Wayward Pines Review: “The Friendliest Place On Earth”

(Episode 1.08)

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<i>Wayward Pines</i> Review: &#8220;The Friendliest Place On Earth&#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.

They say that familiarity breeds contempt. Speaking solely of interpersonal relationships, that maxim is difficult to deny. When it comes to mid-summer television mini-series however, sometimes to know them is to love them.

Or, at the very least, to indulge them.

With only two hours remaining, there is zero chance that Wayward Pines is going to be remembered as classic television. At best, it will amass a small cult and take its place on the shelf somewhere between Sledge Hammer! and The Lone Gunmen. But that doesn’t mean it is without its virtues.

I’ve been hard on the show thus far because I was expecting too much of it. I took it at its word that it shared DNA with television royalty. Sadly Wayward Pines, the paternity test results are in and Twin Peaks is not your father. Neither is Lost. You do share some ancestry with 1993’s Wild Palms.

Both shows had a well-known film director onboard for street cred (M. Night Shyamalan for Pines and Oliver Stone for Palms). Both shows were marketed as close siblings of Twin Peaks. Most importantly, both shows almost completely failed to live up to their hype.

So let’s start clean expectation-wise. We know what show we are watching now and we know what the creative team is putting on the table. Given those revised standards, how does the show stack up?

Surprisingly, it holds up pretty well.

Where the show excels is in overwrought melodrama and high camp, and this week episode doubles down on both those factors. The only actor on the show even attempting to play it straight at this point is Shannon Sossamon. That said, Melissa Leo has also completely shifted gears. It is as if the writers have a campiness scale on their bulletin board and the actors have to balance each other out. Early in the season, Melissa Leo and Terrence Howard were chewing every piece of scenery they could get their hands on so the rest of the cast had to keep things on an even keel. Now that pretty much everyone has joined Team Camp, Leo’s Nurse Pam is suddenly the sanest, most normal person on the show. It’s a disarming shift but somehow it works.

In fact, it’s probably a necessity because Toby Jones and Hope Davis seem to be competing in some sort of soap opera actor charades competition. Truly, even if there was nothing else of interest going on this week, I would have been entertained just by watching the two of them putting every ounce of energy they could muster into madcap histrionics. If Toby Jones had pursed his lips and scrunched his face any harder, I swear his face would have just sucked itself right inside his head. And Hope Davis pulls off some facial liquidity (complete with world class eye rolls and lip quivers) that mid-1990s Jim Carrey would have been envious of. They are glorious.

Matt Dillon and Carla Gugino certainly seem to have finally realized what show they’re on. Dillon puts some square-jawed swagger behind his Sheriff’s star and Gugino lets Kate be the wild-eyed lunatic that 12 years of captivity would bring out in almost anyone, let alone a strong woman of authority.

None of it has any emotional heft, but I’m not sure that’s the point anymore. Subtlety went out of style at the end of the 21st century. 4096 is all about big moments and straight ahead emotional beats. How else can you explain the flurry of interactions that young Ben goes through from his hospital bed? No sooner has he come out of his coma before his mother runs out of his room (without letting anyone else know that Ben is awake, I might add). This had to happen, of course, because Mrs. Fisher had to come in to try and brainwash him. And THAT had to happen so that we could watch Ben parrot Mrs. Fisher’s remarks to his parents. And THAT had to happen so that Theresa could finally get clued in on the brainwashing that is going on and have a face off with Fisher in the hallway.

It’s the same “written from the result” plotting that we’ve seen in all series, but I mind it less when I’m expecting it. It also has the positive, unexpected effect of making me interested in where things are headed. Now that I’ve gotten use to the structure, guessing what happens next has become a fascinating diversion of reverse engineering the story structure. It appears now that a civil war is coming. Pilcher and the overlords are about to implode on each other, but first they’re going to turn on Ethan. My bet is that this happens right around the time that Ethan rallies the town around him by telling them the truth. I’m guessing that will happen somewhere in the vicinity of when Ethan kills an Abby and drags it up to the gazebo for everyone to see.

At the moment I predict that the show will end with a new world order where the surviving townsfolk and mountain people join together as a complete group with Ethan as their leader. The big theme that the show desperately wants to make a statement about is “humanity.” What is our nature?

I know this because at least three different characters this week just outright said it. Kate and her jailhouse speech about being unable to stop human nature sounded like a mission statement posted in the writers room.

Wayward Pines has turned the corner from being the show you keep thinking may evolve into something better, to the show that you tune into to chuckle at the outlandishness. It’s a lot like a reality show. You can see the script machinations turning in the background but you continually find yourself drawn to the train wreck happening right in front of you.

Some closing thoughts:

I didn’t really feel like there were many actual plot points worth lengthy discussion this week, but I’ll hit a couple just for kicks. First, it’s never a good sign when your episode’s biggest emotional moment is supposed to come from the death of a character that the audience almost literally knows nothing about and has absolutely no reason to have an emotional attachment to. Actually, scratch that—TWO deaths. I forgot that they mentioned that the truck driver died at the hospital. Second, why would the audience care that the surveillance guy at the mountain got put back into suspended animation? His job was to perform a monotonous, soul-sucking task (that did nothing but wreck his respect for mankind) for hours and hours every day. That’s basically what working retail is like, and let me tell you, if you polled every Apple Store employee and asked them if they would A.) keep working at their job, or B.) get put to sleep for hundreds of years to be awoken 2,000 years from now in a dystopian future where they might be hunted by mutants, I guarantee you that tomorrow morning there would be lines of disgruntled people in every mall wondering why they can’t get in to buy a new iPad because nobody was there to open the Apple Store.

So we learned that Kate knew Pilcher’s real name. I don’t really know what to make of that, I’m just mentioning it. I really don’t know what to think about how much Kate knows. How the hell can she know Pilcher’s name, but not what year it is? Well, that’s one thing to look forward to next week.

Ever since we learned what was really going on, I’ve been meaning to bring up something that Mrs. Fisher said to the teens during orientation. She mentioned that, sadly, most of the children would never meet Dr. Pilcher. I think it was just bad writing, but why won’t the children meet Pilcher? I’ve been assuming that she meant that they would never meet him as Dr. Pilcher, since in the town he passes as friendly neighborhood pediatrician, Dr. Jenkins. But, something about it still bugs me, and it makes me think that more revelations still await us. Along those lines, did anyone else catch Kate’s comment while she was in the padded cell about other cities similar to Wayward Pines scattered around the globe? Foreshadowing perhaps?

I don’t know if it was intentional, but the closing moments in the rain outside the fence seemed like a straight up Jurassic Park Doug Nedry homage to me. All that was missing was a Barbasol can full of DNA.

I made a St. Elsewhere joke in one of my early reviews, but the closer we get to the finish, the more I wonder about the random side comments about Ethan’s potential brain damage. On some level, I find myself hoping that the writers will pull a double-twist and reveal that Ethan really does have brain damage and that the whole thing is just his delusion. God knows it would explain all the creaky plot mechanics.

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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