Fox’s alleged “Limited Event” series ‘Wayward Pines’ drew to a close last week, and I stuck with it to the end, sometimes against my better judgment. With all the twists now revealed, was it worth the ten-week investment to watch?
I recapped the show’s pilot episode back in May but didn’t follow through with writing about any of the following episodes. I’m not going to bother point-by-point recapping everything that happened in between the pilot and finale, but for the benefit of those who gave up on the show yet are curious what they missed, what follows are the essentials.
I shouldn’t need to say this, but before someone complains: SPOILERS AHEAD.
The Big Plot Twist
All right, we know that the premise of the show is that Secret Service agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) finds himself trapped in a small town supposedly in Idaho where everybody acts really strange, every inch of the place is monitored by security surveillance, and the entire town is surrounded by a giant electrified fence with no exits. The reason for this was revealed about halfway through the season when Ethan broke out through the fence and was attacked by cannibalistic mutant freaks with very sharp teeth. He tried to make his way to Boise, only to discover the city in ruins, practically nothing left of it, and completely overgrown with vegetation. Given that he thinks he’s only been in Wayward Pines for a couple of weeks, this should be impossible.
It turns out that Ethan – and everyone else – have all been in Wayward Pines for over 2,000 years. After they were kidnapped, they were all placed in cryogenic suspension and unfrozen in the post-apocalyptic year 4028, long after the rest of human civilization was wiped out. Outside the walls of Wayward Pines, all that remains of humanity are the bloodthirsty mutant “Abbies” (short for “Aberrations”).
The mastermind behind Wayward Pines is a man named David Pilcher (Toby Jones), an extremely wealthy scientist who foresaw the fall of civilization but couldn’t convince any governments to do anything about it. They all thought he was a nutcase. Pilcher amassed a small cult of followers led by his sister Pam (Melissa Leo) who helped him build, fortify, and supply the town with enough resources to become self-sufficient. They then kidnapped hundreds, perhaps even thousands of people to restart the human race after enough time had passed. (How plausible it could really be that he’d get away with this is not addressed. You just have to go with it.)
Pilcher explained everything to the first group of settlers he unfroze (“Group A”), but they couldn’t handle the truth and went crazy and destroyed themselves. After that failure, Pilcher tried a different approach with Group B. He has lied to them and tried to convince them that they’re still in the world they remember, but maintains strict totalitarian control over every aspect of their lives to keep them in line. This has fostered great mistrust and resentment. A rebel faction led by Ethan’s former partner Kate (Carla Gugino) plots to blow up the fence so that they can escape and return to what they assume will be their old lives.
Eventually, Ethan’s wife and son show up in town too. In 2015, Pilcher kidnapped and froze them as well when they came looking for Ethan.
Credit where it’s due, this is a clever premise. Not all of the details really hold up to scrutiny, and erratic, illogical character behavior was a recurring problem throughout the season, but the idea was interesting enough to keep me watching.
By the time of the finale, Ethan (who took over as town sheriff) has revealed the big secret to his family and to Kate, and has been trying to spread the word to as many people as he can. He believes that Pilcher is wrong and that people deserve the truth. The megalomaniac Pilcher, fearing that he has lost control of the situation, shuts off the electrified fence and lets the Abbies in to kill everyone so he can start with a clean slate and try again after a few months with Group C. This causes his sister Pam to finally turn against him.
A large group of Abbies rush into town, kill a lot of people, and cause mass chaos. Ethan leads as many survivors as he can to an underground bunker that connects via tunnel to Pilcher’s command center in the mountains surrounding the town. Meanwhile, a group of teenage douches called the “First Generation” who were born in the town and are devoted followers of Pilcher, hide out in a well-stocked “ark” (basically a bomb shelter) that Pilcher prepared for them in case of emergency.
While being chased by Abbies, Ethan gets most of the survivors up an elevator into Pilcher’s HQ, but stays behind in the elevator to slow down the climbing Abbies. Kate confronts Pilcher and begs him to turn the electric fence back on. He refuses and tries to kill her, until Pam shoots and kills her own brother.
Unfortunately, Ethan is forced to sacrifice himself by blowing up the elevator shaft while he’s still in it in order to stop the Abbies. His annoying teenage son Ben is clocked on the head by a piece of debris and gets knocked unconscious.
In a coda, Ben wakes up in the hospital. For some reason, his girlfriend Amy is now a nurse, and she’s acting all suspicious and weird. The surveillance is back on again, and Wayward Pines looks much as it did when he arrived. She tells him that three years have passed. The First Generation took over and froze all the surviving adults from Group B, then followed through on Pilcher’s plan to restart the town with Group C. A new cycle has begun. Hence the episode title, ‘Cycle’.
When I recapped the pilot episode, I said that, “I’m left with the uncomfortable feeling that this whole narrative is just jerking us around and will inevitably lead to an unsatisfying, half-assed conclusion.” I guess I called that pretty accurately.
The final cliffhanger twist feels like a desperate ploy to get renewed for a second season. Given the show’s lackluster ratings, I doubt that will happen. Even if it did, who would want to watch the show with dipshit Ben as the lead character? That’s a very bad idea.
On the other hand, the ending is really no dumber than a lot of other stuff that happened during the season. If I managed to accept all of that and stick with the show anyway, why is this a step too far?
Assuming that this is really the end, I’m disappointed but not overly so. I set my expectations pretty low right from the beginning. It was never a great show, but I don’t regret watching it. However, if it somehow did miraculously score a second season renewal, I doubt I would pick it up again.