Warning: Contains Spoilers for episode 108, "In From the Cold."
Carlton Cuse (Lost, The Strain, Bates Motel) knows a thing or two about great storytelling. And when this week's Colony reveals the location of the Factory, you have to admit -- a lot of us did not see this one coming!
USA Network chatted with the Colony co-creator about some of the signs tipping to this week's twist, along with where Katie and Will's arcs are going this season. Cuse also talked about the appeal of survival stories, why the best sci-fi is really social commentary, and how the show struck gold with Carl Weathers!
USA Network: Should we have felt that this week’s big twist was telegraphed? Were there things that were leading up to it that were clues that the Factory was on the moon?
Carlton Cuse: I don't know if there were very overt clues. There was obviously the rocket launch in the pilot, indicating that stuff was being shuttled back and forth between Earth and some place in space… The telescope story, I think, is also kind of a clue -- the idea that something is going on up there in space. The thing is that, while not all of these questions are answered in the first season of the show, a lot of questions will be substantially answered in season two.
It's more about the audience learning about the world at the same pace that the characters are learning about the world, and so once the characters find themselves in a situation where they can get more information and they can learn more, then we'll know more about what's going on... We obviously are setting the table for a playing field that is broader than just what is happening here on Earth.
USA: Lost and The Strain and Colony all deal with the theme of survival in their own ways -- whether it's man against man, man against nature, or man against unknown forces. What is it about that particular theme that speaks to you personally or makes for a really good story in your mind?
CC: I think that when we are thrown into a life-and-death situation, when the rules that govern our lives are upended, it is a chance for us to find what we're made out of, and that's really interesting as a storyteller to explore how characters react when they're put into genuine survival situations. They can be something immediately as perilous as something coming out of the jungle at you on Lost, or they can be a little bit more cerebral and more like a chess match.
In Colony, the rules of the world have been completely upended and you're trying to navigate through them, but if you make a bad move, you could end up in the Factory on the moon with very little chance of ever coming back. It's just very interesting, for me, to explore how characters react when they're put into these kinds of extreme situations. It really is about fundamentally testing the characters' resolve, and finding out how they'll act, what they'll do, what they're made of. Those are things that are really interesting to me as a storyteller.
USA: We now live in a surveillance culture, and there's a lot of stuff in Colony that is not very different from the way things are now. I guess that's one of the benefits of setting something in the not-so-distant future -- that it's eerily true to our own lives. It feels very much in tune with a lot of current events which makes you have to ask yourself: are we living in a dystopia?
CC: We're very much living in a world where elements of totalitarianism or dystopic worlds are present. Certainly in Orwell's writing, the notion of the all-seeing, all-knowing government is true in many respects now, and yet people, particularly millennials, go along with that without a problem. The idea of what constitutes privacy is vastly different than what it was before, and it's quite shocking. People ascribe a lot of this to the government, but actually private data companies know so much about you. When you are clicking around on the Internet, and then think everything is free, it's really not free. It's coming at the expense of your personal privacy.
Shows like Colony are really an effort to shine a mirror at what can happen in society when things are taken just a little bit further than they are right now. It's kind of ironic that we have a show about people who are contained in this Colony by 300-foot-tall metallic walls, and Donald Trump is on the political campaign trail saying that he fully intends to build a wall along our entire border with Mexico.
I was literally just listening to a story on Marketplace driving to my office about drones and drone delivery, and regulation of drones, and of how commonplace they're going to be in a couple of years, so, really, the things that we've imagined for our show are not that farfetched. The question really is: what are we willing to give up in exchange for security and self-preservation, and what are we willing to risk for freedom and self-determination?
USA: Many of these things -- like the Rolodex in Colony, for example -- don't really feel like science fiction. Then, you look back at great science fiction, and so much of it has come true in a number of ways.
CC: I think science fiction is a wonderful genre to work in, but when it's at its best, it also is social commentary. The best science fiction reflects on the world in which the science fiction was written, and reflects on the world that the audience, who is reading the stories or watching the stories, lives in. I think that was true for Orwell, it was true for Ray Bradbury, it was true for many of the great science fiction writers of our time.
