Starring Matt Dillon, Carla Gugino, Toby Jones, Melissa Leo, Shannyn Sossamon, Reed Diamond, Tim Griffin, Charlie Tahan, Juliette Lewis, Terrence Howard. Various Directors (including M. Night Shyamalan). (2015, 440 min). 20TH CENTURY FOX
If you’re like me, when you first saw the commercials touting this mini-series, you probably wrote it off as some kind of Twin Peaks knock-off. But those promotional spots didn’t do it justice. Wayward Pines is nothing like Twin Peaks, which mostly relied on the quirkiness of its creator (David Lynch) and wore out its welcome long before the story played itself out. Wayward Pines, based on a trilogy of novels by Blake Crouch, is an initially ambiguous story that rewards patient viewers with a revelation that is truly mind-blowing.
Matt Dillon plays Ethan Burke, a secret service agent from Seattle on a mission to locate a couple of fellow-agents who’ve gone missing. After a car accident, he awakens in a hospital in Wayward Pines, Idaho, a small, seemingly idyllic town where everyone appears happy and content. However, Burke is unable to contact anyone outside of town to explain his predicament, exasperated by Sheriff Pope (Terrence Howard), who has an underlying cruel streak and repeatedly advices Burke not to question what goes on in town. Meanwhile, Burke finds Kate (Carla Gugino), one of the agents he’s supposed to locate and whom he once had an affair with. She's now one of Wayward Pine’s business owners and claims she's been there for years, while hinting they are being watched. In fact, it turns out the entire town is under surveillance by a megalomaniacal scientist (Toby Jones), who may or may not be acting on the government’s behalf, and any citizen who breaks the town's rules is publicly executed. Eventually, Burke’s wife and son, who come looking for him after he’s been declared missing, become trapped in the town as well. In fact, no one is allowed to escape because Wayward Pines is enclosed by a massive, electrified wall. Worse yet, something awful lurks outside out the wall.
To describe the plot further would mean giving away one of the greatest revelations presented in a TV show since the old days of The Twilight Zone. Let’s just say that, five episodes in, the already-creepy Wayward Pines takes a completely unexpected sci-fi turn which, while a total surprise, makes complete sense given the contradictory lapses of time experienced by the major characters. Not only that, we’re no longer certain who to root for or against, a plotline well-maintained even after the big reveal.
Speaking of which, the one major strike against Wayward Pines is the fact its mid-story revelation is so huge that the remaining five episodes, while still compelling and sometimes suspenseful, are relatively anti-climactic. However, the series does end on an ominous note that will either thrill or infuriate the viewer, depending on their expectations. Either way, the resolution is supremely discussion-worthy.
Best of all, Wayward Pines doesn’t really leave the door open for expansion into an actual series. To exploit the concept further (like CBS did when bastardizing Stephen King’s brilliant novel, Under the Dome) would be completely gratuitous. As it stands, the ten episodes of Wayward Pines are fine just as they are, and perfect for binge-viewing as one long story experience.