When I first saw the promos for Wayward Pines, I got excited. The new series on FOX seemed to tick all the boxes in my “Must Have” list. There was Matt Dillon playing Ethan Burke, Juliette Lewis popping in to creep me out, Terence Howard taking time out from Empire to work a second job and eat an ice cream cone, and M. Night Shyamalan playing the Red Queen and directing the mad affair. Come on, M. Night Shyamalan? With him at the helm, what could go wrong? Answer: Plenty. Lesson: Just because something looks good on paper doesn’t mean it’ll work. It’s why we women set our sights on multi-millionaires, but end up with plumbers.
Ethan Burke is the lead in this twisty-turny puzzle that we’re supposed to want to solve. Burke is a secret service agent that is assigned the task of finding two missing officers, but right off the bat, things are not as they seem. We learn this through a glimpse of a counseling session held between Burke and his therapist. It seems Burke has suffered some type of trauma due to the Easter bombings. He feels he’s responsible—and, no, we have no idea what the Easter bombings are either. As much in the dark about them as we are about other key elements in this drama, the holding back of information sets the precedent for much of what follows. However, what we do discover is that this event was the cause of Burke suffering from a dissociative disorder and hallucinations. While Burke assures the therapist that the delusions are so yesterday, the response is disingenuous given that Burke also asks for a definition of what an hallucination is. It’s shades of Bill Clinton asking what’s considered sex … and, oh, while you’re explaining that to him, pass the cigar.
Now I don’t know whether Burke indulged in smoking, but like the above, he has dabbled in extramarital affairs. In fact, one of the agents he’s searching for was someone he had a fling with. No good deed goes unpunished, and so in the course of trying to locate the two fellow officers, Ethan is involved in a car accident—but is it? An accident, I mean. After all, the driver seems to have steered the vehicle straight at an oncoming truck. Not surprisingly, he hits the moving target and Ethan is knocked unconscious and awakens, battered, bruised, and alone in the woods. In an attempt to find help, he stumbles into the sleepy little town of Wayward Pines.
Lucky him! He’s soon being tended by the crack team of one healthcare professional named Nurse Ratched … I mean, Nurse Pam. Hang onto your bedpans because Florence Nightingale she ain’t! Magnificently portrayed by Melissa Leo, this scary lady may be the real reason Obamacare will fail. Ethan has the right idea when he flees this shrew that always seems to have a hypodermic needle in her hand, but instead of finding freedom, he wedges himself further up the butthole of Kafka World. With his cell and wallet gone missing, Ethan wanders around town trying to find a phone that works and someone to talk to. The shoulder to cry on comes in the form of Juliette Lewis, a bartender who forks over a free hamburger and her address—just in case he needs it. *wink wink* The address is written on a napkin that’s imprinted with, “There are no crickets in Wayward Pines.”
Yeah, well, unfortunately, there is no logic either. Perhaps the producers should have printed that on it as well. And stories that don’t make sense? They’re sort of deal breakers for me and that’s what happens here. In fact, one of the biggest disappointments was the incoherent presentation of the storyline. The disjointed nature of it really got to me. I mean, with so many things happening at once, did I really need to be jolted back and forth in time? The fact that clues were offered in these time jumps was curious at best, and the skewed timeline added an unnecessary and confusing note that was probably intriguing when put in book format. But sometimes things that work in books just don’t in film. In books, there are such things as inner dialogue and narration where an needed explanation can be offered. In video? The audience is left to figure it out on their own and I was one of the ones left in the dust.
Other problems? Let me count the ways:
- The story skips from Ethan’s reality to his wife’s and boss’ reality. Because a lot hinges on whether what happens in Wayward Pines is all in Ethan’s head, the excursions into (a) showing the exchanges between Ethan’s wife and son, and (b) his boss trying to find out about the car wreck have to be interpreted as real. Ethan can’t imagine things when he’s not there—and he’s clearly not. So when it’s shown that Ethan’s boss, Adam Hassler is talking to Dr. Jenkins, a psychiatrist that Ethan has met in Wayward Pines Hospital, we have to believe that Jenkins is real and not a product of an hallucination. This means giving away much of the plot that should have been kept under wraps. It also means that if these things are not real, that we’ve been duped because they should be.
- By giving Ethan a job that requires a degree of professionalism, the dialogue between Ethan and other characters comes off as silly. For instance, in his meeting with Juliette Lewis, Ethan is desperately trying to contact his wife and family to let them know he’s alive, and yet he asks her if she’s seen the two missing agents? Really? With everything else going on and his colleague that was driving dead and perhaps still in the car? Then there’s a conversation he has with a “new hire” at the bureau. It comes about when he finally does find a phone and calls his boss Adam Hassler. Now Ethan has been missing and Hassler (as note above), has been devoting his time trying to find him, but the woman answering the phone refuses to track Hassler down to tell Hassler she has Ethan on the phone? The fact that Ethan didn’t find anything strange about this conduct was ridiculous. Instead, he only puts it down to this woman being recently hired?!!! I find that completely unreasonable, and the ensuing conversation he engages in totally out of character. The exchange between the two should have gone something like:
New Hire: Sorry I can’t interrupt Mr. Haslett.
Burke: You can’t what?!!! *stares suspiciously at the phone* “Who the hell am I talking to?
New Hire: Sir, there’s no reason for profanity and I told you that I’m a new—
Burke: Knock off the bullshit! If you expect me to believe Haslett didn’t mention me to you and didn’t tell you to patch me right through if I called, means you’re as dumb as you sound! Now who the hell are you and what the hell is going on?
But, wait! Not done on this point of him acting out of character. There’s Juliette Lewis, yeah, the girl who flips burgers and hands out her address to strange, extremely hunky strangers. (Can’t blame her there.) She resurfaces just in time to rescue Ethan from undergoing some very unwanted brain surgery. Not only does she know where he is in the hospital (It’s a freakin’ big hospital. Did she use sonar?), she also just happens to have a key that can unlock the handcuffs tethering him to the gurney. The funny thing is that he never questions how she got the key or knew she’d need one. I mean, how many people bring along a spare set of master keys to take off handcuffs when they visit hospitals? Then there’s the conversation he never has about why she gave him an address to an abandoned house that contained one of the missing agents he’s looking for inside. (Nope, she sure didn’t live there! And the guy was dead. Think he’d be curious about why the officer was left to rot on a mattress?)
- Since Burke is working in the field of covert tactical warfare, he must have heard of psychological experiments. If he has, then he would know that an important component is to not only isolate the target in order to make him a victim, but to also install someone to befriend said victim—someone that appears to be being subjected to the same type of torture that he is undergoing, but is not. It’s how they get said target to spill his guts and tell this shill “friend” everything—including whatever it is they’re trying to find out. It never even occurs to him that this helpful girl that appears at the strangest times is doing just that? Really?
- When Ethan finally steals a car, we’re like, “Opa!” But then we find that the road is circular and only leads back to Wayward Pines. “No, Opa!” But he tries again, this time parking in the middle of the road and going into the woods to find a way out. What he finds is an electrified fence skirting the entirety of the property. What? Okay, if this is real and not a delusion, the government has to be involved for something of that magnitude to have been undertaken. While a crackpot cult can stockpile weapons and keep people locked up in a compound, they can’t build electrified fences that stretch for hundreds of miles. Trust me, someone would notice! They have things like satellite imagery that would pick up hundreds of people clearing the forest and building this barrier. Then there’s the hard cold reality of him having had to get THROUGH the barrier to get to Wayward Pines. I mean, he wasn’t born in Wayward Pines, so doesn’t that mean there has to be an exit and entrance? Especially if we see Dr. Jenkins inside the town and then in Washington talking to Adam Hassler? Is he helicoptered in? If so, we never hear any obnoxious noises tipping us off to personnel coming or going. Then we get the question of food and supplies. Does everyone just grow their own vegetables and is this town self-contained? If it is, what about gas for the cars? They never need to refill? You see, there has to be an entrance and exit. Also the fence has to be real since the camera pans out and shows us. The camera acts as the objective narrator/third eye confirming this to be a fact since Burke couldn’t possibly have seen an aerial view.
- To return to the infamous escape from the hospital, Burke hides Juliette Lewis in a room, while he hides in one opposite it. Since it’s raining out, Lewis leaves a water trail and a puddle right in front of the door she’s hiding behind. When Nurse Pam comes looking for Burke, she looks down and sees the puddle of water. At that point, she knows he can’t be hiding behind the door since he hasn’t been outside. Therefore, by a process of elimination, it has to be a person that was in the rain and that broke in the hospital and freed Burke. BUT Nurse Pam talks to the door she knows doesn’t hide Burke, saying things like she knows he’s in there. This gives him the opportunity to sneak behind her and wham her head into the wall. (Yeah! Booyah!) Because of her actions, I already know that he’s being set up like the patsy he is. I also know that Juliette Lewis must be working in tandem with this group for the nurse not to have opened the door and had her arrested. She could have then taken care of Burke since it was only going to be a few minutes for the sedative he’d already been given to take effect.
These are just some of the loose threads that are hanging all over the place and unraveling the fabric of this show. From the trailers, I thought this would be homier and more cultlike. For instance, a man who is having a tough time of things has a car accident and is brought to Wayward Pines. They treat him kindly and he envisions a new start, but after a while he finds that things are not as idyllic as they first seem. It would seem creepier than fences that extend for miles, time shifts, and women who feed accident victims raw hamburgers. And if I had to guess from what I’d seen, I’d say they’re trying to break Burke down so he’ll assassinate a target they want taken care of. Since he’s seen as expendable, why not?
Because of the above and a lot more, I just couldn’t get into the story and do not care where it’s going! All the silliness diverted my attention from what should have been a tidy mystery with fifty shades of paranoia. What a shame. I’m sure the book by Blake Crouch was a lot more cohesive, and just maybe I’ll pick up a copy and leave the watching of this ten-parter to someone else.