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Master Class

A Terrifyingly Plausible Dystopia: Inside Syfy's "Incorporated"

Alex and David Pastor talk to Co.Create about the scary scenario they present in their futuristic television series.

A Terrifyingly Plausible Dystopia: Inside Syfy's "Incorporated"

Julia Ormond as Elizabeth Krauss and Dennis Haysbert as Julian in Incorporated, 2016

[Photo: Gavin Bond, courtesy of Syfy]

Set in 2074, Syfy's new series Incorporated depicts a world devastated by climate change and run by corporations with unlimited power. In this not-so-far-off future, the United States is clearly divided into the haves, who work for big, powerful companies and live in green zones where they enjoy many comforts and the latest technology, and the have-nots, who live in red zones where they must fend for themselves.

Things are bad. So bad, in fact, that in the pilot episode of the futuristic new drama series, which premieres tonight, we learn via a news broadcast that Canada has been overwhelmed by an influx of more than 12 million illegal immigrants from the United States and is building a fence in the year 2074 to stem the flow.

Watching the pilot for Incorporated a couple of weeks prior to the U.S. presidential election, I laughed at what seemed like a clever and entertaining but wild proposition at the time. But thinking back to that scene after the election, knowing that the Canadian immigration website went down the night of November 8, well, that fictional news broadcast about Americans clamoring to escape the country doesn't seem so farfetched anymore.

"We hate that we were so prescient in that way," says David Pastor, who created Incorporated with his brother Alex.

The Pastors, who hail from Spain, spend a lot of time thinking about the future, and they have depicted post-apocalyptic worlds in their films Infectados, which charts a viral pandemic, and Los Ultimos Dias, about a group of people taking shelter in an office building after a catastrophic event.

Through Incorporated, they share a dystopian vision at the core of which is a man named Ben Larson (played by Sean Teale), who has escaped the red zone and infiltrated the green zone, blending into privileged corporate society as an executive at a biotech company known as Spiga in hopes of gaining enough power to save the woman he loves.

Sean Teale as Ben Larson, Saad Siddiqui as Marcus, Alex Castillo as Susan, and David Hewlett as Chad[Photo: Ken Woroner, courtesy of Syfy]

This project marks the first time the duo has worked in television—initially, the Pastors thought Incorporated would take the form of a movie. "But the world kept growing and growing, and we realized that we needed more real estate. We needed more than the two hours that a movie would give you, and that's how this became a TV show," David explains.

Turning Incorporated into a television series—Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's Pearl Street Films produced the series, and Ted Humphrey (The Good Wife) serves as showrunner—gave the Pastors, who wrote and directed the pilot, room not just to explore the story of Ben's personal struggle but the wider world in which he lives in 2074.

As a creative endeavor, envisioning what could be reality decades from now was a fun exercise in some ways, particularly when it came to creating technology. "It was hard work trying to find the right level of technology that felt exciting and new but at the same time plausible and realistic," Alex says.

"That was something we were very clear about from the beginning working with the writers—no flying cars," David stresses.

Sean Teale as Ben Larson[Photo: Ben Mark Holberg, courtesy of Syfy]

The cars in Incorporated don't fly, but they are self-driving, the computers of the future are interactive desktop surfaces, and television is a projection that can be easily accessed anywhere.

As a viewer, it is fascinating to observe the future as it is presented in this highly stylized show, but you can't watch Incorporated without pondering the parallels to what is happening in the world today and thinking about the very real possibility that we are going down a road where the divide between the well-to-do and those who aren't doing well is even more pronounced than it is at this moment in time.

"It was the recession that sparked [the idea for Incorporated] and just reading about climate change and seeing how those things are intertwined—the idea that we have this economic system that has very little regulation, where corporations can do whatever they want, and we are all paying the price collectively for how they are destroying the environment," Alex says.

"There is this strong ideology that constantly pushes for more deregulation, for a freer market, for corporations to do their own thing without control of the government that's pitched to the population as freedom, and that's a really scary prospect for us because it is freedom for the corporations, but corporations are not democratic institutions," Alex continues, "and it's not really freedom for the rest of the population because we don't have a say in what those corporations do, and they don't have an allegiance to us. They have an allegiance to their shareholders, and that's fine, but that's why we need to balance that power with a stronger government."

In one of the pilot's most striking scenes both in message and execution, the big boss at Spiga addresses her workers as they stand at attention in their glass cubes, telling them Spiga is like "a generous mother" that will feed and protect them, and all Spiga asks for is their hard work and loyalty.

Inspired by the corporate nannying in vogue today that has Silicon Valley companies providing every convenience—from on-site gyms to meals—to make the work environment feel like home and a place you don't mind being at well beyond nine to five, the Pastors present a future in which corporations provide everything for their employees, including housing and police protection, and demand an even greater degree of devotion. Elaborating on his brother's remarks, David says, "I think what we're trying to get at is corporations are not democratic institutions, so when they replace the government, and they provide those things that the government should provide to workers like security, health care, armies, and police like in our world, that comes at a price—having corporations replace government is dangerous because you don't have a say. You don't have a vote. You don't have a voice in that system. You are just dependent and subservient to them. It's another form of oppression even if it's a more subtle one."

Julia Ormond as Elizabeth Krauss[Photo: Ben Mark Holberg, courtesy of Syfy]

As much as their corporate overlords provide, the people living in the green zone in Incorporated don't really have everything they desire. There are massive food shortages in 2074 because the environment has been ravaged by hurricanes and other natural disasters, and even the people who live a more pampered life in the green zone don't have access to the food they crave.

Bacon is a luxury, and it is hard to resist the allure of food porn in 2074.

"One of the points that we wanted to make in the show was that we have the feeling as a society right now that opportunities in terms of access to food, to travel, to technology are always going to get better and more plentiful, but that could be absolutely wrong because of climate change," Alex says. "Climate change is going to damage our capacity to produce food, so that means that certain things like almonds that require so much water or cattle that require so much energy are going to become an unsustainable luxury."

Incorporated also looks at what happens when the middle class disappears, and all you have is the haves and the have-nots and nothing in between. "It's not that farfetched," David maintains. "In a way, what we're doing with this show is bringing something that's already real in many places in the developing world—be it Mexico or India or Brazil—and just bringing it to the U.S. A lot of people in Mexico and Brazil live the way that the green zone people in our show live. They travel by helicopter to São Paolo because they know that if they hit the streets, they may be kidnapped. They travel around in armored cars because they don’t want to get kidnapped. There's a surgeon in São Paolo whose specialty is ear reconstruction because of all the kidnappings. That's science fiction in our show, but in Brazil it's not. It's everyday life."

Like any smart, compelling science fiction, Incorporated provides an imagined yet not entirely implausible vision of the future. "Hopefully, people will tune in whether they agree with the politics of the show or not and be entertained and start a discussion," agrees Alex, who, speaking to Co.Create just a few days after the U.S. presidential election, was still shocked that a man who thinks climate change is a hoax is the president-elect.

"The results were quite unexpected—at least for me," Alex reflects. "There was always the dread that this could happen. I don't know. It was not until it was all said and done that you had to accept reality. The biggest threat for us is the fact that he doesn't believe in climate change . . . As a species, we've already been dragging our feet for way too long. We've been talking about climate change since the '80s. We haven't done anything really. At least Obama accepted the fact that it was true, that it was man-made, and was trying to curb it. Now, it's like we're going to waste four more years when I don't think we have four more years to waste. That's the scariest part."

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