Preview: FOX's Wayward Pines

May 26, 2016 by Steven Schott

“How do I get out of here?”
“You don’t.”

There is a point in every TV season, especially a first season, where you have that conversation with yourself about whether or not to continue. With the huge glut of great shows out there thanks to the rise in fantastic storytelling, open-minded execs trying to launch the “next big thing,” and the free spending habits of new platforms in hopes of attracting new talent, there is simply more great TV out there than a (gainfully employed) person can reasonably watch. Right about the third or maybe fourth episode of a new show, it’s time to fish or cut bait, and our experience with last summer’s surprise ratings smash Wayward Pines was no different: Do we push forward and see what happens and discover the much-teased “big secret,” or move on and attack the growing stack of shows we’ve been meaning to get to?

We stuck it out, and it was the right move. Created by Chad Hodge and Executive Produced by M. Night Shyamalan, Wayward Pines is a bold and ambitious psychological thriller that often punches way above its weight class visually and occasionally thematically. Starring Matt Dillon, Carla Gugino, Melissa Leo, and Terrence Howard, the truth about a seemingly idyllic town begins to unspool during the first few episodes and right about the time the mystery begins to feel mundane and teasing, it begins to pay off big time.

The truth about Wayward Pines, the town? (Spoilers follow.) It is a Truman Show-esque walled city that exists nearly 2,000 years in the future, following a genetic mutation in which man has become feral beasts colloquially called Abbies (short for abnormal). Once the beans have been spilled, the show veers wildly and satisfyingly between deep sci-fi, cryogenic awesomeness, futuristic flashbacks, heady morality, and post-apocalyptic dystopian politics.

We’ll get to that in a moment.

Let’s recap: Secret Service agent Ethan Burke (Dillon) heads to Idaho to track down two missing agents, one of whom happens to be his former partner/lover Kate Hewson (Gugino). Once he arrives, he is led through a bizarre series of events and ultimately discovers that he is part of a “mad scientist’s” plan to save humanity. When his wife Theresa (Shannyn Sossamon) and son Ben (Charlie Tahan) show up looking for him, they too become part of the mystery. There is so much fun in the reveal that we won’t say too much about how we arrive in Wayward Pines – suffice it to say that there are multiple generations to summon and multiple opportunities to “get it right.”

Once the scene is set, like any good dystopian fantasy, the struggle between the powerless and the elite is the engine that drives the second season of Wayward Pines. Oh, and let’s NOT forget about the deadly carnivorous abbies at the gate.

Following Burke’s sacrifice at the end of season one, season two picks up some time later, in a much bleaker, totalitarian version of Wayward Pines. The citizens live in fear of the “first generation” regime, led by Jason (Tom Stevens), whose punishments and public executions are still meted out with fierce regularity. The people are malnourished, hungry, and yet figure out ways to survive and try to live normally.

It is from this environment that Dr. Theo Yedlin (Jason Patric) emerges, desperately trying to figure out what is going on and soon realizing that, real or not, these people need treatment. He reluctantly begins seeing patients and soon saves the life of Jason’s love Kerry (Kacey Rohl).

Yedlin is also one of the only people to directly challenge the rule of Jason, save for the remnant rebels. His new status in the community, as well as his challenge of Jason, sets up Yedlin as both a threat and asset to the regime. Patric is very watchable in this role, bubbling with intensity while trying to edge himself back into normalcy. His scenes with Stevens are tense and we’re all just waiting for either one of them to explode. The detente is seriously fun to enjoy.

Few shows on television have successfully switched gears so rapidly. It mostly works. Fans of the first season of Wayward Pines will find some of the sci-fi elements intact in season two, but there is a real shift toward exploring more of the political and moral drama plaguing the town. Hope Davis’ creepy Megan is still a dark menacing presence from season one, but there are also new enemies (and friends) to entice new and loyal fans alike.

The first episode of Wayward Pines season two is available now on-demand to Best of Live TV Multi-Stream Beta subscribers.

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