The Syfy tv show Incorporated, backed by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, got a few things wrong that other shows like it get right (such as Mr. Robot).
Although it was canceled after its first 10-episode season, the show serves as a thought-provoking stand alone series now that asks many questions our society will soon be faced with, such as:
- How will medicine and medical treatment change in the next 30-50 years?
- Will autonomous cars revolutionize how people approach work and life?
- Is humanity prepared to deal with the potential fallout of climate change?
With questions like these in mind, let’s start with the first of 10 things that Incorporated got right: modern NDAs.
Oh, and just so we’re clear: there are *MASSIVE SPOILERS* ahead.
You’ve been warned.What if I told you that the dystopian world of Incorporated isn't that different from our own?Click To Tweet
#1: Non-disclosure Agreements Can Be Fatal
In the cutthroat and corporate controlled world of Incorporated Green Zones, fealty to your chosen corporation is the difference between life and death. Whether you’re a suit scratching for the 40th-floor executives like Ben Larson or a high-end escort like Anastasia (Elena), you sign your life away when you agree to work for the only 2 companies: Spiga or Inazagi.
Whether you’re a suit scratching for the 40th-floor executives like Ben Larson or a high-end escort like Anastasia (Elena), you sign your life away when you agree to work for the only 2 companies: Spiga or Inazagi.
With Spiga specifically, if they find that you have betrayed the company or have become a liability, they can execute your non-disclosure agreement. Typically, even the most robust of NDAs just include specific privacy clauses and scary legalese about getting sued into submission. Incorporated takes that practice of protecting company assets to the fullest degree: they erase your memory when they “execute” your NDA.
Think this kind of treatment is far removed from current business practices? I’ll bet you can already name at least 5 Fortune 500 companies who might be interested in this kind of asset protection and indemnity.
#2: Importance of Autonomous Cars
We already know that dozens of companies have fast tracked self-driving cars. Despite concerns by certain manufacturers, the race for the first reliable product like this might almost be over. In fact, Google has already released a very early model of its autonomous car.
Incorporated nailed how dependent upon autonomous cars our society could become. It also accurately displayed how much everyday life could be augmented by using time spent driving doing other things.
Of course, this means that the GPS tracking system can be used against you at any point. The car could potentially even be hacked.
#3: Environmental Disaster and Climate Change
It’s no secret that humans have dramatically impacted Earth’s environment due to our dependencies on fossil fuels like oil and coal, according to a critical mass of scientists.
Incorporated imagines a future that perhaps is not far from our own–one in which the oceans have risen due to humanity’s inability to heed environmental warning signs.
In the show, Coastal cities have been completely consumed by ocean water.
As a result, you have many FEMA camps for millions of refugees of once prosperous cities like Seattle and New York City. You also see an uptick in diseases such as Malaria and other health issues.
In fact, many of the characters meet in FEMA camps as refugees of overtaken cities. If you got “lucky”, you left the refugee camp for a red zone and lived in squalor and poverty just one step above a FEMA camp.
The unnatural disasters also led to the monopolization of the economy and society by the two competing corporations. Under the 29th amendment, the corporations gained complete control over their business practices with no regulations or oversight. With the corporations entirely beholden only to themselves and their shareholders, we get to the fourth thing Incorporated got right.
#4: Corporate Indoctrination and Interrogation
If there’s one big take away from Incorporated, it’s the existence and purpose of “The Quiet Room”.
Dennis Haysbert (the guy from the Allstate commercials) brings to life a grizzled Oil War veteran working as chief of security for Spiga (despite his desire to retire from the business of hurting people). He and his band of interrogators utilize a variety of high-tech torture techniques such as targeted electrical charges and, with Ben Larson’s help, Everclear.
This device utilizes a person’s own thoughts to extract images and information without any need for physical violence.
Later in the season, Ben also discovers that you can erase memories using Everclear, as well. However, this kind of mental manipulation isn’t limited to use as torture techniques. When Ben is “interviewed” for a promotion, he is also subject to an intense mental “test”. The company makes him believe that he is attacked by an Inazagi covert team asking him for information on Everclear.
Ben thinks he is strapped to a chair, his leg bleeding from a gunshot wound. His wife, Laura Larson (who is also the daughter of Spiga’s head of US operations, Elizabeth Krauss) arrives home and is attacked, as well. When a soldier holds a gun to her head, Laura pleads with Ben to save her and give up Spiga’s secrets, but Ben stays loyal to the company saying he “swore an oath”. She is shot right in front of him and only then does Elizabeth appear, removing some kind of apparatus from Ben’s head and telling him he “passed.”
These kinds of intense and invasive procedures may seem horrific, but are they that far away from companies where the company picnic is “optional”?
Hint: “optional” means “absolutely mandatory or you are fired within the week”.
#5: Corporate Espionage
Remember how we mentioned that the main character, Ben Larson (or Aaron…depending on who you ask) was up for a promotion? Well, we should also mention that he essentially killed two people to get it.
The man bloodied and beaten in the first image of this article is one Chad Peterson–Ben’s former boss.
Roger Caplan, the main competitor for the promotion Ben wanted AND a detective poking around in his Red Zone past, also fell victim to Ben’s plots. While Ben lured Chad across the Red Zone and later framed him for stealing secure files, he had to get Roger the old fashioned way: fisticuffs.
With the help of his network of Green Zone infiltrators and innate understanding of all things tech, Ben is able to secure his position on the 40th floor.
