Each week Joe and Terry discuss the most recent episodes of Apple TV’s Silo, alternating between our respective sites.
Spoilers follow for episode 1 “Freedom Day” and episode 2 “Holston’s Pick”.
Episode 1 “Freedom Day”: Sheriff Becker’s Plans for the future are thrown off course after his wife meets a hacker with information about the Silo.
We’re back, Terry! It’s time for another Apple TV genre show and we’ve settled on Justified creator Graham Yost’s adaptation of Hugh Howey’s mega successful Wool series, Silo.
I’ve read the first book, though I’ll confess that I’m in a similar predicament to when we covered Shining Girls, in that I don’t remember a ton of details. I recall being very intrigued by the premise and feeling slightly torn by the actual execution, which traffics in some pretty standard dystopian tropes.
Thus far the TV series, whose pilot is written by Yost and directed by Morten Tyldum, captures both of those experiences. First and foremost, we need to celebrate production designer Gavin Bocquet for creating this entire self-contained world, consisting of innumerable floors, long spiral staircases, and a weathered, vaguely beaten-down industrial feel. It’s not steampunk, but it’s not The Hunger Games’ District 13, either (another famous underground bunker, whose visual aesthetic was…dour, to say the least).
There’s a vibrancy here; the silo could easily feel constricted and claustrophobic, but it’s surprisingly spacious and highly livable. That’s not to say that we ever forget the residents are trapped indoors, though; the visual motif of the slowly dirty-ing panoramic window in the cafeteria, in addition to the desolate landscape outside, complete with decaying corpses, makes it hard to forget the stakes of this world.
I’m intrigued how you did or did not connect with this society. The restrictive nature of what is and isn’t allowed is one of the elements I remember most vividly from the books. In particular, the lingo (ie: “the Rebellion”, “Relics”, and “Cleaning”, the last one a direct reference tying into the title of the book series), is an essential component of a classic dystopian text. We need a faceless villain for the sheep-like members of this society to position themselves against and Silo doubles down on the idea by making these 140 year old rebels responsible for erasing all of the Silo’s recorded history (hard drives, books, etc).
Narratively, this is well-trodden ground. I’ll confess that I disliked the framing device of Sheriff Holston Becker (David Oyelowo) declaring his desire to “Go Outside!” to Deputy Marnes (Will Patton) off the top before we flash back two years to see how this all came to be. As a lot of our readers will know, I don’t love an in media res beginning, though this felt slightly less egregious because it’s pretty forgettable as soon as Rashida Jones as Becker’s wife, Allison, takes center stage.
If I have one significant problem with “Freedom Day,” it’s that it’s all too evident that Allison is right to question the rules of this society. I don’t think it hurts the watchability of the episode, however, because half of the fun is figuring out how everything works. Sure, it lessens any kind of surprise when we learn that Allison’s societally-mandated birth control was, in fact, never removed, but the lead-up to her eviction, her secret plan with Becker about the cleaning, and the sloooow confirmation that she was right to be suspicious is all good stuff (plus: Jones is imminently captivating as Allison begins to spiral).
But Terry, as the newbie to this title, I’m interested to see how you felt about Silo. Was there enough new stuff among the familiar dystopian tropes for you? Were there any surprises in what fate befell Allison, repairman George Wilkins (Ferdinand Kingsley), and Sheriff Becker? Did you get a medieval castle vibe from the Freedom Day decorations? And considering Rebecca Ferguson is literally on the poster for the series, were you disappointed Juliette Nichols barely makes a wordless cameo in the last two minutes? And what do you expect to happen in episode 2?
I’m very torn on this episode, Joe, though I’m leaning more towards liking it than being put off with the copious amounts of dystopian tropes. “It is evident that Allison is right to question the rules of this society,” you wrote and that was the biggest takeaway I had from “Freedom Day.” You’re right, I have never read the book (or series) Silo is based on but I always did wonder why it was called Wool.
As we get to the end of the first episode, I literally rolled my eyes at the double entendre happening with the title. There’s the physical matter of things, where Allison and everyone else sent out to “clean” uses an actual bit of wool to clean the camera. But there’s also the phrase “pull the wool over your eyes” as an idiom about a person being deceived. So of course they’d use wool to clean the camera–eyes–of the people living in the silo.
It’s basic textbook dystopian fiction and the rest of the first episode revels in the kind of tropes we’ve seen ad nauseam. Vague but stringent setting, words such as “rebels” and “the pact”, threats of “us versus them” (in this case “them” being the outside world and those who want to see it), fascist Judicial forces who crack down on anyone not toeing the line, nationalism and celebrating the day the rebels were defeated, forced birth control, “sanctioned” marriages…it all adds up to basic dystopia 101.
It’s a bit on the nose.
But what I did appreciate was the quickness in which it goes through those narrative devices. By the end of the episode we know that something fishy is happening. The typical, slow burn discovery that things aren’t right is quickly dispatched as Silo starts with Allison knowing something is wrong and by the end of the episode we know something is wrong.
As the credits roll on “Freedom Day”, it’s suggested that Allison is dead and Sheriff Becker is on his way to his death. That surprised me, Joe. I expected a more drawn out reveal that something’s rotten in Denmark, but, instead, we have multiple deaths and things are already spiraling. Suddenly I’m wondering what is actually going to happen for the rest of the season.
“Freedom Day” feels like a prologue in that regard. It establishes the world (which is interesting), introduces a number of intriguing characters, creates various social and class structures, sets up conflicts, and the presumed stakes in the world. So, yes, I was surprised that Juliette barely shows up, but I think introducing us to the world through the two people ready to leave it is an interesting opener.
