'Colony': EP Carlton Cuse Breaks Down Show's First Major Death

'We were at this crossroads between a wonderful actor, and something we really believed in as a story decision,' Cuse tells THR.
Jack Zeman/USA Network

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Thursday's episode of USA's Colony, "Blind Spot"]

Four episodes into the series, Colony pulled the trigger on its first main character — as well as that character's spouse.

Homeland Security boss Phyllis (Kathy Baker) was the unlucky victim. In the final moments of the episode, she was gunned down in her own home by Broussard (Tory Kittles), one of the key members of the Resistance fighting against the Los Angeles occupation, right at the height of her power in the story. Phyllis' death came only hours after she confronted Katie Bowman (Sarah Wayne Callies) about her work with the rebellion, minutes after she fielded an enigmatic phone call with someone more important than Proxy Governor Snyder (Peter Jacobson), and seconds after she checked in on her bed-ridden husband — the second victim of Broussard's lethal home invasion.

Phyllis' death marks a shift for Colony, in terms of what it means for protagonist Will Bowman (Josh Holloway) and his reluctant alliance with the Occupation, the greater mythology of the dystopian drama (there's a lot happening in that final Phyllis phone call), and the show's willingness to sever ties with important players at a moment's notice.

Executive producer Carlton Cuse spoke with THR about the show's biggest death yet, what it means for the future of Colony and the episode's big clues about the Occupation.

Can you take us through the decision to kill Phyllis at the end of this episode?

It was a very difficult situation, because we were able to get Kathy Baker by promising her that it was a limited arc of episodes. Once we got Kathy Baker, she was so amazing, and we were really distressed that we were going to have to kill her off. But by that time, the story dye had been cast. [Colony co-creator Ryan Condal] and I had already made plans that were all conditioned on that character's death. But it was probably the most painful moment of the entire season for me personally. She's an amazing actor and an incredible person, and her time with us was way too short-lived.

Was she interested in doing more once she started sinking her teeth into the character?

I think she was having a great time, but we were well downstream with the writing, and it was all predicated on this character's death. It was something we didn't feel we could unwind. And ultimately we felt like, as much as we love Kathy Baker, there was enormous value in the story decision Ryan and I made to have this character get killed. It's a big turn, it represents a real advancement in terms of the resistance's ability to cause havoc.

When you were writing the first episode of Colony, you were writing Will Bowman with Josh Holloway in mind. Were you writing Phyllis with Kathy Baker in mind?

Yes, actually we were. There was this idea that we would have a really cool, senior sort of CIA, professorial type of character. I had seen someone equivalent speak, and it sparked the idea that this type of character could fit in our world. It was really engaging to us that this woman who sort of seemed very normal was this brilliant expert in terrorism. We sparked at the idea, and Kathy Baker immediately popped to mind as the perfect actor to play the part.

You had to kill Phyllis because of what it means for the story. But did you have to kill her husband Ed? That's just cruel.

It was probably good in the end for Ed. (Laughs.) No one was going to take care of Ed without Phyllis, so it was probably a better fate for him.

What does it say about Phyllis as a character that her final act before dying is telling someone to kill her husband?

I think it means that she's taking care of her husband until the end. She recognizes that he would probably undergo a lot more pain and suffering and still meet his demise in her absence. There was nobody left in this new world who would take care of her husband. Better for him to die with her than to face a slower, more excruciating end.

Shortly before her demise, Phyllis is on a phone call, talking to someone whose identity we don't know quite yet. She's talking about Proxy Snyder in a way that makes it sound like she's speaking with someone above Snyder's pay grade. Is that the right impression?

You should definitely have that impression. We're trying to suggest that there are multiple layers of authority. Phyllis, while she's on the inside, is part of a hierarchy that's going to unfold across the show.

During the call, Phyllis says, "Their perception of time makes them unpredictable." Sounds like something worth paying attention to.

I'm glad you were activated by that! Ryan and I are trying to dole out little bits of mythology throughout the season. That's one. You'll obviously learn more as the season progresses. We're trying to seed out some sense of who these aliens are and how they function, so that's just a little clue.

Even though Phyllis is gone, is there more to her story given what you're saying about this hierarchy?

