Silo S1E3: Machines

At the end of the previous episode, Juliette discovered a cavern under the silo, thanks to clues left behind by her possibly-murdered lover George. All she has left of George are things that are incredibly illegal — relics from the Before Times like his old wristwatch, and forbidden knowledge about the silo. Even their relationship was secret, so she has no one she can talk to about any of this. 

Mayor Jahns and Deputy Marnes are working their way down through the silo to meet Juliette, as she was Holston’s posthumous pick to be sheriff. But Juliette’s busy, as the generator that keeps the silo running is on the fritz, in no small part because she was two hours late to work after her spelunking adventure. Which is another secret she has from the rest of the silo — the generator’s on the verge of breaking down for good. Repairing it would mean plunging the entire silo into darkness for hours, which has never been done before, and her boss doesn’t want to be responsible for the backlash when that happens. He’d rather keep his fingers crossed that the jury-rigged fixes they’ve made to the generator hold together until it’s no longer his problem.

Which is emblematic of the silo as a whole. Jahns visits Bernard Holland (Tim Robbins), the head of I.T., to see what he thinks of Holston’s pick for sheriff, vs. the uninspiring candidate the Judicial Department has on offer. Jahns resents Judicial trying to make the pick for her; Holland advises her to not make any waves. On the surface, this seems like typical small-town politics. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that, whoever’s actually in charge in this silo, it isn’t the mayor.

Nonetheless, she spends some time warmly greeting her constituents from the middle levels, taking her responsibility to shake hands and kiss babies quite literally, as she visits the incubators where newborns are kept. But that’s just a pretext to talk to the obstetrician — Juliette’s father. He gives them curt answers as to why he’s estranged from his daughter, and why a doctor’s daughter from the relatively comfortable mid levels to move to the bottom of the silo at age 13 to do the dirty, dangerous job of keeping the generator running.

“More questions than answers,” Jahns observes, which may as well be Silo’s tagline. And it’s becoming clear someone doesn’t want her asking. Common (who appeared briefly last week, we still don’t know the character’s name) shows up to cordially remind her that Judicial already has a pick for sheriff, and she doesn’t have to waste time making her own decision. It’s terrific casting, as the rapper-turned-actor has made a career of playing charming, inoffensive-verging-on-bland characters, but he uses that milquetoast exterior to just barely mask a threat lurking underneath. 

Which, as the mayor is learning, is a metaphor for the silo itself. She reaches the bottom just as the generator begins to rattle and shake again. Mechanics scramble and Juliette sprints back to the generator room to help. She can tell just by placing her hand on the generator and listening carefully what the problem is. Convinced only she can fix it, she has her boss seal her inside the massive machine, so that if something goes wrong, it’ll only kill her.

She does her usual thing of tightening a big bolt and scowling hard enough to fix the generator, and the mayor is impressed. Juliette is beyond surprised when Jahns offers her the job of sheriff, but she wastes no time in turning down the offer. She can’t leave the generator in such a precarious position. “Everyone thinks their job in the silo is the most important. Mine actually is.”

Jahns is quick to accept her reasoning, but she leaves Holston’s badge behind. He wanted Juliette to have it, whether she took the job or not. It takes her a while to notice a message carved into the back of the badge. We don’t see what it says until episode’s end, but it’s enough to convince her to take the job, although she asks one thing from Jahns in exchange: let her shut down the generator for long enough to do long-term repairs. 

The mayor gives the order, but misgivings abound. Deputy Marnes has the entire police force on alert for panic and unrest. Juliette’s colleague’s aren’t convinced she even knows how to shut the generator down or start it back up again without blowing it up. Their attempt to repair the generator is a wonderfully tense scene in which Juliette and her team skirt catastrophe again and again, but as the outcome isn’t really in doubt, the main value of the scene is showing us who Juliette is. Capable of long-term thinking, but also able to go in with only a vague plan and the confidence that she’ll be able to figure it out; stubborn enough to push for what she knows is right, and willing to risk her life for the greater good. In other words, she has the makings of a good sheriff.

Stray thoughts
• I realize every bit of action on this show takes place in an underground silo, but this episode is washed out and murky even by the aggressively gray standards of the streaming era. Which means when the generator gets shut off, things don’t really get that much darker. Keeping the silo brighter early on would have made sense thematically and made the show a little easier to watch.

• There’s a lot of talk about the mass panic that will ensue if the generator goes down for maintenance and doesn’t come back up. But the show also makes a point to show that the silo’s food and vegetation are grown hydroponically. People will panic in the dark, but they also won’t have very long before everyone starves to death. To the show’s credit, they don’t beat the audience over the head with that fact, just let it be part of the episode’s simmering dread.