It is remarkable, really, how much the Apple TV+ series Silo is about tape. You could argue the show as a whole would simply evaporate—conceptually, anyway—without the existence of tape. Tape might as well be the love interest, or the quippy sidekick who dies so the protagonist can have something to brood over. (Silo has that, too, but they’re arguably less important than the tape!) As someone with a slim-to-nonexistent daily relationship with tape, I now find myself eyeing the Scotch roll in my junk drawer and wondering if it will prove a pivotal plot device as the Earth warms. Stranger things have happened!
This tape provides a mind-boggling cap to the first season of one of the more intriguing new sci-fi series in recent memory. Based on Hugh Howey’s book trilogy, Silo follows a robust cast led by Dune’s Rebecca Ferguson as Juliette Nichols, the engineer-turned-sheriff who uses her job as protector of 10,000 post-apocalypse survivors to instead investigate the alleged murder of her boyfriend, George Wilkins (Ferdinand Kingsley). She ultimately stumbles upon a vast conspiracy led by Mayor Bernard Holland (Tim Robbins) and the head of Judicial, Robert Sims (Common), as they surveil and gaslight the entirety of the underground Silo without their community’s knowledge or consent.
The finale itself offers a satisfying reveal after nine episodes of creeping suspense, but getting there requires some confusing narrative threads finally intertwining. Let’s break them down.
Alright, what’s the deal with Walker and the heat tape?
At the beginning of the series, we learn Juliette stole some much-needed heat tape from Supply while she was still working as a lowly engineer in Mechanical. In the Silo, such petty thievery is a minor crime, which means it’s odd that Mayor Holland brings it up multiple times whenever he and Juliette share the same breathing space. What’s with Andy Dufresne these days? After all, tape isn’t your traditional Chekov’s gun. So most viewers—yours truly included—likely tossed the heat tape in the “weird but extraneous” section of their brains’ narrative filing cabinet.
Outside the Silo is, apparently, a poisoned planet. Silo residents forced outside the air lock are asked to “clean,” during which they literally wipe the dust off the structure’s camera sensors, which display the ravaged Earth to the citizens within. Moments after cleaning, these people inevitably die, gasping in toxic fumes until they stumble to their knees and suffocate. But as the episodes progress, Juliette discovers evidence that the world is not, in fact, a wasteland. George’s all-important hard drive reveals video footage of a verdant, blooming Earth, one Juliette is desperate to show her Silo neighbors.
Here’s where the tape comes in. We learn that Walker (Harriet Walter)—Juliette’s mentor, psuedo-mother and fellow Down Deep resident—often creates her own heat tape because the stuff from Supply is sub-par. In fact, it’s weirdly sub-par. Why would Bernard (and the whole of IT and Judicial) be so upset over rolls of heat tape if they don’t even work properly? The gears start to turn in Walker’s head, and she realizes something: When Judicial sends someone out to “clean,” they wrap the criminal into a hazmat suit using the crappy heat tape from Supply. What if that’s intentional? What if they’re not trying to protect them from the toxicity outside? What if they want the suits to leak?
Walker pieces this together quickly enough to leave her apartment for the first time in decades. She goes to her ex-wife, Carla, who works in Supply, and together they replace the bad heat tape with Walker’s own DIY stuff. This tape is then shuttled to the Holding Room, where Juliette awaits her banishment to the world above. When Judicial sentences her and zips her into her hazmat suit, she’s sealed inside with Good Tape™️. Ultimately, it’s what saves her life as she faces the outside…and the unknown.
So, wait, what is it actually like Outside?
Turns out, the real world really does suck. The video footage George discovered on the hard drive was an illusion, one he and countless others fell for—including Sheriff Holston (David Oyelowo) and his wife, Allison (Rashida Jones).
