In addition to periodic coverage of geopolitics in Latin America, W. Alejandro Sanchez has previously reported on substance abuse in Netflix’s ‘Jessica Jones’ and whether cyber warfare is accurately depicted in the USA network’s ‘Mr. Robot.’ Note that this analysis contains spoilers of ‘Colony’s’ pilot episode.
On January 14, the USA Network will premiere ‘Colony.’ Set in a dystopian future, the new show includes family drama, insurgent movements, aliens, and a population that lives under an oppressive, “Big Brother”-type proxy-regime. While there are plenty of movies that deal with the aforementioned issues in one combination or another, the pilot episode suggests that ‘Colony’ will be based on realistic scenarios (except for the aliens that is). And for individuals across the world that have lived under an oppressive regime, some of the scenes and stories will feel very real.
A brief summary of the show’s premise is necessary: In the near future aliens arrive, and they construct a gigantic wall across Los Angeles and nearby metropolitan areas, leaving the city’s inhabitants isolated from the rest of the world. There is no Internet or television and people living inside the wall do not know what is going on beyond it, including the fate of their loved ones who are on the other side. The invading force has set up a proxy regime in the controlled areas, with human proxy governors and an internal security force, known for their big guns and black and red uniforms. A group of civilians have organized an insurgent movement, led by a mysterious figure called “Geronimo,” which is fighting the proxy regime.
In a behind-the-scenes special, ‘Colony: Behind The Wall,’ the creators of ‘Colony’ explained that they utilized Nazi-occupied France as a source of inspiration. By way of example, the special shows a photo of Parisians having coffee while a Nazi soldier in uniform sits one table away reading a newspaper. This can be compared to a scene in the pilot where an individual is grabbed by the regime’s security forces and taken away in a van – this in broad daylight while the victim sat in the patio of a cafe, and the other customers and pedestrians remained silent and still. The ways in which people adapt and try to live a “normal” life during an occupation is a major focus of the series.
Alien overlords notwithstanding, the show’s themes are true to life. For example, the citizens of occupied Los Angeles live under a complete media blackout, with no television, Internet, or other ways to know what is going on beyond the wall. The citizens of North Korea or Turkmenistan would undoubtedly relate well to this situation. As for the people in ‘Colony’ that are abducted from the streets, never to heard from again (in the show they go to a mysterious place known as “The Factory”), this situation can be compared to the disappeared (desaparecidos) of Argentina’s “Dirty War” or the Augusto Pinochet regime in Chile.
Another realistic theme comes in the questionable tactics used by the resistance against the proxy regime. While the (illegal?) government is feared in Los Angeles, the “resistance” is not liked by the repressed masses either. In one scene, a man complains that the resistance blew up a bomb that injured many people, including civilians – in other words, the tactics utilized by “Geronimo” and his followers do not necessarily help them gain supporters. A similar situation has occurred in Latin America. For example, the terrorist movements Shining Path and MRTA gained many followers among the impoverished Peruvian masses in the early 1980s because they were fighting against the historically corrupt and centrist government in Lima. Nevertheless, Peruvians quickly turned against Shining Path and the MRTA due to their violent operations, which included car bombs in the major cities and the massacre of peasants in rural areas.
Finally, ‘Colony’ touches on the issue of collaborators – in the pilot Will Bowman (Josh Holloway) becomes an informant for the proxy regime in exchange for a promise from its leader, Proxy Snyder (Peter Jacobson), that he will help Bowman find his missing son. The pilot also showcases the luxurious lifestyle of the people that cooperate with the proxy regime. In any state ruled by a repressive government, there are inevitably individuals among the general population who cooperate with the regime, particularly with the intelligence/security forces, in exchange for protection, money or some other kind of benefit. For example, the regimes in Pyongyang and Ashgabat nowadays, or in East Germany during the time of the infamous Stasi, rely on people spying on their neighbors to identify dissidents.
The aliens may give ‘Colony’ a sci-fi edge, but its sobering themes, notably life under a repressive occupational government, echo situations that are all-too real and relatable to many around the world.