The premise, which seems to be supernatural in nature, involves a high school returning to their town of West Ham, Connecticut, after being evacuated because of a foul mystery smell, to find that no one but them exists – no adults, no younger kids. Complicating matters further, the town itself is now surrounded on all sides by dense “wasn’t there before” forest, that seems to have no end. They have only the food and resources in the stores to sustain themselves. For how long though? And what’s actually happening to them?
Well, the mystery box elements kind of vanish for most of the season, creeping up only at the end to give us a big “WTF?” moment in the finale, and in their place are a bunch of teens having to learn to cooperate and survive on their own. Things go well, then they go bad. Then they go well again, then they get worse. At one point, someone says “We’re always one dumb move away from ruin.” This was a cluster of young people who weren’t even looking forward to becoming adults much less having to govern themselves responsibly and logically, and once it sets in that there need to be rules and those rules need to be enforced, things go strikingly sideways.
Yes, The Society is filled with betrayal and twists and all the hallmarks you’d expect from a teen drama, but it’s also executed thoughtfully and carefully, with characters given complexities that feel real and wrenching. From the de facto leaders who don’t want power – like Supernatural’s Kathryn Newton (also appearing in this weekend’s Detective Pikachu) and Legion’s Rachel Keller – to the dangerous school sociopaths, to those who used to have more privilege than the other students, this group is an excellent mix of confusion and calamity. It takes a while to get a handle on who everyone is (names, faces, etc), and that can make for a frustrating start, but once you get a few episodes in, everything settles nicely.
Once the teens face their first real dangers and first tastes of death, true leaders emerge, as well as those resentful of said leaders. On a very basic level, The Society shines a huge spotlight on how massively difficult it is to come together for survival’s sake and how easy it is to fall for those who try to promise you an easier go of things. At the same time, there is an effort to find out what the hell is happening on a grand scale – like “Where the hell are they really?” – but it’s also almost impossible for the show to balance both endeavors.
This is a huge ensemble, which means that, at times, some characters circulate out of focus. Add to that a few time jumps and you get a much different-feeling first half than the back half. But stars Alex Fitzalan, Toby Wallace, Jacques Colimon, Kristine Froseth, Olivia DeJonge, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Grace Victoria Cox (who was actually on Under the Dome, hah!), and many more deliver the goods when their storylines are called into action.
As a recommendation, The Society shouldn’t be binged in huge doses – better to spread it out. It’s heavy, and that weight can create a dryness at times. It’s maddening, but in a good way – as it should be, given the pressing and puzzling premise. When things start to disintegrate, into men vs. women, socialism vs. classism, and other lofty and labyrinthine real-world issues, The Society shines through both its subtleties and its willingness to “go there.”