Stay on target
Syfy really wants you to know that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon produced their new TV series. It’s difficult to tell if their involvement had any effect on it’s quality, but Incorporated turned in a fine first episode regardless of who was involved. As with a lot of high-concept science fiction shows, we open with some text explaining the world we’re to inhabit for the next 40 minutes. In the future, environmental disasters have caused governments to fall, and large corporations have taken their place. People who work for the corporations are taken care of and live in Green Zones; others live on whatever they can in the Red Zones. Oh, and the corporations are at war with each other over what remains of the Earth’s natural resources.
As the show begins for real, we see just how bad a shape the world is in. A Category Five hurricane is brewing, Canada is building a fence to stop U.S. citizens from immigrating illegally (ha), and there’s been a bombing in Jakarta. We follow Ben, a manager at the Spiga Corporation, a powerful biotech company that makes drought-resistant seeds among other inventions. He works for his wife’s estranged mother, which is exactly as awkward as you’d think it is. He takes a self-driving car to work, and there’s a cool moment where the green pastoral scenery is revealed to be a projection, hiding the harsher reality from the rich.
One of the more plausible versions of the future on TV. (Photo: Screenshot via Syfy)
As the episode goes on, we find out that Ben isn’t who he says he is. His real name is Aaron, and he’s working undercover for a powerful figure in the Red Zones. He’s infiltrated Spiga to search for Iliana, a friend’s sister who’s been sold as a sex slave to one of Spiga’s executive’s clubs. Ben/Aaron makes it his mission to become an executive and rescue her. The problem is the higher up he gets promoted, the more scrutiny is on him.
It’s an interesting premise, and the world is well-realized. One thing I appreciate is that the technology is all extrapolated from what we currently have and the characters act like they’ve had it for years. They relax in self-driving cars while videos play on the windshield. There is a literal divide between rich and poor, though the rich can visit the Red Zones and indulge in a bit of class tourism as they get drunk and high. It’s like a Black Mirror episode extrapolated out into a full series, only slightly less bleak and depressing.
The acting is not great, but it’s on par with what you’d expect from a Canada-United States Syfy collaboration. The world is interesting enough that I’m intrigued to see it explored more as the series goes on. The 45-minute pilot makes me miss the days of Syfy’s shows kicking off with 90-minute TV movies. Shows like Warehouse 13 and Eureka were given enough time to introduce the world, the characters, and tell a compelling story that set up a formula for episodes to come. Here, we have the characters and the world, but the story didn’t have time to shine.
Julian (Dennis Haysbert) explains what happens when you betray the company. (Photo via Syfy)
At this point, our main character has a relatively simple goal, and the stakes are small and personal. No doubt as Ben rises higher in the company; he’ll discover some unsavory things about Spiga and work to stop it somehow, but that’s just me speculating. As of right now, there’s no indication of where the story is going and no promise that it will grow in any direction, other than knowing how TV dramas work. There is some interesting tension between Aaron’s commitment to his mission and the fact that he really likes his life as Ben. It looks like, as much as he loves Iliana, he’s also fallen for his Green Zone wife, Laura. The show has potential, but it’s hard to see whether it’ll capitalize on it or not.
I’m always happy when Syfy produces, you know, actual science fiction and Incorporated is off to a decent start. The characters aren’t as immediately charming as in some of Syfy’s other series, but in science fiction, a good premise counts for a lot. The promise of futuristic corporate espionage and war is exciting and the threat of “the quiet room” will boost the tension a bit. We’ll have to wait and see if the series has legs, but it’s off to a pretty good start.