Wayward Pines: “One of Our Senior Realtors Has Chosen to Retire” (Episode 1.04)

TV Reviews
Wayward Pines: “One of Our Senior Realtors Has Chosen to Retire” (Episode 1.04)

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.

While this show has been wildly uneven thus far, you get the feeling that it’s starting to get its legs under it. Episode four is the strongest episode since the pilot, and it achieves that mark by going small.

The show’s biggest failing to this point has been to lean too heavily on big character moments and even bigger mystery moments while leaving behind any chance for nuance. The result was paper-thin characters that were little more than archetypes borrowed from other shows and films. This week strikes a better balance by revealing the mystery through the characters rather than around them.

The Powers That Be waste no time in moving their master plan beyond the death of Sheriff Pope, and I mean that literally. The Burkes have scarcely arrived home before Ethan receives a call naming him the new town sheriff. Only moments earlier, Ben receives notice that he will be expected to attend school the following day.

It’s interesting how much menace the show is able to wring out of archaic means of communications. Obviously no one in the town is allowed to have a cell phone and all messages come via either a landline phone call or letters in the mailbox (which have a habit of appearing seemingly from nowhere). On a different show, these methods could play as quaint, but the writers here have tapped into a certain level of anxiety and distrust that exists when our modern conveniences and instant communications are removed. It’s only a small blot in a larger shadow, but it’s effective when played as well as it is here.

The seed from last week that bears fruit this week is the idea that not everyone is trapped in Wayward Pines. It logically follows that some people are in the town by choice. Either they chose to go there or willingly stayed when they found themselves trapped there. It’s an interesting distinction and the latter idea is taken to its natural conclusion in the story of local realtor, Peter McCall (Justin Kirk). McCall is the town rabble-rouser, spray-painting graffiti quotes about freedom and generally causing whatever low-level trouble that he can. He was a character whom I found compelling at his introduction given his obvious sympathy to newcomers (which probably explains why they made him the town realtor) and I was pleasantly surprised that the character has already been put front and center. His small revolutions drive this week’s narrative, which is all about drawing battle lines. The questions at hand are: ‘Who makes the rules?’ and ‘How far can you stretch those rules before something snaps back?’

The two sides of those questions are represented by Realtor McCall and Melissa Leo’s increasingly venomous Nurse Pam (whose responsibilities obviously go well beyond healthcare). The two of them are not only on opposite sides of the audience’s sympathies, but they also conflict in their feelings on the town. McCall came to town against his will only to initially embrace his new life. It was only later that his newfound freedom from his old life came at a terrible price. Pam, on the other hand, is single-minded in her love for the town, even going so far as to claim it as her own. Tidbits like this make me even more anxious to uncover the larger reality of the show because these are the kinds of surface details than deepen with new information. In Pam’s case, we don’t know yet whether she woke up in the town like McCall or if she chose to come. Given her temperament, I wouldn’t be surprised if she turns out to be one of the architects of the whole experiment (I choose that word purely out of my own perception, not out of any advance knowledge).

It’s a shame that the show keeps killing off its most interesting characters, but at least McCall’s death drives the story forward and raises interesting moral and ethical questions that Wayward Pines hadn’t had time for up to this point. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. There was time, but it was wasted on other things. This new direction is a welcome step in the right direction.

There are at least half a dozen other small moments and interactions this week, and all have some level of importance. That almost every scene is weight-bearing is an enormous testament to how far the show has come in just a couple of episodes. From Ben’s new teenage love interest to Hope Davis’ brainwashing schoolteacher to the first interaction between Theresa and Kate, there is an enormous amount of subtext being thrown around. Much of it is philosophical.

Is the wall to keep the townsfolk in or something else out? What does it mean to feel ‘at home’? Is any sacrifice too great if it benefits the greater good? Can you ever really ‘know’ another person?

These are the types of issues at hand. I have varying levels of interest in them, but I cannot stress enough how improved the viewing experience is when the audience can consider subtle shades of character instead of by-the-numbers, banal suspense plotting.

Of course, we can’t end an episode without a major cliffhanger, and this week is no exception. Ethan manages to scale the rock wall that crippled Peter McCall (and apparently scared off other would-be escapees) only to find…what? To be honest, I’m not certain which I suppose is the point. The thing peering out from behind the tree could be a vampire, a hairless werewolf, an alien, or some combination of all three. What is clear is that the real threat is not the rock climb but what lies beyond.

As the pace of the show quickens, the rock wall appears to be a fitting symbol; what we initially perceived as the larger threat may turn out to be a thin veil covering a much larger and much more dangerous evil.

Some closing thoughts:
—Truly the casting on this show is something to marvel at. Hope Davis is a major get on any project, but her role here seems ideal to capitalize on her two most effective modes: 1. Kind and sympathetic caretaker and 2. Gleefully cold sociopath. The brilliance is in how fine the line is between the two sides.
—After a couple of dry-ish weeks, there were some fresh pop culture nods this week. The most overt was Ethan’s new uniform that may as well have said Dharma Initiative on it. Fun stuff.
—The introduction of a love interest for Ben is considerably less interesting than viewing the town from a teenage perspective. The idea of pubescent brainwashing is excellent dramatic fodder, as is the teenage propensity for revolution and how that might manifest in a town with no exit. Of the new arcs introduced this week, this one is simultaneously the most promising and the one most likely to devolve into something painfully boring.
—Given all of the other stuff going on, the first meeting between Kate and Theresa lacked the fireworks that it might have had an episode back. But the music box was a nice touch. Again, there’s something about the built-in dread of old tech that the show is really tuned into. Also, is there something about music in particular that disarms the microphones? That music box sure didn’t seem loud enough to cover their voices.
—Interesting that the Sheriff seems to have immunity from discussing the past. Keeping the files on all the townsfolk hidden in his office doesn’t seem all that secure either. Every time we get new information about The Powers That Be, it seems to contradict things that we learned before. They are smart, but stupid. They are all-seeing but blind. I had chalked it up to bad plotting earlier on but it happens with enough regularity that now I’m wondering if there is a method to the madness. I suppose we will find out soon enough.

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”:https://twitter.com/one_true_jack.

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