Two episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
The truth can set you free. Unless you’re an hour-long dramatic series centered around a mystery with potentially supernatural and/or science fictional aspects hiding in the wings. If that’s the case, the truth can ruin you. Last year, Fox debuted Wayward Pines, a new show based on a series of mysterious books centering around a perpetually perturbed Secret Service agent and the indescribably weird town he wakes up in following a car accident, and it all worked – for five episodes.
The fifth episode of season one – titled “The Truth” – gave viewers just that, in a ballsy move that played directly against the enigmatic nature of its progenitors. But then the season went downhill, failing to capitalize on our knowledge of Wayward Pines‘ true nature and unable to prove that such a brave decision so early on in a show’s lifespan is one worth making. That uncertainty and dampened inertia flows over into a second season that carries none of the kooky, creepy charm of season 1’s first episodes and, most discouragingly, morphs itself into yet another toothless, generic sci-fi action thriller that Syfy could churn out in its sleep.
The show’s tepid turn isn’t sudden, however, but more gradual. Initially, the introduction of Dr. Theodore Yedlin (Jason Patric) into the town piques interest as he repeatedly comes into contact with a few of last year’s series-defining staples, especially Kate (Carla Gugino), who’s now wounded in the hospital and still questioning the town’s leadership. Thanks to the events of the season 1 finale, that ruler now lies in the head of the First Generation, Jason (Tom Stevens), and his army of twentysomething minions.
That’s where things go awry. First, it doesn’t take long to realize that Theo’s bumping into season 1 heavyweights is more in the vein of an occasional cameo and less of a set-up for their return. In fact, the premiere’s final moments have a particularly decisive stance on this that sets up a sour tone for season 2 moving forward. It’s as if showrunner Chad Hodge wrote the new season in response to negative criticisms of characters and arcs that were never brought forward by the largely beloved first season. The loss of Melissa Leo’s classily frightening Nurse Pam – who helped shape Wayward Pines‘ quirky/creepy vibe – is a black hole at the center of season 2 that the show can’t escape.
Secondly, where season 2 can’t outright send-off its previous main characters (Agent Burke is dead after all), it just sort of copies them. Once Theo is unfrozen from his cryo sleep for his extensive medical expertise, Jason reminds his right-hand woman Kerry (Kacey Rohl) that the doctor must eventually return to sleep. “I don’t want another Ethan Burke situation,” he explains. Ironically, that’s what the Wayward Pines writers have ended up creating – Theo is a stumbling, gruff everyman with a moral compass pointing just far enough north to know he has to go along with the town’s weirdness so long as it doesn’t put anyone in direct danger. At one point, he’s even reunited with a loved one and later refuses to believe the fact that it’s the year 4028.
It wouldn’t feel so redundant if the new leads were more interesting, but Patric leads a pack of decidedly mediocre characters in this revisiting of Wayward Pines. Theo’s major flaw lies in a divide with his wife Rebecca (Nimrat Kaur), a problem that’s cut short of being solved once the residents of the town get their hands on the Yedlins while the two are on vacation. Matt Dillon had a way of centering the shenanigans of season 1 with a steely, nonplussed facade that only made the weirder aspects of the show seem even weirder.
Patric follows in those footsteps, but season 2 stacks the deck against him out of the gate with an immensely fumbled grasp at dramatic irony. Ethan was easy to sympathize with because, in the beginning, we knew as much as him and learned along the way; the decision to leave Theo in the dark for much of season 2’s opening is a frustrating misfire that never really course corrects over the first few hours. It doesn’t help that the show’s new lead villain is such a colossal step-down from Toby Jones to Tom Stevens’ “underage cretin” (a rare moment of vicious humor via Theo).
As played by Stevens, Jason is a whiny, bratty megalomaniac whose solution for saving Wayward Pines is ensuring that only one person has absolute power over the future of humanity – “otherwise it all falls apart and we disappear.” You’d think that a guy so ensconced in the history of his predecessor David Pilcher – whose photo he’s hung in every house in the town – would know better. Keeping with the copycat logic of season 2, in his plan of awakening Theo he also copies Pilcher’s reason for unfreezing Ethan: he needs the doctor’s medical skills to keep a sense of order alive in the town amidst the rumblings of rebellion.
The bottom line is that Wayward Pines has lost something in season 2, and it’s not any one shining, obvious aspect. The majority of its failings come in the recreation of its basic atmosphere, which has gone from effortlessly gonzo (cricket noise boxes!) to try-hard bland (the first two episodes have more kitschy 1940s pop ballads than a two-hour play-through of Fallout 4). The show just isn’t its own weird self anymore; and now that we know the truth, the cultural approximation of its sewn-together genre quilt is uncomfortably obvious – a little X-Files monster of the week here, some is-this-all-real reality questioning of The Matrix there, an uncapped bottle of Twin Peaks quirk everywhere else. Last year embraced those bits and pieces and fueled (again, initially) a mystery of its own crazy creation. With nothing new to add, and nothing new to say about its own place in the grand scheme of genre TV, Wayward Pines shrivels into another inconsequential blip on the radar.
There are slight bright spots, like when cool-as-a-cucumber First Generation teacher Megan Fisher (Hope Davis) wheels up in a scene and spouts icy lines that someone in the town will undoubtedly put on a propaganda poster down the line. Still, even the show’s best aspects – like Davis – only draw giant neon arrows to its worst errors. “These nurses here, I keep telling Jason that ever since they lost Pam, they’ve been at sixes and sevens,” Megan tells Kate with a sultry, conversational lilt early on, encapsulating the problem with Wayward Pines‘ revival in one fell swoop. It’s not just Pam, and it’s not just Ethan, and it’s not just an aggressive amount of repetition – it’s all of it, all at once – and, to be honest, a six or a seven is being generous.
Dramatically limp and uncharacteristically dull, Wayward Pines' unexpected return is what fans feared: an unnecessary redux whose own pointlessness is drilled home by one repetitive story turn after another.