The more I’ve become addicted to Colony, the more I realize it’s difficult to characterize, deftly transcending genres. That’s what makes it so consistently interesting but, I imagine, hard to market. (Add my signature to the “renew for Season 4,” petition — this story is far from over.)
Colony isn’t exactly sci-fi, but it’s not your typical drama either. You’ve got many things happening at once: several layers of political conflict, social unease (if not exactly unrest), neighbourly distrust, and at the core an entire family whose bonds are fraying in subtle but perhaps irreparable ways.
Watching the latest episode, “Lazarus,” I realized the main reason this all works is because, although the show sheds locations at a rapid rate and has run through a laundry list of minor characters, it feels cohesive. It’s not just cohesive, it’s compelling — because there are many mysteries at the heart of Colony, and there’s an authenticity to the storytelling that makes you feel like if you keep watching, you won’t be duped by a flashy miscue or dramatic twist that’s ultimately unsatisfying.
How does Colony do this, apart from clearly caring about the story and the characters inside of it? From the premiere episode all the way up until Season 3, they have kept the aliens almost completely out of sight. The alien invasion is not the story; the story is far more grounded in the human world. It’s about how people react to their new circumstances, when no one knows the full truth of what’s going on.
Ultimately, all of the human race is the living under one undeniable fact: they have nowhere to go. They can perhaps move from community to community — like the Bowmans escaped Los Angeles to make way to Seattle — but they have no way to leave the planet. Their oppressors have taken over all of earth, so each character has to make choices about how to live under an environment of limited freedoms, where simply dropping out or finding a democratic regime is impossible. The aliens are in complete control, or that’s what everyone believes; so for human beings, there is no way out.
Watching “Lazarus,” I had the same stray thought I’ve had before: why does Broussard keep going with his revolutionary ways, when he’s basically just one person — Amy and the Bowmans notwithstanding — and he is up against this all-encompassing, totalitarian regime that he cannot single-handedly overthrow?
The answer: because that is his life journey in this bubble where there’s no clear exit. He could never be successful in his mission, but conformity isn’t an option either. Broussard is choosing to fight, because in a way it’s his coping mechanism.
Will Bowman’s coping mechanism? Serious depression, withdrawal from his family, drink and sometimes P.I. work. Bram Bowman? Playing the game for awhile, with somewhat open eyes, while quietly plotting to create a better life for his sister (and himself) as his parents move further and further away, intellectually and emotionally. Katie Bowman? Trying to make things better by processing refugees and getting to know them, expressing kindness and care, one-on-one. This is the “if I can save one, it was all worth it” philosophy of service work.
Katie obviously believes she’s helping, and that’s enough for her, at least at first. Once she realizes she’s not actually improving the situation of refugee families — if anything, she’s condemning them to a much worse fate — she’s forced to make a choice. But more on that in a minute.
If Colony did not have the alien element, there would be a simple out for all of these characters: go away. That would be the goal. Since that’s not possible, we’re forced to watch them try to function, after everything they knew and relied upon in their society has been stripped away with no apparent route for returning to the old structure.
Herein lies the genius of Colony: not focusing on the aliens. I’ll have to admit, in Season 1, this was a bit of a disappointment to me. I kept watching, wanting to know what the aliens looked like, what they wanted, and what The Factory was all about. Now, I’ll admit that is far less interesting than a show that is based on a fantastical event — an alien invasion — while still firmly grounded in the human world.
That was never more effective than in “Lazarus,” when Katie covertly accompanies a group of refugees on Bus D. She thought they were to be resettled in Seattle, but once on board, they are told they are going to enjoy “new opportunities” in Portland. Upon arrival, Katie hangs back as streams of refugees slowly enter isolated barracks.
It’s chilling. Watching that scene gave me a knot in my stomach, even though I know it’s fiction — but there’s enough of a historical parallel to fill you with dread.
If we knew too much about the aliens, it would be easy to write off Colony as a fantasy series, with perhaps underlying political themes. But because it is firmly grounded in the world we know and we witness, it’s infinitely more powerful.
Coupled with that is the ever-deepening mystery of who exactly is in charge. One of the more interesting reveals with the introduction of the Wayne Brady character is that The Hosts are not necessarily behind every decision made by the IGA. The IGA has its own political agenda, because after all, the IGA is just people — trying to function in this human world where there is no way out.