In our exclusive interview with Colony showrunner and co-creator Ryan Condal, he breaks down some of the critical dramatic moments from "Panopticon," the real-world influences behind the L.A. Bloc's surveillance state, and a particular act of heroism that will likely never be known.
[Warning: Spoilers for episode 204 ahead. Watch the full episode here.]
On the title of the episode
Colony 204 is titled “Panopticon,” a reference to a particular style of prison that has a central guard tower with a 360-degree view of the prisoners. While the inmates can’t see into the tower, they know they could be watched at any and all times, which dramatically affects their behavior.
In Colony, residents of the L.A. Bloc know that they can be watched everywhere they go, and so their environment has developed into one of mistrust, suspicion, and insularity.
As promised at the beginning of season two, the theme of surveillance is even more prevalent this year -- and episode four brings it to new levels. “We're trying to show [what] could be going on in multiple places at once in the world of Colony,” Condal told USA, “and creating this societal paradigm shift in terms of the way people go about their lives, in formerly western democratic societies like Los Angeles.”
On the influence of East Germany
If you think this level of surveillance is exclusive to science-fiction, think again. Condal and the other writers were directly influenced by real events in the Eastern Bloc (there’s that word “Bloc” again) during the Cold War period.
“We've seen that in human history in places like East Germany,” Condal remarked, “which is still in terms of historic surveillance states, the most densely surveilled state. At the height of power in East Germany, there was something like one in 63 people who were an agent of the government in some way. It could have just been a passive informer or a neighbor watching somebody else. It creates this societal sickness of suspicion and intrigue and having to live everyday wondering whether you're being watched and informed on -- even if you're not really doing anything wrong.“
On the influence of The Lives of Others
In 2006, the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film went to the German film The Lives of Others, about a Stasi agent for the German Democratic Republic whose entire job is to spy on a bugged apartment. “We love that movie and that movie was definitely in our minds in making this episode,” Condal told USA. Perhaps something to watch in between now and next week’s Colony?
On Jennifer’s relationship to the Resistance
In episode four, we learn so much about Jennifer McMahon’s past (portrayed with heart-wrenching beauty by Kathleen Perkins this week), including what motivated her to take a job with the Occupation in the first place.
“She's totally alone in the world and she's alone because of the Occupation,” Condal explained, “but her loneliness was created specifically by the Resistance and the insurgency. She had this small family that was taken from her in a terrorist attack during the early days of the Occupation and it stripped her of everything she had.”
On Jennifer’s relationship to the Bowmans
“The idea is that, even though she never explicitly says it, there are all things that she wanted before her life was turned upside-down by the horrible events of the Arrival and the Occupation that followed it,” Condal told USA. “When you see her watching the Bowmans, it's not the voyeurism like you'd see in a movie like Sliver. It's the voyeurism of seeing somebody looking into a life that she wanted and probably could have had -- had the world turned out differently -- and now regrets not having those things. It destroys her. It's what's motivated her up to this point."
Meanwhile, Will (Josh Holloway) has no idea that Jennifer regards him as one of the few friends she has in the world. "That's kind of her starting point going into this episode," said Condal, "which is why it's so heartbreaking.”
On whether or not Jennifer is a hero
“You don't have to lift a locomotive off of a child with a Superman cape on in order to be a hero,” points out Condal. “Acts of heroism happen every day and everywhere and, yes, I think at the end of this episode, the Bowman family is saved entirely selflessly, a true act of selfless defiance by a stranger. Tragically, Will and Katie will probably never know what Jennifer did for them, which -- to me -- is the true form of heroism.
On Charlie’s Transformation
We’re starting to know Charlie Bowman (Jacob Buster) more in episode four and it’s worrisome, to say the least. No haircut can undo this boy's trauma.
As Condal explained, the glimpses of the Charlie that we see pre-Occupation are of a happy kid who loves baseball and joking with his mom Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies), but everything’s different now. “Charlie has come back obviously wounded -- not only physically with the scars that he bears from his time in Solomon's gang, but also psychologically,” Condal said. “He's not really there. He's kind of disconnected, disassociated.”
To their credit, Katie and Will are trying to engage with Charlie in episode four, but it’s not really working. As Condal put it: “He's not going to just see his mother and immediately snap back to the way he was. They're living in a different house. His older brother is missing, and obviously, he has a lot of things that his young mind hasn't been able to process so it's shut down.”
On Gracie’s connection to her brother
One of Charlie’s new habits is sleeping next to the bed, and when his sister Grace (Isabella Crovetti) sees him there, she finds a way to connect to him. Without speaking to him, she joins Charlie on the floor.
“His sister is able to engage with him because she's not talking to him and telling him, ‘You have to tell me what happened,’ or ‘You have to talk to me,’ or anything like that. She's just saying, ‘I'm glad you're back.’"
You can follow Ryan Condal on Twitter at @wrathofcondal for more insider info on Colony!
The next episode of Colony airs Thursday at 10/9c on USA Network. Download the USA Now app to stream new episodes.