WAYW: ‘Silo’ gives ‘Snowpiercer’ effect a very vertical vibe…

There are secrets, stories and storeys to the 'Silo' - and AppleTV+'s new adaptation promises much...

“We do not know why we are here. We do not know who built the Silo. We do not know why everything outside the Silo is as it is. We do not know when it will be safe to go outside. We only know that that day is not that day…”

When Sheriff Holsten, the fair and trusted lawman who helps patrol the levels of the multi-level Silo, decides that he must know the answers, he sets in motion more events than he can realise. Soon not just individual deaths but the whole survival of the 10,000 people in the Silo will be affected and the truth of the past and the future will be on the line as his replacement discovers how far some will go to keep a secret…



For those sensible people missing Snowpiercer (with its final season already filmed, but now stuck in the post-TNT / Warner Bros re-organisation limbo), Apple TV+‘s new drama Silo may offer a reprieve. In many ways its remit is very similar… but now applied with a simple axis-pivot, a vertical version of the similar horizontal premise – an enclosed society, a deliberate microcosm dealing with the internal power structures (personal, political and mechanical) based on keeping people satiated within and warning about supposed greater dangers that lay outside. Actually based on the series of novels and novellas created by Hugh Howey, starting back in 2011, this 2023 televisual adaptation has immediate ambition, but which it starts to fulfil from the outset.

You could claim that one of the mysteries of the show is the forgotten, perhaps deliberately hidden, origin of the title structure and what really lurks outside its walls  (a desolate wasteground as the view-screens insist or a greener, re-emerging paradise that we glimpse in brief but arguably equally unreliable moments?).  But despite touchstones and relics as varied as hard-drives and Pez-dispensers assuring us this is, indeed, a dystopian future’d drama, the fact is that the answers to those questions are almost secondary to the character-dramas evolving within the silo itself. It’s a meandering, claustrophobic murder mystery that just happens to have a post-Armageddon base as its start-point.  It’s that personalised core that drives many great dramas and Silo is definitely an assured series that confidently and cryptically creates more and more layers as you move forward – you’ll get a sense of place and tone from the opening episode, but not so much of exactly the people you’ll be following and how.  In a plot that often doubles-back and changes its perspective, it’s a slow-burn discovery of the parts that make the whole and, sometimes, how little things and moments cascade into others.

We start with David Oyelowo (whom UK viewers will know from his breakthrough in Spooks but who has since made an international splash with feature films such as Selma and See How They Run) as Holsten, the sheriff of the titular Silo, the senior ‘street-level’ officer, trusted by most, tolerated by some in the rarely-seen but always-felt Judicial overseers. He’s a by-the-book guy, used to walking the many concrete levels and the procedural tightrope but always trying to be fair. So, when he suddenly announces he’s done and he ‘wants to go outside’ – a non-reversable declaration which you’d expect to lead to certain death in the toxic wasteland around them – it’s a shock to everyone who knows him. We then flash back several years before when he and his wife Allison (Rashida Jones) are permitted to try for a pregnancy (something very much controlled in a society with limited resources) and it doesn’t seem to be working. Allison hears whispers from some of the quiet, conspiracy theorists that it’s because the Powers That Be consider her position as a ‘journalist’ problematic and never really wanted her to conceive and that the same undisclosed figures are the ones keeping the ‘true’ history of the structure far from prying eyes. When her article about recovering computer files attracts the attention of one of the ‘Deep Down’ technicians she discovers an old hard-drive that says far more about the silo than she ever thought and it ultimately leads to her very public declaration that she ‘wants to go outside’… which she does, much to Holsten’s dismay. However, it’s her last message to him that continues to haunt and drive him… and eventually leads to his decision to venture outside as well.

Allison and Holsten’s respective decisions then echo through the episodes, but the emphasis changes to those left behind and how they fit into both the story and the society. The show becomes about driven mechanic Juliette Nichols (Rebecca Ferguson), the unlikely replacement selected by Holsten to become the sheriff (after trying to help her discover who murdered her partner). It’s a position no-one wants her to have – least of all herself – and like many, she’s mystified to be offered it in the first place. But she sees it as a temporary opportunity to get access to files that might solve the murder mystery – instead it plunges her into the heart of a bigger conspiracy. As ever, Ferguson (soon to be seen back in the Mission Impossible franchise) holds the screen with a steely and subversive, earthy presence and brings a driven and sometimes bristly character to life. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Snowpiercer character Josie Wellstead if she had been given centre-stage (and I admit I mistook that show’s Katie McGuinness for Ferguson for its early, original episodes).

The show boasts a series of not just all-star names but also respected ‘serious’ international actors in supporting parts. Apart from Rashida Jones, we also have Will Patton, Geraldine James, Harriet Walter, Iain Glen and Tim Robbins all making their mark in nuanced roles. The sometimes-underestimated musician/actor Common essays a delightfully buttoned-up and sinister Judicial agent Robert Sims and there’s more able support from the likes of Avi Nash and Billy Postlethwaite – the latter showing all the subtle, grounded character work his father Pete essayed so well.

In the modern era of television shows with so many getting strong budgets and rising to demands, we’ve become almost blasé about excellent production design and values, but the design here defies the bland concrete corridors to which it could have succumbed and creates a real world. The spiraling pillar that acts as a pedestrian spine to the silo offers up a variety of levels that slowly combine and separate the deep Down and the Up-Tops culturally and in geography the same way that Snowpiercer had its Tailies and Engine/First Class kingdoms. Here those differences are less overt and more realistic than the more extreme train-bound compartments… more subtly organic but still aching with resentments and insecurities that risk spilling over.

Many dramas only work as long as they can keep their central conceit fresh – eventually stumbling when it comes to comes to providing actual, necessary, satisfactory answers – or failing to do so. That tipping point will inevitably come for Silo, but its strength so far is in those character dynamics that make you savour the peeling back of the plot and character layers and seeing how all the pieces work. In that sense, one hopes Silo has many more stories and storeys in store in this season (landing each Friday) and hopefully beyond…




Why aren't you watching... SILO (Episodes 1-6  Apple TV+ overview)
Why aren't you watching... SILO (Episodes 1-6 Apple TV+ overview)
  • Story
  • Acting
  • Direction
  • Production Design / VFX