Wayward Pines Review: “Cycle”

(Episode 1.10)

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<i>Wayward Pines</i> Review: &#8220;Cycle&#8221;

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.

Much in the same way that no one sets out to make a bad television show, no one hopes to see something that they will have to review negatively (at least I hope not). Unfortunately, people do make bad shows and sometimes we do have to write negative reviews. This is going to be one of them.

I have no choice. Wayward Pines has become a truly bad television show.

I pulled for it until past the big twist, which I thought was well executed. Sadly, the momentary gain in momentum was slowly squandered by absurd and overblown plotting, laughable dialogue, and a penchant for lazy characterizations.

Oh, who am I kidding? This thing is a fucking disaster artistically. It is an insult to the shows and films that it rips off. Worse, it is an insult to the audience that it has pandered to with increasing verve since the big twist happened. At least in the first half of the show—when we didn’t know what was really going on—we could write off the banal dialogue and contrived plot to either homage or ignorance. Who knows, maybe the overlords behind the cameras and microphones were making the townsfolk talk like that, right?

When the twist happened and Ethan began to slowly put together the clues of his mystery, the audience began unraveling an enigma of our own, except instead of discovering that we were living in the future, it slowly dawned on us that the show we were watching made less and less sense as time went on. Even more frightening, it would seem that the creative team either didn’t care about what they were making, or worse, lacked the self-awareness to step back and objectively analyze their product.

By tonight’s finale, capable actors had been reduced to scenes that could not possibly have taken up more space in the script than ‘Theresa grimaces then climbs the ladder’ or ‘Ethan grimaces then looks like he can’t remember if he left the oven on’ or ‘Ben grimaces and tries desperately not to appear as if he is having a stroke and fails’ or ‘Pam grimaces then grimaces some more because she has no idea what her character’s motivation is, seeing as how she seems to be an entirely different person than she was in the first half of the season. Hey, maybe she’s a clone. That would be cool. Pam likes clones.’

If it doesn’t appear that I’m taking this very seriously, you’re absolutely right. If the folks behind Wayward Pines didn’t take it very seriously then I don’t see why I should. In fact, I see no reason to continue on ad nauseam. If I seem to have contempt for the show, I do. But it is nothing compared to the contempt that the creative team seems to have for their audience. Let’s just get straight into a longer than normal ‘closing thoughts’ section, where I will touch on some of the lowlights of this painful hour of vision-harming excrement.

Some closing thoughts:

My God, I accept that you’re working with a television budget and that you spent most of it on the cast and an extra trailer for M. Night Shyamalan’s ego, but you cannot cheap out on the opening money shot that is going to set the tone for your entire finale. Doing a big pull back shot to show the horde of Abbies heading toward town was the right idea, but it isn’t a good sign when the FX are outdone by the Clash of Clans commercial during the next break.

Why the hell did Ethan give the townsfolk generic instructions about heading for the bunker? Why not just put someone in charge and tell everyone to follow that person immediately? “Do not go home, do not pass go, and do not, under any circumstances, continue milling aimlessly around the center of town for the next 45 minutes.” Yet when the monsters show up, where is everyone? Right where we left them in the middle of town. What the hell were they doing? Window shopping? It’s almost as if the writers just really needed to have a big action set piece in the middle of town and didn’t care if it made no sense logistically or temporally. Oh… right.

Actually, once I stopped rolling my eyes and focused on the screen again, the action scene was really quite good. In fact, it was easily the best part of the finale, and the only thing keeping this episode from getting a score of 1.0. Kudos to the makeup team and the stunt crew performing as the Abbies. The creature FX were seamless and the stunt people in the suits were completely convincing as highly evolved killing machines. Well, there went my one compliment for the night, back to the brutality.

So why the hell was the bunker connected via a tunnel to the mountain? And why was that tunnel hidden beneath a highly suspicious looking empty lot? I mean, I’m just spit-balling here, but it would seem to me that if you have the two most important people in town posing as medical staff, then shouldn’t you put the emergency tunnel under the hospital so that they could get to headquarters in the event of an emergency or, at the very least, easily go back and forth without being seen? But we know that there was no such tunnel, because otherwise the Burke could have used it to get Amy out. Then again, it doesn’t really matter about the tunnels because some people on this show have developed the ability to teleport. How do I know that? I know that because that is the only possible way to explain Ethan and Kate’s ability to travel across town (or between floors) instantaneously in order to save someone from an Abby. But if I’m right, then why didn’t Ethan teleport out of the elevator (I didn’t actually plan to use this idiotic joke to transition us to talking about the elevator, but hey, here we are)?

