“There are no crickets in Wayward Pines.”
I love weird things. It usually doesn’t matter what it is; so long as it’s unpredictable and catches me by surprise, I will suspend all disbeliefs and employ all benefits of all doubts to my advantage. As such, I’m basically the ideal audience for Fox’s upcoming mystery drama Wayward Pines, a psychologically tumultuous conspiracy-ish thriller set in the craziest small town this side of Twin Peaks. It’ll have you scratching your head right down to the brain stem.
Let’s try to lay out this multi-layered story in the most linear way possible. Wayward Pines largely centers on Matt Dillon’s Secret Service agent Ethan Burke, whose latest mission involves tracking down a pair of fellow agents who went missing, including Carla Gugino’s Kate Hewson, with whom Ethan had a reent affair. His case is disrupted by a car accident, and he wakes up in the titular town’s mysteriously quiet hospital, being tended to by Pam, an unsettling nurse played with perfection by Melissa Leo. With missing identification and no mobile phone, Ethan’s initial stay in Wayward Pines is troublesome, to say the least, especially since everyone around him acts like a pod person.
Each new person Ethan meets is another piece of the puzzle, which reveals itself to be quite mind-bending in the five episodes I was able to watch. There’s the blasé and unprofessional Sheriff Arnold Pope, played with subdued anger by Terrence Howard (who also stars in Fox’s Empire). There’s Toby Jones’ Dr. Jenkins, who appears more keen on making Ethan think he’s crazy than actually helping him. There’s Juliette Lewis’ bartender Beverly, one of few people who tries to help Ethan understand what’s happening. And later comes Hope Davis’ Megan Fisher, a school teacher who gives her students the ultimate education.
After Ethan is assumed missing, his wife Theresa (Shannyn Sossamon) and son Ben (Charlie Tahan) go looking for him, halfway presuming that he’s reconnected with Kate in an illicit fashion. Ethan actually does find Kate in Wayward Pines, but she’s not at all the same person that he knew before. In fact, no one in Wayward Pines is the same person they were before, and that’s why one of the town’s rules involves not talking about the past.
Wayward Pines is the kind of show that poses such a large number of questions that it seems impossible for all the answers to surface. But since it’s far more centered on plot construction than character development, the story remains compelling and pushes forward at a fairly fast clip, like a graphic novel with a startling revelation every fourth page or so. Part of the fun is admittedly separating the actual mysteries from the non sequitur absurdities, and trying to figure out what motivates this town’s characters, assuming they’re motivated by something beyond spinning Ethan’s head around on his shoulders.
Based on the novel Pines by Blake Crouch, the first in a trilogy, Wayward Pines was developed by The Playboy Club creator Chuck Hodge, with executive producer duties taken on by M. Night Shyamalan. The latter’s fingerprints are noticeable in every nook and cranny of this show – he also directed the pilot – and Wayward Pines often comes across as a selection of his films thrown into a blender and set to “pulse.” We’ll have to wait for the final minutes of the season finale to see just how influential he really was.
All in all, Wayward Pines is a delightfully twisty romp that always seems to be winking at audiences, even during its most seriously complex moments. There are indeed questionable choices and aspects that fall flat, as well as an ever-present risk that it will all collapse beneath the weight of its own oddities, but this is a strong cast that knows exactly what they’re doing with the material. And I’ll be damned if I’m not interested in every single detail that’s laid out on this suburban throwback’s lightly trafficked streets. I want to know all the secrets.
Wayward Pines will premiere on Fox on Thursday, May 14, at 9 p.m. ET. Don’t forget to buckle your seat belt.