Set in the fictional town of West Ham, Connecticut, The Society (2019) is a genre-bending Netflix original series. Drawing on elements of Lord of the Flies, Under the Dome, and Michael Grant’s Gone series, the teens embark on a camping trip only to be turned around when it starts raining. They return in the evening to find the town deserted. They must form their own society while trying to figure out what happened. A second season has been slated for a 2020 release.
The diverse ensemble cast features some of the unique characters of the Netflix teen drama pool. The children are forced to grow up too quickly in this new world, and some of their arcs take unexpected turns.
Elle starts out as a typical cold, mean girl who has no friends. Viewers first see her stockpiling an unnecessary amount of groceries into her cart, fighting off anyone who asks her to share – until Allie, the main character, talks to her.
Elle later moves in with Campbell Eliot, a psychopath who thinks they’re the same because they’re both social outcasts. Elle doesn’t trust Campbell, but she has nowhere else to go. He begins to abuse her emotionally, psychologically, and later, physically. Elle’s arc takes an unexpected turn in the second half of the season when the teens decide to hold a Thanksgiving dinner.
Campbell says he wants to stay home, so Elle makes a pumpkin pie and poisons it. But when Campbell learns she’s never had a “proper” Thanksgiving dinner, he insists they join the others. Elle shovels as much of the pie into her mouth as she can before her peers can get to it. That night, a number of people are sick with what they assume is food poisoning, including Allie and Elle. She doesn’t confess, but Campbell understands what happened, and power dynamic shifts again. Elle escapes to Allie’s house only for Campbell to “save” her. Elle promises to give Allie “what’s coming to her”, satisfying Campbell, but Allie knows what she really means.
Grizz became a quick fan favorite. In the first few episodes, he spends a lot of time with the other jocks, though he doesn’t always agree with them. He’s more sensitive, reasonable, logical and responsible than the others. He enjoys reading the work of renowned authors and philosophers, and he’s a great friend and advisor for Allie.
He’s a closeted gay, but not because he’s ashamed of his sexuality; he was planning on breaking away from his friends when they went away for college because he’s been playing the part they’ve expected of him. Since he no longer has the option of going away and starting anew, he reflects on how he wants to live in this new world. He’s inspired by his friend Luke, who is about to propose to his girlfriend, Helena. Grizz realizes the one person he really notices is Sam, Campbell’s brother.
Even though Sam can read lips, Grizz teaches himself sign language so that he can communicate with him “in [his] language”. He’s about to leave on an expedition to find arable land, but he tells Sam that he’s preparing for when he gets back, too. Throughout the season, Grizz inspires other characters to live honestly and on their own terms.
At the beginning of the series, Kelly seems silly and shallow, and she knows it. She and her boyfriend Harry are children of the town’s elite. He tries to exercise his privilege in this new world only to find that nobody cares anymore – including Kelly. Kelly takes the opportunity of their situation to become a better person.
She organizes events to bring everyone together and enjoy their time in this alternate universe (if that’s what it is), like prom. She also sets up a medical practice with Gordie, the smartest of the teens. The two are an unlikely but pleasant pair to watch onscreen. At the clinic, Kelly saves the people Elle accidentally poisons at Thanksgiving and helps Becca (Sam’s best friend) deliver her baby.
Kelly is indiscriminately kind to everyone – including Harry, even after he treats her poorly. She’s the only one to check in on him and try to help him after he slides into depression and laziness. That is until he betrays Allie and goes against everything Kelly stands for.
Allie becomes the town leader after her sister Cassandra is shot dead. Cassandra was the Student Body President of West Ham High School, and she naturally steps into the role of the mayor when the teens find their home abandoned. But even though she loves and supports her sister more than anyone else, Allie is tired of living in her shadow.
After Cassandra dies, she’s grief-stricken and regrets the petty fights she instigated. She resists the authority her friends insist she should claim, even though she’s a natural leader. Over time, with the help of her friends – especially Will, who serves as her advisor, confidante, and best friend-turned-lover – she brings order to the town and earns the respect of her peers – but not all of them.
When Allie and Will decide to hold an election, she discovers she has a few opponents. They’re driven mostly by emotion and their desires, while Allie wants what’s best for the town. Her conscience struggles with the amount of power she has, and it creates a rift in her relationship with Will – and others – more than once. She grapples with indecision, knowing she’s good at being in control and that she must hold onto it for the good of the town.
Grizz’s best friend often acts as the leader of the jocks, maybe because he used to be the quarterback. People listen to him, and he provides a voice of reason when his friends start to go rogue. He proposes to his Catholic girlfriend Helena before he decides to run for mayor. Helena isn’t sure this is a good idea because Allie’s doing a good job, and Luke is good at protecting people as part of the Guard. But Allie tells him he can’t run anyway, because he and the Guard are “like the military”.
Luke becomes a key player in Campbell’s grand plan to gain control over the town. Campbell convinces Harry to run for mayor, planning to use him as a puppet. But an underdog named Lexie storms onto the stage and tells everyone they shouldn’t vote for either Harry or Allie. It becomes clear that Lexie will win the election, but before that can happen, Campbell hatches a new plan to unite Harry and Lexie as co-mayors. But he also needs the Guard on his side, which means getting to Luke. They can’t resist the idea of power, but Luke isn’t so easy to sway. Campbell threatens him, and the deal is done.
