Incorporated might come off as a fundamentally different show than it might have intended, now that the post-election haze has faded for most and they’re joining those who’ve been working on processing the absurdity that is a Donald Trump presidency. It’s an understandably troubling marriage of corporate malfeasance and unmatched power to most, though some in finance find themselves giddy at the thought of the good fortune coming their way at the expense of voters. Not a new notion for the world, but what does it look like when kleptocratic systems spread everywhere at once? When there’s no longer an illusion of separation of government power and corporate interest? Could we learn to differentiate between a video memo from a CEO and a presidential address?
Incorporated: “Vertical Mobility”
With deals between corporations and governments entering new legal territory, like Facebook willing to heavily censor information in order to access all that juicy, juicy data just waiting in the billion-plus-user market that is China, we can see the promiscuous hookups between governance and commerce become a committed relaitonship. And with a population that doesn’t care about what goes on in the greater world, that control and influence can easily tip over to one side, giving all the power to one player.
Incorporated’s 2074 imagines such a world, where preoccupied, tech-addled people manage to ignore the many crises going on in the world to maintain the illusion of stability around them. Unless a corporation manages to find itself in the crossfire. Aaron (Sean Teale) is one such person. Starting out as a young hacker and thief, he’d conned his way into the Green Zone, assumed the false identity of Ben Larson, and rose to an executive position within Spiga, a sprawling conglomerate that’s a major copyright holder of the world’s food supply.
The city Aaron calls home could easily stand in for a futuristic Rio with its insanely disproportionate economic divide. The green zone is where absurd wealth held by corporate employees allows for vast metropolises that cater to every whim of the ultra rich and those fortunate enough to be leashed by their contracts. Separated by a heavy security presence, the red zone is the dirty but bright cyberpunk favela where the unincorporated turn to any means to make a life-saving dollar. And it’s all separated by a veritable pay wall–several inches of steel standing stories high.
Aaron left a friend, Theo on the other side, and a girlfriend, Elena, who sold herself into sexual slavery to absolve her father’s corporate-owned debt. Without the education or connections to get beyond the gate, if there’s any path that leads in that direction, options for survival are limited. This places people like Theo in the sights of private military companies in need of soldiers and crime lords who recognize criminal talent. If he has any hope of helping them, Aaron must straddle the corporate divide, maintaining illusions at home with his wife, Laura, at work with his mother-in-law/CEO, and holding true to the obligations that keep pulling him back home.
Incorporated is essentially Syndicate as told from the perspective of executives rather than the security and mercenary teams of the respective corporations at play, with a touch of Code 46’s lecture on social stratification. The homage is most clear when you see PMC advertisements on billboards and corporate security bagging and tagging people who violate company policy, all the while executives whisper about corporate espionage taking place in the shadows. But told from the perspective of executives it gives a new vantage of a story many of us have heard before.
Haves vs have-nots–a fight rages on between both sides, from personal struggles to corporate-backed wars, all the while they’re oblivious to the true war being waged by the insanely powerful on a plane they couldn’t even comprehend existing. In fact, no one, not even Aaron, seems able to comprehend anything beyond their immediate concerns. This stretches out to corporate elites–people cutthroat enough to manage boardroom-run governments but not smart enough to know that entering the red zone is a death sentence for the super rich. Mass exodus of Americans into Canada by illegal border crossing, climate change drowning Manhattan and Rhode Island, drilling off the coast of the Arctic Circle, immigrants bought for personal amusement like pets, starving Americans begging China to send donations their way–there’s a lot to keep the average mind occupied yet people prefer to mute the TV. Suits don’t care, and the unincorporated can’t really afford to either.
It a cultural attitude that’s reminiscent of our own, which is troubling since it’s a condition that allows for the kind of kleptocratic foundation necessary for a hostile takeover like Incorporated to take shape. With an incoming administration that freely hands out millions in corporate welfare for the sake of optics, and bankers, who’ve built their career on punishing debtors, in charge of the treasury it’s not a far cry from seeing an actual company running a country. So it’s definitely a poignant show that feels a bit cruel, perhaps even tone deaf for an audience that may have had enough talk about businessmen taking over their government and selling the country for parts. But maybe that’s something many need to hear in fiction since they’re definitely not getting it from the news.
No way to tell if this will be the sleeper hit Syfy has been waiting for since the end of Battlestar Galactica. At times it feels like that show will forever cast a shadow on the network, showing what they were once capable of but could never replicate. That being said, Incorporated has a solid foundation here and no pretense to take itself more seriously than it deserves to. That’s a recipe for entertainment with low expectations, giving Incorporated all the vertical mobility it wants to impress audiences.
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