Let’s talk about the elevator. First, Ethan’s goodbyes to his wife and child were the least emotional parting moments and words that I have ever witnessed. He may as well have been hugging mannequins and saying parting words to a cat that he was allergic to. Second, not only did those goodbyes take forever, Ethan also had a conversation with Pilcher from inside the elevator and that’s not even considering the amount of time it took for Ethan to wire up the bombs. My point is simple: why exactly was blowing himself up in the elevator the only solution? He clearly had more than enough time to escape with the others. Surely, with all the machine guns that Ethan and company took off the mountain guards, they could have figured out a way to hold off the creatures. At the very least, they could have bought enough time to figure out a way to use the pipe bombs that didn’t require anyone to commit suicide. Obviously, the needs of the plot took precedence. There needs to be an SNL skit of this where Theresa keeps trying to point out to Ethan that there’s plenty of time for him to get up the ladder, but the only thing Ethan keeps repeating grimly is “This is the only way.” Actually, strike that. It would pretty much be just like what we just watched.

Before moving on, let me point out that I am not a scientist and I hold no degrees, advanced or otherwise, in physics. I also do not have much real world experience with explosives, but I have seen Die Hard and every episode of Mythbusters at least twice, so I know for damn sure that when a large bomb goes off in an enclosed space, the concussion and explosion doesn’t just go in one direction. And since when does fire go down, but not up? I need to wrap up this review soon. Thinking about this nonsense is actually making me dumber and I wasn’t that bright to begin with.

Apparently, if you tell teenagers that they are destined to be the saviors of mankind, they will magically transform into benevolent beings far kinder and wiser than the adults around them. Perhaps we should try that in the real world.

Alternatively, if you tell teenagers that they are destined to be the saviors of mankind, they will degenerate into homicidal lunatics with an unquenchable thirst for power, a sense of entitlement the size of Stuttgart, and the moral compass of your average serial killer. There is no grey area between these two types. Actually, on further consideration, the show may have drawn teenagers more accurately than I gave them credit for at first glance. We’ll call this one a draw.

Which brings us (if anyone is still reading, which I doubt) to the ending, the crown turd in this kingdom of bland stereotypes and wasted promise. The ending is the creative team’s final message to the audience: the thing we care about most of all is seeming clever. The problem is that they aren’t clever and nothing is worse than someone who thinks that they are clever but isn’t (I should know). I can just imagine the joy among the creative team when they came up with the ending. Why wouldn’t they? They had crafted an ending that not only set up a second season, but that also fit thematically with the rest of the show: “They thought we were riffing on Twin Peaks and all this other stuff, but we’re going to end with…wait for it…a riff on Planet of the Apes! Just when everyone thinks the show is over, we will fade up from black to find Ben waking up in the hospital. Years will have passed and the teenagers will have taken over the town and forced all the adults back into cryogenic sleep. Ben will stumble outside to find a rebuilt town populated only by his old classmates. But the best part will be when he reaches the town square to find that the teens have erected a giant bronze statue of Dr. Pilcher that calls him a visionary. Then Ben will stumble back, yelling in disbelief just like Charlton Heston as we crane up for our closing wide shot. It will be brilliant!”

No, it will be idiotic, insulting, and stupefying (I really do need to wrap up—I’m running out of synonyms for ‘moronic’). If there was ever a time to have two different potential endings available in the editing studio, this was it. Though it started with decent ratings, the show was hardly a runaway hit. A second season was far from a sure thing. The choice was clear: set up a second season or give the audience a clean ending. The creative team not only chose ‘none of the above,’ but they did it in a way that reflects a bewildering level of contempt for the audience. It’s so baldly moronic (yup, that’s it, I’m out) that I won’t even waste time considering how high school students (in a finite mountain compound in the year 4028 I might add) managed to construct a professional quality, ten foot tall bronze statue complete with perfectly chiseled lettering on the placard. It is patronizing on a level that defies deeper consideration. Again, the thing we care about most of all is seeming clever.

With Fox expressing no interest, I have no doubt that the creative team is scrambling, as we speak, to try and find a new home for the show in the hopes of undertaking a second season. All I can tell you is that if that should happen, I will not be watching. We are in a golden age of television currently. I had hoped that we were at a point where even if shows didn’t make me feel intelligent, at the very least they wouldn’t imply that I’m stupid.

I guess we aren’t there quite yet.

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.

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