When The Wilds premiered in late 2020, it came out of left field. The Amazon Prime series starred a group of relative unknowns and only made a minor critical wave. Still, some young fans latched on, and in the wake of Yellowjackets, more and more adults are catching on too.
But here’s the thing: 18 months is a long time to go between seasons, especially when you’re talking about a show as intentionally confusing as The Wilds. Diving straight into the show’s second season without a brief refresher on what previously occurred is as jarring as, oh, coming to in the water after you think you’ve been in a plane crash. Season two’s premiere is full of timeline twists and turns, new characters and personalities, and lots of bleak, empty staring out into a churning ocean, so it’s certainly helpful if you come into it having done a recent rewatch of the season-one finale.
Basically, when viewers last saw their sunburned island pals, Shelby and Toni were smooching, and Leah had just realized something was up with Nora, the sort of dreamy, brainy dork of the group. She followed her into the woods only to be lured into a pit trap that Nora had set. She eventually scraped her way out and ran back to the beach. Before Leah can spill about the deception, though, a swimming Rachel is attacked by a shark, and Nora runs in to save her. Flash forward who knows how long and to who knows where, and we learn that not only was Nora in on the whole thing from the jump but that both Leah and Shelby have somehow figured it out in whatever facility they’re in. Always paranoid and resourceful, Leah manages to get out of her cell and discovers a bank of televisions monitoring a similarly fucked up group of male castaways, the Twilight of Adam.
Season two opens hot on the heels of that shark attack, with a missing Nora and a missing hand (on Rachel). There are some gruesome scenes of cauterization, and we quickly learn that in the week or so that then occurs offscreen, Rachel has basically become a hollow, regretful, mournful shell of her once almost too confident self. She blames herself for Nora’s disappearance — which is actually kind of apt, considering, if you remember from season one, it was Rachel’s dislike of Nora’s boyfriend, Quinn, that led to Nora eventually coming on board the evil Dawn of Eve study.
Meanwhile, Shoni (Shelby and Toni) are still hooking up in the woods. Martha, hot off beheading a bird, catches a glimpse of their rendezvous and slinks off. She confides what she saw in Fatin, who has totally known about the couple the whole time because of course she has. At the same time, Leah is still rabidly searching for the pit, much to Fatin’s dismay, while Dot mainly helps prep the group for their move to a new inland camp.
At the same (?) time, there’s a new group of teenage boys off on some other part of the same (?) island who have seemingly just found themselves stranded. They, too, fell victim to the whole “free cake on a private jet” ploy, and now they’re screwed. As viewers, we’re only just getting to know the guys, but from their “why I want to go to the passageways retreat” tapes, it seems like there’s Josh the magic camp dork, Kirin the lacrosse dickhead, best friends Bo and Scotty, emo realist Henry and his almost-too-nice-to-be-true stepbrother Seth, queer poet Ivan, and the cartoonishly shy Raf. There’s also DJ, who hates his mom and quickly seems to break his toe in a fit of rage.
But wait! When the group splits up to look for what they presume is some billionaire’s private island home, DJ struggles and is sent back. When the gang strikes out and returns to their rendezvous, DJ is lying dead on the beach, leg and face brutally maimed by what we’re left to presume was a shark of some sort. Shit quickly gets real for the guys, who then “bury him at sea,” which is kind of a dumb idea, but it’s their first day on the island and they’re still naïve and optimistic, so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
Through flashes back and forth between the beach and the barracks, we come to learn a few things. First, the boys’ group only “lasted” 34 days before “failing” somehow, while the ladies managed to tough it out for 50. Raf seemingly committed some crime that has resulted in him being in handcuffs — let’s assume it’s murder because the show so clearly wants us to — and now has thoughts about how the boys “wanted to be men, but the truth is that some of us were becoming monsters.” (Again, murder.) We also learn that DJ is alive and well inside the barracks, where he confronts his mom (!), the evil program leader Gretchen Klein, played beautifully and wildly by Rachel Griffiths. DJ’s real name is Devin, and he’s the fraternity boy responsible for Quinn’s hazing death, somehow resulting in his mom forcing him to participate in this supremely fucked up experiment. And Leah’s in Raf’s room now! Even though we just saw her trying to kill herself, maybe? Yikes!
All of this is to say that season two of The Wilds is, indeed, very wild. This first episode was written by series creator Sarah Streicher, who wrote some of season one’s most brutal and brain-bending episodes, and the series-two premiere is no exception.
At the end of season one, a part of me started to feel that the girls’ ordeal was getting almost a little too dark. They’d accepted defeat, and while that’s probably perfectly natural and reasonable for anyone who’s stuck on a deserted island (I assume), it’s also awful to watch. Women are getting shit on enough by the Supreme Court. I don’t need to watch a group of fictional teen girls go through torture too.
Now, with the addition of the boys, I’m a little more optimistic. I worried a bit at the end of season one that the introduction of the Twilight of Adam group would be an exercise in “boys are like this while girls are like this” bullshit, but I don’t know why I ever did. Just as The Wilds has handled the nuances and multitudes contained inside your average teen girl, it does seem like they’re going to be able to pull that off for the boys. (I hope. It’s just episode one.) I’m not convinced there’s not something going on with Seth, who seems, like, too great? I mean, he’s handsome and he’s kind and he’s thoughtful and he’s cool? I don’t buy it.
One way or another, we’ll have to get to the bottom of The Wilds eventually. We will, right? Right?
• These poor shipwrecked girls. Their pants are filthy, their skin is awful, and their amputated limbs are more swollen than they should be seven days after a shark bite. At least their perfectly aligned teeth still look pearly white.
• A few of the boys are played by Australian actors, like Charles Alexander, who plays Kirin, and Alex Fitzalan, who plays Seth. So far, I’m only buying Fitzalan’s American accent. Alexander seems to be trying to sum up some sort of Texas macho thing, and I don’t think it’s landing.
• TIL that Aidan Laprete, who plays emo know-it-all Henry, is also a prominent ukulele player, though he’s apparently more into using the uke to play pop songs than traditional folk tracks. Seems like something an emo kid would do.