Silo Review: The Flamekeepers

In a particularly haunting scene of the Apple TV+ series Silo, a military interrogator makes his prisoner an offer. If she fails to cooperate, he’ll lock her in a windowless concrete cell several miles beneath the Earth’s surface, never to see the sun again. If she gives up the names of her allies, he’ll do the exact same thing — but he’ll keep her plied with a steady supply of painkillers. That way, she can let her remaining years slip away, lost in hallucinations of beachside sunsets she can never see with her own eyes. Because in the Silo, only in dreams can you ever be truly free.

Much has been written about Silo since it became a surprise hit late last year. The Verge called it “a small town mystery set at the end of the world.” The New York Times, “a cautionary tale about tech.” And it is all of those things and more. But it is also, in its bones, a horror story — one made all the more frightening by the lack of traditional jump scares or raging monsters. The show is frightening not because it’s shocking, but because it’s addictive — melding the sinewy grace of a whodunnit with the creeping sense of inevitable doom familiar to readers of Shakespeare or Homer.

Silo’s is a world initially light on both details and explanation — as many characters will be eager to tell you throughout the series’ premiere: “We do not know why we are here. We do not know who built the Silo.” All they do know is that the hundred story concrete habitat they call home serves to protect them from the dangers of the outside world. The “windows” of the Silo, no matter where in the building they’re found, all look out on the same view — a short stretch of blasted, poisoned ground culminating in a single dead tree at the top of a small hill. The perfectly preserved bodies of “cleaners” — political dissidents who made the fatal mistake of expressing a desire to leave the Silo — litter the hillside, their corpses left as a warning to future generations.

Dissident “cleaners” are exiled from the safety of the Silo with only a few minutes of oxygen in their suits and a single piece of wool with which to clean the habitat’s exterior camera.

Yet for some residents of the Silo, that warning has never been enough to suppress a hunger for answers. Allison Becker (Rashida Jones), is a systems programmer and master hacker, one who harbors a growing suspicion that the Silo’s “population control program” of enforced sterilization is not the beneficent system she has always been told. Meanwhile, her husband, Sheriff Holston Becker (David Oyelowo), makes his living confiscating dangerous “relics” that pose a threat to order in the Silo, including, at one point, what appears to be a pez dispenser.

As questions pile up for the Beckers and for Mayor Jahn’s, effective ruler of the Silo, some of them begin to question whether their self-contained world is really the safe haven it seems. Their search for answers will take them into the heart of the bizarre but undeniably enticing world of the Silo, a world where the retrofuturist aesthetic of Loki or Brazil becomes tinged with the gritty dystopian cynicism of Snowpiercer or Blade Runner.

Systems programmer Allison (Rashida Jones) searches for answers to the mysteries of her futuristic world from behind the screen of a bizarrely anachronistic Unix terminal.

By the time Rebecca Ferguson’s protagonist Juliette Nichols makes her first appearance in episode three, most of these people will be dead. And therein lies what makes Silo such a remarkable piece of storytelling. It is not a story about people. It is a story about what consumes people. Whether it be love, or grief, or simply the aching desire to know, most of the series’ characters are driven, inexorably, to fight the irresistible, to strive for the impossible, to reach for the sun and burn themselves up trying.

In some ways that trope — the indomitable truth seeker who refuses to give up in the face of impossible odds, the one person who sees clearly in a world of lies — has been far overused in genre fiction. It should not be innovative. It should not feel new. And yet, in Silo, it does.

Juliette (Rebecca Ferguson) and George (Ferdinand Kingsley) long for a sky they’ll never see.

Partially, I think, that’s because the series takes a cue from Philip K. Dick in its understanding that there is a very fine line between insight and madness. It’s all well and good to cheer for characters who doubt reality in fiction — in fact, Hollywood has a long tradition of it — but in the real world, when someone says, “everything you know is a lie and the shadow government is out to get me,” it’s usually a sign that they need to seek help from a mental health professional. The fact that, in this particular case, the characters of Silo happen to be right is mostly a coincidence.

That’s what makes Silo so darkly thrilling to watch. At some level, you know that the Silo is not such a terrible place to live. Sure, it’s all a lie — the government is watching you and the whole thing is probably some kind of eugenics experiment — but as the cant of the Silo intones: “We only know that here is safe, and there is not.” Generations of citizens have probably felt at least some suspicion that their history, the story of themselves, was a lie — yet they chose to live that lie, to laugh and cry and fall in love in an unreal world, rather than risk their lives for a truth that offered no guarantees of a better future. Yet, in every world, there are those that keep the flame. Those who, for better or worse, cannot tolerate a lie — even if it means facing great personal danger. The ones who walk away from Omelas.

In every world, there are those that keep the flame.

Silo is the story of those people. The ones who were told to accept life as it was given to them and screamed no. I want to go out. The ones who died for the truth, and for each other, without ever reaching their goal. So I say that while Silo is a cautionary tale, it’s not about big tech. It’s a warning about the terrible banality of lies, about the seductive quality of any simple narrative of good and evil, safe and unsafe — especially the ones peddled by those with the trappings of authority.

Silo is a reminder that none of us want to live in a world where we rely on the mad to speak the truth. For all of our sakes, I hope we take that warning seriously.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Related Stories


We would love your thoughts, please comment!x
%d bloggers like this: