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WonderCon 2015: FOX’s ‘Wayward Pines’ Pilot Review

wayward pines


I don’t think anyone truly knows what to expect of FOX’s Wayward Pines. The 10-part “event” miniseries, which bows May 14th (my birthday!) has a wide range of possible outcomes. It’s a show by M. Night Shyamalan, which now elicits shivers and wary glances, and not in the good way. It’s based on a New York Times bestselling trilogy of books, but then again, everything is based on a New York Times bestselling trilogy of books. It was originally scheduled to air during midseason, until being shuffled to the summer. That’s maybe not the most promising development, but also might turn into a prescient one. And then there’s that cast. Wayward Pines‘ cast is ridonkulous.

The series’ star is Matt Dillon, but the small Idahoan town of Wayward Pines will also be populated by Melissa Leo, Terrance Howard, Juliette Lewis, Hope Davis, Toby Jones, Carla Gugino, Shannyn Sossamon, Reed Diamond and Tim Griffin. There’s serious Oscar and Emmy cred, the biggest sex symbol for like a 3 month period in 2001-2002 (Sossaman with A Knight’s Tale and 40 Days and 40 Nights). There’s even a Whedonverse veteran (Diamond)! It’s a cast that would compare favorable to any cable show, and certainly gets your eyebrow raised.

So what’s the pilot like? Well, it’s Twin Peaks in Idaho without the blatant crazy judging from the first hour, and that’s not such a bad thing. The series begins with Dillon’s secret service agent Ethan Burke’s eyes opening (which also started LOST and probably 178 other TV episodes), awakening bloodied and bruised mysteriously in a thick Pacific Northwest forest (ferns!). We learn that Burke survived a massive, insane head-on collision (the driver wasn’t so lucky), and now is stuck in a small town lost in time, filled with weirdos. His wife Theresa (Sossamon) and son (who I’m just gonna refer to as Steve Zahn’s long lost son) learn about the accident, but are just as confused about his disappearance as the secret service and Ethan’s boss Adam Hassler (Griffin), who can’t seem to find him but also don’t seem to be, you know, looking.

Ethan hobbles into the sleepy town of Wayward Pines before blacking out, and waking up in the care of the incredible Melissa Leo’s Nurse Pam. Like several characters, she seems plucked from the corridors of American Horror Story, a delightfully unnerving old-timey nurse that feels like a Frances Conroy creation. The hospital is practically abandoned; there are no other patients or even doctors. Phones (all rotary!) are apparently no use; Ethan only gets his wife’s voicemail, and can’t seem to contact anyone, no thanks to a prickly secret service telephone operator, if that’s really who she was. The police aren’t any help either; Terrance Howard is Sheriff Pope, a seemingly oblivious but-not-at-all oblivious man who is far more concerned with his Rum Raisin cone than the mutilated and tortured body of one of the two missing agents that Ethan finds.

Let me back-pedal: Ethan was en route to Wayward Pines, before the accident, to investigate the disappearance of two missing secret service agents. The not-dead one is Kate Hewson (Gugino), who used to be his partner (and flame). Instead of being dead, she now has long hair and has AGED 12 YEARS, seemingly happily married to Harold Balinger (Diamond). She’s aged these 12 years despite the fact that Ethan last saw her five weeks ago. This is about when I should mention that Ethan also has a history of mental illness, that he’s suffered from hallucinations, nightmares and all kinds of instability stemming from a traumatic case that clearly will haunt him throughout the series. Is he imagining things? Is this all in his head? Is Wayward Pines making any sense?

Not really, but it’s undeniably compelling. Thanks to the local bartender Beverly (Lewis), his lone ally in town,  Ethan learns that everyone in Wayward Pines is being watched; some sort of Big Brother is listening. The crickets you hear…are really just noise boxes. Okayyy? And they don’t take kindly when you try to leave: Ethan can’t seem to get away from the hospital. He keeps waking up in bed, but this time, Pam has handcuffed him and prepped him for brain surgery without his permission. It’s recommended by Dr. Jenkins (Jones), who’s merely a psychiatrist, but acts as if Ethan has no choice. Because he doesn’t.

Back in Seattle, Ethan’s boss Hassler clearly knows more than he’s letting on. Hell, everyone does, but Hassler meets with Dr. Jenkins outside of Wayward Pines. He’s having second thoughts, wanting to call “it” off. But it’s too late; “it” is already taken care of. What is “it”? Well, “it” certainly involves Ethan Burke.

Time is wonky in Wayward Pines. While Kate has been in town for 12 years, and appears aware of that passage of time, Beverly is faux-celebrating her one year anniversary in the town…but she first visited the town in 1999. In other words, she thinks it’s the year 2000. If you think this is all hard to follow, try being Ethan, who confronts Kate. After initially pretending not to even know him in public, she reassures him in private: he’s not having a relapse. This is really happening. But that’s the end of her reassurance. Kate warns him that he’s going to get her in trouble. She urges him to relax, that he “can have a happy life here.” Again, it doesn’t feel like he has a choice. This conversation takes place about five minutes after Ethan had to fight off Nurse Pam, who was brandishing nefarious needles, in a thrilling/brutal sequence.

So he’s not going to stay and have a happy life. Instead, Ethan hot-wires a car, because everybody on TV knows how to do that, and speeds out of town. Or tries to. The road out of Wayward Pines somehow leads him right back into town, kind of like Storybrooke with redirection instead of a barrier. Of course, Wayward Pines has one of those too; Ethan tries to escape through the forest but runs into a Jurassic Park-like Great Wall of Idaho surrounding the entire town.

“How do I get out of here?” Ethan yells, exasperated, when Sheriff Pope sidles up to his stolen vehicle. “You don’t,” Howard responds, and for at least one week, I don’t want to escape Wayward Pines. I’m in, I admit it, I want to know what happens next, and whether or not M. Night Shayamalan, Chad Hodge and company can juggle all of the crazy and deliver on their stated promise to reveal secrets. I want to know what “it” all means.

We might not have to wait long. “Very early on we find out what’s going on…Instead of taking the air out of the story, it explodes, like a rocket to the moon. And I could never see it coming. When the twist is revealed, [I was like] “Oh, this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever read. I went through an imaginary trip to the cosmos…it blew my mind,” Diamond gushes at the panel after the pilot screening.

Griffin adds, “This is one of those shows where they’re very generous in exposing secrets early on. You don’t have to wait 7 seasons. We’re not referencing anyone… J.J. Abrams, are you here?” De Line finishes: Answers come “come fast and furiously,” because no panel would be complete without a Fast & Furious 7 reference.

Wayward Pines was designed to be a contained 10 episode series with a beginning, middle and end. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be more. The show “could absolutely continue on, if there were people that wanted to. That’s a possibility.”

We won’t begin to figure out how likely a possibility that is until May 14th, when the pilot premieres.