'Colony' Creator on Tackling Fake News in the Trump Era

"For us on the creative side, this show has always had relevance to today — just maybe not here in America," Ryan Condal tells THR.
Justin Stephens/USA Network

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Thursday's episode of Colony, "Good Intentions."]

Colony took on the issue of fake news and alternative facts Thursday in a way only the sophomore USA science fiction thriller could.

After a spaceship exploded in the Los Angeles night sky one night, key political operatives serving the new not-from-our-world order gathered together the following morning to get their story straight. How would they sell the explosion to their subjugated civilians without revealing that it was an astonishing act of rebellion? Proxy Alcala (Tony Plana) comes up with a whopper of a pitch: The ship wasn't destroyed. It simply vanished due to the successful implementation of a new form of inter-dimensional travel.

"He comes in and he provides some alternative facts to the people of Los Angeles about what they may or may not have seen the night before," says Colony co-creator and showrunner Ryan Condal. "It's a little window into how information travels in this world, through one's source. On our show, the media is the government and the government is the media. You can trust your eyeballs and what you saw if you were a witness on the ground. Otherwise, you may have heard rumors from however else that news has traveled to you, or you have the state-run media telling you what you saw." 

"This has been something that's repeated time and again throughout history, through every authoritarian regime where news is processed and presented to the people in a certain way that doesn't have any other voice of dissent," he continues. "A lot of people in the world of Colony are going to say it's bullshit, but enough are going to say, 'Well, if that's what they say it is? Then that's what it is.'"

Remove the spaceship and alien overlords from the equation, and what's left is something that feels all too familiar — and merely one of many similar ways the second season of the USA Network series has echoed real life. 

"There was a Vox article that came out a few weeks ago and called us 'accidentally the most relevant show on TV,'" Condal said. "Which I thought was a little bit of a back-handed compliment!"

Condal doesn't view the show's relevance as an accident, nor does he view the show's stories and themes as reflecting any one authoritarian regime in particular. Since its inception, Colony has focused on fugitive hunter Will Bowman (Josh Holloway), resistance fighter Katie Bowman (Sarah Wayne Callies) and their three children's struggle to survive in a near future world that's been conquered by an oppressive extraterrestrial force. 

"The hope is that the show would always be timeless in its thematics and the science fiction themes it's exploring," Condal says. "Which is, history repeats itself, fascism is old and then it's new again, and it returns in different ways and in different forms."

In fleshing out the show's fictional world, Condal has drawn on some of the darkest moments in human history, from "Nazi-occupied France and Soviet-occupied Europe, to the right-wing dictatorships in the Latin American world, which is where [frequent Colony director] Juan Jose Campanella comes from. He grew up in Argentina in the 1970s, and so he was considered a radical leftist and was watched and surveilled and has stories of run-ins with military police.

"For us on the creative side, this show has always had relevance to today — just maybe not here in America," Condal adds.

Condal and the Colony team started working on the second season a year ago, right in the thick of the presidential primaries. 

"There was a bit of a sea change going on in the public consciousness. It only got more and more scary and prescient as we went along," he remembers. "For an American audience, it's much more in their face now. I think for them, the show might have some more nutritional value than it did before. But for us, it was all kind of the same … we just watched the news in horror from the writer's room."

The state of the union didn't impact what was happening in the world of Colony, according to Condal. He says the season was already in full swing months before the results of the 2016 presidential election were revealed, with moments like Proxy Alcala's alternative facts and the intense one-take home invasion sequence planned well in advance. (In the case of the latter scene in the eighth episode of the season, Condal gives "all credit to Juan Campanella, the maestro who put it together. This will not be the first or last one you'll see on the show.") But Condal sees the intersection between his series and the current atmosphere as a testament to the genre within which Colony resides.

"We certainly couldn't have predicted it, but good science fiction shows that are rich and thematic, like Battlestar Galactica, are timeless," he says. "Battlestar was a reaction to the post-9/11 world, and George W. Bush's universe. But you can watch that show today and it's still incredibly relevant, because it's good. Not that we're holding ourselves up to Battlestar, but certainly that's what we aspire for." 

Colony airs Thursday nights at 10 p.m. on USA Network. Tell us your thoughts on season two and this week's episode in the comments section below.