The Wilds is the kind of show that makes you think magic might be real. Or, if not magic, then at least magicians.
In its first season, the twisty, stranded-teen mystery series on (Amazon) Prime Video was tasked not only with getting its audience invested in the lives of nine extremely different young women, but also with getting us to keep track of all their fraught, emotionally complex journeys across three different timelines. More than that, it was tasked with dropping enough meaningful crumbs about Gretchen Klein’s (Rachel Griffiths) sociopathic masterplan to keep us breathlessly chasing her machinations through 10 increasingly convoluted episodes, without dropping so few that we might just decide to bail.
Honestly, the idea that anyone would take on that monster list of asks willingly would be impressive enough. That series creator Sarah Streicher and her team not only pulled it off, but made the execution look easy?
I’m telling you: magicians.
And now here they are, back for a long (so long) awaited Season 2. And not only are all the same asks from the first season still in play—nine(ish) girls, multiple timelines, and a villainous plan only Gretchen Klein knows the limits of—but, with the introduction of the control group of nine(ish) boys that Leah (Sarah Pidgeon) discovered in the bunker in the final moments of Season 1, those asks have effectively doubled.
And you know what? The magic’s still there.
Not only is it still there, but it’s viscerally evident from the premiere’s first moments, in which Leah’s meditation on how the girls were brought together by the trauma of the shark attack that lost Rachel (Reign Edwards) both a hand and a sister in the Season 1 finale cuts to the reveal of our new control group flying in on an ominously familiar (and cake-filled) plane; a winking introduction that in turn cuts to an achingly endearing montage of the self-recorded “what I hope to learn!” videos these nine new boys apparently made in the run-up to their (doomed) “retreat.” Get barely five minutes into that first episode—titled, appropriately enough for our now dueling experiments, “30/1”—and I dare you not to fall half in love.
Perhaps unsurprisingly (they are the “control group,” after all), each of Season 2’s nine original boys maps loosely onto Season 1’s nine original girls. DJ (Elliot Giarola) is the privileged fuck-up whose absentee mom has left him enough time to develop a taste (“taste”) for rare whiskeys; queer drama queen Ivan and jacked sports bro Kirin (Miles Gutierrez-Riley and Charles Alexander) are nemeses from the same high school whose enmity is a fascinating black hole; goth Boy Scout Henry and nerdy-cool Seth (Aidan Laprete and Alex Fitzalan) are stepbrothers whose vibe is impossible to read; born hustler Scotty and his anxious best friend Bo (Reed Shannon and Tanner Ray Rook) are the always-scrambling ride-or-dies from Florida; and overly prepared, perpetually left-out Josh (Nicholas Coombe) is the socially inept kid everyone loves to pick on. And finally, as viewers will see when the camera cuts to the first post-island interview with a boy in Season 2’s opening episode, Rafael “Raf” Garcia (Zack Calderon)—a quiet kid from Tijuana who used to commute across the border to his and Josh’s high school in San Diego—is positioned as the less neurotic mirror of Leah, stepping up in “30/1” as his group’s lead POV character.
Of course, anyone who’s watched The Wilds’ first, well, wild season will know well enough to expect that, if the boys are a control group meant to parallel the girls in every meaningful way, it won’t just be Leah’s role as de facto audience avatar that they’ll be tasked with filling. At the beginning (and as part) of the girls’ experiment, recall, one of the girls’ number turned up mysteriously—but definitively—dead. Meaning: One of these nine boys whose selfie videos you’ve just fallen in love with is likely to die before the first few episodes are done. See also, the reveal that was dropped on the audience halfway through the girls’ ordeal that at least one of the remaining eight was a mole reporting back to Gretchen and her team. It would not be ridiculous, now that the boys are in play, for audiences to expect at least one similar heel-turn!
Finally, if the point of the experiment is to compare how quickly the girls, in isolation, hit a series of proscribed survival milestones in comparison to the boys, then one can presume that whatever critical resources the girls were provided in Season 1—antibiotics, a fresh water source, small game—the same will be more or less be true for the boys in Season 2. (Ditto, the various foundational, and possibly deadly, challenges the island might present.)
If you look closely at this season’s episode list, you’ll cotton on to the fact that while documentation of the girls’ time on the island runs all the way to Day 50, documentation of the boys’ only runs to Day 33. Suffice it to say, both why this difference exists and what it portends are one of the core mysteries of this season’s run. But until that mystery comes to a head in the season finale (“Exodus”), viewers will be safe in presuming that pretty much any major twist or milestone the girls went through in their first 30 days, the boys will go through the same.
Now, it would be easy to look at the existence of so many narrative parallels and assume that all that sameness will take the fun out of watching Gretchen put “her boys” through their paces. But this isn’t at all how it plays out. Because as it turns out, the benefit of The Wilds treading so much of the same glittering narrative water this season as it did in the first is familiarity, one that gives viewers a rock-steady structure to hold onto as they work to make sense of what are (now that Leah’s in on at least some of Gretchen’s sociopathic secrets in the post-island timeline) even twistier games of cat-and-mouse.
Too, all that similarity in character and pacing makes it impossible to miss all the ways, both subtle and not, in which the two sets of teens actually differ. Where Leah goes wild-eyed feral whenever her inherent skepticism is proven to be true, Raf goes scary still. Where their being stranded brings sisters Rachel and Nora (Helena Howard) close together, the same seems poised to be the opposite for step brothers Henry and Alex. Where the girls develop methodical plans to set signal fires and leave messages on the beach for any boats or planes that might be passing by, the boys… well, you’ll just have to watch to find out. The point is, in giving its audience “Season 1, But Boys,” The Wilds is making its Season 2 viewing experience dead easy to follow, even as the mystery surrounding the teens’ collective fate only grows more complex.
Now, I say this like it’s some kind of TV-making revelation, but given that the whole point of Gretchen’s scheme is that she’s conducting a scientific experiment, the fact of the matter is that the entire series is just a creative reflection of the basic scientific method; only, the writers are controlling the variables, and the researchers are us. And of course, like all good arts kids forced to make their way through their required science credits, we in the audience can’t help but to fall in love with our experiment’s poetic results.
That said, I will nevertheless leave you with this, the last note I made in my review watch of the season opener:
“On the whole, I hope Raf pushes Kirin off a cliff.”
Make of that what you will! And then queue up this new season and get ready to spend the next 10 hours in the same spot as you wait to see where Kirin and Raf actually end up. Because I’m telling you now: it’s magic.
Season 2 of The Wilds premieres in full Friday, May 6th on Prime Video. Season 1 is streaming now.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She can be found @AlexisKG.
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