tek's rating:

Wayward Pines, on FOX
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Caution: potential spoilers.

This 2015 summer series is based on a series of books that I haven't read. It's executive produced by M. Night Shyamalan, who also directed the pilot. It started out as a 10-episode limited series, but as usual, there was the possibility that it might be renewed. (I could swear that after the first season ended, the show was declared to have been cancelled. But in spring of 2016 I discovered that there was going to be a second season.) Anyway, it's drawn comparisons to various other mysterious, surreal shows, such as Lost, The Prisoner, and "Twin Peaks" (which I've never seen but always wanted to). There's also a digital companion series called Gone.

Season One
There's this Secret Service agent named Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon), who wakes up in the woods around the small town of Wayward Pines, Idaho, after apparently having been in a car crash (though he's nowhere near where the crash happened). He and another agent (who apparently died in the crash) were going to look for a couple of missing agents, one of whom is Ethan's former partner, Kate Hewson (Carla Gugino), with whom he had once had an affair. Meanwhile, we see flashbacks to his life before arriving in this town, as well as scenes in the present where his wife Theresa (Shannyn Sossamon) and their son Ben, as well as various people at the Secret Service, are trying to figure out what has become of Ethan. There's no evidence that he was ever in the car that crashed. And in spite of the fact that Ethan has managed to make several phone calls, no one's gotten the messages he left. Also, he has a history of mental illness, and there's a psychiatrist in Wayward Pines named Dr. Jenkins (Toby Jones), who tells him he's had a psychotic break due to injuries from the crash. (But later in the pilot, we see Jenkins talking to Adam Hassler, Ethan's boss, and they're apparently involved in some mysterious conspiracy, or something.) Ethan meets several other people in town, including a bartender named Beverly (Juliette Lewis), who gives him an address that leads him to a ramshackle house where he finds the corpse of one of the agents he was looking for. Also there's a nurse named Pam (Melissa Leo), who seems rather menacing (though I suppose that depends on whether Ethan is sane or not). And there's a sheriff named Arnold Pope (Terrence Howard), who could become a nemesis. (He sort of puts me in mind of Sheriff Lucas Buck, from American Gothic.) Anyway, there's lots of strange things about the town. When Ethan goes back to the bar the next day, he's told that no bartender named Beverly works there. (Which is odd, because in at least one later episode, we do see her working there again.) But Ethan meets her again, and she seems to be the only person in town who isn't his enemy. She says she's been trapped there for a year... since 1999, which is odd, because it's 2014. And he finds Kate, who's now married to a man named Harold Ballinger, and she's been trapped in Wayward Pines for twelve years, in spite of the fact that Ethan just saw her a few months ago. (And she seems to have drunk the proverbial Kool-Aid.) But there are strict rules against discussing the past, so I'm not sure how many of the town's residents are even aware of such time discrepancies. Eventually, Ethan tries to escape the town, and finds that there's a huge security wall surrounding it.

Well. That all happened in the pilot. Lots of stuff happens in the next nine episodes, but I can't say too much without spoiling it. I can tell you that Theresa and Ben decide to go looking for Ethan, and they end up in Wayward Pines, too. And Ben is forced to start attending Wayward Pines Academy, where the students are all greeted by the principal, Megan Fisher (Hope Davis), who also teaches a class there. Ben meets a girl named Amy, who quickly becomes his friend and potential romantic interest. Meanwhile, it isn't long before Sheriff Pope is killed, and Ethan is mysteriously appointed as the new sheriff of Wayward Pines. But he's determined to do things his way, which means continuing to investigate the secret behind the town's existence, and trying to find a way out. It also means an end to the "reckonings," or public executions of anyone who breaks the rules (like talking about the past or trying to escape from the town). In episode five, the truth about Wayward Pines is revealed to Ben and two other students by Principal Fisher. (Amy and presumably most or all of the other students already know the truth.) I don't want to spoil the truth, because it is such a huge game-changer, but I will say that it makes the show a lot more interesting. Also, Ethan meets a man named David Pilcher, who reveals the truth to him, the knowledge of which forces Ethan to change his plans. No one who's in on the big secret is allowed to tell anyone who isn't in on it, and there's a good reason for that. But Ethan decides to tell Theresa, anyway, though it's not something she finds possible to believe. Instead, she thinks someone must have brainwashed him. Meanwhile, there's a group of people who are secretly planning to breach the wall, and they're led by Kate. Ethan has to stop them, because breaching the wall would be catastrophic. And... by the end of the season, everyone has learned the truth, and some pretty dramatic and scary stuff happens. But the show ends with another major twist.

So... this is one of the rare "limited... or is it?" series for which I was glad to hear that there would be a second season. Still... I didn't find the characters quite as compelling as I would have liked, and I didn't always find the show quite as entertaining as I would have liked, in spite of some interesting and well-executed concepts. And there seemed to be some inconsistencies or things that were never explained to my satisfaction, things I'm not convinced made sense. But I could be wrong.

Season Two
Last season, Ethan was killed, and Pilcher was killed, and a lot of people were killed. And at the end of the finale, Ben wakes up to find three years have passed. The town is now being run by a new leader, Jason Higgins, who had been seen a little bit in season one. He's part of a group that were students at the Academy, the first generation to have been born in Wayward Pines, who were all in on the secret all along. Season two apparently picks up about a year after Ben woke up in the season finale (so, four years after most of the first season). And Ben is now the leader of a rebellion against Jason and his regime. Kate was part of the rebellion, but she'd been captured, and is near death. So... a doctor named Theo Yedlin (Jason Patric) is brought in to operate on her. However, she later kills herself, wanting no part of the future of Wayward Pines. Meanwhile, Theo just wants to go home (he still doesn't know the truth about the town). But he learns that his wife, Rebecca, is in Wayward Pines. They'd been having some marriage troubles before they ended up in this town. And now Theo learns that Rebecca has been in town for a few years (which is reminiscent of how Ethan was shocked to learn that Kate had been there for twelve years, in season one). And Rebecca has been married to a man named Xander Beck for some time now. So... it doesn't take as long for Theo to learn the truth about Wayward Pines as it took Ethan to do so last season, though it does take a little while for him to accept it. But I guess it's easier for Theo, considering this season everyone in town knows the truth. (I'm still not going to spoil it, though. Which makes it hard for me to say very much about the plot, this season.)

Anyway, there's a young woman named Kerry Campbell, who is, I guess, Jason's girlfriend. But she's also an advisor to him, and one of the most powerful people in town, apparently. Pam and Megan also remain important characters, for awhile. And there's a man named C.J. Mitchum (Djimon Hounsou) who is quite important. And Adam Hassler shows up in town. (I believe last season, he was only ever seen in the scenes set outside Wayward Pines, except for a brief video of him that was discovered near the end of the season.) There are also a few kids with minor storylines going on this season, but I never managed to remember their names or faces, nor to care too much about them. (It might have been nice for their story to be more important to the overall plot of the season, so that I could have gotten to know them better.) So... as I said, there's not much I can tell you about the plot, without revealing the major twist from the middle of season one. I will say that Theo never approves of Jason's leadership. (He thinks Jason is too young and foolish, as well as being a dictator. And indeed, the First Generation have basically become a sort of military police force. And I think it's implied that they're kind of like Nazis or something, though I'm not sure how accurate that is.) Nevertheless, once Theo has accepted the reality of Wayward Pines, he quickly becomes more important than I saw any reason for him to be. Especially by the end of the season, though again, I don't want to spoil any details about that. Um... there's also a growing threat to the town, throughout the season, from an outside enemy. But I can't reveal the nature of that enemy without spoiling everything.

Well, throughout the season, I kept hoping there would be some major twist that made the show suddenly get more interesting, like there was halfway through season one. But unfortunately, that never really happened. There were strong hints of one possible twist, I thought, but that never really went anywhere. (I also thought there was possibly a very subtle hint of a very different kind of twist, but I'm fairly sure I just read too much into that, and it was never hinting at anything at all.) There is a pretty major and deeply disturbing twist in the penultimate episode, but it's more about a couple of the characters than it is about the actual plot. Honestly, I don't think it did much of anything to affect the plot, other than to presumably motivate a decision Kerry makes in the finale. But I definitely think the show would have been better off without that twist. And, other than that... I dunno. I felt like there were definitely some good elements to the season, but they were bright spots in a plot that I thought was mostly kind of a mess. And it had a very unsatisfying conclusion. There's also one very brief scene at the very end, and I'm not sure what it's meant to imply about the future of Wayward Pines. (And I'm not sure the show has a future. If it gets renewed for a third season, I'd probably still want to watch it, even though I was somewhat disappointed by the second season.)

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