What could be more corporate that an organisation which sought to maximise its appeal and broaden its customer base by actively turning its back on its core audience, actually changing its name from “the Sci-Fi Channel” to “SyFy,” as though “science fiction” were a phrase to be ashamed of, which then backpedals just as quickly in an attempt to reclaim what they have given up with a wave of targeted hard genre programming.
What can be appreciated is that, for whatever cynical reasons the new strategy has been developed, SyFy have at least worked hard on their recent series to offer some genuinely worthwhile viewing, and created by Spanish siblings David and Àlex Pastor who previously wrote Tarsem Singh’s Self/Less, Incorporated does not lack for vision.
It is the year 2074, the Earth ravaged by runaway climate change and all the secondary consequences of that dire proposition, displaced populations, widespread famine and disease and governments bankrupted by their belated efforts to deal with the symptoms rather than intervene to address the cause. Stepping into the breach are the competing multinational corporations who have divvied up the 90% of the globe between them.
Those fortunate enough to work for the corporations live safe in the walls of the Green Zones, but the tree-lined daily commute is a lie, and hidden behind the projected pastoral tranquillity which reassures those privileged citizens on the inside are the unpoliced and barbaric slums of the Red Zones, no-go areas for anyone who values their personal safety.
Even in the Green Zones, there is infiltration and terrorism, the Jakarta offices of Spiga Biotech having been targeted by nationalist group the Sons of Tomorrow leading to the cynical comment overheard in the Milwaukee offices: “How can you be a nationalist when your nation is underwater?” As dismissive of their dead overseas colleagues as the attackers, the question is asked – was it truly terrorism or was it industrial espionage?
Always at risk, there are extreme security measures entering and leaving the Spiga offices, and beyond the biotechnology which has provided adaptable crops across the drying lands, Ben Larson (Reign‘s Sean Teale) is working on the Everclear project, designed to image the thoughts of those upon whom it is deployed, though with projected accuracy still insufficient to satisfy Julian Morse (The Unit‘s Dennis Haysbert), Spiga’s intimidating head of security.
Ambitious and with an eye on an office on a higher floor, the elusive realms of management for which competition is ruthless, Ben is happy to do whatever is necessary to ensure his senior in counter-intelligence, Chad Peterson (Stargate Universe‘s David Hewlitt) is conclusively ruled out of consideration by framing him for espionage.
Ben’s life is complicated; his wife, Laura (Devil’s Due‘s Allison Miller), a plastic surgeon with a rich and demanding client base and a traumatic kidnapping in her recent past, has just received approval to attempt pregnancy; his mother-in-law, with whom Laura has a frosty and distant relationship, is Elizabeth Krauss (The East‘s Julia Ormond), unflappable chief executive of Spiga’s American operations.
Buried even deeper is that Ben is not who he presents himself as; he is actually Aaron, a sleeper agent infiltrating Spiga at the behest of Terrence (Continuum‘s Ian Tracey), a Red Zone gangland boss whose methods of control are less refined than Spiga’s but equally effective, and the possibility of being caught by Morse or failing Terrence is equally likely to lead to an unsavoury outcome.
With America on the cusp of a new regime whose stated policy on climate change is to bury their heads in the sand and pretend the overwhelming scientific consensus is wholly foreign propaganda designed to frustrate sovereign business interests, to have that as the driving force of a dystopian drama is a bold move, tweaking the nose of the naysayers, though it is likely that they will deflect concerns with their usual ineffectual bluff and handwaving which will not hold back the rising tides nor the refugees when they come.
With a roster of executive producers which includes The Good Wife‘s Ted Humphrey, Memento‘s Jennifer Todd, Manchester by the Sea‘s Matt Damon and Argo‘s Ben Affleck, premiere episode Vertical Mobility is written and directed with assurance by the Pastor brothers, displaying a diverse array of influences from the global corporate dominance in all aspects of life of Rollerball to the “borrowed ladders” of Gattaca, Ben’s rising position within Spiga based entirely on a carefully manufactured lie.
SyFy have always loved their clean utopias, often depicted as nearly indistinguishable, with just two recent examples being the Earths of Childhood’s End and The Expanse, and the overwhelming feel of the two worlds presented in their contrasting duality remind of SyFy’s own Caprica, the Green Zone the capital city of that colony while the rough entertainments of the Red Zone parallel the virtual realm of New Cap City; once such a polarisation would have seemed unreal, not so much in the burgeoning post-truth of 2016.
With Terrence’s tattooed gangsters of the Red Zone apparently on loan from Caprica‘s Ha’la’tha crime syndicate, their party drug of choice owes more than a little to Dredd‘s addictive Slo-Mo, though in the absence of functioning elevators the denizens of the slums have adopted a genuinely innovative – if precarious – approach to getting up stairs.
With ten episodes commissioned for the first season, SyFy are justifiably confident in their shenanigans of high level tech infiltration, corporate sabotage, intrigue and betrayal and have quite obviously funded the production so it has not as yet been obliged to compromise. With a solid foundation to build on, like Ben/Aaron, it is now up to los hermanos Pastor to make good on their promises and deliver on the potential of Incorporated.