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In a ruined and toxic future, a community exists in a giant underground silo that plunges hundreds of stories deep; there, people live in a society full of regulations they believe are meant to protect them.
First episode date: May 5, 2023 (USA)
Genres: Dystopia, Drama
Network: Apple TV+
Program creator: Graham Yost
Based on: Silo series; by Hugh Howey
Silo, Apple TV+’s 10-part adaptation of the first book in Hugh Howey’s bestselling trilogy of the same name, is not for the claustrophobic. The world-building is meticulous, and that world is almost entirely underground. The last few thousand people left alive on Earth at some unspecified (but we suspect not too distant) time in the future have been confined in a multilevel, self-sustaining, subterranean silo while they wait for the planet to recover from whatever toxic event rendered it uninhabitable. No one knows when this will be, just as they don’t know who built the silo, since a rebellion in the past erased their history. The set designers and CGI wizards have had a field day crafting an environment whose futuristic bones are now only just visible beneath shrouds of grime and the kind of Heath Robinsonesque clutter that is bound to accumulate in a sealed human vault over time. It’s Soviet architecture meets steampunk medieval and the rendering of the silo’s different sections, from hydroponic farms to medical centres, make the place almost a character in its own right.
The story is equally thrilling and, as the plot thickens with almost every scene and does not stop even at the very last moment (a second series has already been commissioned, as well it should), equally oppressive.
We first meet Sheriff Becker (David Oyelowo), the man in charge – along with mayor Ruth (Geraldine James) – of overseeing the peace and stability of the silo, as he announces his desire to go outside. Under their law, once said these words cannot be undone and the speaker is condemned to life outside and, it is assumed from the blasted-heath view from every screen beaming images back from the surface to the people, certain death. The laws to protect them were laid down by the Founders and are enforced by the all-powerful, not to say Stasi-like, judicial department.
We then flash back three years to when Becker was happily married to his wife, Allison (Rashida Jones). They had just been granted permission to try for a baby, stringent population control being quite important to the survival of a sealed world. But when Allison begins to be drawn into a … well – an underground movement? An addled group of conspiracy theorists? – things start to go awry and the Orwellian vibe builds. When a coder shows her a relic – a piece of technology from the Before Times (Silo is not without its basic moments, especially when it comes to dystopia-lingo) – that suggests the people are being fed lies, she takes drastic action that in turn inspires her husband. It is a measure of Silo’s care and sophistication as well as excellent performances by Jones and Oyelowo that their separation and sacrifices feel as if they truly cost the pair. Whenever it looks as if things are going down the conspiracy thriller/ripping yarn route, the Beckers pull you back in and their final scenes are genuinely moving.
After all that investment, there is a surprising shift after the opening episode from the noble (misguided?) couple to Juliette (Rebecca Ferguson), an engineer who is in charge of the furnace upon which the entire silo depends. We learn, via unobtrusive flashbacks, how she has come to question those in command. Why are “relics” contraband? Why is it a criminal offence to talk about the past? As she follows the clues left to her by others, the web of intrigue becomes more and more complex without ever losing its thread. People still traumatised by Lost need fear no such disintegration and dissatisfaction here. Nor does it lose its heart. Individual backstories are gradually filled in and wider histories slowly disinterred – maybe too slowly for some, but those who stick with it are likely to feel fully rewarded. And those who like their dystopian dramas as rich and detailed as possible, of course, will be delighted all along.
Silo can be read as a lot of things. It works as a critique of the class system (those who live and work in the Deep Down – I did warn you about the lingo – are held in contempt by those on higher levels, despite their skills being the ones on which everyone’s survival depends) and as a study in erasure and who gets to write, and rewrite, history. It’s also about the cross-competing advantages and disadvantages of truth and of living in denial for the individual and for the collective. But before all of that, it is a fantastically made story that embraces classic tropes and cliffhanger endings as enthusiastically as it does delicate characterisations and deferred gratifications. Dig in.