Wayward Pines: “Our Town Our Law”

(Episode 1.03)

TV Reviews
Wayward Pines: “Our Town Our Law”

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.

Watching this show is like watching your rhythm-challenged teenager learn to cha-cha. For every two steps forward, there are seven steps back, yet you can’t help but keep pulling for them to finally get it right.

Episode three isn’t a great episode, but it is miles better than the lukewarm pilot leftovers that constituted episode two. It also gets a bonus for a final ten minutes that are good enough to raise the overall episode score by about 20 percent. Unfortunately, it takes us a while to get there.

Burke continues to display an almost complete lack of tradecraft as he skulks around a town where he can be almost certain that everyone is looking for him. This brings me to what is perhaps my biggest issue with the show to this point: The omniscience of whomever is behind all the cameras and microphones seems to constantly shift in order to serve the plot. They are blind and deaf when the writers need them to be, but the audience is supposed to fear them as a constant threat the rest of the time. Sorry, but that isn’t how that works. Maybe the show’s last big pop culture reference will be to go all St. Elsewhere and we will find out that it is really an autistic boy pulling the strings from behind a curtain. That would almost make sense.

Anyway, while Burke’s attempt at stealth may be painful to watch, it does lead us to one of several major revelations for the audience. When the delivery truck that Burke hides out in reaches its final destination, we get our first peek at the underground machinations that make the town possible as well as some clues that Wayward Pines may not be the only town of its kind.

Both the truck and Burke end up in a garage/hangar/depot that seems to act as some kind of way station for everything that comes in or out of the town. Perhaps most interesting is the fact that not everyone is stuck in the town. At least a handful of folks are allowed to go home for the night to a house that doesn’t have rules tacked up inside the front door. It’s a pleasantly unexpected little twist that I have to admit I hadn’t completely considered. We had seen the doctor in both worlds, of course, but given his apparent level of seniority it was easy to assume that he was the exception, not the rule.

The other person with some authority who is obviously on a longer leash is Sheriff Pope, and this is largely his episode. We still primarily follow Burke, but Terrence Howard is given multiple large expanses of screen time this week in which to glower, threaten, and menace in the arrogant way that only he can. I have often wondered if, when casting began for this show, some executives at Fox had a conversation like this:

Exec 1: We’re really going to need someone with serious presence for this Pope guy. We need someone to be the human face of the looming, omniscient threat.
Exec 2: I agree, but where the hell are we going to find someone with that kind of enormously pretentious charisma? He has to be both charming and vicious. He has to be believable as someone smart and capable that the town would put their faith in, but equally believable as an insane tyrant that would happily slit the throats of all his followers if it meant keeping himself in power.
Exec 1: (laughing) Man, it’s a shame we can’t just go down the hall to the Empire set and see if we can borrow Terrence Howard for a couple of weeks.
Exec 2: (staring wide-eyed at Exec 1) Holy shit.

I doubt it was quite that simple, but given the outcome of tonight’s episode, casting Howard as a short-term baddie does feel a bit like stunt casting. That said, I can make a pretty strong argument for him being the only part of the show that has worked non-stop since the pilot. For that reason, I’m a bit sorry to see him go, but thankfully his departure feels like it may be the spark that jumpstarts the show back to life.

Starting with Sheriff Pope threatening Mrs. Burke in her new kitchen and running through his body mysteriously disappearing into the containment fence, the last 10-15 minutes of tonight’s episode are quite possibly the best moments of the show so far. Characters reacted in a logical, human way (i.e. like a person, not a plot device) and as a result I was finally able to truly care about the characters that I was watching. The scene was well directed, written, and acted and the outcome made sense for the characters. In other words, the violent acts by father and son felt like organic events that were true to what we have seen from each of them.

I realize that this is a lot of praise to heap on a relatively tiny scene, but after at least an hour and a half of relentlessly robotic plotting, finally having a scene where all the parts clicked into place was something of a revelation. I legitimately hope that the creative team can capitalize on their sudden burst of forward momentum.

Some closing thoughts:

If the end of the episode is any indication, reuniting the Burke family will pay dividends. I would have settled for not having to watch any more scenes like Theresa and Ben’s visit to the Boise Field Office. Seriously, writers? The best way you could think of to point them on the right path was the good old, tried and true you keep lookout while I magically search through this desktop computer that I happen to know the password to because I’m sure the first thing I click on will contain the exact information that we need plot device. Ah, that old chestnut. Then again, you see that kind of nonsense on almost every episode of CSI: Cyber and that show got picked up for a second season.

Along the same lines, I almost shouted out loud at the television when hints started getting dropped about Kate. In my head, it went like this: Please, PLEASE do not tell me that, with all of the bajillion interesting subplots you could explore in this town, that you are going to waste even a second of time on a “See Mom? Kate is here and Dad’s been with her this whole time” plot hurdle. Then, of course, they did exactly that. Let me make sure I’m getting this right. Burke has effectively been kidnapped in a dangerous town where the Sheriff murders people, and all that Burke has wanted is to escape and get back to his family. So what does he do immediately after being reunited with his family in said dangerous town? He sneaks away in the most awkward and obvious way possible. Truly, he should have just left a trail of Post-It notes for Ben to follow.

I’m anxious to see more of Justin Kirk as the apparently sympathetic realtor. I can’t imagine that being the realtor of Wayward Pines has too many opportunities for growth. Also, I suspect that there’s a good story behind his limp and cane.

It occurred to me that it was a bit of a missed opportunity involved in Sheriff Pope’s naming. They could have given a deep Twin Peaks nod by going with James K. Polk instead of Arnold Pope (Twin Peaks’s Sheriff was named Harry S. Truman) and it would have been similar enough that fans of the books might not have objected.

I can’t leave off without mentioning the weird creatures in the wall. Again, I must admit that the creative team completely surprised me with that one. It was a nicely timed counter punch after the earlier scenes that suggested a more blue collar, bureaucratic background to the town. The things in the wall throw all that right out the window. My only concern here is that the creative team will just continually use the creatures (or something like them) as a “big stick” to bring out, whenever they need an arbitrary method of scaring folks back into town. Let’s hope not.

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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