This is a review. Thus, it is likely to contain spoilers. If you haven’t, as yet, found yourself at liberty to view this episode then consider yourself apprised of the potential jeopardy and proceed at your peril.
While I am aware that the show is based on a series of books by Blake Crouch, I have not read them and do not intend to until this show has ended. I will be reviewing the show solely on its own merits, not as an adaptation.
I was consumed by a really interesting question during this week’s episode of Wayward Pines (I know, I was surprised as well). The question was this: Why the hell is Ethan Burke a Secret Service agent?
I don’t mean existentially or his own personal path to service, I mean in this particular story why does it make sense for him to be a Secret Service agent specifically, as opposed to an FBI agent or a U.S. Marshal? To be honest, I don’t really know what the Secret Service does besides protect the President and other important government leaders (note: I did Google it after writing this paragraph but I’ll get to that in a moment). However, I DO know what each division does in movies and on television. Because I have seen Sneakers, I know that the CIA can’t operate inside the U.S. and the FBI can. Thanks to In the Line of Fire, I know that the Secret Service are easily fooled by fake beards and that they let agents continue working long after they have passed their physical peak. Justified taught me that Marshals investigate whatever crime they want and pretty much shoot anyone they want. Out of all those, doesn’t it make more sense for Ethan, as a character, to be a Marshal? Or, at the very least, an FBI agent? You could even give him a ‘former Navy SEAL’ backstory if you want.
For those curious, the real Secret Service does indeed protect the President as well as many other important leaders, and in addition they are primarily chartered to investigate financial crimes. While shows and films have long played fast and loose with the purview of law enforcement characters, knowing the real responsibilities of the Service makes Ethan’s vague skillset and history seem even more ridiculous.
What is really ridiculous is that nothing in the 42 minutes of this episode jarred the question of Ethan’s occupation from my mind.
Let’s get to the good stuff. The episode opens with a very good action scene. The wall has been breached and one Abby after another squeezes through the gap, only to be killed by Ethan. Apparently, the television version of the Secret Service puts their agents through some serious shotgun training because Ethan is a surgeon with that thing. It’s an exciting scene, well thought out and well staged. It gave me some momentary hope that the show was on an upswing.
Okay, now that the good is out of the way, let’s get to the not-so-good.
Our characters have gotten thinner and thinner as the weeks have gone on. It has been a glaring problem, but despite their lack of depth, they have generally stayed within reasonably boundaries. This week it seemed as if the writers introduced entirely new characters but were stuck with the same cast, so they just ran with it. Nurse Pam has gone from the show’s most sinister sister to the show’s sympathetic side-changer. Her betrayal of her brother seems to be only a matter of time at this point. Of course, that will only happen because David Pilcher has gone from mild-mannered scientist who hates violence and only hurts people when he has no other choice, to a power-crazed megalomaniac who will gladly wipe out humanity rather than lose control of his town. From the beginning, Pilcher has been single-minded about his goal to preserve humanity. In point of fact, the extraordinary lengths that he has gone to have been entirely focused on keeping our species in the food chain so for him to be willing to wipe out the entire population out of misplaced rage simply doesn’t fit with his character. Granted, he has a whole mountain full of sleepers with which to re-populate Pines, but it is still an abrupt and jarring tonal shift for the character. Worse, it is a swing too wide for even the amazing Toby Jones to sell completely. I’m not sure that anyone could.
What drives Pilcher to his transformation is so ludicrous that I hesitate to even delve into it. The show continues to pile contrivance upon contrivance as Amy slips into a coma, Ben rallies his classmates, Theresa plays Detective and Ethan finally figures out how to make someone believe anything that he says.
Ben’s subplot has always been a non-starter and I pray that last night’s cringe-inducing speech to his classmates is the beginning of the end for that storyline. In most ways, Ben has only existed to make the audience despise his teacher, so perhaps seeing Mrs. Fisher get her comeuppance at episode’s end will allow both us and the show to move on.
In yet another bad omen, the characters driving this week’s primary narrative are people we have never met before. Three older high school boys go full Lord of the Flies this week and decide to take the law into their own hands. Unfortunately, the three boys are the grossest of caricatures, spoiled pretty boys that would feel right at home in a Stephen King novel. Then again, it certainly isn’t the first time that an element of the show has felt like it belonged in another one.
The boys’ murderous rampage through the jail should have been a watermark moment for the show, but while I will admit to a tiny, fleeting spark of empathy for Kate (her silent scream is easily Carla Gugino’s best moment on the show), seeing Harold and the other rebels gunned down left me with only one lasting reaction: Good, less characters to have to keep up with moving forward.
I imagine that the creative team was hoping for something a little more sentimental.
In the end, all the sound and fury was really just to get everyone to precisely where I predicted last week, the gazebo at the town square. Ethan’s conversion of the crowd didn’t happen precisely as I’d said, but the result was the same. Sides have been drawn and it will be the town versus the mountain, Ethan versus Pilcher.
Given the loaf-sized crumbs that have been dropped for a week or three, I don’t think you need to be the Amazing Kreskin to see where things are headed. Pilcher must go from savior to scapegoat. For all his alleged genius, there was one factor crucial to the success of the town that David was never able to envision nor provide. Ironically, that factor is going to overthrow him.
The missing element? A leader worth following.
Some closing thoughts:
Let me get this straight. All it took to get through the garage door in the fence was a big truck? So why was a bomb necessary? I accept that the dump truck is larger and more powerful than a delivery truck, but I submit that the furniture truck was plenty big and strong enough to plow through that door. Yet one more detail on this show that breaks down the more you think about it.
So Theresa finally gets into the basement of plot 33 (with a little help from Nurse Pam version 2.0) and finds… offices with computers? Why wasn’t this office out in the mountain with all the other overlord staff? Why is the power still on? Oh right, because the plot needed it to be where Theresa could find it. Well, at least we finally have part of an explanation as to the condition of the rest of the country. Also, we know what happened to Ethan and Kate’s former boss, Adam Hassler, who was apparently part of the first wave of folks to wake up from their cryogenic slumber.
Consider this: Ethan was alone with three Abby corpses and he had a truck with which to haul one of them back to town. Wouldn’t that have been a much easier way to reveal the truth to the townsfolk? Granted, his run in with the natives happened before his decision to stage a faux reckoning, but I feel confident in suggesting that he had long intended to come clean with the population. The reckoning doesn’t work for multiple reasons, both logistic and plot-based. The audience knows full well that Ethan will never kill Kate so the run up to the reckoning has no dramatic value. Plus, the big reveal relies on the audience believing that Theresa was able to coerce multiple people into following her to a hidden underground facility without anyone noticing. All of this had to happen in just a few hours. Oh, and the only reason that this all went unnoticed is because one of the security folks at the moment just happened to knock something off her desk at a crucial moment. I know I keep using this word, but it is all so very contrived and diffuses any suspense or tension that the scenes might have had. It bears repeating. Contrived. Contrived, contrived, contrived.
While I imagine that everyone enjoyed seeing Theresa finally slap Mrs. Fisher, it doesn’t explain why no one called Fisher out for her obvious complicity in their situation. Shouldn’t someone in the crowd have yelled out, “Wait! You’ve known about this all along? What have you been teaching our children?!!?”
I’m growing increasingly convinced that Pilcher’s vetting program for choosing the architects of humanity’s future was woefully inadequate.
Jack McKinney is a professional camera salesman by day and a freelance filmmaker, Paste contributor, and amateur prestidigitator by night (and occasionally weekends). You can cyber-stalk him on Twitter.