Silo S1E5: The Janitor’s Boy

Juliette is still trying to investigate George’s death, but she’s pulled away because there’s yet another murder: Deputy Marnes, who was attacked by an unknown assailant at the end of last week’s episode. With Marnes and the mayor murdered, and Sheriff Holston lying (presumably) dead outside, anyone who had helped her look into George’s (and Holston’s) death is gone. She’s left with smarmy I.T. head-turned-acting-mayor Bernard, and inscrutable enforcer Sims, who have already assigned Juliette a new deputy, Paul Billings, whether she wants him or not.

Bernard and Sims are less interested in Marnes and Mayor Jahns’ deaths as a murder investigation than from a PR standpoint, as they discuss what official story is going to cause the least unrest in the silo. Sims flat-out tells Juliette she’s in over her head as sheriff and should be replaced. Bernard reminds her that kissing the Judicial department’s ass isn’t technically in her job description, but it’s part of the job nonetheless. (For someone who runs the I.T. department, Bernard seems to be far more interested in loyalty to the as-yet-unseen Judicial).

Hank, the deputy from the lower levels, shows up to offer his support, but on the upper levels, Juliette no longer has anyone to turn to. But her openly hostile assistant, Sandy, demands she solve the mayor’s murder and not just go along with whatever official story Judicial wants to use. “Judge Meadows doesn’t give a shit about the truth. The only thing she cares about is maintaining order.” Part of Judicial’s PR strategy will inevitably mean finding a patsy to pin the murders on, which means Juliette is now in a race to find the real killer before that happens.

Her first stop is to visit Kennedy, the man who punched Marnes in the face after a confrontation last week. He’s not home, and a search of his apartment reveals a container of rat poison and Marnes’ pencil sketch of the mayor. But Juliette’s instinct isn’t to arrest him, it’s to bring him somewhere safe. If someone wanted to frame a patsy, he’d be the ideal candidate, and planting clear evidence would be the best way to do that. But to Silo’s credit, the show doesn’t spell that out, it just lets the audience draw the obvious conclusions.

Deputy Billings surprises Juliette by trying to earn her trust. He tells her Judicial has their own investigation and a network of spies planted throughout the silo. But she quickly surmises that Billings is sending her on a wild goose chase so they can arrest their patsy and make her look foolish. They can tie up the murder investigation quickly, and have an excuse to send her down to the lower levels all at once.

Juliette didn’t disagree with Sandy when she accused her of being unqualified for the job. But she already has an uncanny knack of knowing who not to trust, anticipating Judicial’s schemes as quickly as they can throw them at her. She finds the Judicial stooge who planted the evidence, but as always, gets no answers, only further questions. And she wins Sandy’s grudging respect, but not before she announces she’s moving back to the mid levels.

We started Silo thinking it was a dystopian thriller and a mystery box show, but it’s revealing itself to be above all a noir. Juliette’s in over her head, she doesn’t know who she’s up against or why, and anyone who can help her disappears as the truth gets further and further away. The silo itself is a killer premise, but this may be the best possible way to follow through on that premise — by putting it secondary to the real story, which is about the lengths people in power will go to suppress the truth, and the lengths someone like Juliette has to go to shine a light on it.

Stray thoughts:
• One thing the show does very well is imagining details of everyday life in the Silo. The funeral ritual — in which mourners each take a bite of an apple and throw the rest into the grave, so the deceased might fertilize a tree — is both a striking invocation of the cycle of life and death, and a bit of cultural specificity that helps make the silo feel like a real, lived-in place. Same goes for a foot race up the massive spiral staircase at the Silo’s center. It’s a nice slice of silo life, but the show also intercuts the runners with Juliette chasing down a suspect to amp up dramatic tension.

• Two odd rules the silo has: no mechanical devices to help move up and down the silo, stairs only. And no devices that can magnify beyond a certain point. Just more small mysteries to throw onto the pile.

• The janitor’s boy of a title is Sims, who as a child learned that his father’s menial job was cover for something more sinister, and followed him into the family business. We still don’t know much about what that business is, but there’s a janitor’s closet that hides whatever secretive faction of the silo Sims is really working for.

• Earlier this year, Andor did a masterful job of using a sci-fi premise to show the horrors of life under an authoritarian regime. Silo is doing the same thing with a very different approach, as in contrast to the bombastic Galactic Empire, the silo’s power structure is entirely in the shadows, and wields only soft power, using a combination of bureaucracy and assassination to get what it wants. Whatever that actually is.