The Rebecca Ferguson-starring vehicle casts a compelling spell.
By the time Silo’s action builds to a crescendo in its back third, it causes a deep ambivalence. On the one hand, after episodes of fastidiously building to this moment, it is akin to arriving at that fireworks factory. Conversely, there is a certain sadness in disrupting the series’ strange, contemplative tone.
Adapted from the Hugh Howey book series that proved the single greatest endorsement of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and created by Graham Yost, Silo sounds a bit like Snowpiercer if you took the train, turned it vertical, and drove it deep into the ground. Making the hierarchy literal, the more “valued” castes—Governmental, Judicial, IT—dwell close to the top of the silo. Meanwhile, blue-collar coded workers live stories downward, deep into the ground. The only glimpse of the outside world is a viewing screen in the cafeteria which displays a barren hilly wasteland and the crumpled bodies of Silo citizens who have “gone out to clean.” “Going out to clean” is something citizens can either request or are forced to do because of criminal behaviors.
Silo begins at a precarious time in the lifetime of the community. Despite being granted permission to start a family, Sheriff Holston (David Oyelowo) and his wife Allison (Rashida Jones) are struggling to conceive. As a result, Allison has become increasingly disillusioned and convinced there’s something the government is hiding from its citizens. Meanwhile, in the Down Deep, Juliette (Rebecca Ferguson), a child of privilege who rejected her station to work in maintenance, is certain the death of her friend George (Ferdinand Kingsley) was murder.
While reasonably standard in plot description, the acting is top-notch. Oyelowo and Ferguson are reliably excellent, with Ferguson, in particular, carrying a significant portion of the show on her shoulders. While I’ve liked Jones in several projects, this is far and away her best dramatic turn. Common, as a grim member of Judicial, has finally found a project that makes good use of his acting toolbox. As the head of IT, Tim Robbins is interestingly persnickety. He interacts with everyone with a mix of kindliness, bemusement, and sinisterness. Reliable character actors like Geraldine James, Will Patton, and Harriet Walter ensure there’s excellent work happening up and down the callsheet.
Frequently elegiac and hypnotic, the series is the kind of project you get lost in.
However, the true key to Silo is tone and presentation. Frequently elegiac and hypnotic, the series is the kind of project you get lost in. Until its final few episodes, it never feels especially propulsive or intense. Instead, it blankets the action in this bone-deep sense of loss and loneliness. With its rarely explained lingo and traditions based on events largely forgotten, life inside the silo has a bit of a half-gray dawn sleepwalking feel. The storytelling foists a portion of that on the audience. However, it does so without boring or pushing the audience into a deep depressive funk.
Its hushed quality makes things pop more. Ferguson’s well of anger repeatedly grabs the audience’s attention because so few people seem to share that level of emotions. Even people in a literal bar brawl seem muted compared to her sharp omnipresent simmering fury. Similarly, sudden deaths or moments of action shock and unnerve in a way that they’d never during a more traditional sci-fi actioner. Silo doesn’t so much activate your adrenaline or challenge your brain. Instead, it sits in your heart and, perhaps, if you are so inclined to believe such things, your soul.
Silo enforces the hierarchy on AppleTV+ starting May 5.