Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Review: Silo, Season 1

Inaugural season delivers incredible world-building and thought-provoking questions that leave you wondering about the silo dwellers long after the episodes end. (Spoiler-free review)

Apple+'s adaptation of Hugh Howey's Wool series scratches a lot of itches: It's about a post-apocalyptic society that lives underground, but it's also a TV mystery in the vein of Lost. It's got a Big Brother shadow government that keeps the populace in line, and it's also a murder whodunnit that eventually swallows up multiple high-ranking officials.

It's got social stratification based on where you live in the silo, from the "up top" elites to the bottom-dwelling "down deep" blue collar mechanical crew like High Rise or Snowpiercer

Finally, it reminded me of my time playing the mobile game Fallout Shelter, which puts you in charge of deciding how to build and form a new society of humans.

Let's start with the world building

Imagine an entirely self-contained society living in an underground silo/bunker. It's got 144 levels that produce everything this group of 10,000 humans needs, from fields of corn and doctors offices to recycling centers and halls of justice. No one knows exactly why they're in this silo, but they do know that the outside world is ravaged and unsafe. A live video stream of a patch of land directly outside the silo shows a gray and diseased world, a warning to keep away.

"The Founders" left behind a sort of constitution called The Pact, which governs life in the silo. There are also strange rules that everyone must abide by. For example, it's illegal to possess "relics," which are old objects from the before times, like a Pez dispenser or a watch. There can be no elevators, which means that there is one large spiral staircase that serves as the main hallway and form of transportation between all 144 levels. The Founders also decreed that no one can use magnifying glasses, and apparently videos do not exist.

Cleaning as punishment

One of the most illegal things a denizen of the bunker can do is state out loud that they wish to leave the silo. Once said, it's considered a mortal sin, and it can't be taken back. The person gets formally banished from the silo to the poisonous outside. They are asked to clean the camera that is broadcasting their view of the world 24/7. Everyone sent to clean says they will not, but everyone always does. Within a matter of minutes, the people sent to clean die from the toxic outside atmosphere, their decaying bodies on camera a perpetual reminder to those underground that the outside world is unsafe.

What Silo is About

The plot of Silo revolves around characters that begin to question why they're in the silo, and what exactly is being kept from them and why. At the heart of everything is Jules, a mechanic-turned-sheriff bent on untangling all of the clues presented throughout the show. She's played with incredible star power by Rebecca Ferguson, aka Lady Jessica in Villeneuve's Dune movies.

Ferguson is joined by an amazing ensemble cast that includes Tim Robbins, Common, Will Patton, Rashida Jones, and Chinaza Uche. Because none of the main characters know the gory details of the silo, you're along for the ride with them as you gradually learn clues about what's going on in this world. 

Questions that get you thinking

Part of what keeps the populace in line in Silo is that there are no records from the past. There is no history of America. There's isn't an exact reason of what happened that caused them to move underground. There's not even discussion of what stars are — they simply call them "lights in the sky." When you deprive humans of knowledge, you're starving them of stories — and their humanity. 

But as Joan Didion says, we tell ourselves stories in order to live. Every culture on earth has its creation myths. The people in the silo have mysterious parables left behind by even more mysterious Founders. What did they know? Why did they think they know better than hundreds of years of their descendants? And what's the harm in magnifying glasses?!?

The season ends on a mind-blowing reveal that sets up season 2 perfectly, and I can't wait to see where it goes. I'm also going to read the books because there's apparently even more minute world-building and I want all the details, stat.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8.5/10 This show is fantastic and unlike anything else on TV right now. The pacing can be a little slow through episodes 3-5, but then ramps up and more than makes up for the lull. 

Bonuses: +2 Incredible world building. Rebecca Ferguson is an absolute delight. Chekov's Heat Tape plays a crucial role in the plot.

Penalties: -3 Rapper/Actor Common plays a bad guy in this and man, he cannot act. He tries, but he just isn't very convincing. 

Nerd Coefficient: +2 If you've played Fallout or read literally any dystopian fiction, you'll find your niche in this series.

POSTED BY: Haley Zapal, NoaF contributor and lawyer-turned-copywriter living in Atlanta, Georgia. A co-host of 2x Hugo-nominated podcast Hugo, Girl!, she posts on Instagram as @cestlahaley. She loves nautical fiction, vidalia onions, and growing corn and giving them pun names like Anacorn Skywalker.