Wayward Pines is one of the most intriguing shows to premiere in a while and it goes down as the first-ever global premiere; this, plus the Lost/X-Files-esque plot with an Orwellian atmosphere (“Big Brother is always watching”) and a quality cast should make for a heck of a season. Remember that this is only a ten-episode gig, at least for this cast. It sort of makes you wonder why, before American Horror Story and True Detective, more shows haven’t done single-season storylines with the cast being altered from year to year.
Imagine ABC’s Resurrection or Fox’s just-cancelled The Following had they been confined to a ten-episode limit?
Last week’s Wayward Pines premiere episode started slow, with less than four million live and same day viewers, but it nearly doubled that with its L+3 rating (live plus playback within three days of airing), the highest of any of the five major networks’ debuts this year. The premiere was also up against season finales of heavyweights ABC’s Scandal and NBC’s The Blacklist. Wayward Pines performed extremely well in international markets: Australia, Germany, Norway, and Portugal. The numbers are a bit confusing, as is to be expected with this kind of distribution.
Up against NBC’s Red Nose Day special and ABC’s 500 Questions, but unencumbered by no competing season finales, tonight’s episode should yield a stronger week for Wayward Pines; the show has all of the ingredients for a dynamite story, and there is no “when will it end?” cloud hanging over their head. It would be surprising if it didn’t capitalize on all it has going for it.
“Don’t Discuss Your Life Before” begins where the previous left off, with protagonist Ethan (Matt Dillon) being questioned by Sherriff Pope at Wayward Pines’ town limits. Pope considers Ethan the prime suspect for the murder in town. As Pope has a gun pointed at Ethan, a teenager on a bike rides by (in the dead of night, mind you) and says, “Don’t try to leave, Mr. Burke. That’s rule number one.” It might be early on in the season, but it’s safe to assume that Ethan isn’t just imagining this; it seems that he’s been exiled to Wayward Pines by the Secret Service, but something supernatural feels evident as well. If Ethan’s hallucinations are to blame, and they’re serious ones at that, it would be a massive letdown… but it’s not like Shyamalan has never done that before.
When Sherriff Pope discovers Ethan breaking back into the crime scene, Pope admits that the body is still there because Wayward Pines is so tiny that a forensics team has to come from Boise. On the average drama-thriller, this would be a groan-inducing plot point, but in Wayward Pines, it only enhances the intrigue of the small town, and the show.
Juliette Lewis as bartender Beverly is lovely. Knowing that other people can’t see her opens up a world of possibilities of what her story could be: Burke’s hallucination, a ghost, some sort of townsfolk ruse, etc. One note regarding the spy microphones always listening in, “Big Brother” always watching: I keep thinking back to the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show, where everything in the small town is orchestrated by a team of puppeteers. Could this be part of Wayward Pines, too?
Burke finally gets in touch with the Seattle Secret Service office, only to find that the person he talks to is lying about being there. He soon notices that all of the money in the town is counterfeit, manufactured in the 80s, and there’s been no town paper printed in two weeks because of lack of news. When it’s revealed that Ethan cheated on his wife (Shannyn Sossamon), with Kate (Carla Gugino), I was reminded—again—of Lost, and how primarily sinners were sent to the island. It’s not enough to extrapolate that this is where the show is heading; we don’t know what bad other characters have done, but it was enough to get me thinking.
The town’s official notice reads: “Do Not Try to Leave; Do Not Discuss the Past; Do Not Discuss Your Life Before[…]” This seems more of a cult mantra than something supernatural. What could be the upside to heeding this?
Ethan was sent to Wayward Pines to collect Bill, a colleague who apparently committed suicide. That might be the only way out of this town. Bill left behind vital notes that Ethan comes to the morgue to collect.
Ethan’s car accident, and subsequent brain trauma, casts a pall over him as an unreliable narrator—in some shows, this archetype makes the storytelling fall flat. Here, it actually enhances the mystery because we learn things and see things when and as Ethan does, such as Ethan removing his tracking chip from his leg. It does make moments like seeing Ethan’s wife and son rolled into the hospital on gurneys confusing, but it builds dramatic effect wonderfully.
Could Wayward Pines really be a town legitimately stuck in the past? Beverly is convinced it’s 2000 and her president is Bill Clinton. Ethan says he arrived in 2014. Or is it a ruse put on by whoever’s in charge? There are no names and dates on any of the tombstones.
Beverly tells Ethan that Sheriff Pope killed Bill Evans in front of the entire town. It’s really difficult to believe anyone at this point, especially since Kate and her husband can see Beverly when she’s with Ethan.
At dinner with Kate and her husband, Beverly is scared for her life—and rightfully so. Kate shows flashes of normalcy in her realizing Ethan and Beverly are planning to run, though, and she’s aware of what she’s doing, who she’s being. The public throat-cutting execution of Beverly doesn’t come out of nowhere, but it’s downright shocking, reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” sans the remorse.
It seems like Sherriff Pope is the head honcho of this utopian effort; but the thing about utopias is that, by nature, the effort to create perfection yields far more discord than accord. Such is the case with Wayward Pines. It’s a confusing ride, but I’m fully onboard, and it’s the rare show where I actually truly care what happens next week. Dillon isn’t always a leading man I’m eager to follow, but his Ethan Burke makes for quite a guide on this Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride of a show.