USA: It seems like what happens in this week's episode, with Katie seeing Rachel executed, is a turning point with her commitment to the cause.
CC: Yes, absolutely. We're also becoming aware that Will, her husband, is closing in on her. That's the fulcrum that this character is caught in. She is torn between her cause and her marriage, and the ability to keep the two of them separate. She's quickly running out of road. That's where the series is pointing. There is an inevitable collision between her and Will over the choices that they've made, and I think that's a really great place to get to for the end of our season.
USA: Is it challenging to always have these two circling each other? It must be difficult from a plotting perspective.
CC: The show's very hard to write, and Ryan Condal and I, along with our writing staff, put lots and lots of time into each of these scripts and worked hard to try to make that journey compelling, but also believable and surprising. It was hard to do, but I'm super-satisfied with how it came out for the first season, and it feels like we have just the right amount of moves between Will and Katie. It's a pretty satisfying arc for those characters across the first ten episodes.
USA: I've heard in other interviews that this show makes you ask 'what would you do?' and I think it's the husband-wife thing that really gets me. A lot of people on social media and Reddit have theories about aliens, but how people treat each other in these extenuating circumstances is, I think, the most interesting part of this.
CC: I think you're exactly right. I'm happy to hear that, and that certainly is what Ryan and my intention is. It all comes back to the relationship between Katie and Will, and the fact is they've each found themselves in the general set of circumstances, but have made radically different decisions -- and their decisions are completely justifiable. So it's just a question, really, of how do they take vastly different paths, but stay together as a couple? That felt, to us, like the best way to dramatize the consequences of the choices that one has to make in a world like this where everything has been upended. Katie makes one set of choices and Will makes another, and they're inevitably in conflict.
USA: Something that works really well in this show is that you believe that these two really, really love each other and that they've had an amazing relationship.
CC: A lot of that comes from the actors too, though. You can write that stuff until you are blue in the face, but if the actors don't have an innate chemistry, you're never going to convince an audience with just your words. Fortunately, during a hiatus after the first season of Lost, Josh went off to do a movie [Whisper] and Sarah was the female lead. They played a couple, and they hit it off. They were both married, but they got along famously. Sarah's husband is also named Josh, coincidentally.
They just havd this bond, and now -- here they were reunited ten years later -- they just have a wonderful chemistry between them, and so it really allowed us to shorthand the marriage stuff. It's the same as if you watch World War Z with Brad Pitt, three scenes into that movie, he's being attacked by zombies, and you don't really need to do the normal traditional first act of a movie where you establish how awesome Brad Pitt is because it's Brad Pitt. He wakes up in bed, he makes pancakes, he gets into a traffic jam, then he's running from zombies. It's Brad Pitt! You don't need to do it, so we didn't have to do a lot to sell the fact that Josh and Sarah were a married couple. They gave us that.
USA: Carl Weathers has become somewhat of a fan favorite and now you can't imagine anyone else in the role of Beau. Had you ever worked with him before?
CC: No, and we were looking for a non-traditional pairing. We didn't want just the sort of straight, standard array of characters that you would see in a normal cop drama. The people who are recruited into the Occupation, we felt, needed to have sort of a different set of circumstances, so we had imagined this idea of this retired cop who, through really horrible circumstances and a bad O-ring, ends up basically having to toil as a fugitive-hunter and an enforcement agent.
We wanted a retired guy, and we thought it would be great if we could find an African-American actor to play him. We'd met and interviewed a bunch of wonderful actors, but then suddenly Carl Weathers came on our radar screen, and it was like, 'Oh my god.' It was just one of those things where it felt almost immediately right to Ryan and myself. We met with him and he was really insightful about the material and the character, and that was it. It was just one of those things where we just struck gold.
The arc that we created [for Will and Beau] was mutual suspicion and radically different ideas about what constitutes work in this new world. It leads them down a path to a place where they're very united, and they have to trust each other. They're in a world with surveillance and a high amount of paranoia and tremendously perilous consequences for stepping out of line. Who you trust is really a life-and-death decision, and so the path towards these two characters trusting each other was something that we really worked hard to construct. I think there's no greater gift that characters in this world can give to one another beyond their trust.
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