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Silo (Pilot)

Apple TV+, May 5, 2023

May 05, 2023 Photography by Apple TV+ Web Exclusive
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The ambitious and bleak new Apple TV+ sci-fi series Silo takes place in an eponymous structure that supposedly protects its dwellers from the post-apocalyptic outside world. Its citizens are barred from coming and going, or having children as they wish.

Sheriff Holston (David Oyelowo) and his wife Allison (Rashida Jones) begin the debut episode joyfully capitalizing on the one-year period they have been granted to try and conceive, complete with a digital countdown prominently displayed in their apartment. They visit the doctor to have the metal tablet-sized birth control device removed from Allison’s womb, per their society’s policies. Then they get down to business in scenes that both offer the series comic relief (like when Holston’s colleagues can hear them moaning during a quickie in his office), and also showcase the considerable chemistry between Oyelowo and Jones, one of the many aspects of their amazing performances in the premiere.

Allison is an IT worker frustrated with her strict pencil pushing supervisor, played by Oscar-winning vet Tim Robbins, whose character steals a scene when he passive aggressively reprimands her for posting a how-to article without his approval. Her frustration curdles to bitterness, and then paranoia, when she and Holston fail to conceive in the year they have been allotted, and a citizen who claims to be a child bearing guru discreetly tells Allison that the Silo’s tyrants only want people who are docile to conceive. As Silo sheriff, Holston is tasked with enforcing their society’s rules and does so diligently. He rebukes the guru as a huckster who gives women struggling to bear children false hope.

Conversely, Allison proves the guru right when she and another tech worker attempt to crack the code of a pre-apocalypse hard drive, despite such “artifacts” being the type of contraband her husband is tasked with confiscating. What she finds on the hard drive during her clandestine tinkering shatters Allison’s belief in the Silo’s propaganda about the inhabitability of the outside world. She declares her wish to “go outside,” effectively banishing herself in accordance with their society’s cardinal rule, which Holston tearfully but dutifully carries out.

The premiere’s shuffled timeline flashes forward a few times to show how Holston copes, and how his friendship with an engineer in the bowels of the Silo’s generator played by the series’ star, Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible), may be a crucial ally in his plot to join Allison outside. Like Robbins, Ferguson’s screen time is brief in the premiere. But it’s even more memorable than his, as she ruggedly cranks hissing levers in what looks like a scalding reactor that leaves her grease marked and scuffed. Although her name is top of the call sheet and first in the opening credits, Ferguson barely appears in the premiere. Still, her imposing body language and her character’s unique skills in that reactor are sure to make audiences curious about Ferguson’s bigger role going forward.

Silo features some colorful and well cast secondary characters. Rapper and actor Common is also mentioned high in the credits but is not featured in this first episode, which is a pity given his powerful performances in Hell On Wheels and the John Wick franchise. It’ll be great to see what he contributes to Silo later in the series. The vast majority of the premiere’s runtime, however, is dedicated to Oyelowo and Jones. The two have the ample presence to anchor the episode, and also the chops to nail its nuanced tonal shifts. In opposition to the elaborate soliloquies on Succession and Deadwood that make audiences praise its writers for the distinctive language in their shows’ universes, what makes the dialogue of Silo so good is its spareness and specificity. The characters speak with a brisk efficiency that viscerally captures their constrained lives.

The third lead character is the Silo itself. A setting that seals its citizens in, one wherein they must dutifully conform, it nevertheless teems with bazaars where street food sizzles and vibrant garments are draped in stalls. Its clattering doors between corridors evoke a submarine similar to The Hunt for Red October, without that film’s claustrophobia. Instead, the markets and other public spaces are reminiscent of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine because they make use of the sprawling space. Like that classic Trek, Silo feels lived in. Muted colors are occasionally contrasted by vibrant props, showcasing the characters’ spirit. A scene with candle-lit floating lanterns is particularly memorable in this premiere episode. Also similar to Deep Space Nine, Silo abounds with potential for world building, character-driven stories. One particular early scene boasts breathtaking CGI as the camera pans to show the Silo’s artificial agriculture, while the dazzlingly animated opening credits depict the facility’s winding center staircase as a strand of DNA. Indeed, Silo’s setting feels contained but teeming.

Visuals and atmospherics aside, the series also, more obviously, evokes Snowpiercer, the Korean-American sci-fi modern classic that also has a contained setting. It was a class allegory where the rich sat in the luxurious front cars, while the poor toiled in the train’s grimy back end. Silo is subtler in this regard but provides equally pointed commentary. Its target is instead overreaching governments, not to mention a perfectly timely dig at A.I. The latter is delivered by Jones in yet another of the series’ succinct, gut-punch dialogue exchanges. When Holston gestures at the supposedly uninhabitable apocalypse outside the Silo’s grimy windows, and says “I know what I’m seeing,” Allison retorts — in a show stopping performance from Jones — “Not if it’s what the computer wants you to see.”

Such powerfully distinctive dialogue, meaningful themes, and engrossing — but never showy — visuals make Silo’s first episode one of the most gripping premieres of the TV streaming era. As Oyelowo movingly ends the episode by donning a hazmat suit, abandoning the rules he’s spent his life enforcing, and ascends from the Silo to a world that supposedly ended in search of his wife, you’ll want to follow him, and the plot of this exciting new series, just about anywhere. (www.tv.apple.com/us/shows/silo)

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10



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