The first two episodes introduce viewers to the show’s subterranean universe through the eyes of Sheriff Holston Becker (David Oyelowo) and his wife, Allison (Rashida Jones). They’re happily living within the Silo when they win a chance to potentially reproduce. Allison’s government-mandated birth control is removed, and they have a year to conceive. There’s a sense of urgency—this is, we discover, their third shot at having a baby, and likely their last. As months pass without a pregnancy, Allison starts to suspect their fertility issues aren’t a coincidence but instead are tied to the shadowy nature of the Silo’s government and what it wants from its residents.
Holston and Allison’s storyline is made emotionally resonant through two excellent performances—Jones’ is a career-highlight—and it simultaneously serves as an efficient bit of exposition. We learn that the Silo functions as a self-contained city, powered by a strange patchwork of technologies from the past; there’s an IT department, radios, and ancient computers, but no elevators or pulleys or phones. The residents don’t know much about their history, because a failed rebel group destroyed most of the available documentation about how the silo came to be and what happened to the world aboveground. The Silo is governed by a document called the Pact, stipulating strict rules about how to behave. The most important rule? If you ask to go outside, you must go outside—and you cannot return.
People who go outside are equipped with a sort of hazmat suit and given a piece of wool to “clean.” They are asked to wipe the sensor on the camera that provides the silo with its only view to the outside. These “cleanings” are a communal ritual—a type of public execution—and people gather to watch their doomed neighbors succumb to the toxic air. Corpses of former cleaners dot the decrepit landscape.
After the second episode, the show’s true protagonist emerges: Rebecca Ferguson’s gruff, capable mechanic, Juliette Nichols, who gets recruited from a life of grunt work in the lower levels to join the law enforcement team “up top.” Ferguson gives an action-star turn here, magnetic and lithe. (My only complaint about her performance is the accent work—despite spending her whole life in a North American underground city, Juliette sometimes sounds oddly Scandinavian.)
Juliette doesn’t want to leave her sooty home and her cherished generator. She loves machines! She has a wise old lady friend! But, you see—a mystery needs unraveling. Her boyfriend, a curious type, went searching for ~ answers ~ about the Silo’s true nature and wound up dead. Juliette suspects murder—and a sheriff’s badge means she can investigate. She’s quickly at odds with leaders from the Silo’s two other main power centers: the imposing Sims, from the judicial branch (Common, glowering) and Bernard, the conniving tech leader (Tim Robbins, glowering even harder). Intrigue ensues.
The dead boyfriend isn’t in Howey’s books. I suspect he got concocted to soften Juliette’s edges, since she’s a fairly hard-nosed heroine. He’s … whatever. There are a few other changes, most notably in the Silo’s look. In the novels, it’s a claustrophobic place, rundown and resource-strapped, and all the residents wear uniforms corresponding to their jobs. The show’s Silo is a vast, cavernous place, and the people within it dress how they please. (They also seem somehow immune to vitamin D deficiency.) Otherwise, the first season is a fairly faithful adaptation of the beginning of Howey’s story—a good thing, since Wool is a humdinger, twisty and thrilling.
If this show gets picked up for future seasons, it will be fascinating to see if it follows Howey’s structure, since the second volume, Shift, is a prequel with parts set hundreds of years in the past. This is not a George R. R. Martin situation; they won’t run out of pages to adapt and have to wing it.