Oh, Wayward Pines — how you remind me of so much and yet leave me wishing for something more.
The first episode of this all-star “event series” premiered Thursday night, practically reminding its audience of the groundbreaking, mysterious shows it obviously mimics: Twin Peaks, The X-Files, Lost (hell, the show practically begins the same damn way Lost did). Don’t think for one second the people involved aren’t aware they’re doing something that reeks of being derivative. Blake Crouch, the author of the Wayward Pines trilogy of books the whole show is based on, basically admitted at the end of the first volume that he wrote it because the cancellation of Twin Peaks left him frustrated and unsatisfied, and he wanted to do something in a similar vein. It’s also fitting that showrunner Chad Hodge would be the one to bring this to the small screen, since he has a flair for developing shows that are facsimiles of better ones. His last show, the canceled-by-NBC The Playboy Club, was a pitiful, network-friendly attempt to capture the same ‘60s-era, swinging-dick sexism the soon-to-be-finished Mad Men made an art out of re-creating.
And, of course, there’s executive producer M. Night Shyamalan, who has practically made it his life’s calling to come up with creepy, twisty, and ultimately ridiculous shit. So of course he directs the pilot, titled “Where Paradise Is Home,” making sure he’s the one who sets the show’s murky, ambiguous tone.
At best, the show is tolerable. Its willingness to be a pulpy, all-star pleaser for summer-TV fans is admirable, even though it has a heavy case of been-there-done-that-itis. And it certainly soothes the die-hard fans of the books by staying faithful to Crouch’s text, even throwing in dialogue from Pines, the first installment. But fans also might’ve felt that the pilot overplayed its hand, virtually plowing through half of Crouch’s first book. Both the audience and Dillon’s protagonist, Secret Service agent Ethan Burke, immediately find out how jacked-up a place Wayward Pines is. As Burke discovers by the end of the hour, this small town is actually a fortress he’s informed he can’t escape.
As the episode begins with Burke waking up Matthew Fox–style in the woods, we see in flashbacks that Burke, still feeling responsible for letting a bomber go mad, went to a therapist, who eventually asked him if he was having hallucinations. Since he spends most of the show bruised and confused, making not one but two trips to the local hospital (where he has to contend with Melissa Leo‘s lone nurse, who seesaws between being excessively chipper and predictably icy) for injuries sustained during a car crash, Burke wonders if all of this is even happening. “Am I having another relapse?” he asks Kate Hewson (Carla Gugino), one of the agents he was supposed to locate, who is now an older Wayward Pines resident.
And yet, running into an aging Hewson isn’t the weirdest thing that happens to him. He finds the other agent’s rotting corpse in a decaying Victorian home, courtesy of an address given to him by a bartender (Juliette Lewis) who hooked him up with a free meal. That bartender shows back up to spring him out from his second hospital visit and let him know he’s not alone in this. She’s been trapped in this town, too — since the ’90s, in fact. However, she thinks she’s been there for a year.
As much as he’d like to know how could that be, he would much rather blow this Popsicle stand and go back home to his wife and teenage son back in Seattle. Despite leaving several messages on his wife’s phone, she never receives them. Neither does he get her calls. It looks like wherever the hell he’s at, the people there want to keep him in the dark as much as possible. That definitely includes Toby Jones’s psychiatrist, who tells Burke at the hospital that he’s been having hallucinations brought on by the crash. But, later in the episode, we discover he’s a much shadowier figure, informing Burke’s superior back in Seattle (on a rain-drenched sidewalk, no less) not to worry about Burke.
Maybe it’s because I’m so used to watching cable dramas taking their sweet time unfolding their story, but I didn’t expect the show to blow most of its wad in the first hour. I guess since this is network TV, you have to be up front and show folks why they should be interested in this. I am curious to see how the show is going to unravel in the next nine episodes. Fortunately, we haven’t gotten to Pines’s second half, which is way more what-the-hell-is-this-all-about. Also, are the writers going to interpolate plots and characters from the rest of Crouch’s books? And does this mean I have to read the rest of Crouch’s books? Let’s see together, shall we?
A FEW STRAY THOUGHTS
- As fun as it is seeing Matt Dillon all steely and tough as an agent (I always knew that young punk from all those S.E. Hinton movie adaptations would grow up to be all Robert Mitchum-y), didn’t it seem Agent Burke had a dickish, pick-and-choose method when it came to dispensing info on why he’s in Wayward Pines? One minute, he’s telling Lewis’s bartender every detail of his assignment. The other minute, he’s telling the hotel clerk it’s none of his damn business.
- It’s a Crash reunion with Dillon butting heads with Terrence Howard’s ice-cream-cone-chewing sheriff (who I believe was a brawny, blond white dude in the book). Considering that the last time they were together onscreen Dillon was the cop and Howard was the guy he was harassing and cruelly steamrolling with his authority, I’m sure we’re going to have a grand ol’ time seeing the shoe on the other foot. Also, I have to admit, while he only appeared in two scenes, Howard was far more sinister as the sheriff than he was in all of Empire last season as Lucious Lyon.
- When Nurse Pam is about to inject Burke with anesthesia, she says she’s going to “jam this bad boy straight to the bone.” In the book, she said “motherfucker” instead of “bad boy.” It would’ve been far more chilling if she cursed, especially since she’s been all perky and golly-gee before that. But, of course, this is network TV.
- No matter how much the show gives us those scenic Seattle exteriors, we all know it’s Canada!