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Colony: Who Needs Aliens When You Have Josh Holloway?

Why the sci-fi show is more interested in humans than little green men

Adam Bryant

If you're looking for aliens in USA's new alien-occupation drama Colony, you may end up a little disappointed.

The new sci-fi drama, co-created by Lost's Carlton Cuse and Ryan Condal, is set in a near-future Los Angeles that is under military occupation following "the Arrival" -- when extraterrestrial forces wiped out all defense systems in a matter of hours. But while the aliens, commonly referred to by the show's characters as "our hosts," are still in control, they've ceded governing responsibilities to a Transitional Authority led by other humans known as traitorous "collaborators."

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While Southern California life appears cozy and peaceful at first glance, a closer look reveals a constant presence of soldiers known as redhats, surveillance drones and, of course, the huge shiny walls that have separated the city into different blocs. That balance between ordinary life and the horrors of war was what sparked the idea for the series.

"We're fascinated by World War II and the fact that you would see all these people in Paris who were sitting in sidewalk cafes and trying to lead their very normal lives while Nazi storm troopers are marching down the street," Cuse tells TVGuide.com. "We thought that was a really interesting dichotomy, the fact that people have this weird ability to try to maintain normalcy in our lives despite circumstances being extraordinarily upended. That was really the point of departure. We thought, 'Is there some way to do that in a modern context?'"

And, in truth, that idea turns the show into more of a meditation on our current geopolitical climate than a war of worlds against little green men. "Science fiction is plenty entertaining as a genre, but I think really great science fiction also comments on the world and society at large," Cuse says. "We live in a time where countries like Afghanistan and Iraq have been decimated by invading forces and those invading forces have put in place proxy governments who are meant to rule the other people of the countries. While that seems like an ideal solution, the challenge is that the people who are rulers always have this tendency to take advantage of those opportunities and subjugate the people that they're meant to govern. And that's really what this show is exploring."

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But not everyone wants to fall in line. Enter Will Bowman (Josh Holloway), a former Army Ranger and FBI agent who was separated from his son Charlie during the Arrival. When he is captured trying to sneak to another bloc to look for his son, Will is recruited by Transitional Authority leader Alan Snyder (Peter Jacobson) to join his team in hunting for Geronimo, the leader of a resistance movement. While Will doesn't want to be known as a collaborator, he ultimately agrees when Snyder promises to help Will find his son. And, in time, he actually comes to enjoy the work.

"He was really good at hunting fugitives," Cuse says. "His military and FBI background is something that he loved, and I think he's been sitting on the sidelines for a year not being able to do what he loves. He likes his work, and that's something that's really exciting for him. ... The character is overtly collaborating, but he has a significant long-term agenda that arises out of his desire to get more information. And once he figures out how everything's going to work, he's going to take advantage of this. So, that's the conflict that he has."

That conflict only gets worse when viewers learn that Will's wife Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies) has actually joined the resistance and is feeding Will's intelligence to her handlers Broussard (Tory Kittles) and Quayle (Paul Guilfoyle). "She thinks that by being on the inside of the resistance she's going to protect Will from getting killed, because she has the power to make sure that nobody takes him out or does anything to him," Cuse says. "She sees it as a way that she can help Will. Of course Will doesn't see it like that at all. The relationship between Will and Katie is like the twin strands of DNA, and it intertwines right through the heart of the show. What's going to happen once Will really finds out that she's in the resistance? What's he going to do about it, and what's that going to do to their relationship? Those are the questions looming over the first season of the show."

But Cuse insists that those questions don't have easy answers. Instead, he suggests both Will and Katie are right, and he hopes audiences' allegiances will shift to different characters throughout the season. "That's at the core of the show: Each person has to make a decision," Cuse says. "What would you do? What's the path that you take to survive in this world?

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"For Katie, there is this idea that activism is the critical response in a time of crisis," Cuse continues. "She feels like she must do something, and in this case she's decided she wants to be part of these people that just aren't going to stand for this government. She's made a legitimate choice, and I think Will, given his options, has also made a legitimate choice. That sets the conflict. The characters actually put themselves in a situation where they really have done what they each think is the right thing, but what they've done is in opposition with each other."

Although the show's Mr. and Mrs. Smith-like premise provides plenty of tension, thrills and surprising twists, Colony is pretty slow to deal with its bigger secrets about the hosts and the true nature of what politicians like Snyder are up to, particularly as it relates to his use of Charlie as the carrot to lead Will along to do Snyder's bidding. Although Cuse promises some resolution to the Charlie plot line in Season 1, he remains much less interested in explaining or exploring the aliens.

"It's not what the show's about," Cuse says. "We feel like that show's already been made. We've seen versions of that show. The truth is, the hosts don't give much of a damn about the humans. They really don't care that much about the indigenous population as long as they're controlled. It's really about the human characters. We're interested in what humans will do to each other when given this kind of opportunity. And when you're given the opportunity to govern your fellow humans but also you can exploit that opportunity to your own benefit, what will you actually do?"

Colony premieres Thursday at 10/9c on USA.