Eerie is a bit of an understatement when it comes to describing the small town of Wayward Pines. The English language also lacks proper adjectives to translate the levels of weird the town’s residents emanate.
And yet, in spite of all the ominously odd and off-putting things about FOX’s new summer series, Wayward Pines will probably be the most consistent and clear spine tingling fun this television season has to offer.
A third mystery, a third thriller and a third something else entirely, Wayward Pines is FOX’s small screen adaption of Blake Crouch’s Pines trilogy. The show stars Oscar nominees Matt Dillon, Terrance Howard and Juliette Lewis, among several other familiar names. Developed by Chad Hodge (Runaway, The Playboy Club), Wayward Pines is executive produced and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
The series is set to follow Agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon), an endearingly disheveled (and easily irritated) family man and member of the secret service. Tasked with retrieving two missing agents in the seemingly suburban Idaho town, Burke’s mission quickly evolves into a fight to survive.
Traveling towards the remote town, Burke gets into an almost fatal crash with an oncoming semi-truck. Waking up on a river bank with no memory of who he is or how he got there, he begins his own series of unfortunate events.
Burke stumbles out of the forest and into town, passing out bloody and bruised on the floor of the local coffee spot. This time when he wakes, the agent finds himself lying not on a forest floor but in a hospital bed. All of his things have been taken from him and his presiding aid, known only as Nurse Pam, is a woman whose aggressive perkiness raises the hairs on the back of your neck.
What should be a simple hospital stay becomes a dangerous and recurring battle of wits under the unsettling attending. In a desperate need for answers, Ethan is forced to break his way out of the hospital and out of the clutches of the town’s best gaslighter in order to complete his mission and get back to his family.
His journey around town introduces him to a series of characters, all of whom will surely unlock their own barrel of mysteries over the next nine episodes. That includes Terrance Howard’s biting Sheriff Arnold Hope, Juliette Lewis’ rather helpful bartender Beverly and one half of the missing agent team (not to mention Burke’s reluctant past/present(?) extra-marital partner), Kate Hewson (Carla Gugino).
While some are more kooky than the others, they all hold a key to unraveling the dangerous mystery that encases the town. Something is keeping the people of Wayward Pines hostage. That something made one of Ethan’s fellow agents very dead. The other is now afraid to acknowledge her past, seemingly to avoid a similar fate. That something also has half of the townspeople fearing for their lives. Meanwhile, the other half are willing to do anything to protect it.
And so, despite Ethan’s apparent desire to leave the town up to its weird antics and get back to his life, he’ll have to solve the mystery in order to get out.
Within the show’s first 45 minutes viewers are simultaneously shown very much and very little. Presented with a handful of questions, the story leads to more than a few answers before generating — you guessed it — even more questions. The ride is as circular as the single road that weaves you straight out and right back into the creepy place. Where other shows have failed, however, Pines works. This is not Lost. We repeat, this is not Lost.
One of the greatest strengths of this story is that viewers will get answers in appropriate amounts of time. That was made clear after the cricket question and great wall reveal. Both, especially the latter, were plot moves that most series would only dare carry out as a mid-season or season’s end cliffhanger. It’s a major divergent from a genre and storytelling format that has a habit of leaving things open-ended, signaling that the writers have a clear and certain endgame. Ultimately, the nature of the limited run puts this series in the perfect position to successfully stick its landing.
As a direct result, the show’s pacing is allowed to stretch itself out a bit more than series with similar premises. This accounts for the pilot’s slow build. It’s careful about its creepy and what it wants to show you when. It’ll tell you that you should always pick up the phone, but not whose on the other end of the line. It’ll tell you that you shouldn’t talk about your past, but not why or more importantly, what happens when you do. It’ll tell you a giant fence is keeping the entire town locked in, but not whether it’s a cage or a form of protection. And it doesn’t have to… right now. With that clear end point in sight, viewers will presumably find out when the timing is right.
This strength applies to characters as much as plot. Once Ethan enters the town’s limits, we’re offered the full spectrum of human strange. Some are antagonists while other are allies. Regardless, characters are unraveling at a pace that compliments the plot. We’ll find out who is actually good and who is bad in time. Until we do, we’ll be enticed by their puzzling actions and reactions.
This goes for Ethan as well. As characters like Nurse Pam, Sheriff Hope, Kate and Beverly all hold up the strings of this town, Dillon’s turn as the dazed and confused secret service agent will keep this puppet moving. He is as important to making this world believable as the sets and Nurse Pam’s sadistic smoke screens. Whether Burke is trapped in a dream, dead or having a relapse, we’ll learn in time. For now we’ll rely on his need for answers to get us our own.
In the way Wayward is not Lost, it’s also not Twin Peaks, another series FOX’s summer show was compared to prior to tonight’s premiere. The surreal was the norm for the 90’s most prolific murder mystery. Wayward Pines is bizarre, yes, but not for the sake of it. There’s nothing casual or unintentional about Idaho’s best kept secret. That’s perhaps what makes it so much more scary, exciting, intriguing and eye-popping. This is Shyamalan’s vision at its best and it’s good to see him practicing his craft at his A-game.
With all that said, Wayward Pines is not unable to appreciate or acknowledge the strengths of its predecessors. Those nods — not to be confused with imitations — within the episode are a sure sign that this series has a grasp on the story its trying to tell and how its trying to do it. Whether it’s through wide shots, character disposition or color palate, everything this series does is with specific and sure intent. A culmination of the successes and corrections of the failures of some of the genre’s best and most loved series, it looks like Wayward Pines is going to usher in a new era for serialized television mysteries.
Pining for Answers:
- There were a number of great reveals and twists already, but the wall revelation was arguably the best. What is its purpose? Who put it there? Why? And who in the town knows about it?
- What exactly is the connection between Dr. Jenkins Agent Hassler? Did Hassler put Ethan there? And why would he want to renege on his deal?
- If my husband went missing and I knew where about he did, I’d definitely go try to find him. Do we think Theresa will do the same or will she listen to her husband’s fellow agent?
- Who are the people in the fans and on the phones? What control do they have over the people of Wayward Pines if they aren’t actually in the town? What about those crickets?
- What happened to the body in the shack Ethan found?
- Will the relationship between Kate and Ethan rekindle or will the “rules” of Wayward prevent that? Will Kate even leave with Ethan? And what does she know about the death of her fellow agent?
- Sheriff Hope, like Nurse Pam, seems to know an awful lot and isn’t afraid of letting Ethan know it — on the sly of course. What lengths will the Sheriff go to stop Ethan from prying where he shouldn’t? Is the Sheriff worse or better than Nurse Pam (a.k.a. Nurse Ratched)?