Oppression is in the air. Can you feel it? The Axis Powers have taken America in The Man In The High Castle, unidentified extraterrestrials are challenging the people of Earth in a rematch for global dominance in this summer's Independence Day: Resurgence, and California is in the midst of an occupation in USA Network's Colony, starring Lost's Josh Holloway.
"It's one of the oldest human stories, occupation," muses the actor, joining the show's co-creators for a roundtable discussion of the show at last October's New York Comic-Con. "It's just what we do to each other. This is not a new, trendy thing. This is an old story, set with a backdrop of science fiction, which is also a wonderful tool for us to tell this story without it being CNN. It's, like, this is happening now. These things are happening now. This just allows the audience to watch it maybe in a different way and not like you'd watch the news."
For his part, executive producer and co-creator Carlton Cuse, also represented on television this season with Bates Motel and The Strain and who reunites with Holloway for the first time since Lost, finds it intriguing that there are frequently common themes in the creative ether. "I remember when Big was made," he says, "there were, like, three body-switching movies all within a short period of time. I really don't know how it happened that Man In The High Castle and our show came on the scene at the same time. (Co-creator/executive producer) Ryan Condal and I have been developing this series for the past two years. For us, it just seemed like a fascinating subject. Most countries in the world have either been a colony or a coloniser. This idea that humans are very adept at subjugating each other is something that felt like it was really worth exploring."
The occupation in Los Angeles - alien in nature, though details are hard to come by in early episodes - has been underway for little less than a year, inspiring collaboration in some and resistance in others... and not always by their own choice. Among the latter is Holloway's character, former FBI agent Will Bowman, who is trying his best to survive along with his wife, Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies of The Walking Dead) and their two children. To do so, Will is coerced into cooperating with the occupational government, morally torn through it all.
Condal, who wrote 2014's Hercules, offers, "The consequences of setting in motion some sort of government system that has been manipulated by an outside force to oversee and ultimately subjugate another group of people is something that feels like it's happening now and has happened very much historically. Juan Campanella, who directed our pilot and the first two episodes, came from Argentina, bringing with him a whole realm of experience growing up under an oppressive regime as a kid. He was really familiar with it. Our DP had grown up in Peru in a similar circumstance. So it's not an uncommon experience. It was just something that we felt we could dramatise."
Elaborates Cuse: "Juan felt this all the way to the core of his being. He had been a film student in Argentina and his car would be randomly pulled over all the time. He and his fellow film students would have guns put to their heads, so he really understood what it was like living under a regime where if you made the wrong mistake, you could end up getting thrown out of an airplane over the ocean. We felt somebody bringing that sort of personal experience to the telling of our story would be really powerful, and it was."
"The other part of it," Condal says, "is how quickly we adjust and adapt to that sort of thing as humans. In that same story where Juan had been held down, pulled out of the car, gun to their heads... they'd just come from a movie and they continued talking about the movie while on the ground, with gun to their heads, because it becomes normal. The way humans adapt is very interesting as well."
Colony will evolve as well as it goes on, benefiting from its long development process with several seasons' worth of creative directions already mapped out. "It's a rich storytelling environment," notes Condal, "where the nature of things can change and shift, so that you're always kind of restating the rules of this world and people can come in and out of power and things can change. It makes for a storytelling world that doesn't have an end to it."
Holloway feels that the show is actually making a number of statements. "It's saying, 'What is right?' Well, it depends on the situation," he suggests. "'Who would you save, humanity or your children? Who's first?' It poses these big moral questions that colonisation does. You either collaboration or rationalise and deal with the shame of that, or you resist and suffer the consequences. There's just a whole world of things that can happen in that situation and that kind of pressure."
Colony airs on Thursday nights on the USA Network in America.