He also blackmails a fellow infiltrator, Jonathan Hendrick, with revealing his identity if he does not do what Ben wants. Don’t worry–he makes it up to Jonathan later when Ben pretends to defect to Inazagi in exchange for Everclear.
Instead of running away himself, Ben exchanges secure passage for Jonathan and his daughter. Ben Larson is a bad dude, but he’s not a complete monster. This comes as no surprise since Ted Humphrey, one of the show’s executive producers, worked on The Good Wife.
Corporate espionage might not involve murder yet, but reputation defamation and fraud are alive and well (and it’s expensive).
#6: Medical Advancements
Laura Larson is a doctor by the way.
Through her character, we catch our first glimpse at modern and high-tech medicine: aerosol polymers that instantly heal cuts and other wounds. Nanosutures make sealing open wounds a cinch and you can even regrow ears (apparently, though it’s never explained).
You even have bionic hearts and can transform a person’s appearance completely. Beyond all of this, when Ben and Laura are trying to get pregnant, they are offered a “gestator”–someone to carry the child to term for Laura. Propaganda videos are shown with declarations of traditional pregnancies leading to career loss or divorce, but Laura wants to go traditional.
The doctor tests their DNA and discovers that Ben (when he was Aaron – a climate refugee in the Red Zone) contracted Malaria and had lead poisoning which makes him a genetic liability for Spiga.
In order to have a baby, the couple must relinquish all culpability from Spiga in the event that their child has birth defects, congenital diseases, etc. Of course, Green Zone medicine is mostly genetically engineering your baby’s features and cosmetic changes. When Laura opens a clinic in the Red Zone, she has to perform real surgeries – and she isn’t always successful in saving patients.
#7: Wealth Inequality
Many are acutely aware of the growing wealth inequality problems in America and around the world.
In the world of Incorporated, this is even more evident and exacerbated, as well. Green Zones signify “the rich” areas and are carefully manicured, monitored by Spiga security and police, and immaculately clean.
Red Zones are dingy, falling apart, and also where many “Greenbacks” go to party. It is absolutely impossible for a Red Zoner to escape the Red Zone solely on hard work or bootstraps.
Many people in the Red Zone, like Elena and Theo’s father, are taken to debtor’s prison and, when he dies, the debtors would go after Elena (then Theo). This process usually prompts someone else in the family to make a deal with Spiga. Then, they can leverage the obscene wealth they get for signing their lives away to help their families in the Red Zone. To give you some scope: Elena’s contract as “Anastasia”, a high-end escort and companion for Spiga, is 20 years long and she is literally company property.
Of course, this wouldn’t have happened if Elena had gotten the scholarship she worked so hard for; a scholarship one in 10,000 Red Zone people get.
With Elena gone and the father out of the picture, her younger brother, Theo, resorts to cage fighting to make ends meet. He also ends up having to kill another Red Zone kid who is about to get out on a basketball scholarship. It is heavily implied that the only way out of poverty and the Red Zone is to sell your soul, get extremely lucky, and/or be better at something than everyone else. Meanwhile, Ben and Laura are spending hundreds of dollars on real bacon as if it’s nothing.
That brings us to our next item on this list.
#8: Lab Grown Food
Most of the food in the world of Incorporated is grown in a lab because of the environmental devastation.
Spiga and Inazagi also feud over a particular scientist and his research on crops which thrive on salt water making formerly barren deserts new fertile grounds with an infinite water supply (the oceans).
Bacon and steak are coveted prizes while Red Zoners chow down on fast food meals that proudly claim to be “10% real beef!” Fruit is also a delicacy and it is clear throughout the show that food is a symbol of status. Depending on the trajectory of human civilization, this could become a very real part of our future.
#9: The Usefulness of the Cost/Benefit Analysis
You may recall this from some 101 class from college: the cost/benefit analysis.
We all do it: with apartment hunting, deciding where to go for dinner, or even with whom to be friends. There is no shame in it and Incorporated shows the vast importance and usefulness of being able to pragmatically execute this skill.
In a ruthless corporate world, doing these kinds of mental calculations must come as naturally as breathing. As we move to a world focused more and more on pros and cons or strengths and weaknesses, judgment calls like Elizabeth Krauss ordering an airstrike to protect company stock despite killing a useful source and an entire strike team can mean a significant promotion…or death.
#10: Corporations Doing What Governments Can’t
Our final item in the list of 10 things Incorporated got right is something you already see in the world today.
Think of corporations like SpaceX.
By privatizing the company, they control how everything works and are not beholden to a democratic process. Of course, corporations in our world are beholden to government regulations, but they can still work towards goals with immense funding that other government funded groups (such as NASA) might not be able to do.
This is the world of Incorporated: unfettered Capitalism and all of the trappings that come with it.
Some of you who are gamers might be recalling a certain human focused faction from a very popular sci-fi video game series known as Cerberus. The way the Illusive Man manipulates resources and people in the Mass Effect series from Bioware is no different than how Spiga and Inazagi came to power. They took action where governments couldn’t because governments were tied down by either constituents, regulations, or budget.
This is exactly the kind of thing Incorporated does…except there isn’t a giant external threat who can indoctrinate people. Well…this threat isn’t alien. It’s 100% human.
What is the ultimate take-away from the short-lived sci fi series backed by two guys from Massachusetts?
Available for just $20 on Amazon video, you can instantly access the series from your laptop or desktop PC and ask yourself that question or one simple thing: