Apple TV's Page-to-Screen Thriller 'Silo' Is Streaming's Next Gripping (and Great) Sci-Fi Mystery

What happens when humanity's last 10,000 inhabitants are left living in an underground chamber? That's this new standout's instantly engrossing story.
Sarah Ward
Published on May 05, 2023

Rebecca Ferguson will never be mistaken for Daveed Diggs, but the Dune, Mission: Impossible franchise and Doctor Sleep star now follows in the Hamilton Tony-winner's footsteps. While he has spent multiple seasons navigating dystopian class clashes on a globe-circling train in the TV version of Snowpiercer, battling his way up and down the titular locomotive, she just started ascending and descending the stairs in the underground chamber that gives Silo its moniker. Ferguson's character is also among humanity's last remnants. Attempting to endure in post-apocalyptic times, she hails from her abode's lowliest depths as well. And, when there's a murder in this instantly engrossing new ten-part Apple TV+ series — which begins streaming from Friday, May 5 — she's soon playing detective.

Leaping to the screen from Hugh Howey's novels, Silo might share a few basic parts with other shows and movies — Metropolis, Blade Runner and The Platform also echo, as do the corrupt world orders at the core of The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner flicks — but this series isn't simply scouring its genre for useful parts. In a year that's made a hit out of the TV version of The Last of Us, it too ponders humanity's survivalist instincts, as well as how we shape our societies when the worst occurs. And, as fellow Apple TV+ sci-fi mystery Severance did so grippingly in 2022, it also contemplates what people are willing to accept to get through their days. Ferguson's Juliette is particularly adept at tinkering; however, the show she's in is always a complete piece in and of itself, and never just cobbled together from other sources.

Silo captivates from the outset, when its focus is the structure's sheriff Holston (David Oyelowo, See How They Run) and his wife Allison (Rashida Jones, On the Rocks). Both know the cardinal rule of the buried tower, as does deputy Marnes (Will Patton, Outer Range), mayor Ruth (Geraldine James, Benediction), security head Sims (Common, The Hate U Give), IT top brass Bernard (Tim Robbins, Dark Waters) and the other 10,000 souls they live with: if you make the request to go outside, it's irrevocable and you'll be sent there as punishment. No matter who you are, and from which level, anyone posing such a plea becomes a public spectacle. Their ask is framed as "cleaning", referring to wiping down the camera that beams the desolate planet around them onto window-sized screens in their cafeterias. No one has ever come back, or survived for more than minutes.

Why? Add that to the questions piling up not just for Silo's viewers, but for the silo's residents. For more than 140 years, the latter have dwelled across their 144 floors in safety from the bleak wasteland that earth has become — but what caused that destruction and who built their cavernous home are among the other queries. So is when it'll be safe to venture out again and whether everything the stratified community has been told, as documented in a book of decrees called The Pact, is 100-percent accurate. Along with giving wanting to leave such finality, other rules span how people can use remnants from the before times (called relics, and covering Pez dispensers, watches hard drives and more) and the lottery that allows couples to procreate (with women otherwise implanted with birth control).

Here, breaking the indoors-only mandate, being too curious and challenging the status quo all have serious consequences, as Holston, Allison and Juliette learn. Brought to streaming by Justified creator, Speed writer, and The Americans and Slow Horses executive producer Graham Yost, Silo has twists in store for all three — but Juliette earns the bulk of its attention. In the "down deep", as the lower levels are dubbed, she's an engineer overseeing the generator that keeps things whirring. She's also sparked to do more than mechanics by her lover George (Ferdinand Kingsley, Mank), who has a fascination with relics and an obsession with exposing the truth about silo life. Sims isn't fond of her snooping, or of her rise from the bottom ranks in general, while she isn't impressed when she's paired with The Pact-worshipping Paul (Chinaza Uche, Dickinson).

If the premise wasn't absorbing enough, with its setting, questions, arbitrary regulations, and conflict between those who've grasped power and everyone forced to live under their authority — and it is absorbing — Silo is a feat of world-building from its first moments. With kudos to the show's production designer Gavin Bocquet (The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance), entire art department and special effects team, it's visually entrancing in its location alone. As this confined existence spreads up and down around a striking central spiral staircase — because there's nothing as advanced as an elevator to scale and plunge through the silo's floors — it does so with Soviet-era hues and a steampunk vibe to the show's retro technology. Discovering new spaces, be it the engine room where the intense ticking-clock third episode is set, or the floors devoted to crops and cattle, or the medical bay, is constantly a thrill, albeit never more so than the dramas playing out within each place.

Within Apple TV+'s stable, both Severance and Hello Tomorrow! also benefited from blast-from-the-past looks while getting viewers puzzling. They each knew, too, that aesthetics and enigmas can't do all the heavy lifting. As they both proved, Silo is dedicated to its characters first and foremost — so much so that when some slip away earlier than their casting has audiences expecting, it feels like a genuine loss. That's not a criticism of the always-excellent Ferguson, who anchors the show with flinty determination, but praise for how well minor figures are fleshed out. She's magnetic, thoroughly deserving of her lead role and riveting in it, and she has stellar support, with Iain Glen (The Rig) and Harriet Walter (Succession) also welcome inclusions.

Rich concept, stacked cast, immersive visuals, dripping intrigue: given how well Silo's first season pans out, it's no surprise that a second is already in the works. This strange new world doesn't come close to resolving every question it poses in this debut go-around, instead continually inspiring more, yet never feeling like it doesn't have an endgame or it's stretching out its story to prolong getting there. Cliffhangers are part of its storytelling process, but skilfully. The big reveal that ends the season is catnip for more to follow. Silo is just as involving when it's exploring its underground city, diving into its main players' histories, solving mysteries and inciting more — and worth digging deep into.

Check out the trailer for Silo below:

Silo streams via Apple TV+ from Friday, May 5.

Published on May 05, 2023 by Sarah Ward
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