Or at least, for the first time since the Yellow Armband Gang struck—snatching their cache of government meds, laying a beat down with some seriously brutal metal pipe action, and misting our virus-wary heroes with pepper spray—the Colonists have neighbors.
Amber (a 31-year-old logger) and Michael (a 33-year-old anatomy instructor) appeared on the post-apocalyptic landscape with their hands raised and no CAUTION tape insignia in sight, in episode 2.3 “Trust.” Nevertheless, after their rather chaotic first week the Colonists weren’t about to give up the Us versus Them mentality. Or to put it in LOST terms—it’s another case of not knowing when to trust the Others.
Naturally, paranoia ensues.
Jim in particular wasn’t about to play Mr. Rogers. The most vocal Christian among the volunteers, Jim hasn’t said much about Jesus since he last tried to be the good Samaritan—offering water and powered milk and water to a guy who turned out to be the yellow armband warlord and, literally, getting burned after.
When Michael and Amber start to scavenge on the Colony grounds without permission, breaking the 12-hour quarantine rule, Jim has to be restrained by Reno as he calls for his knife and shouts: “I’ll cut you up into a million pieces.”
As Reno says: “He doesn’t have the social skills to deal with situation like that, and it shows.”
As I say: Jim’s gone batshit crazy.
This might be the strangest thing about The Colony—the disconnect between what seems normal in our world and what seems normal in theirs. When diplomacy transitions to suspicion, fear, and hostility, Reno’s less horrified than vaguely irked. Jim’s actions are almost understandable in a situation where no one trusts each other.
“We have two more people fighting for the last beans, last berries, last… snake,” he explains.
And of course, there’s the ever-present threat of contracting Nuclear Flu. Our survivors are not, after all, Will Smith in I Am Legend—they were quarantined in a government camp. Part of the major conflict between newcomers Amber and Michael and the Colonists is whether or not the logger and the teacher actually went through the VOPA decontamination process like they claim.
Clever troublemakers that they are, Discovery Channel’s Colony producers didn’t put Amber and Michael through the same pre-taping process that the Colonists experienced (72-hours of quarantine, each in his or her own room). These Others shared a tent, for less than 36 hours. (What happens next? Jim freaks out.) But of course, they n00bs are wary too:
“You could be the bad guys,” Amber says, when Jack and Kate—I’m sorry, Reno and Sally—try to calm things down after Jim’s meltdown.
Adding to the stressed atmosphere is the fact that resources are already strained. The Colonists originally had six days’ worth of food. After stretching it to last two weeks, they’re getting pretty hungry. Maybe emaciated’s a better word.
In 11 days, mad inventor George lost 23 pounds. Reno, who didn’t have any flab to spare to begin with, lost 13 (and gained a scruffy beard). Sally’s down 10—and as we know from watching Biggest Loser, it’s harder for women to lose weight… unless it’s Armageddon, I guess. Jim dropped 24 (half of those probably from screaming), and by day 11 Deville’s minus 14. Unfortunately, the seven decades under his belt aren’t going to keep those pants from slipping.
Of course, despite the reality of the situation (ie: starvation), the gang’s favorite pastime seems to be daydreaming (or in Becka’s case—really dreaming) about the food they miss from the time before society collapsed. Deville, in particular, grieves for “soft-whip” ice cream and smoothies. Or as Becka says:
“I miss… my life the most.”
The hard-nosed, tough-minded Reno, of course, is the one to spoil the party, bringing everyone back to the realization that this is life now: “I think as a group we need to stop talking about all this crap and start thinking about things that we’ve done good here, and keep moving forward”
It’s a live together, die alone sort of thing.
Which brings us to this week’s Colony projects:
Optimistically assuming that they’ll be able to catch game out in the bayou (wild boars, anyone?), Reno works on a smokehouse. Without refrigeration, there’s no way for cold storage—drying and smoking meat seems the best bet.
In a similarly practical vein, George takes up the mantle of mad scientist with the successful construction of a forge and bellows—essentially, a giant oven for melting metal. Mmm, mmm, toasty. “Right now,” he quips, “we’re basically in the Stone Age. This will help us move into the very early Iron Age.”
But Deville’s the one who knows his constituents. Still dreaming of smoothies, he designs and constructs a shower, less strictly survival-oriented than the other works in progress, but certainly geared to raising morale and keeping those psyches strong. “I do believe that cleanliness gives you a little hope for living,” he explains.
And it’s true—it makes you feel human. Deville, notably, is the colonist most able to keep up that human necessity: humor. Example?
“I thought those rotten pigs from the truck smelled bad. But then—I smelled myself!”
All this construction and society-building may be technically interesting to a civil engineer, but for viewers like me at least, it’s a chance to peer into the social order of the neighborhood. Take George, for example:
Low man on the totem pole for the first few days and first televised episode, the artist/inventor got a bad rap for napping during the day and riding a bike instead of walking. Personally, I think it was a matter of self-esteem—George was the one who arrived on the first day looking desperately for a leader, a VOPA representative, or a government agent to tell him what to do.
At this point, on day 11, the social structure of the Colony has begun to take shape, and George is an able and willing lieutenant to Reno and Sally. And George’s forge now places him definitively on the A-team. If we’re looking at this 10-acre neighborhood in post-Katrina, post-Nuclear Flu Louisiana as something akin to early human civilization, the Toolmaker has instant status. Quoth George:
“The Lord made some men big and some men small… but metal made ‘em all equal.”
Of course that’s not entirely true. George, who makes the metal, definitely has some distinction over a guy like Jim, for example, who makes it onto Reno and Sally’s shit list when he nearly burns down the smokehouse.
And I mean that literally. He’s the one emptying the port-a-potty (and to give a sense of how disgusting that work is, just think: Discovery actually censoredthe torrent of excrement).
Reno and Sally, as expected, share the alpha position fairly amiably. Reno, for his part, seems to be everywhere—with a hand in every project, as a laborer, not just overseer. What struck me was the fact that after Deville made his truly beautiful sanitation center, it was Reno who gave Becka permission to take the first shower.
As a team, Reno and Sally work well together. They’re the two who handle Amber and Michael’s arrival, diplomatically. They’re in perfect agreement about Jim being a complete loser. And they organize the exchange when a traveling trader comes punting down the river.
And though Amber and Sally initially have about two-minutes’ worth of on-air power struggle, Amber seems to see how the social order’s established and waves the white flag for the sake of peace. The white flag being a chocolate bar at dinner (not quite soft-serve ice cream, but it’ll do), and a big ol’ jug of vodka she and Michael had been saving but choose to sacrifice to the trader for the sake of getting Sally and Reno a much-coveted generator.
Booze brings people together. After that, Sian says quite matter-of-factly: “I think we’re one group.”
Two weeks in, and there’s peace in the neighborhood. How long will it last? Until the credits start to roll and we get, for our preview of coming attractions, Jim in the abandoned industrial zone fighting off two guys in Dharma jumpsuits.
No more Mr. Nice Guy, I guess. And definitely no Mr. Rogers.