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.
The important thing to remember when you are riffing on other shows and films is that you only want to pay homage to the good parts.
The first few hours of Wayward Pines seemed particularly adept at lifting the best tones, themes, and design elements from classic television series and films. This week’s hour, however, falls into many of the worst habits of its predecessors. Sometimes, you just cannot escape your DNA.
With the larger mystery of the town out of the way (though plenty of smaller queries still linger), the focus this week returns, both literally and figuratively, to the center of Wayward Pines. Last week, I posited that the remainder of the season would be spent bringing former lovers Ethan and Kate into opposition; the freshly crowned lawman against the entrenched rebel. I’m happy to report that it only took roughly 20 onscreen minutes to get the two frenemies head to head. While I appreciate the efficiency with which the show can chew through plot (seriously, if Ethan were on The Walking Dead, the trip from the mountain back to town would have taken him three episodes and he would have had to stop and cry in the woods at least twice), there is some painfully sloppy plotting going on to try and make the speed seem plausible.
Aside from the finale itself, the number one complaint that I repeatedly heard about Lost was that, despite being stuck together in a small area with a highly constrained number of people with which to converse, the damned survivors somehow constantly refused to give each other crucial information that would have dramatically altered their chances of survival and/or rescue. You would have been forgiven for thinking that they all suffered from some sort of social communication disorder, or perhaps that they all were having small strokes on a semi-regular basis.
For the better half of this week, the residents of Wayward Pines have a bad case of Lost Syndrome. The bulk of the drama comes from Ethan’s repeated inability to back up what he is telling someone else. He seems genuinely befuddled that nobody simply takes him at his word, yet he is completely unwilling to offer up even the smallest bit of proof. It’s as if Ethan thinks that his promise of secrecy to Dr. Filcher still holds so long as he only tells people the truth without actually showing them anything.
The problem is that the audience can easily think of many, many ways for him to prove what he is saying.
So, despite assuring the Doctor that he would tell no one about what he had seen, Ethan runs straight home and tells the first person he sees, his wife. Theresa, of course, thinks he’s nuts. There are any number of ways that Ethan could have proved what he was saying, including just driving out to the wall, hitting the garage door opener, and showing her the underground storage area. Granted, it wouldn’t have the impact of seeing a city laid waste, but it would have at least gotten her thinking. How about showing her the files in his office? You see my point, and I suspect other possibilities are already popping into your mind.
After that failed, Ethan moved on to the next person in his intimacy spiral, son Ben. Now, despite Dr. Jenkins/Filcher doing everything short of outright saying that all the children are in on it, Ethan insists on communicating with his all-but-adult son with nothing but grunts and stern commands. Here’s an idea, since the only people within earshot are teenagers (and unless they were shouting, Amy was probably too far away anyway), how about just saying, “Ben, I know it’s 4096 and I know about the monsters outside. Bad people are trying to blow up the wall and kill us all. Now kiss your little girlfriend goodbye and get in the damn car, so I can go stop them.”
Needless to say, that did not happen.
Then, after striking out with the two people who know him best, Ethan decides to try his cunning skills of vagueness and half-truths on Kate. This is the same Kate that pretty much admits to Ethan that her group of revolutionaries has bombs. Then Ethan, despite having absolutely no reason to think that he won her over, allows Kate to go home and regroup with her comrades.
Wait, the Doctor who was so brilliant that he literally FORESAW THE DOWNFALL OF MANKIND thinks that this guy is the person who is going to save everyone? Hell, Ethan isn’t even a good Secret Service agent.
Ethan’s investigation into Kate’s cabal is so laugh-out-loud bad that I…well, I laughed out loud. We are supposed to believe that a group of violent underground revolutionaries has somehow managed to stay hidden in a town that literally has cameras and microphones everywhere, yet all it takes to ferret them out is one mildly menacing interrogation? Seriously, even Columbo would have looked at you funny if you had suggested rooting them out this way (Ed. Note: Jack, that’s just how Peter Falk’s face looked…and I’ve told you to stop making jokes about people with glass eyes).
Unsurprisingly, the criminals fell for it. Of course they did. How else can the writers get us to the end of the episode where everyone ends up in a standoff at the electric fence? It’s unfortunate that this show only seems capable of showing intelligence when it’s delivering exposition. Once actual events need to take place, the show gets dumb as a stone.
It all feels so needlessly contrived. Much in the same way that everything pre-twist felt as if it was written backward from the twist, the same goes for tonight’s cliffhanger. The only way that all of tonight’s events aren’t painfully, painfully stupid is if you start at the truck explosion (with Ethan conveniently in close pursuit) and work your way backward to find a way to make that happen. Oh, and you have to make it happen in 42 minutes of screen time.
Never mind getting the bomb on the truck and Ethan in pursuit, you also have to get Ben and Amy onto the truck and make sure they’re “Founding the First Generation” with something heavy between them and the bomb.
I don’t know if Ben survived the blast. At this point, I’m not sure I really care. The characters on Wayward Pines have never been especially deep and complex, but it’s a sad commentary that, with only three hours remaining, they have never seemed so paper thin.
Some closing thoughts:
Okay, I know Mrs. Fisher is supposed to put our hair on end a bit, but her cavalier setup of Ben and Amy’s date set a whole new creepy standard. Seriously, if every girl in the senior class isn’t knocked up by prom, I think Fisher will just make all the teens strip and then lock them in the auditorium with a case of tequila, a bowl of Viagra, and Barry White on repeat and just see what happens. End of the world or no, that woman is way too excited by teenage coitus.
I accept that Theresa’s vacant lot is just a poor man’s version of Locke’s hatch from Lost, but right now I am not joking when I say that it is the only plotline that I am genuinely interested in. Sad, that.
Where is the fucking helicopter? Look, I know that Jenkins and the people over at Google Mountain don’t want to tip their hand, but there has to be a point at which safety outweighs secrecy. I don’t know what constitutes an emergency in 4096, but I would have thought that terrorists attaching a bomb to the outer wall of the last bastion of mankind would justify sending in whatever kind of paramilitary, future SWAT mega-force that you have at your disposal. What’s that? You’re just going to leave it to one guy in an old Bronco? Oh, okay. I’m sure everything will work out fine then.
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.