Wednesday, 11 April 2018

TV Shows #16 - Part 1

Wayward Pines Season One (2015)
Developed By: Chad Hodge Starring: Matt Dillon, Carla Gugino, Toby Jones, Shannyn Sossamon, Reed Diamond, Tim Griffin, Charlie Tahan, Juliette Lewis, Melissa Leo, Terrence Howard, Hope Davis

Certificate: 15 Running Time: 42-44 Minutes per Episode, 10 Episodes

Tagline: "A place to die for."

With some TV shows it can take a lot to secure your interest but with others it's incredibly simple. This was the case, for me at least, with Wayward Pines. It's based on a trilogy of novels by Blake Crouch and also bears the name of M. Night Shyamalan heavily on promotional material who was indeed involved in the project to bring the novels to our screens, acting as executive producer and also directing the first episode. That already made it sound promising and I wouldn't have blamed myself for being pulled in by that superb cast either, but it was actually just a brief 10 second synopsis that did the trick. I can't remember exactly what it was now, oddly enough, but it was something along the lines of "Guy wakes up in some weird town and is unable to leave again" and that does kind of sum up the show, or the first half of the first season anyway.

The 'guy' in question is US Secret Service agent Ethan Burke (Dillon) and he does quite literally wake up in the small town of Wayward Pines, Idaho. Or the woods surrounding it at least, after apparently being involved in car crash while on the tail of two missing Secret Service agents including his ex-lover, Kate (Gugino). It doesn't take too long for him to realise that Wayward Pines is no ordinary town though.

It's surrounded by mountains and sheer rock faces with the only gap blocked by an electrified wall. Strange noises can occasionally be heard from the heavily wooded areas beyond its limits but there is seemingly no way to actually get out. Even the only road out of town eventually leads right back to it. The townsfolk live simple but seemingly idyllic lives. There's a hospital, school, hotel, and small sheriff's department, and many residents run small shops, diners, or bars while the children are off studying. While outwardly friendly and encouraging Ethan to make himself at home, however, getting any useful or relevant information out of them is apparently trickier, and before long he finds out why - there is a set of town rules which are strictly enforced, to which all residents must adhere:

"Do not try to leave. Do not discuss the past. Do not discuss your life before. Always answer the phone if it rings. Work hard, be happy, and enjoy your life in Wayward Pines!"

If seeing that on signs all over the town doesn't set alarm bells ringing then nothing will! Apparently not everyone is happy or enjoying their life in Wayward Pines however, and dissenters are dealt with swiftly and brutally in public 'reckonings', enforced by strict sheriff Arnold Pope, as well as all loyal and happy residents keen to see their way of life continue. Despite this, a small group of rebels has begun working in secret, determined to uncover the truth, escape from the pesky town, and return to their friends, families, and former lives.

As I'd hoped, this simple set-up is immediately intriguing and you'll soon find yourself just as baffled as Ethan who wakes up in the hospital where he's apparently the only patient under the care of a forceful nurse (Leo) who is keen for him to undergo surgery despite his protestations. Once outside the hospital he finds most people are unwilling or unable to answer his questions and he has no luck in contacting anyone outside the town such as his boss, Adam Hassler (Griffin), or his wife Theresa (Sossamon) and teenage son Ben (Tahan) who grow increasingly worried back in Seattle and begin searching for him themselves. Ethan discovers little about what's going on but as not only a government agent but also a suspicious person by nature, he soon tires of the cryptic or evasive answers and even veiled threats given by the otherwise-friendly though ever-watchful townsfolk.

This seems to particularly be the case with Nurse Pam, Sheriff Pope (Howard), and psychiatrist David Pilcher (Jones) amongst others. He does manage to make the odd ally such as bartender Beverly (Lewis) and his old flame Kate who is not only very cautious and nervous of breaking the town rules but, strangely, she also appears to be significantly older than she should be. Pretty much everyone else is keen for him to accept his lot and settle in without a fuss though.

Of course, it wouldn't be a hugely interesting show if he did that, so naturally he is instead consistently uncooperative and makes a pain in the arse of himself constantly until eventually Sheriff Pope drops the facade for long enough to warn him starkly: "You think you want to know the truth but you don't. It's worse than anything you can imagine". Chilling words to be sure but obviously they go completely unheeded and before long 'the truth' is indeed finally revealed. Somewhat surprisingly this happens as early as halfway through the season and it is very much as shocking as the beleaguered Pope promised. I certainly didn't see it coming and I did spend some time thinking about it before getting to this episode. Like all good reveals though, it does explain much while also raising a whole lot of other questions.

It's actually a sufficiently major and unexpected plot twist that I'm doing my best to not give anything away in case any of you haven't seen the show yet but it's tough! I did find it a bit of a let-down that a reveal of such magnitude wasn't saved until the end of the season - it was the sense of mystery, of wondering just what in the blinking hell was going on in this weird little town, that gave the show such allure after all, and would surely have kept viewers coming back to find out more.

Obviously it loses something from that point on but it kind of evolves into a thrilling action/drama instead, and remains a gripping, not to mention original show all through its seven-odd hours. As expected, the cast is fantastic and performances are good all round, particularly Matt Dillon and Terrence Howard, both of whom suit their roles superbly. It's nice to see Shannyn Sossamon again too - I've had a soft spot for her since her debut in the splendid A Knight's Tale but she doesn't really get much to do here. You'll still genuinely care about her though, and most of the other characters as well, as things build towards the explosive finale that everyone in the town feared, and probably most of us too. With a disruptive influence like Ethan around it was bound to happen eventually - all he had to do was follow the rules and enjoy his life in Wayward Pines, but noo. I guess the outcome was kind of inevitable though, once we found out what was going on.

That might have happened sooner than expected, perhaps a bit too soon, but it's definitely a truth that looms menacingly over the rest of the season like a black cloud, forcing you to constantly remember what's at stake, so in that sense I guess the early spoiler kind of worked. Either way, this is a superb first season. It's effectively two halves of a story - before and after - but both are riveting in their own way. It was originally expected to be the show's only season as well though, so although we did get a second, things sadly kind of fizzled out from here...

RKS Score: 8/10


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