Wayward Pines Season One
On paper Wayward Pines had a lot going for it. Billed as the next Twin Peaks, the director of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable at the helm, with some big stars like Matt Dillon (in his first foray into television), Toby Jones, Terrence Howard and Juliette Lewis, and an adaptation of a successful trilogy of novels, how could it not be the next big thing in television? But on the flip side, is anything billed as the next Twin Peaks ever going to match up to Twin Peaks? Have people forgotten M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening and The Last Airbender? Is a TV show ever going to be able do the books justice? As much as there was hype for the show, there was also a lot of trepidation.
I hadn't read the books - and loved Twin Peaks, so I was exactly the kind of audience member the show needed to hook to be a success. The trailer's certainly gave potential audiences plenty of mystery to ponder over and the first episode of this ten-episode affair was intriguing. Matt Dillon's FBI Agent Ethan Burke wakes up after a car crash while searching for two missing agents - one of whom just happens to be a woman he had an affair with a few weeks earlier.
Those first couple episodes were one tease after the other. Burke's young bit of stuff (Carla Gugino's Kate Hewson) is suddenly twenty years older has assumed a new identity and is married to another inhabitant of Wayward Pines. Sheriff Pope (Terrence Howard) is blocking his attempts to uncover what happened to the other missing agent - dead in a remote shack for a very long time and everyone is being watched. Picking people up the phone every time it is answered. No one talks about the past. Cameras watch your every move and chips tracking your movements are planted in your body. Worse still, if you question the authorities you fin yourself with your throat slit in the town square, in an 'Old West' style execution called 'The Reckoning'. It is pretty insidious stuff.
But then something unexpected happened. Ethan's wife Theresa (Shannyn Sossamon) and his son Ben (Charlie Tahan), who have spent the last couple of episodes in the 'real world' wondering if Ethan is dead or has shacked up with Kate, find themselves caught up in the world of Wayward Pines after another suspicious 'car accident'. It allowed the show to get more focused; rather than cutting back and forth to the world outside this mysterious town and the threat to Ethan is suddenly extended to his entire family. Suddenly all the Burke's find themselves caught up in playing the game, trying to uncover the truth of what is really going on while adjusting to life in Wayward Pines. With the shocking death of Lewis's Beverly Brown so early on in the series everything becomes uncertain.
If there is one thing that I appreciated about Wayward Pines it is the pacing. Given that the series adapted the entire trilogy, the show could have gone for the more obvious route of stretching the show longer than it needed to be - Under The Dome I'm looking at you - but it didn't. Just as soon as the show transitioned from a quasi-Twin Peaks mystery the audience found themselves watching a psychological thriller and a study of social experimentation.
Then came the monster movie, the apocalyptic mid-segment of the series, the flashbacks to the days when humanity began to face its end, a sci-fi thriller and then full on zombie horror. In the space of six episodes, Wayward Pines was able to turn everything we had been watching on its head time and time again. There was those who probably found the storyline rushed, but in the days post-Lost this was a refreshing experience.
In what would have been the season one - or even two - finale of most shows, Wayward Pines did by episode five; it gave all the answers. Wayward Pines was not a scientific experiment in the 21st Century Midwest USA; it was an ark for the surviving remnants of humanity, awakening from cryogenic freeze to a post-apocalyptic world where the rest of the human race had de-evolved into terrifying zombie-like creatures called abbies. It was an absolutely insane twist but I loved it. Expect the unexpected and you had one of the most refreshing shows currently on television. In fact it was so mind-boggling, it was as if Wayward Pines had torn up the rulebook for making a TV show, smoked a lot of drugs and gone off a wildly new tangent. For those wondering what kind of 'twist' M. Night Shyamalan would bring to the show, this one would firmly sit in the The Sixth Sense / Unbreakable category.
If the first half of the series was intriguing, the second half became must watch TV. Sure it wasn't as clever or well-made like Hannibal but it was very engaging and with the stakes raised, the show became at its heart a study of humanity itself. Ethan began the show a freedom fighter, but ended up fighting those who wanted to destroy Wayward Pines - Kate included. His son Ben meanwhile found himself indoctrinated into the 'First Generation', a breed of children her were exposed to the truth of the world they now lived in, while their parents remained in the dark.
The show took an interesting line with the 'truth'. Toby Jones marlevolent leader Doctor Jenkins, the visionary who froze humans to shepherd them into this new world, decided that the truth would destroy the people of Wayward Pines and as the flashbacks to 'Group A' showed, it was something few people could handle. But the way he shaped humanity was just as damaging, with the reckonings and secret observations showing that his way was ultimately misguided.
While the Burkes might have been the main focus of the show, it was the Jenkins siblings that were perhaps the most interesting. Toby Jones played a very sympathetic leader, the only one to foresee the apocalypse that would come, but someone who could not control the people under no matter how hard he tried. His decision to bring down the barriers in the finale, unleashing the abbies upon the unsuspecting populace of Wayward Pines was a particularly shocking end and ultimately he deserved his death at the hands of his sister Pam.
Melissa Leo proved to be the stand out actor in the show, at first the villainous Nurse Pam who manipulated, observed and tried to control the people of Wayward Pines before finally turning against her brother when he went too far. If the Burke's journey was all about uncovering the truth, then Pam's was about stepping up, realising that humanity could do better and become a leader in her own right.
Then - after the World War Z style horrors of the final episode - we got that twist. For me it was a step too far. Ethan gave his life to save the rest of the people of Wayward Pines, Jenkins was dead, Pam had become a hero and Kate had found her calling once more. Even Ben had broken free of the brainwashing of Hope Davis's insidious teacher Megan Fisher. There was still chaos and the town was overrun with abbies but there is the mountain stronghold above the town there was hope that humanity would survive. So the final twist, Ben waking up three months later to find the First Generation in control and all the adults cryogenically frozen, felt like a cruel twist too far. A twist for twist's sake that left me with feeling of distaste.
Still, the bleak ending or not, Wayward Pines succeeded. With great pacing, strong performances - particularly Melissa Leo - and plenty of twists and turns to keep you on your toes, the show managed to be something altogether unexpected - but very welcome. I just hope that if Wayward Pines continues with a second season, it finds a way to undo that final twist. M. Night Shyamalan, I loved the big mid-series twist, but sometimes enough is enough...