“Wayward Pines” is a new television series that made its debut on Fox last Thursday evening, and judging by the pilot, it looks like a real winner. The 10-episode program, based upon a trilogy by Blake Couch and directed by M. Knight Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense”), begins when Secret Service agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon), who has been in a car crash, regains consciousness lying on the ground near the picturesque village of Wayward Pines (population 461), where he has been dispatched to find a couple of agents who went missing there a month ago.
After Ethan collects himself, he stumbles into town and enters a café where he promptly passes out. When he awakens, he’s in a rustic hospital being cared for by an eccentric nurse named Pam (Melissa Leo). His wallet and briefcase are missing as well as his cell phone, and it just so happens that hospital policy prohibits phones in patients’ rooms.
Although Nurse Pam is pleasant enough to Ethan, it becomes quite clear that she has no intention of allowing him to leave the hospital. She’s also extremely vague in her replies to his questions, and she refuses to let him make a phone call. It’s very obvious that she’s hiding something, and thus the mystery surrounding Wayward Pines begins.
Ethan ultimately manages to sneak out of the hospital, and he wanders into a bar where he strikes up conversation with the bartender named Beverly (Juliette Lewis). She immediately realizes how distressed he is and allows him to use her phone to call his wife, who doesn’t answer. He leaves her a message, returns the phone to Beverly, and prepares to leave the bar. Before he does so, however, Beverly gives him a note with an address written on one side and a cryptic message on the other. She also offers to help Ethan if he needs it.
When he finds the address Beverly gave him, he makes shocking discovery, and that’s all you’ll learn about the plot from me except that it completely sucked me in. There’s no question that Wayward Pines is not the idyllic community it appears to be on the surface, and the first episode ends on an ominous note for Ethan.
Back in 1990 and 1991 David Lynch’s wonderfully weird series “Twin Peaks” completely captivated me as I tried to guess from week to week the answer to the show’s haunting question: “Who killed Laura Palmer?” Although I’m not yet ready to put “Wayward Pines” in the same league as Lynch’s series, some similarities between the two are undeniable. There’s just something intriguing about small towns where strange things happen.
In the pilot for “Wayward Pines” we meet a number of the main characters in addition to Ethan, Beverly, and Nurse Pam. Among these are Dr. Jenkins (Toby Jones), the resident psychiatrist at Wayward Pines hospital, and Kate Hewson (Carla Gugino), one of the agents for whom Ethan is searching and his former lover. There’s also Arnold Pope (Terrence Howard), the town sheriff, who has an affinity for rum-raisin ice cream.
All of the actors have been perfectly cast in their respective roles. Nobody is better at creating quirky characters than Lewis, and her part as Beverly in this series is no exception. And while we’re on the subject of loony people, Leo is wonderful as the frighteningly strange Nurse Pam.
Dillon successfully conveys Ethan’s confusion about what is going on in the town and his increasing concern about how he can escape from the place. In an online interview with Carolyn Cox of The Mary Sue, Dillon explained what he liked about the script.
“What I like about it is I like a good mystery. I liked it coupled with Knight, this type of material. I liked his way of telling the story. I wasn’t interested in a TV series, you know, but this is a limited series, it’s a nice one, it’s sort of a patient, longer format, so you can kind of grow with the character.”
In the same interview Dillon also commented on playing a character with so many questions on his mind.
“It was nice because I as the actor had a lot of questions, so it’s nice when those two things come together. I think it’s really important that Ethan asks the questions to keep the tension, and I think the difficult part for the storytellers and the writers and the story creators is how do you do that without tipping certain things off? My side of it was always well, he has to ask these questions; otherwise the audience is going to be asking these questions.
“So I liked it. It was an interesting thing because Ethan is really the straight guy in the show. A lot of people have different secrets that they’re holding on to, and there’s lots of different levels of what people know and what people don’t know about this particular town that they’re in, and Ethan’s sort of learning it as he goes along. And of course there are also personal issues tied to his profession in the secret service. He has Post-traumatic stress disorder, he’s had meltdowns in the past, and he’s also, when he arrives in town, been in a head-on automobile accident, so he even begins to question his sanity. Very strange circumstances.”
Even though we’ve been treated to only one episode of “Wayward Pines” thus far, it’s obvious that the show has terrific potential. Shyamalan has done a masterful job of creating an aura of suspense surrounding the town, and part of the fun in watching is that we are as much in the dark as Ethan, and so we discover the secrets of the place right along with him. Interestingly enough he is desperate to leave the town, but after just one episode I can’t wait to get back there.
Yes, as I said at the outset, my initial visit to Wayward Pines was at once eerie, scary, disturbing, and shocking. But I just can’t leave Ethan hanging there by himself, and therefore I must sublimate my fear and return next week and every week until the series ends. I have a feeling that the suspense will continue to build as the show progresses, and I’m looking forward to it and dreading it at the same time.
Assigning a score to a new series is rather difficult after watching just one episode, but I’m going to go out on the proverbial limb here an award “Wayward Pines” the preliminary score of a tentative eight. As the series progresses, I will keep you posted about whether this will vary at all. In the meantime, be sure to visit Wayward Pines. I’ll look for you there.