In Silo, a dystopian sci-fi series from AppleTV+ starring Rebecca Ferguson, season 1 episode 1, we are introduced to the underground society of the last 10,000 people on Earth. In this caste-like culture with strict population control, Sherriff Holston Becker and his wife have been granted leave to have a baby.
But discoveries are soon made that not only prevent their childbearing but also violate the sacred policies of their community. Somewhere in the far future, after an unknown apocalypse has ravaged the surface of the world, Sheriff Holston Becker screws shut the grate of a vent and then walks towards his office.
We’re shown various underground levels where cows graze, crops are farmed, and other essentials to living underground are grown. Becker intones the words of The Pact, the spirit of the rules guiding their society and limiting their actions.
“We do not know why we are here. We do not know who built the Silo. We do not know why everything outside the Silo is as it is. We do not know when it will be safe to go outside. We only know that day is not this day.”
Silo season 1, episode 1: You can’t go outside
It’s a pretty grim future when that’s everyone’s maxim. It looks like it’s hitting the sheriff pretty hard as he walks glumly past the cafeteria level.
On one wall is projected a dusty, grimy view of what we later learn is a camera setup topside. Becker then calls his deputy as he locks himself inside a cell and commits the gravest crime in the silo.
He says he wants to go outside. Right off the bat, the showrunners execute an excellent job of making this dystopian society feel relatable.
It’s all in the details. And the finer touches of those details are what make the world building on this prestige TV project outstanding.
From the quick montage of the various levels showing crops and animals, to the motivations of Sheriff Becker and his wife Allison, who just want to rejoice at being approved to have a kid in a highly regulated population, up to the longing of Becker to solve what the heck his wife had been up to that she eventually had a public breakdown and a longing to go outside. Every scene builds on the previous one and heightens the mystery.
Skepticism is baked into the roots of the show from the get-go. The central mystery is: if people who go outside are criminalized and die because the surface world is unlivable scorched earth, then why has Allison discovered archival footage that says otherwise?
Also, why is even talking about it a criminal offense punishable by guaranteed death? The public press release is that you only need to look at the bodies of the last three people who went outside to “clean” the camera, with the projected image in the cafeteria, to affirm that you indeed do not want to go outside.
You also don’t want to say you want to go outside. Because it brands you a criminal and gets you sentenced almost instantly into a suit with a scrub.
Bear in mind Allison is just a minor IT functionary who got called to one of the lowest levels in the 144 floors of the silo.
Silo season 1, episode 1: Forbidden relic
It’s on the same day that the IT repairman she consulted for, named George, reveals that he discovered an old “relic” of a hard drive from someone who had been sent outside. Allison panics at first.
The item is so highly illegal that she gets the heebie jeebies. But Allison eventually relents and what George and she find on that drive, is a video from someone’s camera helmet.
What it shows aren’t twisted and drained trees or the blasted landscape littered with suited bodies. George and Allison witness brief yet clear seconds of green, leafy trees, a verdant landscape with blue skies and clouds, and some “flying things” that emit high pitched sounds.
Guess it would follow that none of the silo-dwellers have ever seen birds. Another notable item on the footage is that there are no bodies.
There is no sign of the other people who’d been sent out to clean, unlike on the cafeteria’s wall screen. There are two metaphors in this episode that revolve around social control in the guise of safety.
For one, there’s the silo-wide celebrations for the 140th anniversary of Freedom Day. It was when a rebellion was thwarted that would have opened the doors of the silo to the outside world.
It is a cultural psywar style of control. The unknown elders of the silo made sure that if you even contemplated going outside, it’s already taboo.
You’re already policing your own thoughts. It’s also driven home in the episode that you don’t need to be sent outside to be declared a criminal, as the IT hacker George’s body is found after the Freedom Day festivities.
He’d supposedly fallen, drunk, and landed several floors down.
Silo season 1, episode 1: Who controls the image?
Second are more direct kinds of regulatory mechanisms, like the projection of the image to the outside. We’re shown a big difference between what the public can see on the cafeteria screen, and the view that Allison Becker has when she goes outside.
It’s also notable to mention that another motivation for Allison, was the discovery of a second birth control device on her body. You will remember that the Beckers’ were granted permission to procreate around a year prior.
After a quick consult and outpatient procedure to remove the birth control device, that would allegedly now let them free to be fertile, the discovery of another device to prevent just such a thing was a shock. Allison concludes that the elders of the silo never really wanted to let them have kids.
That it was all just a ploy to give them hope. “You really think you’re the kind of people they’ll allow to have more kids?” declares a conspiratorial fertility counselor tells Allison.
What sounded like crazy talk from a hippie-ish old woman, eventually took on a foreboding vibe.
Silo season 1, episode 1: Excellent world building
The same video of a green surface world is what Holston sees, when he eventually has direct eyes on what Allison had also witnessed. He had pursued her and eventually came to believe that he had to see what she did.
To find her body at least. All public “cleanings” are screened inside the silo.
And what we and the public are shown are Allison and then Holston collapsing, then dying before they get over a ridge, beyond a rotting tree. Is this image even real?
In our current age of advancing AI, a deep fake would be easy. Is it something similar?
Is this a programmed CGI sequence designed as a scare tactic? After all, everyone’s wearing the same white suit, which is a cross between a hazmat and an astronaut’s spacesuit.
Before this banger of an episode ends, we flashback to Sherriff Becker and his deputy investigating the death of the IT guy, George. This leads the police to George’s longtime girlfriend, a tough engineer named Juliette.
She claims her boyfriend did not fall but was instead, murdered. While I can’t praise the performances of David Oyelowo and Rahida Jones enough, it’s really the care taken with the world building that had me impressed with the first episode.
There’s a fine balance between an info dump and the “so what?”, of making the characters that live in that milieu three dimensional. I felt for the sheriff and his wife.
I empathized with the mayor and got excited with George. The characters sound and feel like people to me.
Great job Graham Yost and crew. The series has already dropped episode 2 and I can’t wait to breakdown that one soon.
You can stream the first two episodes of Silo on Apple TV+.