Network TV has a problem - essentially, most of their programmes aren't very good. Some of them are pretty bad. I can count on one hand the number of shows I follow from ABC, CBS or NBC and still have fingers to spare. (The Good Wife and [Marvel's Agent Carter](tag:1119765), FYI.)
To be fair, the CW have turned things around with Arrow and The Flash, and FOX had the year's unexpected breakout smash with Empire - a show which is unapologetically, perhaps even intentionally dumb, and features a character called Cookie who was created purely with sassy gifs in mind, and frequently inspires people on the internet to type COOKIE MONSTER!!!! for no apparent reason. It's what you might call a guilty pleasure.
But one new show this season is not just quite good, not just a guilty pleasure, and it's called...
It was only by chance that I decided to give Wayward Pines a shot. FOX buried this series in their summer schedule, which networks tend to do when they don't want anyone to watch the thing they just spent millions on, usually because something went wrong and the show turned out to be a howler.
Wayward Pines is not a howler. Wayward Pines is ridiculously good.
The setting is the small, titular town where everybody is deliriously happy and nobody ever leaves. The protagonist, Ethan Burke, is a government agent. So far, so Twin Peaks, but if you've been watching you'll know that Pines has forged its own identity with brilliantly bold intent. Spoilers ahead...
Everything we know so far
After four episodes of world-building in which not much was revealed, Wayward dropped a bomb on the audience in episode 5, 'The Truth', as Ben's school teacher Miss Fisher explained that the year is not 2014, but 4028, and the rest of Earth has been wiped out. There's a reason nobody can leave Wayward - there's nothing out there, except certain death at the hands of the Aberrations ('Abbies'), mutants evolved from the human race but genetically superior, with quite the appetite for flesh.
At the same time, we saw Ethan (Matt Dillon, who is really terrific as the town's Sheriff and our protagonist) make the discovery for himself, escaping Wayward by climbing the sheer cliff and being greeted with a view of the city of Boise, Idaho - or what was once Boise, but is now a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Having Ethan witness the truth with his own eyes was a smart move, because otherwise there's no way we'd trust the word of the endlessly creepy Miss Fisher.
From hereon in the lines between good and bad start to blur - take Nurse Pam, for instance.
Up until Ethan discovered what's out there, we were lead to believe that Nurse Pam was a seriously bad egg. With the reveal that her name is Pam Pilcher - and that her brother is David Pilcher (Toby Jones), the scientist who masterminded the Wayward Pines project - we begin to see Pam in a different light. Like David, she's committed her life to preserving the human race. That's pretty noble. And yet there's still a sense that there might be something else driving her, hidden motives yet to be revealed, and she's still watching Ethan like a hawk.
Ironically, by lying to David about the source of the security leak in episode 8, Pam seems to have triggered a mental breakdown in her brother which has left him power-crazed and unable to trust anyone - which doesn't exactly bode well for the people of the town, especially in the wake of the bombing and numerous suicides, deaths by aberration and Beverly's grizzly public 'reckoning'.
It's not just Pam whose morality is grey. Ethan has Kate (Carla Gugino) locked up for her part in the bombing, and now his former lover is convinced he's joined the dark side in working for the Pilchers.
What to expect from the finale, and other thoughts
With only one more episode before the season 1 finale, Wayward Pines has a lot of ground to cover. So what can we expect from episodes 9 and 10?
- More clarity on Pam. I wouldn't be surprised if Pam engineers a hostile takeover to oust David from his God-like role in Pines. This series did not hire Melissa Leo for no reason. (And would somebody please give the woman an Emmy or something? Like, for real. This is the role of a lifetime.)
- Heartbreak for Ben. In episode 8, he and Amy are lay sweet-talking in his hospital bed, both having survived the bombing. But there was some seriously heavy foreshadowing of her death. If she dies, he goes off the rails - potentially spilling the truth about the town and igniting chaos.
- Big decisions await Ethan. With the rebels of the town growing in number, Ethan has to decide whether to police their transgressions harshly - effectively aligning with the Pilchers - or help engineer some kind of escape. Either way he'll be making enemies.
Mrs Fisher has created an army - the former hypnotherapist has the school children well under her thumb, which makes her especially dangerous as the prospect of a rebellion amongst the regular people of Pines looms.
- There was a fantastic scene between Theresa Burke and Kate, just prior to the bombing, in which Kate lamented that they hadn't known each other in different circumstances. This show never reduces its female characters to 'the wife' or 'the lover', and the mild undercurrent of respect between these two women, rather than any enmity, is refreshing.
- And last, but most certainly not least - are the aberrations coming in? There's a huge hole in the security fence, and lots of fresh meat inside the confines of Wayward Pines, which sounds like a recipe for, well - a meal. Of human flesh.
I thought I would enjoy Wayward Pines because it looked like Twin Peaks. But as it transpired, I love it because it's not Twin Peaks. Pines is its own show, the mythology as big and bold as anything else on TV. There's a sense that the writers have a really clear direction for the season finale and beyond, which is pretty rare for network TV. So tell your friends to watch it, and abuse them when they say no.
In the meantime, share your thoughts on season 1 to date and how the story arcs of the Burkes, David and Pam, Kate and the others might climax as we approach the finale.