Writing Lessons (3.2): Conflict in Colony’s Pilot

A World Filled with Conflict!
A World Filled with Conflict!

To help explain the elements of CHANGE mentioned in my last post, I thought it would be helpful to analyze a movie or television episode. I just recently watched the premiere of Carlton Cuse and Ryan Condal’s Colony and felt that it did an excellent job of hitting the seven points. There are several spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the episode, you might give it a look before you read the following.

CONTEXT: The pilot opens with a family waking up to face a new day, the father, Will Sullivan (played by Josh Holloway) fixing breakfast for his two children. He jokes with them as the sunlight warms the house, but when he drops and cracks an egg, he curses and hits the counter. When his wife, Sarah (played by Sarah Wayne Callies), checks on him, we see her looking at a photograph with three children. There are several signs that something is seriously wrong with this world–which later is confirmed by images of a city with buildings that are half-destroyed and a massive wall that encircles it.

CONFLICT: Will goes off to work, but we quickly learn that he is breaking with his usual routine. We see conflict when he has to go through a checkpoint, but tensions rise quickly as he meets up with someone who is trying to smuggle him past the wall gate. He is on a quest to find his son, but an unexpected problem arises not from the military, but from a bomb that kills the guards and destroys the truck that was carrying Will beyond the wall. As he climbs out of the wreckage, reinforcements arrive and immediately arrest him.

COMPLICATIONS: Meanwhile, Sarah is looking for insulin for her sister’s(?) child. After a confrontation that doesn’t bear fruit, but shows Sarah pulling out a gun to defend her ownership of a bottle of whiskey (another sign this is a world where certain resources are scarce–mirrored in her son’s trading oranges with another student for home-made bread at school), she starts to worry about her husband being late and goes out into the night to try to find him even though “curfew” is looming. After interrogating Will’s friend and surviving a close-call with the military, she returns home with no news of her husband. During all this, Will languishes in a cell with other prisoners, unable to call his family.

CRISIS: That is until the soldiers come forward asking for “Will Bowman,” rejecting Will’s insistence that his name is “Sullivan.” Despite the threat that they could lead him off to some sort of torture or death, the soldiers drop him off at a house where people are partying, where Proxy Alan Snyder offers Will a drink. At this point, Snyder reveals that he knows Will has been covering up his identity as a former special forces soldier and people-tracker for the CIA. He then tells Will that he should now work for the Occupation (the aliens who have invaded, who never appear in the episode) and help them track down the Resistance (and the man called Geronimo). If not, then Will life, and that of his entire family, will be forfeit for all his “crimes.” What choice will Will make?

CLIMAX: After Will returns home and tries to reassure his family that everything is fine, Katie pushes the truth out of him and learns that Will went in search of their son, but got arrested and forced into working for the Occupation. She immediately yells at her husband for putting targets on their backs. As she storms out, Will asks her what she would do in his situation. The next morning they wake up to Proxy Snyder’s breakfast (contrasting greatly to the one that opened the episode); he offers them resources they have not had since the Invasion, but strings are attached. Snyder demands a decision, and Will, glancing at his wife, says that he will work for them if they can bring him back his missing son.

CONSEQUENCES: So what is the result of this decision? Although the entire series will grow out of this decision, the immediate consequences are that Snyder does start giving them resources they haven’t had. Viewers will immediately want to know where Katie stands. Will she abandon Will and turn into a cold, distant wife? No, that evening just before Will steps out to assume his new “job,” Katie pulls out the whiskey she had defended by gunpoint the day before, and they drink it. She makes a point of clearly saying that she is “with him” and kisses him lovingly before he goes. We think she is giving in to the situation to get her son back.

CONCLUSION: If this were a movie or the final episode, we would expect the final image to bring closure and ties us back to the beginning, but since this episode is the start of a new series, we should expect some final twist that opens a series of new questions, and Cuse (who was a show-runner on LOST) is an expert at “opening a new door.” Those of us who were skeptical about Katie’s sudden acquiescence now see that she has her own plan moving. In the final scenes of the episode, she reports to the Resistance and offers herself to them as “someone on the inside.”

Carlton Cuse and Ryan Condal have given us an excellent pilot, drawing us into this world, a Los Angeles surrounded by a wall, ruled by a human puppet-governor and military. It, of course, brings to mind the Nazi occupation of Europe, but here there are distinctly American twists–reminding us of our own history. The inclusion of Geronimo reminds us of European Americans who occupied the West and forced American Indians into reservations. There are heavier themes haunting the backdrop as the action-adventure draws us along. Fundamentally, as the script carries us through the seven stages of an exciting plotline, we see the characters change as they find themselves forced to make impossible choices. As they struggle to survive in a hostile world, we find ourselves drawn to them, caring about them, wanting to know what happens next.

As you fashion your own stories, or read/view the tales of others, be aware of these movements. You’ll appreciate the craft and effort writers put into shaping these journeys just a little bit more.

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