It makes sense to be highly suspicious of any M. Night Shyamalan project in this day and age, especially noting After Earth’s bombing. I wonder if it’s one of the only films where the studio deliberately hid the name of the film’s director in pre-release publicity to avoid negative attention. It also makes sense to fear small-town mysteries that echo Twin Peaks, seeing how many try to emulate David Lynch’s beloved series, in an era of television when mysterious shows often get axed long before the truth can come to light.
If you’ve seen the previews for Wayward Pines, you know it’s a town where seriously strange things are afoot. You’d also know how stocked the cast is and that this season is a “ten-episode event,” a mini-series, and not a first season of many to come. For these reasons, and others, Wayward Pines shouldn’t be missed.
Any fear, outside of the eerie nature of the plot, is misplaced and here’s why:
Shyamalan directed the premiere episode, but he’s primarily an executive producer, and only agreed to sign on as long as the characters weren’t dead, which—noting the previews—seemed a real possibility. (Fingers crossed for no Village-esque, rug-out-from-under-us twist ending?)
The star-studded cast includes Matt Dillon, Carla Gugino, Terrence Howard, Juliette Lewis, Melissa Leo, and Hope Davis. And lastly, most shows whose original premise began with a highly intriguing mystery or whodunit (Lost, The X-Files, The Mentalist come to mind first, for me) at the beginning fail to follow through on that intrigue once the original mystery is sorted out; Wayward Pines is a mini-series that will solve its original mystery by episode ten.
It’s a quality idea that looks poised to shake up Fox’s television programming, at a time they need it. Without further ado, let’s get to the show.
We first see Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon), a married (to Shannyn Sossamon’s character, Theresa) Secret Service agent, when he wakes up in the forest, bloody and stumbling, having made his way into Idaho, in Wayward Pines.
Ethan was heading there in search of two of his missing colleagues, one of whom—Kate (Carla Gugino)—he had a relationship with. Ethan got into a car crash, only realizing it when he wakes up in the hospital to a deranged Nurse Pam (Melissa Leo) frantically caring for him. Back in Ethan’s Secret Service office in Washington, there is confusion and anger over what’s happened to Ethan; he can’t be located or contacted.
When Ethan tries to get his things or a phone from Nurse Pam, he’s met with trite grins and promises that his effects are on their way. He eventually gets frustrated and leaves the hospital—but not before Nurse Pam catches him and expresses how worried she is about him. Weird.
Beverly (Juliette Lewis), a helpful bartender, allows Ethan to use her phone. Ethan’s call goes straight to the answering machine. When he offers to pay for his meal later, Beverly hands him a check with her address on it and a message written on the back: “There are no crickets in Wayward Pines.” It may not have been warranted just yet, but it gave me chills. When Ethan leaves, he hears crickets and discovers that it’s a recorded noise coming from a portable speaker.
When Ethan arrives at Beverly’s house, there’s a dead body strapped to a bed. Ethan heads to the police station and asks to see Sheriff Pope (Terrence Howard). Ethan, after Pope tells him his effects aren’t at the police station, begins to elaborate on the dead body and how it’d been a torture situation. Sherriff Pope seems to be more interested in his rum raisin ice cream cone.
Back in Washington, the Secret Service is taking a look at the car Ethan crashed in; they can’t find evidence of Ethan ever being in the car, let alone find the GPS that would help them find Ethan. Back in Wayward Pines, Ethan tries to find Beverly, only to be told that she doesn’t exist by the owner of the bar. Ethan explodes on the bar owner, demanding to see Beverly, and he’s knocked unconscious. He wakes up in the hospital, restrained this time, with psychiatrist Dr. Jenkins (Toby Jones, Captain America: The First Avenger), hovering around him, who insists that there’s something wrong with Ethan’s brain. Shades of Shutter Island, possibly?
However, Beverly shows up to break Ethan out of his restraints and the hospital. Nurse Pam accosts him, and Ethan leaves her bloody and dazed in his wake. Beverly seems to be the only person (or, well, entity at least) who understands what Ethan is going through.
When Ethan wakes up, Beverly gone again, he wanders around Wayward Pines and sees Kate, his former lover, and one of the colleagues he came to rescue. She’s the life of the party she’s hosting, the perfect wife, a far cry from the person she’d been during Ethan’s flashbacks. Ethan follows Kate to find that she seems deadly frightened and aware that someone is “watching” her and Ethan talk. When Ethan seems confused about her now living in Wayward Pines, she tells him she’s been there for twelve years, despite being with Ethan five weeks prior. She also says she doesn’t have answers for him, either. As Kate leaves, after chiding Ethan about how he could have a happy life in Wayward Pines, Kate assures Ethan that he isn’t having a relapse, isn’t imagining things.
Not sure where to turn, Ethan steals a car. But when he leaves town, passing a sign that thanks him for his patronage, he only ends up back at the “Welcome to Wayward Pines” sign. Can he even leave this town now? Is there any way out of this place?
In the final scene of the episode, Ethan’s boss meets up with Dr. Jenkins. Ethan’s boss asks, “If there’s still time, can we call it off?” Clearly, Ethan’s presence in Wayward Pines has been arranged, but why? At least Ethan isn’t imagining it all.
Ethan wanders into the woods and finds, what seems to be, an electrified fence that separates Wayward Pines from the outside world, and encircles the entire town; akin to Jurassic Park, it seems to keep things in, not keep evil out. When the sheriff catches Ethan, Ethan asks how to get out of Wayward Pines. The simple response is: “You don’t.”
Overall, the first episode of Wayward Pines is a doozy, high on suspense, mystery, intrigue, everything you’d want in a drama that comes this late in the television season. At times, I saw it as a dramatic version of Simon Pegg’s The World’s End meets Lost—which, truthfully, is fine by me. In a television world that is more bluster than brawn these days, Wayward Pines stands out for all the right reasons. Sign me up for more.