This video is a clever trick placed inside the hazmat suit helmets to prevent those sent out to “clean” from seeing the reality that lies just beyond the Silo’s hill. The reasoning for this is likely three-fold: 1) The hopeful view of flourishing gardens would incentivize “cleaners” to wipe the sensors and show this “reality” to their friends still inside the Silo; 2) This action would then waste precious moments of their air time, ultimately killing them before they had a chance to discover anything beyond the hill; 3) The other Silos would therefore remain undiscovered.
Juliette finally understands this deception when she notices the birds soaring across her helmet’s field of vision. Curiously, they follow the exact same flight pattern as the ones in George’s video. Sure that can’t be mere coincidence, she places Holston’s sheriff’s badge on what’s supposed to be his dead body, only to discover a glitch in her display when her hand passes through his “corpse.”
She then crests the hill, and the footage playing in her helmet finally cuts out. The greenery disappears. What remains—and what is real—is the barren remains of our little blue dot. But Juliette, temporarily safe and alive within her well-taped suit, forges onward, whereupon she discovers hundreds of hill-encircled sensors. Her Silo is one of many.
Did Alison and Holston really die outside the Silo?
It’s unclear, exactly, what happened to Alison and Holston, as their bodies are not visible in Juliette’s new, unfiltered view of Earth. The likeliest explanation is that they did die thanks to the bad Supply tape protecting their suits, and that their corpses quickly decomposed due to the level of poison flooding into their skin. (The bodies visible on the Silo sensor, then, must have been superimposed on behalf of Judicial.)
What does Sims know?
It’s clear by the end of the finale that, however well-informed Sims might seem about the Silo’s lies, he doesn’t know the extent of what’s going on Outside. Watching Juliette “clean” from the confines of the cafeteria, Mayor Holland notices her put Holston’s badge atop the sheriff’s body, from which Holland infers that she’s deciphered the truth of her helmet display. “She knows,” he mutters. Sims eyes him, puzzled, and replies, “Knows what?”
Previous episodes have revealed Sims is indeed a loyal soldier of Judicial, and he’s more than happy to oversee the department’s unadvertised surveillance of Silo residents. He’s equally eager to destroy so-called relics from the era before the Silo, as evidenced by his relentless pursuit of George’s hard drive. He seems to take a typical state approach, which is to deem such action necessary for a nebulous definition of “safety.” But once George’s camera footage makes its way to Sims’ retinas, he seems increasingly unmoored.
Does he now genuinely believe the Outside is healthy and thriving? If that’s the case, why does he still want everyone to remain ensconced in the Silo? Might that have something to do with the undefined “one goal” he and his wife discussed in loose terms during other, earlier scenes? And if Sims is now aware that Holland (and Juliette) know something he doesn’t, might he try to learn the truth?
What does Mayor Holland know?
Besides Juliette, Holland might be the only other character working with most of the facts. He seems to know about the tape; that Earth is ruined; and that his Silo is only one of hundreds. He’s also the proud owner of a key with the number “18” etched on it, almost certainly a signifier that his Silo is No. 18 amongst the cumulative Silos over yonder. And that would mean someone else is aware of—and perhaps even in control of!—the Silos as a whole. At the end of the finale, Holland uses his handy dandy 18 key to open a door to…somewhere. Maybe the multiverse!!
Still, there’s one door Holland seems unaware of: George’s water door. That’s right! Our favorite Geek Squad member discovered an underwater door beneath the Silo before he died, a little factoid he passed along via hard drive to Juliette, who inadvertently passed it along to Holland moments before she slipped out to “clean.” When she reveals this tidbit about the “massive steel door,” a brief flash of confusion crosses Holland’s face. His response feels uncharacteristically stunted and forced: “The Founders left us with many mysteries.”
Later, we watch Holland unearth a shiny CD (the nostalgia!) from within George’s hard drive. Maybe he’s eager to do a little truth-hunting of his own. And if that’s the case, it might only be a matter of time before rebellion sweeps Silo No. 18. Viva la revolución! Bring your pitchforks and Good Tape™️!