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Wayward Pines: 10 Reasons to Get Lost in This Show

(This Wayward Pines List was written after viewing episodes 1-4 and contains some minor plot details but not major spoilers.)

1. Forced slow burn. Wayward Pines is the first really surprising, fun, unexpected treat to come along in a good while that is not brought to you by Netflix. Those of you thinking about cutting the cord will find a little old-school comfort and nostalgia for long ago greats like LOST, Twin Peaks, and The X-Files (whose legacies are felt in some measure here). Remember how good it was then?  That fun is back on network TV.

2. Matt Dillon, you’ve been away for too long. The off-the-radar private actor who played iconic roles in 80’s films such as The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, was our Drugstore Cowboy and the Farrelly Brothers’ There’s Something About Mary appears here in a lead role that is one of those rare, genius, miracles of casting. Should this show realize its early promise, Dillon’s Ethan Burke may well become as iconic in the actor’s first major TV role as Fox Mulder and Agent Dale Cooper, or whoever you thought the star of LOST was; all while being an entirely different guy than these other good men hoping to unravel mysteries. Dillon’s style of tense irritation, his way with the deadpan glare, his flair for tightly coiled sarcasm and his dark, matinee broodiness that women love and men love to hate is the perfect audience avatar for just WTF is this fenced in, car accident prone, ice cream loving town? And why can’t I leave? In the last place on TV that a man can’t swear, a clenched jaw has to speak volumes. Burke is the investigator for our post-modern times. And he won’t be deterred with sweets or coffee. Or even the ladies.

3. The show is chock full of prestige film actors. Oscar winner Melissa Leo and nominees Terrence Howard and Juliette Lewis and indie darling Hope Davis along with BAFTA winner Toby Jones have appeared so far. There are some serious film heavy hitters here, and all offer some nuance to the roles they play as townsfolk in an experimental town full of secrets where you don’t talk about your past and you always answer the phone (or else). As the show’s premise hits the season 5 reveal /game changing episode (which we’ve yet to see) the skilled actors among the cast will no doubt be called on to play evolving sides of themselves as truths unfold.

4. M. Night Shyamalan is involved, but mercifully, it’s not an M. Night Shyamalan party. Granted, we stayed away too because of Shyamalan’s recent track record. Shyamalan directs the pilot episode, and reminds us why we once loved and marveled at his work and his vision. Along with a gorgeously delivered opening episode, the scene which is filmed in the reflection of a broken shard of mirror was inspired and beautifully executed, paying homage to the Hitchcock Shyamalan (and everyone) has longed to be. Shyamalan is not the writer here, rather there are a group of writers including the author of the books that this series is based on.

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5. The writing. Based on a series of successful books by Blake Crouch, The Wayward Pines Trilogy, the show is a known quantity rather than one showrunner’s impossible marathon. Today, creators are expected to wrap in a season (if cancelled) and somehow switch gears and spin that out into five years (if it takes off). Either way, the books offer a framework that means audiences can continue and get their fix (or closure).

6. The summer doldrums. It is a treat, indeed, to have a new series premiere at this time of year. It’s on Fox so we can’t binge and glut as many people are doing right now with streaming TV (I am writing on the very eve Netflix did a Beyonce and dropped Orange is the New Black Season 3 onto the site a day early) and the slow burn is not only possible, but necessary. Keep up or be spoiled, people. Jump in. Get lost.

7. Ice cream. Terrence Howard’s Sheriff Pope loves ice cream, a lot. He loves it in a waffle cone (rum raisin). He loves it in other people’s bowls which he prepares for new friends when he lets himself into their homes because he hears they’ve got a newly stocked freezer, and a new – unnamed- flavour in the house (the viewing audience demands to know what new flavour is in the Burke’s freezer!) He does not let the news of a decaying corpse impact or slow his enjoyment of an ice cream cone. He probably keeps the Sheriff’s office thermostat at a perfect, chilled temperature so he can take his time with his beloved treat. He’s at once the scariest, most absurd, and most effective ad for ice cream that has hit our screens since Cooky Puss.  (In fact, Cooky Puss was all that too.) He’s wonderful.

8. No internet, no outgoing calls, no TVs in Wayward Pines. This has to be good for the youth and makes us want to trust those behind Wayward Pines’ larger agenda. It certainly is fun to watch adults and teens alike go without these devices. The fact that there’s a very decent coffee shop in town- one incongruously dropped there as if out of a world class city with the tiny little china cups and all- as well as an abundance of alcohol means it’s not all bad for the residents, even if the only radio is classical piano and the only live music  to look forward to will have to be strummed by a surly teen (Ethan Burke’s son).

9. Toasts/threats: episode four has a great scene in which most of the adults are hanging out at the “Beergarden” which is really just an upscale restaurant where everyone gets sloshed to quiet the panic in their eyes. Melissa Leo’s Nurse Pam (always in uniform, a scarf tossed over it for an evening look) gives an unplanned toast to Ethan Burke which gives way to the usual (and Nurse Pam’s favourite) topic of conversation, the town’s protocol of having a public “reckoning” for those that break the rules. Dillon interrupts her/shuts her down with his own little impromptu speech. These kinds of scenes are funny and camp, a little soap opera, in a way that makes us remember how fun soaps could be. Leo, of course, chews the scenery delightfully as a very Nurse Rached like baddie who routinely goes white sensible toe to toe with Dillon in jungle-like dominance maneuvers every 20 minutes like clockwork (in a town with no calendars!)

10. Town welcome sign and pines aside, this is not a Twin Peaks rip off. There are similarities; despite decades of noir, horror, and thrillers set in small towns with their secrets masked by pie and manicured properties, Twin Peaks owned, stamped and stylized this iconography better than everyone and is untouchable. Comparisons are going to be made. But so far, this story owes more to the textures and style of Stephen King in his best fiction backdrops than to Lynch and Frost, and it’s a welcome sight as so few of King’s novels have made a successful TV or film project.

I tip my ice cream cone to you, Wayward Pines and Matt Dillon. In my case, it’s a classic soft serve vanilla, dipped in a thin layer of melted, then perfectly hardened, chocolate. Let’s take this ride.

By Step On Magazine Editors