For the characters of the Apple TV+ series Silo, life is defined by immense uncertainty. Adapted from the book series of the same name by Hugh Howey, it places us in a dystopian future deep underground where thousands of residents are told that the world above is uninhabitable and going there means death. Skepticism about this reality is baked in from the start — any discussion of the past is not just frowned upon, but heavily criminalized. If anyone were to even say they wanted to go see the outside world for themselves, they are subsequently forced to do so and abandoned to perish alone. All of this is first seen through the eyes of a couple trying to have a child. Allison (Rashida Jones) works in IT while Holston (David Oyelowo) is the sheriff of the entire silo. When they discover information that they aren’t supposed to, they come to doubt all of what they have been told. However, rather than follow them while they begin to piece it together and challenge the rules that govern their lives, the series pulls away to take us on the journey of another. It falls to the engineer Juliette, played by a spectacularly stoic Rebecca Ferguson, to find the truth when no one else will.
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That is basically all that should be discussed when it comes to the plot — over the ten episodes of this first season, darkness waits around every corner. This is what initially drives Juliette to begin her dogged pursuit of the truth; she endures an immense loss whose pain is compounded by the lie she is told about what happened. Such deception will become the first of many once the fragile existence of the thousands of residents soon begins to come apart.
There is something rather dour about how Silo is constructed, playing out in the dimly lit underground world where murders and bodies begin to pile up. Some of this is intentional in order to create a juxtaposition against the beauty of the world that supposedly awaits just outside. It squeezes out as much atmosphere as it can from the confined spaces that define the day-to-day lives of the characters and the no-nonsense intensity of Ferguson’s performance. The rooms they inhabit aren’t cramped per se, but there is a sense that everything is starting to constrict around all of them. Where the show starts to become repetitive and meandering is in how the story feels stretched rather thin, making the fact that it was originally conceived of as a feature more than a decade ago anything but a surprise.
Although certain episodes can feel like they are going in circles, Silo still draws us into this world with the little moments just as much as the big ones. We see how this society under the ground has become stratified with Juliette and those of the lower levels all being viewed as lesser. This is despite the fact that they keep the entire silo operating, putting their lives on the line to repair the source of all their energy in one of the more thrilling sequences of the series. It bears similarities to a film like Snowpiercer, only without the same narrative propulsion and more visually dynamic sequences. With that being said, while Silo is a great deal blunter in its dialogue that lays out its themes and ideas, the outside details find something more moving.
Observing characters as they look out at the stars they can’t understand or share a final meal together before the end they know is coming brings with it a somber tone that suits the series well. The mystery, though always looming over the story, is less central than how these characters have carved out a life for themselves after the supposed destruction of the world as we know it. From the spiraling staircase that governs their lives to the small portal they have to the outside world, Silo‘s production design is practically minimalistic yet still effective.
However, none of this would be anywhere near as impactful without Ferguson leading the way. There are a whole host of other power players we come to know, but it is her performance that provides the emotional core. Juliette is often in way over her head, facing down lies that have been ingrained over generations, yet that makes it all the more effective when she carries on. Whether it is when she must tread carefully by using her wits to draw out deeper truths or a closing series of statements she makes in the final episode that tears through all the deception, Ferguson proves that she is always more than up to the task. The performance is not one that is flashy, but that actually makes it all the more memorable. While there are villainous characters we come to know that can end up a bit cartoonish, she brings an understated gravitas which serves as the grounding force the show needs. With all the rituals and rules that Silo can get caught up in, it is she who gives it a greater humanity. Even just a calm yet defiant stare she gives in one of the most striking scenes cuts deep when it counts.
The last scene with Ferguson in particular sees her speak volumes with just her eyes. It upends our expectations that seemed almost certain in a delicate yet devastating fashion, making up for the many diversions which can often make the series feel quite busy. Again, there will be no spoilers about what she discovers at the end of all her searching, but the journey Ferguson leads us on has plenty to get wrapped up in. Wherever the story ends up going next, there is a willingness to take the leap as long as she is there to guide us. For all the ways Silo can begin to get lost in itself, both it and Ferguson still manage to stumble upon something more fascinating, finding a way to march on despite all that is holding it back.
Silo premieres May 5 on Apple TV+.