The story of Phyllis sets in motion a whole bunch of significant events. It puts a whole lot of pressure on Proxy Snyder to find Geronimo and get a handle on the Resistance. They made an incursion into the Green Zone and killed a very important person, so it amps up the stakes and puts the pressure on him to figure out what's going on and solve the problem.

You just mentioned the Green Zone, which is a prominent part of this episode. Can you clarify what the Green Zone is, and its importance to the show?

In almost every model of colonization that we looked at, there's always a place where the rich and entitled people live. They tend to isolate themselves from the population at large and become the recipients of enormous privilege. We felt that our world would be no different. The people in power would take over the nicest neighborhoods of Los Angeles, close themselves off and give themselves a lot of resources. It was an attempt to mimic what you see across the history of colonization and colonial life.

How does Phyllis' death impact Will's work at Homeland?

Will is going to be appointed the interim person to take her place. He came in initially thinking he was going to be in charge, based on his initial conversations with Proxy Snyder, and now he is basically in charge of hunting down the resistance movement. That's a definite change for him. It amplifies his responsibility and authority, and really puts him in the center of the terrorist-hunting activities that they're taking.

How does the death impact Katie? Shortly before her demise, Phyllis visited Katie at the Yonk, revealed she knows she's working with the Resistance, and gave her the whole "you work for me now" speech. Is Katie off the hook now that Phyllis is dead — or should we still be worried about Katie, considering there was drone surveillance footage of Katie working with the Resistance?

Katie is not in the clear. That's something that unfolds over the next batch of episodes for sure.

You lost one impressive guest star this week in Kathy Baker, and gained a new one in Adrian Pasdar. We know almost nothing about him at this point except that he's married to Madeline's new boss, and he's a white wine guy. What can we expect from him as the season moves forward?

His role gets much more significant as we go downstream. His character is part of the authority hierarchy, and he's trying to figure out how to maneuver and survive and get ahead. That's really his job. We're going to see that he has a significant relationship with Proxy Snyder, and ultimately as the season progresses we'll find him in a position where he may be moving up in this world.

Broussard is the man who pulled the trigger on Phyllis. Really, it's a big episode for him — between the murder and the revelation that he's undercover with the Red Hats. Can you talk through the decision to have Broussard working as a Red Hat, and how you decided to unveil that information in the opening scene of episode four?

Ryan and I were really into the idea of making these teasers that were out of context, that present part of the mosaic of the world, showing other slices of what's going on under this occupation, but that aren't necessarily related to the main narrative of the episode — or they come back around to relate to the narrative in an interesting and surprising way. We had this idea that Broussard would be a Red Hat and he's taken this job as a way to gather intel on how the Red Hats operate, what their schedules are, who's on their duty rosters, how they work ... and that information on how the Red Hats function is obviously very helpful for the Resistance. It comes into play for their big mission, which is going to launch based on that information.

Resistance figurehead Geronimo was caught in this week's episode, except it turns out he's not actually Geronimo. What more will we learn about Geronimo next week, given that the episode is actually called "Geronimo"?

We wanted to set up this idea that Geronimo is the face of the Resistance, but we didn't want it to be something that lingered annoyingly across the whole season before you got answers. So we wanted to really bring the Geronimo story to a head right in the middle of the season, and hopefully subvert some of your expectations in terms of how it plays out.

Let's close out with one last look at Phyllis, and something she said in last week's episode: "The great mystery of the universe isn't where we come from, but where we're going." It struck me as valuable insight into how you and Ryan want people to read the show. How much does that line speak to the nature of Colony and how you feel viewers should engage the story? Should they be less concerned about the who or what the Occupation is and more concerned about the Occupation's actions moving forward?

I couldn't have said it better myself. The show is not about the mysteries of who these occupiers are. It's really about this couple and this family trying to survive in a world where the rules have been upended. That's what's important. The danger of the occupiers is really, "What are they going to do our world and what are they going to do to us?" The mystery that's really important is, "Are we going to be able to survive their occupation? What are the strategies by which we can best do that?" That's where it is. Nobody knows at this point quite how long they're going to be here, what they're going to do, and what's the end point. What's the end of all this? Are they going to blow up the world? Are they going to fly away? Are they going to leave the world in a better place, or a really, really horrible place? That's the central fear that's looming over our characters' lives.

Colony airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on USA Network. Share your thoughts on the latest twist in the comments section below.

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