Wayward Pines

Wayward1Where once there was a firm divide between the worlds of television, the rise of premium cable shows over the last decade – Carnivàle, Mad Men, True Blood, House of Cards – has allowed producers to approach their shows with a level of craft normally reserved for features, far beyond what the pace and budget of network television production normally allows.

This expanded canvas also allows the creation of whole seasons focusing on subject matter more challenging than the evening soaps and police procedurals which are the bread and butter of television, attracting major stars to a medium they would have previously seen as beneath them, Kevin Spacey in House of Cards, Matthew McConaughey in True Detective, Jane Fonda in Grace and Frankie.

Wayward2If there is something as simple as a common ancestor to this welcome trend, it is twofold, in the complex ensemble storytelling of MTM Enterprises, best remembered for Hill Street Blues (1981-87) and St Elsewhere (1982-88) and more specifically David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (1990-91), a series which itself explored the duality of not only the characters but the physical space of the town itself. To quote the tag line of the spinoff film Fire Walk With Me, “In a town like Twin Peaks, no one is innocent.”

The comparison to Twin Peaks is particularly apt for Wayward Pines, another mystery thriller set in a rural town surrounded by mountains and forests and drenched in drizzle; though set in Idaho, location filming took place in Agassiz, British Columbia, just across the border from where the exteriors for the pilot of Twin Peaks were shot over twenty five years before in Snoqualmie, Washington.

Wayward3Awakening on the banks of a river in a wooded valley, Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke (eighties move star Matt Dillon) has little immediate recall; he had tracked two missing agents to Wayward Pines, but beyond that he only has flashes of a collision on the road as he approached. Staggering into town he collapses, waking again in a deserted hospital where he is told that his partner did not survive the accident, the nurse (Red State’s Melissa Leo) refusing to answer any further questions.

Discharging himself, he receives sympathy from friendly bartender Beverly (former Natural Born Killer Juliette Lewis) who gives Ethan her address should he be unable to secure a place to sleep, his wallet and phone secured in the locked police station; on the back is the cryptic message “There are no crickets in Wayward Pines.”

Wayward4At the address, Ethan finds a derelict shack, the body of Agent Evans inside, the first of the two missing agents he was seeking, tortured and mutilated. Returning to the town, he manages to see Sheriff Arnold Pope (Iron Man’s Terrence Howard who also appeared with Dillon in Crash) and prevails upon him to attend the site and for the use of his telephone to report in, but he is still unable to speak to anyone other than a voicemail or an unhelpful receptionist.

Developed by Chad Hodge from Blake Crouch’s novel Pines, the presence of M Night Shyamalan as executive producer brings an expectation both of a twisted narrative and a fundamental disappointment when the revelation arrives, his career having spiralled out of control since the zenith The Sixth Sense (1999) and Unbreakable (2000) to the catastrophic incompetence of After Earth (2013).

Wayward5His long career featuring a variety of affable characters who bumble through their lives, the pilot episode Where Paradise is Home requires Dillon to do little more than be confused, concerned and irate while Howard is evasive and unconcerned and Leo is belligerent then villainous, a disappointing showing considering the multiple Academy Award nominations they carry between them.

So far wasted are the delightfully quirky Shannyn Sossamon (Rules of Attraction) as Ethan’s wife back home, her entire character description entailing “wife back home” and Reed Diamond who with a resume encompassing the menace of Dollhouse and the comedy of Much Ado About Nothing is hopefully harbouring much more than a single doorstep appearance.

Wayward6Better are Lewis, finally having moved beyond the tiresome “kooky girl” schtick which defined her early career and the reliable Toby Jones (Berberian Sound Studio) as the psychiatrist who attempts to convince Ethan his problems are related to an earlier mental breakdown and who can apparently be in two places simultaneously; Wayward Pines and Seattle, ironically the nearest major to city to Snoqualmie.

While time may show that Wayward Pines and Twin Peaks follow different paths, for now it is that shadow which hangs over it; Ethan Burke may work for the Secret Service rather than FBI, but the parallels are endemic, a small town in the mountains with weird locals, long hospital corridors, the ubiquitous pine trees, the sheriff’s office with eccentric receptionist, time flowing at different rates, the presence of ceiling fans, ice cream instead of cherry pie, the playing cards, police cars hiding on country lanes in the dark, the cryptic utterings of crickets rather than owls, the phrase “Is it happening again?” instead of “It is happening again,” a murder in the abandoned cabin in the woods, but the Black Lodge is far from the only influence.

Wayward7Often cited as a cousin of Twin Peaks due to a shared focus on the weird and unexplained and several cast crossovers, The X Files is present in passage through the woods but also the conspiracy elements, particularly the suburban set sixth season episode Arcadia, and there are also aspects of the paranoia of The Prisoner (1967-68), The Truman Show (1998) and John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness (1995), where every road out of Hobb’s End led straight back in again.

Determined to disorient the viewer from the opening shot, the show is initially more concerned with the nightmarish than the narrative, but whether that is sufficient to carry it for the full initial ten episode order or whether something of more substance will emerge remains to be seen; so far there is potential but little spark to ignite the damp trees of Wayward Pines.




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