Luke is forced to concoct a lie that Allie was trying to steal the election. Helena usually trusts him without a doubt, but when people start accusing Luke and Campbell of lying, Helena isn’t so sure. Luke is portrayed as a caring, consideration, dependable, and responsible character until this point. The unexpected change holds some interesting implications for his relationship with Helena, Allie, Grizz (who’s away on the expedition while this happens), and the Guard.
Luke seems an odd choice to be the romantic partner of someone like Helena. She’s devoutly Catholic, extremely responsible, and firmly rooted in her beliefs and opinions. Yet they truly love each other and plan to be married. Helena almost seems stereotypical when we first meet her, but she’s a lot more than meets the eye.
Helena’s first surprising scene comes after Cassandra’s death, when Allie tries to confiscate every gun in town. After being portrayed as intensely religious, moral, and good, Helena doesn’t seem like the type to own a gun – but she has many, and she refuses to hand them in. The girls’ friendship is further strained when the Guard finds Greg Dewey guilty of Cassandra’s murder.
Allie asks Helena to be his lawyer, which she reluctantly agrees to because she doesn’t have much of a choice. She proves to be an outstanding lawyer, even though the idea of her defending a possible murderer inside the church (which becomes the teens’ designated meeting place) is absurd. But over time, Helena sees that Allie is doing a great job. When the time comes, she vows to give political speeches in the church to help Allie’s election campaign. Even though Helena hates the idea on principle, she knows it’s what the town needs.
What you see is what you get with Campbell. Sam reveals that their parents had Campbell tested, confirming that he’s a psychopath. He’s abusive, controlling, unfeeling, and manipulative. Elle, Harry, Lexie, and the Guard become his pawns, but his master plan is still unclear at the end of season 1.
Though a redemption arc is unlikely in Campbell’s case, he does show signs of emotion on one occasion. After Elle poisons him and the Guard inspects people’s houses for the antifreeze that made people sick, Campbell realizes what Elle has done. He protects her from being discovered, which only increases Elle’s fear.
Strangely, Campbell isn’t angry with her as he is when she spends time with other characters. He tells her that they’re the same and that he’s never been scared of anything before, but that she scares him – he even starts crying. Perhaps this moment could hint at something more for his character in season 2.
Harry spends much of the first season disrespecting everyone, including himself. He desperately clings to his relationship with Kelly, his past wealth and entitlement, and the person he used to be. In the new world, none of this matters. He becomes unimportant and doesn’t know how to deal with this. Perhaps this is why he allows Campbell to turn him into his pawn. He accepts the drugs he supplies him, and his increasing dependence on them gives Harry no choice but to agree to Campbell’s terms.
Harry quickly loses the will to continue working, feeling that it’s embarrassing and degrading. He’s one of the few people in town who feels this way. He withdraws to his bedroom and doesn’t come out until Kelly coaxes him out. She believes he’s changing for the better and starting to see sense – until he joins forces with Campbell and runs for mayor against Allie. In the end, it doesn’t matter because Campbell has Harry and Lexie join forces and take power by force.
The end of season 1 sees Allie, and Harry’s relationship tested again. At the beginning of the series, they sleep together, but Allie soon tires of his company. Harry repeatedly sabotages her leadership, but also says he’d like to see a world where they’re friends – right before he goes head to head with her at the debate. Perhaps season 2 will shed some light on the pair’s history.
Dewey is a nobody who happens to hear Harry offhandedly say he wishes Cassandra was dead. He doesn’t have many speaking lines until the pivotal scene in which he reveals to Harry that he shot Cassandra. However, many fans aren’t convinced that it was him, and even Allie and a few other characters express their scepticism. However, the jury finds him guilty, and Allie must decide on a sentence.
Dewey isn’t too worried, and he blatantly disrespects Allie – and all other female characters, for that matter – under the belief that she can’t punish him too harshly. But Allie’s anger and logical reasoning tell her that the only punishment can be the death penalty because he poses a danger to their society. Only when he learns of this does Dewey start claiming that he didn’t do it. Seth Meriweather gives such a compelling performance that fans believe him.
But no matter how much everyone hates the idea, Allie is forced to go through with it. She has three Guard members take a gun so that no one will know who executed Dewey. As Dewey breaks down in a raw and traumatizing show of emotion, Grizz backs out. Allie takes his place, and it’s her gun that kills him.
The most interesting thing about Lexie is that nobody knows who she is. Her character is given no background in the show’s first season. Perhaps this, and the fact that she only appears in a few scenes – is why her rise to power is so unexpected. She’s a nobody, like Dewey, and nobody seems to like her – but when she speaks up, people agree with her.
At the election debates, Lexie convinces everyone that Allie is a dictator and that Harry won’t look out for anyone. As Allie says, Lexie is half-right about everything; according to Allie, this is “worse than being wrong”. She’s guided by her emotions alone, which at any other time wouldn’t gain her any supporters, but the tension is high among the teens after all this time of uncertainty.
Lexie gains the favour of many of her peers by chance, but she doesn’t know what she’ll do when she’s in power. Allie warns her that the feeling of being in control will consume her, but Lexie isn’t swayed. She has Allie arrested, only to realize she’s accidentally turned their little society into a mob and that she doesn’t have any authority.