Holston is the sheriff of the Silo, an mile-deep underground structure that houses the last human survivors on Earth. We hear him say in voice over, “We do not know why we are here. We do not know who built the Silo. We do not know why everything outside the Silo is how it is. We do not know when it will be safe to go outside. We only know that day is not this day.”
Declaring that you want to go outside is akin to a death sentence. You are asked to clean the sensors that show the Silo’s population video of the desolate landscape outside. But that landscape is also littered with the bodies of those who only survived for a few minutes once they went outside. Holston goes into his office, puts his badge on his desk and asks Deputy Marnes (Will Patton) to meet him at holding cell number 3. That’s when he locks himself in the cell, looks at the body lying in the view he sees on the screen, and says “I want to go out.”
The body is of Holston’s wife Allison Becker (Rashida Jones). Flashing back almost four years, we see one of the couple’s happier days: They are approved to attempt to have a baby, their third and final attempt. The entire colony gets the news and congratulates them, and the doctor removes the birth control cap. The one-year clock for them to conceive starts ticking.
At one point, she posts on a BBS about how to recover files from a hard drive, and runs afoul of her IT department boss, Bernard (Tim Robbins), who is pretty rigid when it comes to enforcing the many regulations the members of the Silo have to live by. Before work, she’s intercepted by Martha Walker (Harriet Walter), who claims to be a conception expert, who pulls Allison into her quarters and asks, “Do you really think you’re the kind of person they want having children?”
Right before the Freedom Day holiday, which celebrates the day 140 years prior when the Rebellion was defeated, she gets a service call from a repair cubicle 70 levels below. Allison goes to the cubicle and meets George Wilkins (Ferdinand Kingsley), who specifically wanted her to show up based on her BBS posting. He found an old hard drive that says it’s empty but he thinks there are files on it. When Allison helps him recover the files, they see blueprints for the Silo, among other long-lost information. It’s of interest because any files, paper or electronic, that existed over 140 years ago was destroyed by the Rebellion.
Doubt starts to creep into Allison’s mind, especially as the year progresses and she doesn’t get pregnant. As time runs out, she goes back down to Wilkins and goes through those files. What she sees astonishes her, and prompts her to publicly declare she wants to go out, confident that what everyone is told about the outside world is a complete lie.
Silo takes what could be a really depressing premise and gives the people on the show, as well as the audience, just enough hope to keep you watching.
The hope comes from Holston, who comes to believe that Allison was onto something when she went outside. Everyone in the colony saw her clean the sensors, take a few steps, then collapse. But because of a deal Allison made to him before she went out, he has a feeling that she was not only right about what’s outside, but that she’s still alive.
That bit of hope is what makes us want to watch. To be sure, watching an entire season of people living in a massive underground bunker, with no idea why they’re there, doesn’t sound like a fun show. Silo just wouldn’t work without that modicum of hope.
What we also found fascinating about the first episode is that we’re not even introduced to Juliette Nichols (Rebecca Ferguson, also an executive producer), the story’s protagonist, until close to the end of the episode. After Wilkins, the same guy who found the hard drive and files that drove Allison outside, falls over a ramp railing to his death, Juliette claims he was murdered. Holston and Marnes go to question her, then we cut back to the holding cell, and Holston vowing to find Allison on the outside. How Juliette further propels Holston to go outside, and how she finds out about the secrets that are being kept from the members of this society will be the crux of the series.
In a lot of ways, Silo is less dystopian science fiction and more conspiracy thriller. That’s why it feels so accessible to people like us, who are a bit tired of the rash apocalyptic dystopian dramas we’ve been seeing over the past decade or so.
Of course, this story can go in any number of directions, but we also trust Yost to tell a story that doesn’t throw a lot of red herrings at viewers. As Juliette and Holston investigate their respective ends of this conspiracy, it’ll be interested to see how some of the others we’ve been introduced to, like Robbin’s officious character Bernard, or Mayor Ruth Jahns (Geraldine James), or even Martha, fit into this puzzle.