“Ask your questions before it gets colder, and then get the fuck on the bus!”
Since Sarah Wayne Callies doesn’t bark commands—she’s far too sweet for that—this counts as sage advice: Here, on a high ridge in the middle of nowhere, somewhere north of Vancouver, B.C., the light has long since faded, and the temperature is dropping, fast. That she and Colony co-star Josh Holloway remain in such hospitable spirits, even on the heels of filming a challenging scene from the series’ third season, might explain its lo-fi appeal: Though USA’s sci-fi drama is set amid an alien occupation, it isn’t the gleaming technological spectacle of Netflix’s Lost in Space or Syfy’s The Expanse. In fact, by shifting the action in Season Three from occupied Los Angeles to a resistance camp in the wilderness—a collection of camouflage-dressed Quonset huts hugging the hillside behind us—Colony further sharpens its focus on Will and Katie Bowman, sci-fi’s most compelling marriage.
As the new season begins, six months or so after the Season Two finale, the Bowmans and their children, along with slimy, self-interested bureaucrat Alan Snyder (the perfectly weasely Peter Jacobson), are holed up in a country farmhouse, enjoying some semblance of security for the first time in the series’ run. For much of the first two seasons, after all, Will and Katie are on opposite sides: He as a collaborator with the Vichy-like regime set between the human population and their alien “Hosts,” she as an operative for the insurgency. And yet, through it all, they remain bound by their love for each other, and by their desire to protect their children.
“Same page, different paragraph,” Holloway says of the Bowmans’ relationship, a phrase that might be applied to his and Callies’ easygoing, awfully funny chemistry. Though they finish each other’s sentences, he speaks in that familiar drawl, while her voice is more Midwestern, more clipped; though there’s clearly mutual appreciation between the two, they’re not above ribbing, either.
“Twelve years I’ve lived in B.C., and I’ve never seen a bear,” Callies says, referring to warning signs posted around the set. “He’s here 12 days and the bears are like, ‘Oh my God! Are you Sawyer? Loved that show!’ Fuckin’ bears never watched Prison Break. What can I say?”
In Season Three, with Will and Katie no longer working at cross-purposes, the pair has space to explore a new dynamic: teamwork. As Callies says, their relationship is guided by three key sentiments:
1. “Don’t fuck with my wife.”
2. “Don’t fuck with my husband.”
3. “We’re the Bowmans, bitch!”
That’s not to say there aren’t ample complications, from the tension caused by Katie’s attempts to whip the resistance into shape to their increasing reliance on eldest son Bram (Alex Neustaedter) to the always slippery Snyder. This last has been, and continues to be, one of the main sticking points in the Bowmans’ marriage: As Holloway puts it, Will sees him as “an asset,” while Katie, Callies chimes in, just thinks “he’s an ass.” Jacobson, who jokingly refers to his character as part of the Bowman family, suggests that this is simply adding a different kind of wrinkle to the series’ animating question, in part because the line between “us” and “them” gets even blurrier: “How do we deal with each other under this kind of crisis?”
The terms Colony trades in—occupation, resistance, collaborator, insurgent—are those of the wartime drama, or even real life; as Callies points out, “it’s an incredibly exciting time” for a series that examines the sacrifices we make to be safe and the sacrifices we make to be free. But the fundamental feature of Colony, the one that’s easiest to come back to when any resolution to the situation with the Hosts seems far, far away, is Will and Katie’s marriage, which is loving, loyal, strong—and also prickly, frustrating, fraught. Holloway and Callies don’t bear many traces of the latter, but their evident comfort with each other allows them to take the Bowmans’ relationship in all the directions any couple might, were that couple a dashing former U.S. Army Ranger and FBI special agent and his secret insurgent barkeep wife. (It’s TV: You gotta expect some amount of fantasy.) It’s this feature that also makes Colony a rare artifact: the genre TV series you can jump into midstream, without having to study up on some complex mythology or familiarize yourself with the relevant subreddits.
“He’s created a show that you can pick up at the beginning of any season, and you’re gonna be fine, and you’re gonna get it—because we don’t explain anything in the pilot anyway,” Callies says of series co-creator Carlton Cuse, giving the hard sell before the (mercifully warm) bus heads back to the city. “You tune in to the middle of these people’s lives.”
Season Three of Colony premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on USA Network.
Matt Brennan is the TV editor of Paste Magazine. He tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.