Silo is the Sci-Fi Fan’s Sci-Fi Show, For Better and For Worse
Apple TV+'s sci-fi epic is as close to reading a classic sci-fi novel as it gets, which doesn’t do it many favors.
There’s a lot that can be said about Silo, Apple TV+’s latest sci-fi series. It’s based on Wool, a self-published sci-fi book series by Hugh Howey, who also serves as an executive producer. It’s showrun by Graham Yost, best known for the iconic modern Western series Justified. It stars Dune’s Rebecca Ferguson, with an all-star ensemble cast.
But the best way to sum up the series is to simply say it exactly replicates the feeling of reading an engrossing sci-fi book. The trailer proudly says, “We do not know why we are here. We do not know who built the silo or why we are underground. We only know the world outside our sanctuary is death.”
It’s the kind of world-defining thesis statement that would fit perfectly on the back of a well-loved paperback you’d find at a thrift store, and it perfectly sets the tone for the series. If you like the Logan’s Run/Soylent Green era of post-apocalyptic conspiracy media, then this is the show for you. For the casual sci-fi fans, it may be a bit more of a fight to be won over by the series ... but all that work does pay off in the end.
In the Apple TV+ show, the Silo is an underground sanctuary where the population lives under a strict set of rules. Most notably for Sheriff Holston (David Oyelowo) and his wife Allison (Rashida Jones) all women are implanted with a birth control device, and couples must apply for permission to have it removed and start a family.
The Holston family’s story takes up the majority of the pilot. Because of the original story’s structure as a series of short stories, episodes feel almost baked into the world of Silo. The pilot is a textbook-great introduction to the world and story, beginning with Holston’s downfall and ] flashing back to how he lost his wife: she witnessed something she shouldn’t have and started asking questions. She requests to leave the Silo and, in the final moments of the episode, does something that makes Holston reconsider everything he knows to be true.
The conspiracy thriller script would get arduous if not for the all-star cast involved. Tim Robbins and Common are great as the faces of the Silo’s bureaucracy, but by far the highlight is the ensemble playing the Silo populous, including Shane McRae, Iain Glen, and Harriet Walter, with Rebecca Ferguson helming the show with the determination of Lady Jessica but the gaslighting skills of Bennett Marco in The Manchurian Candidate.
There’s almost something nostalgic to this show — it’s set in a dystopian world where terms like “The Before Times” and “The Founders” are used with a straight face. It’s the kind of series that offers a glimpse into a world where there’s more to sci-fi than just the four biggest franchises of the time, where original stories are given their due.
However, that’s a con as much as it is a pro. Because of the old-school story, the pacing is also very old-school. The pilot is captivating, but we don’t really see the main characters of that chapter again, so getting reinvested is often difficult. Especially in the streaming age, keeping the stakes high and the intrigue up is a necessity.
Silo is the sci-fi fan’s sci-fi show, and will probably find its audience among the more hardcore Dune fans (and not just because of the shared star) but isn’t destined to become the next Severance or Stranger Things. It’s more likely to follow in the footsteps of its Apple TV+ siblings Foundation and Extrapolations.
That doesn’t mean that it’s not an enjoyable show — it could very well be a cult classic — it’s just not as accessible as your average network drama. You wouldn’t write a sci-fi novel that caters to all readers, so why make this adaptation anything other than what it is: a hardboiled dystopian conspiracy thriller?