Caution: Spoilers for The Society ahead.
As I sank into my couch and watched The Society, now streaming on Netflix, I couldn’t help but feel there was something familiar about the drama. Sure, it has all the hallmarks of a great teen show: love triangles, fundamental lack of supervision, betrayal. But something else lurched in my stomach as I watched—something heartbreaking and recognizable. Something wicked.
Many have compared The Society to a modern Lord of the Flies for a reason. The show follows a group of teenagers whose parents mysteriously vanish in the night, leaving them to their own devices in a small town that’s also been inexplicably cut off from the rest of the world. The town’s exits are sealed, landlocked by miles of woods that stretch to—for all they know—the ends of the earth (if this even is their Earth). Their familiar sleepy hometown quickly devolves into a mad scramble for food, supplies, alliances, and power as a brand-new society buds. The teens must learn how to work together to survive, which sounds cheesy until you consider that means building a political system from the ground up.
Kathryn Newton stars as Allie, this new society’s leader who rises to power not by choice, but because “her people” choose her. But Allie and her older sister, Cassandra (Rachel Keller), swiftly face vehement backlash from their peers—mostly their male peers, like rich jock Harry (Alex Fitzalan) and the pugnacious villain Campbell (Toby Wallace), who feel emasculated and challenged by female leadership. And when that transpires, the show takes a devastating turn into the bowels of human nature. In other words, shit gets real.
Watching Allie and her sister fight for the good of the people—and their own lives—when challenged by brute male power made my stomach churn. Early on, it becomes clear this show is deeply political and current; Allie’s rise and fall as a leader is an eviscerating commentary on the ways in which female political figures have rose to power—and how, just as quickly, they’ve been destroyed.
So I spoke to Newton about Allie, my new favorite TV character, a young woman I would vote for in a heartbeat if she ran on the Democratic ticket in 2020. Just saying.
GLAMOUR: What drew you to this role? When you read the script, what was it that struck you the most?
Kathryn Newton: It’s really rare to find characters that aren’t stereotypes for teenagers, and I feel like [executive producer, writer, and creator] Chris Keyser had it all on the page. I thought that this character was going to be difficult for me to play. She’s very dark, and what she goes through is so difficult for me to even understand that I had to do a lot of research. I researched queens and went back to medieval times. I reread Animal Farm to get into it, just to think more about politics and common-sense thinking. I thought it would be fun to do something different. I had just done some comedy and Blockers, and I wanted to try and create this character and see if I can do it.
I do feel like The Society is timely and important right now. Did you feel that when you were shooting it?
KN: As an actor, I always just try to follow the story and the character. It’s timely because we’re all so connected to our phones and dependent on things. This show kind of strips away everything you know and everything you need, and it makes you look at who you are—everything you thought matters, no longer matters. No one cares how much money you have. No one cares what your car looks like. Now it’s just about who you are on the inside. And some of these people are really ugly, and some are really beautiful. I feel like people are both beautiful and ugly sometimes, and my character’s kind of complicated in that way. She’s a reluctant leader. She doesn’t come into the story of wanting to be king, you know? She’s not destined for greatness. She thinks that her life’s been made up, and that’s just not the way it goes for her. She has to rise to the occasion, and people do in life. This show asks the question: Who are you when nobody’s watching?