There is a crushing moment towards the end of “Panopticon” when one of the key secondary characters, Jennifer (Kathleen Rose Perkins), the partner of Will Bowman (Josh Holloway) realises that there is nothing left for her in the brutal new alien-dominated order she has so strenuously tried to make her own.
Having, rather creepily, watched hour upon hour of footage of the Bowmans in their home – it was only towards the end of the episode when a fire alarm failed to go off that Will realised they had been bugged up the proverbial – talking and plotting, reconciling and strategising, she had actually fallen in love with the family and the bonds this oft-fractured group of people still enjoy despite all the turmoil visited upon them.
Even with Charlie (Jacob Buster) back in the fold, full of mistrust and anger after a year or more on the streets of Santa Monica’s lawless colony (so bad that it makes Lord of the Flies look like a picnic), and Will and Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies) unsure where they have landed after ending up on different sides (though not spiritually all that far apart as they discover), the Bowmans are a reassurance that even with a benign alien apocalypse upon the Earth, that there is still something worth fighting for.
Jennifer, by contrast, has lost her boyfriend, her dog and her old uncomplicated life as a database administrator for a dating site, and despite going all out to impress her boss and the internal affairs agent investigating her conduct as a Homeland Security Agent, it has all come to nothing.
Her last thread of hope is that she can somehow reconnect with Will who she knows is a decent man trying to do the right thing despite the circumstances.
But that last tender sliver of hope, that willingness to defer to the better angels of her nature and not rat Will or Katie out to the authorities, which would surely mean a trip to The Factory high up in orbit, is destroyed when she overhears Will respond to Katie’s suggestion that they trust Jennifer (despite her threatening Katie with being turned in) with a damning statement that effectively extinguishes all hope.
“No, we can’t. Jennifer’s got a good heart but she’s weak.”
What really stings in this exchange, no matter how true it may be from Will’s perspective, and let’s face it Jennifer hasn’t exactly advertised herself as the friend worth having, is that despite repeated temptations to save her hide by hanging the Bowmans’ collective pelts out to dry, Jennifer holds firm.
So not so weak after all, but to be fair Will isn’t party to this, having not had the foresight to bug Jennifer and watch her goings-on like some cheap reality TV show (Real Compromised Agents of the Alien Apocalypse anyone?)
Watching her realise that her nascent career with Homeland Security is toast – she’s demoted to watching people via bugged homes and workplaces, fitting in one sense since she has lots of practical experience in that regard – and that she has no one to turn to (anyone keeping count? That’s two partners Will has let loose with devastating consequences) is one of the emotionally wrenching scenes I’ve ever seen on TV.
In one pivotal moment, as she’s deleting all the files she recorded that might incriminate the Bowmans, she understands there is no place in the world ruled by the Hosts and their human proxies, who meet at one point in the episode to vote on whether L.A; bloc should be wiped from the face of the Earth, and that her only option is to end things before someone ends it for her.
That final scene when she’s drinking a carefully-hoarded bottle of red wine and watching old home movies of her, her boyfriend and their dog in far happier times, on her mobile (cell phone) as she slips a seemingly unending stream of sleeping pills in her mouth, is damn near devastating.
There’s little sound, just a close-up of her face as she laughs and cries in equal measure, and as the camera pans back we see that she is under surveillance, with the person meant to be watching her M.I.A.
It’s a very sad end for a person who may have made some bad decisions in the pursuit of self-preservation but who basically had a good heart and was committed, in the end to doing the right thing.
“Panopticon” underscores how brilliantly nuanced Colony’s writing is and how it is able to take something as epic and all-consuming as an alien invasion of Earth, albeit one tarted to look bright, shiny and oh-so-lovely (in its eyes anyway; the reality is it’s just extraterrestrially-instituted fascism) and bring it down to an intimate, deeply affecting level.
Yes, the episode ostensibly focuses on the Bowman’s rocky road to partial reunification – Bram (Alex Neustaedter) is still at the labour camp – and the sweet and small ways they start reconnecting (watching little sister Gracie (Isabella Crovetti-Cramp) snuggle up to Charlie as he sleeps on the floor is touching), but in the end it is Jennifer’s story that resonates.
It reinforces the idea that the frightening new world of Colony is no respecter of humanity, of anyone with integrity, morality and empathy and that the fight to rid the Earth of its largely unwelcome interlopers is going to cost a great deal more, on society-wide and personal levels, that anyone could ever have imagined.
In that respect this exquisitely well-wrought show that barely puts a foot wrong is a show for our times, a reminder, if we needed one, that resistance is rarely cost-free and that there are more losers than winners on the way to victory, assuming that ever happens at all.
- In next week’s episode, “Company Man”, secrets begin to emerge and while hope still springs eternal, there are great forces arrayed to stomp it out for good.