Syfy’s newest entry into the scary future line of programming, Incorporated, debuted tonight (the pilot has been available online for a few weeks, so you may have watched it early). I’ve been excited about this program for a while – Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are executive producers, and if that’s not a pedigree, I don’t know what is. Plus, I had this same general idea for a short story when I was in college. So what’s not to be excited about?
As it turns out, the only thing not to be excited about is the possibility of this actually happening. It’s 2074, government power has declined, and corporations have gradually, but completely, filled the power vacuum. Either you work for the corporations – the one featured here is Spiga Biotech – and live in relative luxury in the Green Zones, but with no privacy or basic personal rights (the company decides when you can get pregnant, for example); or you don’t, and life is infinitely more difficult for those in the Red Zones. “Climate change has ravaged the planet, causing widespread famine and bankrupting governments. In their place, multinational corporations have risen in power and now control 90% of the globe. These corporations fight a covert war for market share and dwindling natural resources,” the opening titles tell us. Self-driving cars, hand-held Xray machines, and 3-D holographic viewscreens are commonplace.
So what’s happening in this world? Nothing good, that’s for sure. Ben (Sean Teale), a young corporate exec (interesting how neckties are rare now and the collar stickpin is the fashion) works on a program in development called Everclear, designed to read a person’s thoughts, or dreams, and be able to tell the scanner what it is that they are thinking or dreaming. He’s married to Laura (Allison Miller), a plastic surgeon with serious issues, who is the daughter of one of Spiga’s top executives (Julia Ormond). What were those flashbacks Laura had – why was she so anxious when Ben mentioned going into the Red Zone – was she kidnapped or abused at some point? Is that why she cuts herself? And when can someone develop that skin-healing spray she uses to disguise it? She’s received permission to remove her birth control implant and get pregnant, but Ben’s not-as-positive-as-hoped-for reaction confuses her.
And why is Ben not so thrilled? Because he isn’t really Ben, corporate loyalist – he’s Aaron, undercover from the Red Zone, trying to find the location of Elena, a girl he loved but hasn’t seen for 13 years. We meet her brother, Theo (Eddie Ramos), who turns to fighting cage matches to survive. Aaron meets the girl’s father on the park bench with his peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – still broken after his daughter disappeared so many years ago.
And when Aaron thinks he’s found the girl, using facial recognition software, he can’t quite begin planning the heartwarming family reunion everyone is hoping for – the girl he believes to be Theo’s sister is seen walking into Arcadia, which turns out to be a sex club perk for Spiga executives. This particular plot device – sex slaves for powerful men – is one that I personally have trouble with, and I hope that the show’s writers are very careful with it. It’s a hot-button turn-off for female audiences, and often indicates a disregard for women viewers. Let’s hope this show doesn’t go there.
So now Aaron/Ben has to figure out how to get into Arcadia and determine if this is the girl he’s looking for – by getting a promotion to the 40th Floor. And how do you do that in a highly controlled environment? By targeting a slimeball brownnose exec (David Hewlett), planting evidence of secret-stealing on him, and work to take his job once he’s been removed. And by removed, Incorporated takes us down the path of institutional torture – I think – otherwise why have a menacing Dennis Haysbert as Julian, the company’s security expert, standing over the hooded man, holding a scalpel, in an already-foreshadowed “quiet room”? I don’t think they’re playing Twister. Unless it’s with a pliers on his fingers.
Ben is an interesting character. He’s not calm, cool and collected – you’d think that the massive amount of security in place as employees walk in and get scanned before entering the building would notice the flopsweat and anxiety pouring off of him. He’s a skilled fighter, demonstrated in the trip to a Red Zone fight club and bar he takes with an oily fellow employee, when he beats up a rival corp nasty who’s asking too many questions in the men’s room.
It was fun to see Ian Tracey, most recently from the cast of another Syfy scary future show, Continuum, show up as Terrence, a Red Zone black market warlord/entrepreneur, who takes an interest in Theo after Theo demonstrates that he can actually hold his own in a fight against Terrence’s bodyguards. This is a very different role for Tracey, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with this character. I also liked the motorcycle elevator replacement – not that I’d want to bump up 18 floors on the back of a bike, but hey!
The show’s stark, metallic, gleaming Spiga world is a terrific contrast to the slummy, dark, Mad-Max-esque Red Zone. I’m intrigued by the world that’s been created, love the use of the holo-neon, and I don’t think that some kind of corporate control over the majority of the population is too far fetched. After all, we’ve already seen some of this in history – with railroads creating towns, building homes and charging huge rents so that employees never get out of debt, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I loved this image, early in the episode – as Ben is riding in his self-driving car from his company-controlled suburb to work, we see that the tree-lined road is really a projection hiding the slums of the Red Zone from the eyes of Spiga employees.
My recommendation for Incorporated – Try It! We’ll see how the season goes.
Watch Dennis Haysbert in the Quiet Room in virtual reality (VR not necessary to watch this, though):
For trailers, backstage info and interviews, check out the Incorporated website.
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