” it’d look like a normal life. But it isn’t, and to make matters worse, Will spends much of the first act preparing a daring rescue of his and Katie’s missing son, Charlie, from another block.

Unfortunately, the plan goes south when the truck Will and his smuggler hide in explodes at the security checkpoint. An IED attached to the vehicle by the resistance kills dozens, including the drivers, several red hats, and the smuggler. Will survives, and when Homeland Security discovers his past life as an ex-military FBI agent, Proxy Snyder decides to step in. The governor offers Will his and his family’s freedom — as well as Charlie’s return — in exchange for his skills in finding the rebels’ leader, Geronimo. The catch? They’ll be labeled as collaborators.

The Bowmans resist at first, but eventually cave after Snyder and his red hats apply more and more pressure. This means new luxuries for the once goods-strapped household, like a private tutor for the kids and a car for Will. Hell, the governor and his goons even show up one morning with fresh eggs, bacon, and other food items unseen by the Bowmans since before the “arrival” 11 months prior. All good things, right?

Wrong, because as the series progresses, the family’s friends and neighbors quickly realize who Will is working for. They come to fear him and his family, and some even resent him for his willingness to collaborate. Meanwhile, he and Katie struggle with the fact that they hate Snyder, Homeland Security and everything about their “hosts,” but must appease them in order to get Charlie back. Some of this hatred manifests in other ways beyond Will’s knowing, but viewers will have to watch Colony to find out how.

So, aliens? Yes, but not really. Sometimes overly complex human psychological drama? Definitely. Like The Walking DeadFalling Skies and other similarly-constructed science fiction television dramas, Colony sometimes forgets the more fantastic elements of its initial premise. Yet these forgetful moments aren’t entirely detrimental to the show. If anything, they’re a plus — especially because they force the writers to remind the audience that aliens exist in this world. And they don’t always do this with the wall or the drones, but with words. Constant references to the “arrival,” the “hosts” or “colonists,” and so on. In fact, the word “alien” is mentioned far less than these — much like Walking Dead‘s insistence on not using the word “zombie.”

Colony suffers from many of the problems that typify new shows, be it the inconsistent direction, occasional plot holes or lackluster character development. However, it really grows into itself a few episodes into the series’ 10-episode run. Whether or not this means Colony is best watched on a weekly or bingeing basis remains to be seen, but viewers will know soon enough.

Colony premieres on Thursday, Jan. 14 at 10 p.m. ET on the USA Network. The pilot can be watched online here.