'Wayward Pines' Boss on Breaking the Rules With Fox's Twisty Mystery Thriller (Q&A)

"The whole thing isn't about, 'What is Wayward Pines?' " the showrunner tells THR.
Fox is turning to M. Night Shyamalan and Chad Hodge to deliver what it hopes will be a Twin Peaks-esque phenomenon with mini Wayward Pines, a 10-episode thriller based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Blake Crouch.
The drama revolves around Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon), a Secret Service agent who arrives in the bucolic town of Wayward Pines, Idaho, on a mission to find two missing federal agents. But instead of answers, Ethan's investigation only provokes more questions after he wakes up from a car crash to find that neither his family nor his law enforcement colleagues are looking for him and that he, too, may have joined the ranks of the missing.

Read more 'Wayward Pines' Creator Tapped to Adapt 'Darkest Minds' (Exclusive)

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Hodge to talk about adapting Wayward from the novels, the blending of genres within it and what to expect from the show's crazy new world.

How did you approach which pieces of the novels to keep and which you felt you could cut without sacrificing tone or complexity?

I was given the book three months before it was published and read it in one day. I was obsessed. Every time I came upon something where time wasn't making sense, I kept thinking there was no way there would be an ending to this that would be satisfying. But it's completely solid. It wasn't so much about cutting as it was about adding, because if I had strictly adapted that first book, we probably would have reached the truth [about the town] by episode three. The truth comes at the end of the first book, but I adapted [the trilogy] and played with timelines a bit differently than Blake did, especially when it comes to Ethan's wife and son. When we meet his wife and son in the book, Ethan's already been missing for a year, but [I wanted] to put the timelines concurrent so that when Ethan goes missing, his wife finds out he goes missing, and it's [urgent].

Today's audiences are so trained to try to solve the mysteries of shows as they watch. Did you write differently knowing that?

There's nothing in the story that's misleading or a lie in order to confuse people more than they should be. Everything is in service of the story; as Ethan learns, we learn, so you can solve the puzzle with him. But there's nothing I felt I had to do to throw people off further than what the story already was; it's so perfectly confusing and so jumbled. All I had to do was add story to make sure we didn't get to the truth so quickly.

You mentioned changing some of the timelines of the show from the way they were depicted in the books. How does Kate (Carla Gugino) fit into those changes? In the book Ethan finds her much older than he remembers her in the town.

She's older in the book, but that isn't infringing on the ability to tell the same story at all. I still tell the same story, and later in the series, we will see flashbacks to show more of her story.

What are some of the tonal changes of Wayward Pines as a town as it compares to where Ethan originally came from? 

Even though [the town has] got this thriller tone to it, it's pretty grounded in terms of what we're seeing. It's wacky, and it's weird, and it's even funny at times, but it doesn't have monster elements or sci-fi elements. You know the term called the "uncanny valley"? It's that something that is just slightly off from normal is more frightening than something that is totally monstrous. It's something striking or odd; that's the uncanny valley. Something's wrong in Wayward Pines.

Are there any items that you said absolutely could not be in Wayward Pines? The town does have an "any town, any time" America feel.

You shouldn't really have a sense of what year it is. It's almost like Telluride: You're stepping into this perfect, picturesque mountain town, and you feel like it's a different world, but people are still wearing Uggs and those sort of things. [Here] there are definitely no brand names and no logos and nothing that was too trendy that would put us in a specific place or time period. It was very hard, actually, to create a world like that!

Is that something the characters will be noticing and discussing amongst themselves?

Absolutely. That's the discussion of many conversations, especially — and you'll see this in episode three — when his wife and son arrive in Wayward Pines. Theresa is very much asking a lot of questions of Ethan, and Ethan has some answers but not many. "What's going on here? Why are there no cell phones? Why can't we get in touch with the outside world?" There's only one radio station; if you [know] the books, the character of Hector plays the piano on the radio, and he comes in in episode three. There are all these weird things, and our characters absolutely point them out to each other, for sure.

Ben, as a teenager, seems like the prime candidate to be confused and not OK about being cut off from his friends or social media.

That's one of the reasons I wanted him to be older [than in the books]. That whole storyline I did differently.

Some shows would wait until the end of the first season for the reveal of what the town is, in a sort of Hail Mary, "You better renew us now!" sort of way. What made you go the other way and decide to promise to answer the mystery midway through?

What the story becomes after the truth is revealed is almost more interesting than what is the truth. TV audiences now are so savvy and this is a new way to tell a story like this. It's less about twists and more about, "OK, now we know what the truth is, and now what are we going to do?" There were two more books from which to mine story, so the whole thing isn't about, "What is Wayward Pines?" Because if I had to pull an audience through 10 or 12 or 15 episodes of not telling them, they'd be tired of that. And I'm tired of writing that sort of thing. I wanted to get to it and deal with it.

What are the main themes you're exploring in the first half of the season, before everyone knows the "what" of the town, versus the second half?

The first half of the season is really about a person who thinks he knows everything. He's a Secret Service agent; he's trained to ask questions and to get answers, [and he] is suddenly met with no answers in a world that makes absolutely no sense. It's about embracing change [for] the first half. When any of us goes into a world that's so different from our own, we may resist it, but it's like, "You know what? You'll actually learn a lot more if you just listen, instead of scream." Which is what Ethan learns in those first five episodes. The second half, when I read the last two books, they made me go, "Oh my God, it's really universal. It's everybody; this could happen, this is happening." It made me think a lot about my place as a human being on this planet and our species, and I know that makes me sound a little grandiose, but it's really what made me want to write this story. When you really break it down, Wayward Pines is really just a microcosm of our world, and we follow a lot of rules we don't even realize we follow, and if we break them, there are consequences. There is a lot of that in the [show]. Is the world really going to fall apart if you don't follow certain rules? I really think that is what the show is about.

What is your statement with the town and the show?

My statement about Wayward Pines is really about taking a closer look at our own world and our own lives and the rules that we follow. You sort of realize there's a relationship between the law and government and the rules we impose on ourselves just naturally, vs. free will. So free will versus the rules that constrict or constrain us is, I think, the big statement of Wayward Pines. To me, the beauty of the show is in the gray area.

Do you want viewers to come into the show having read the book and knowing what's to come, or not, just along for the ride as it plays out onscreen?

The books are phenomenal, and there is lots of stuff that is in the books that is not in the show, and then there is lots of stuff in the show that is not in the books. I don't think that if you've read the books you're not going to have a great time watching the show, especially if you're a fan. It's a ride, and it's not all about what the reveal is or what the truth is, but yeah, I would say for the fun of those first five episodes, it's more fun to watch not knowing and then go read the books.

Wayward Pines premieres May 14 at 9 p.m. on Fox. Be sure to check out Hodge's behind-the-scenes photo diary from his time on set!

Twitter: @danielletbd