[Based solely on the first episode]
We’ve all been there. After a night of partying too hard, you wake up on the floor of some unknown place, having no recollection of how you got there and even what happened the night before. For Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon), replace the “night of partying” with “car crash” and you still haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of any of the answers to the multitude of questions floating through his head. How did he end up in the forest? What is the town of Wayward Pines? Why can’t he seem to get a hold of anyone outside of the small town? This sleepy, wholesome town seems to have some consistency problems, with people disappearing as if they’ve never existed, only to reappear again. Finding missing people is exactly what Ethan was there to do, looking for two FBI agents, one of them being a past lover of his, Kate (Carla Gugino). With the help of bartender Beverly (Juliette Lewis), he finds the other agent in an abandoned house. Well, he finds the agent’s decomposing remains at least. When going back to find Beverly, no seems to know anyone by that name, or that has ever been there.
After his car accident and facing off with Nurse Pam (Melissa Leo), who was more interested in keeping Ethan in bed than keeping him healthy, he is forced to talk to psychiatrist Dr. Jenkins (Toby Jones), who tells him he may be seeing things that aren’t really there. Is Beverly real, or just a figment of his imagination? Has he lost his sanity? He has bigger things to worry about since Sheriff Pope (Terrence Howard) isn’t helping him reach his boss or family. Meanwhile, his wife Theresa (Shannyn Sossamon) is worried about Ethan, not having heard from him lately. Matters are made worse when Ethan’s boss tells Theresa that the car Ethan and his partner were in was found totaled, and that his partner was dead. Ethan was not only missing, but there wasn’t a single trace that he was even in the car. Aside from any molecular traces of Ethan, the car’s navigation was also completely absent.
The only thing going in Ethan’s favor is that he has found the second missing agent, Kate. She doesn’t seem at all lost or missing since she enjoying a midday barbecue with her husband. Apparently she had been there a lot longer than she had been missing. Ethan discovers two things after confronting Kate: 1) The is Big Brother-type surveillance all over the place, and 2) There is a colossal, electrified fence surrounding the entire town. It’s still unclear whether it’s to protect them or keep them imprisoned.
Wayward Pines is a cavalcade of borrowed elements, giving you the mystique (and the exact opening shot) from LOST, and the sinister charm of Twin Peaks. Both great shows in their own respects (without counting the last season and a half of LOST), and neither of them have similar shows currently on television, so Wayward Pines channeling their essence isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As Uncle Ben once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Basically, this show can use similar aspects of those past juggernauts, but it has a responsibility to make something just as great with them. So far, the results fall very middle of the road, with the show not being bad, and only slightly verging on the side of good thanks to the ensemble of star actors creating the necessary character depth to keep this story from falling flat.
Shyamalan is a master at misdirection and mystery, as Wayward Pines yet again proves, but our recent issues with his stories don’t stem from the slow burning build up. Our issues come into play when it is time for Shyamalan to introduce his signature plot twist, that is meant to completely disorient and astonish. Most recently, his payoffs haven’t been worth the build up leading up to them. The problem with television is that each episode has to be as engaging as the last in order to keep your viewers interested in continuing to watch. M. Night Shyamalan has proven that when his stories work, it is because of their slow burn that leads to some greater revelation. It works great in films like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs because you get the entire story in a convenient two hour window. This longer-form medium may prove to be exactly what Shyamalan has been missing, giving him enough time to fully flesh out his typically grandiose ideas. Now if this show goes terribly awry, arriving to an end that pleases no one, this could be the nail in the casket of his career. People are more forgiving when they spend 2 hours of their life watching a bad film, but watching 10 hours of a show you end up hating could be brutal.
RATING: ★★★★★(5/10 stars)
FINAL THOUGHTS: I’ve been burned too many times before by Shyamalan stories that keep you guessing until the end, only to reveal a dissatisfying turn of events. Wayward Pines shrouds itself in a creepy curiosity that only slightly lingers even after the episode is over. There are elements that seem supernatural or science fiction since it appears to be playing with time and space. The real question is it intriguing enough to play with your time? We won’t know for sure until at least episode two, possibly three. If it hasn’t completely engulfed you in enigma, then you should probably stop before this because another wooded let-down like The Village.