Silo S1E2: Holston’s Pick

There are existential questions that can’t be answered, the biggest of which is, why are we here? Except living in an underground silo with very strict rules, under the control of very shadowy authority figures, “why are we here” is a very tangible question, and our characters are only beginning to search for answers.

After Alison left the silo in the first episode, believing that the devastated landscape outside is somehow fake, and apparently died, her husband Holston is now doing the same. He can’t be forced to clean the camera that gives people in the silo their view of the outside world, but everyone does. Something unknown compels even the people who insist they won’t do it. And Holston’s going to find out firsthand what that something is, as he’s going to find out whether his late wife’s suspicions are true, and whether she’s truly dead, or whether her apparent death is part of the ruse as well.

We watched Allison’s trip outside from inside the silo along with its residents, but we follow Holston’s point of view as he visits that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns — the outdoors. For the first time in his life, he sees the sun overhead. And as the people inside watch through the screen, baffled as to why the sheriff would go outside voluntarily, Holston sees… a miracle. Green grass. Blue skies. Birds flying overhead. Things he had previously only seen in picture books. Allison was right. The devastation outside was a ruse to keep everyone inside. “They have to see,” he says to himself, moving to clean the camera, in the hopes that somehow he’ll be able to give the silo’s residents the view of a lush landscape he sees, even though no one else ever has.

His reverie is short-lived. His suit doesn’t give him enough oxygen to get more than a few feet away from the silo. He wheezes and staggers, and takes off his helmet… and still can’t breathe. He manages to stagger over to Allison’s body, and dies right beside her.

Life down at the bottom of the silo quickly moves on. The relatively cushy top layers can worry about what would drive Holston to go outside; the lower levels have to stay focused on keeping the generators running, keeping the lights on, and keeping everyone alive.

Except Juliette Nichols, the engineer and murder witness we met last week, can’t let it go. She lets out a cathartic yell and smashes a water pipe in anger. And she’s still thinking about George, the murder victim. It turns out the two of them were in an “unsanctioned” relationship, and just before his death, he was excited to show her something — presumably the treasure trove of lost data he showed to Allison, that led to her questioning life in the silo. They plan to meet after her shift to discuss it, but he isn’t there, just an odd gift of a weathered Pez dispenser and a note. In the morning, she found out he had jumped from the stairs, but she can’t accept that he’d end his life so abruptly.

Because their relationship wasn’t sanctioned by the government, she has no right to request an inquiry. But as we saw last week, Holston and one of his deputies approached her to hear out her theory, but when it comes time to talk, she’s reluctant to say much. Having lost his own wife by that point, Holston intuits her own loss without having to ask if George was more to her than I.T. support. He tells her, “the not knowing… it’s going to haunt you forever.” And that prompts her to show Holston the Pez dispenser. Relics from the Before Times are very illegal, so she’s trusting that he won’t arrest her simply for having it.

It also comes with a note. “Remember where you last saw this?” And with both parties wary, Juliette does something even more illegal. There’s a hidden tunnel on one of the lowest levels, with a sign warning punishment to any who enter. WIthin that dark, graffiti-covered tunnel is a hole in the ground that leads somewhere deeper, and even more secret. It’s a gigantic cave, which has working lights, and a gigantic spider-like machine at its center. Juliette theorizes that it’s the digger that made the hole for the silo. It was easier to leave it buried than bring it back to the surface.

George discovered this place, based on the blueprints he found on the illicit hard drive he showed Allison last week. He left behind a secret stash of illicit relics from the past, and a literal and figurative thread for Juliette and Holston to follow. It’s a terrific mystery to watch them unravel, because behind the mystery of George’s death is a mystery at the foundation of their entire world. And the answers to that mystery are both existential, and very tangibly life-and-death.

Stray thoughts:
• The book is told in first-person, and pulls the same trick A Game of Thrones does, killing off the main character from his own perspective. The book then shifts to Mayor Jahns as the main character, and then kills her off. It’s tremendously effective, because you don’t expect the book to pull the same trick twice, but when it does, you’re never sure if Juliette is safe.

• We get a B story of Mayor Jahns and Deputy Marnes trying to find a replacement sheriff as tension rises throughout the silo following Holston’s death. They don’t like the candidates being foisted on them by Judicial, but they don’t have a better option and wish Holston had given them some guidance before he died (ie. Holston’s Pick of the title.)

• The show slips backwards and forwards in time, before and after Holston’s death, and to Juliet in happier times with George in between investigating his death. It’s to the show’s credit that it’s never confusing, and every flashback is effective in illuminating one character or another’s state of mind in the show’s present.

• Just like Tim Robbins’ brief scene last week lets us know his character is going to be important because he’s played by someone famous, we get a glimpse of Common as one of a group of black-clad enforcers, most likely working for Judicial. We’ll likely get a follow-up next week assuming tensions continue to rise in the silo.

• Someone mentions being sent to work in the mines, so the silo has a fuel source, but based on what we see onscreen, the generator seems to be fueled entirely by Juliet tightening bolts with a giant wrench and scowling.