My questions, so far, are based mostly around how things work. If the air is poisoned and they send people out in hazmat suits…why do they still die? Why send them in hazmat suits at all, if it doesn’t protect against the “poisoned” air? Is the video faked? Who knows what’s actually going on? Does Mayor Ruth Jahns (Geraldine James) know what’s going on, or is she just a figurehead?
Luckily, this is a double episode premiere because I do have questions and hopes for the second episode. I want to know more about the Silo, the relationships and why George was murdered. I’m hoping we’ll get more as we turn to episode 2.
Episode 2 “Holston’s Pick”: Juliette, an engineer, pieces together what might have led to a co-worker’s mysterious death.
Which doesn’t really answer my questions, Joe. “Holston’s Pick” starts where episode 1 ended, with Sheriff Becker outside as people in the cafeteria watch his death on the screen. “Dammit, Als” he says, “you were right.” The place looks beautiful, birds soar through the sky. He decides everyone in the silo needs to see what’s happening and so he does his duty as a cleaner and then makes his way to his wife’s body, stripping off his helmet because it seems like he can’t breathe…and then he apparently passes away.
Again, Joe: If the hazmat suits can’t protect people from the “poisonous” air, why wear them at all?
The way this scene is structured suggests that he couldn’t breathe in his outfit or that, maybe, he was poisoned before leaving the Silo. A part of me wonders if there was some kind of knock out gas inside the suit and the “bodies” outside are just empty suits. There has to be a reason why they wear hazmat suits, even though the poison seems to be able to get in. Right now I’m thinking that it is to show the husks even though the people might not be in them.
This episode does suggest, though, that the images the people in the Silo see aren’t necessarily doctored. That was my initial reaction in “Freedom Day” but the way Sheriff Becker’s death unfolds crisscrossing through the use of focusing on his face, focusing on what he sees and what the Silo members see suggests that it’s either stitched together to confuse or it’s the actual, unfiltered image they’re seeing out there.
From this opening, we are quickly reintroduced to Juliette, who angrily shouts that Sheriff Becker was a liar before storming off and eventually meeting up with Martha Walker (Harriet Walter), a seasoned engineer with a good ear. She knows that Juliette is upset about something and manages to get it out of her.
This treats us to a flashback, which basically catches us up with what happened to her and George while we were following Allison and Holston. It also shows us what happened leading up to Holston deciding to join his wife outside and involves a giant digger, lots of “relics” (including a Pez dispenser) and the great mystery that potentially led George to his untimely death.
The episode also introduces us to more of life in the Silo and how precarious it seems to be. At one point, a team of judicial officers, led by Sims (Common), show up at a brawl and absolutely exude fascist menace. We also learn when a fight breaks out over a sledgehammer that tools are a hot commodity, and also a precursor to an uprising.
And there’s the decrees that everyone follows, such as the statement that “suicide is a crime against the Silo”, which sounds almost religious. We also learn that Juliette and George were an “unsanctioned” item and that they could have gotten in deep trouble if Holston had turned them in.
Lots of intriguing world building here, Joe, but I’m curious if I read a scene the way you did. Do you think Mayor Jahns is clueless about what’s really going on at the highest levels of the Silo/what’s really going on outside? Do you think she and Deputy Marnes are secretly an item? And what do you make of George’s insistence that there’s a door deep underground and Juliette’s episode-ending decision?
I’ll confess that I spoiled myself when I was looking up characters’ names on Wikipedia between episodes, so I knew that Holston was going to “die” in this episode. I specifically used quotations there in part because, you’re right, there’s something fishy going on with the bodies stacking up outside of the Silo, but also because it’s clear that the show is going to make liberal use of flashbacks, so there are plenty of opportunities for dead characters to return.
It makes sense that Apple TV elected to release both of these episodes as part of a double premiere. You’re right that we’re not exactly getting a ton of new answers in this second episode, but seeing what Juliette and Holston were up to in between his wife’s death and his own “suicide” complements the events of the first episode. Clearly the show is built around the slow reveal of just what is going on (and who is involved), so we’re a long way away from learning the show’s truths.
As it stands, I’m more intrigued by details like the diagrams and origins of the Silo than, say, who killed George (and not just because it seems evident that it was Judicial). The series’ world-building remains its key selling feature, particularly as the show cycles through different protagonists with each episode. Methinks that now that Juliette is positioned to inherit Holston’s position as Sheriff, the show may settle its focus on star Rebecca Ferguson, but it has been slightly…challenging to gain an emotional foothold in this world.
The world itself, on the other hand, is fascinating and dangerous. I loved the descent into the bowels of the Silo, peering at pre-Rebellion graffiti on the tunnel walls, descending down rickety ladders to secret bedrooms and dangling from ropes in the dark abyss. Visually the show is firing on all cylinders, even as we’re promised yet more doors and rooms to come as Juliette struggles to follow in George’s footsteps.
Which is not to say that the characters we still have alive aren’t interesting. Mayor Jahns is definitely a bit part of the mystery because – reading between the lines of your question – I also wondered whether she is truly in the dark about the Silo’s past, or if that wall of Mayoral ledgers have spelled out exactly which lies to keep. The fact that she’s so keenly aware of the rising tension among the population suggests that the Silo may have battled insurrection before. So, no, I don’t entirely believe that she’s telling the truth, particularly not to Deputy Barnes.
Between this and the way Holston’s death is filmed, it’s unclear if Silo is actively trying to fool its audience, but so far it’s mostly threading the mystery needle for me. I’m definitely intrigued enough to know what Juliette discovers when she escapes from that cavernous room with no light and how the series will continue to tell its non-linear story.
I guess we’ll find out when we jump over to Gayly Dreadful next week for episode 3, “Machines.”
Silo airs Fridays on Apple TV