The year is 2074. Governments have crumbled in the face of sweeping, devastating climate change, leaving huge corporate conglomerates to pick up the slack and complete the takeover they have seemingly been aiming at for years. The United States of America is effectively run by these multinational corporations; the zones in which they are located are called Green Zones. Outside are the Red Zones, dens of vice, violence, and a desperate struggle for survival.
This is the world of Syfy’s new drama, Incorporated. Produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, the series made its debut in the US on November 30 and was immediately hailed as timely in the wake of the election of Donald Trump as President. What could have been dismissed as yet another dystopic thriller to join a long queue – a more adult Hunger Games or a less sophisticated version of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy – is getting a closer look thanks to its uncomfortable closeness to reality.
From the get-go, the show plonks its viewers the shadowy world of mega-corporations, specifically SPIGA, a bio-engineering company that proudly takes credit for feeding “most of the world’. One of the SPIGA holdings in Jakarta has been attacked, and the company is on high alert, its security forces aware that even those within its glass walls are not above suspicion. Ben, a fast-rising employee (Sean Teale), is our window into this conglomeration, though we’re quickly shown that his own allegiance to SPIGA is suspect. Ben is on a mission to find a young woman with whom he has some sort of romantic history. She has been missing for six years, but using SPIGA’s extensive resources, he hopes to locate her somewhere within the morass of the system.
The writers use each of the main characters to highlight some aspect of the near-future world. There’s Laura, Ben’s wife (Allison Miller), a doctor at a cosmetic surgery clinic who has recently received permission to get pregnant. That’s right – if it seems like women do not have agency when it comes to terminating pregnancies, Incorporated pushes the premise further, creating a world where even getting pregnant is subject to checks and permissions. Tellingly, it is Ben’s bosses who have the right to tell Laura when and if she can start a family, no matter that she is a well-qualified doctor who runs a successful practice.
Laura’s mother, Elizabeth, also appears to be a key player. Played by Julia Ormond, best known for her role as the volatile Marie Calvert on Mad Men, Elizabeth is the head of SPIGA. She is also, however, on the outs with her daughter, and their relationship promises to be one of the more intriguing personal elements of the show. Calvert seems to be gifted at playing simultaneously terrifying and yet vulnerable women, and it will be interesting to see what she does with the role here.
The first episode includes a trip outside the haven of the Green Zones and into the seedy Red, following the trials of Theo (Eddie Ramos), a young man who comes up against trouble and is forced to push himself into prize fighting. The world of the Red Zone is painted in dull yellows the gritty luminescence of a streetlight in smoggy air, while the Green is primarily shot in clear, white light. They both have their dangers, even if those of the Red are slightly more obvious, and the Green more sanitised.
Incorporated seems worthwhile for, more than anything else, its ability to create a convincing futuristic world. Many creations in the dystopic genre fail to effectively address the world outside of their narrow lens. Though Incorporated is restricted to erstwhile Wisconsin thus far, characters speak of the world outside, of how events have affected countries as far flung as Micronesia (disappeared under the rising waters) and as close to home (for them) as Miami (also gone to the sea). Through little slips in conversation, we learn that the best champagne now comes from Norway, that fakon (fake bacon) is the new normal. Save for one quick exposition at the start, the show seems set on building its world for viewers brick by brick, letting it emerge organically, through the course of conversations, events, little anecdotes related by characters. For instance, nothing underscores the desperation of the residents of the Red Zones as clearly as one particular, small encounter in Laura’s clinic. Want to know what it is? Watch to find out.