'Wayward Pines': TV Review

Wayward Pines - H 2015

Wayward Pines - H 2015

Watch them all or watch none — the weirdness of this show only works as you get deeper into it

Matt Dillon is a Secret Service agent who stumbles into a very weird town in this miniseries from M. Night Shyamalan.

A couple of things you need to know about Wayward Pines before watching are: 1) If you start watching, you shouldn’t stop because it goes off in directions that, by the fourth and fifth episodes, are completely unexpected; and 2) Having watched five of the 10 episodes, I have no idea if any of it will make sense or whether it will stick the landing.

If you look at this late-season (oh, who am I kidding, there's no such thing as a season anymore) addition to the schedule as a kind of light puzzle, it might ease the burden of your commitment. But you really do have to opt in. Meaning, if you’re going to sit in front of your set and get all doubt-filled and skeptical, forget it. If you’re not all-in, you might as well be out.

Wayward Pines, executive produced by M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Signs), is based on the trilogy of books by Blake Crouch and written and developed for television by Chad Hodge.

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The short description of the miniseries is that Secret Service agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) is on his way from Seattle to Idaho when he’s in a car accident and wakes up in Wayward Pines, a plastic nightmare of a fake town from which he can't escape.

But that’s not even close to what it’s about.

You can find strong elements of Twin Peaks and The Prisoner in it, plus a little bit of that Lost feel and a whole lot of that Twilight Zone vibe. The touchstones are not hard to find, and it all seems very Shyamalan-esque (he also directs the first episode).

It is also, along the way, a maddening mish-mash of tone shifts from dead serious to creepy to silly and then onward toward some kind of mind-bending dystopian sci-fi.

So, yeah, if you’re up for something completely different that may end up imploding just as easily as it could be riveting, then make the commitment. Wayward Pines is filled with enough guest stars and gear shifts to never stay in the same place and thus remain interesting, though not always logical or satisfying. Fox is billing this as a "psychological thriller" and doesn’t seem afraid to toss around the Twin Peaks comparison (and since you're not going to get that reboot on Showtime, there's another reason to watch this).

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Normally with a limited series, there’s enough evidence in the first few episodes to determine whether it will work or not, but since Wayward Pines ultimately becomes something far different in the fourth and specifically the fifth episodes (five were made available for review) than it was in the first and second episodes, all bets are off, hence the warning that you should be prepared to commit to all 10 beforehand.

The series starts with Dillon's Ethan Burke waking up in the deep, mysterious forests of Idaho, much like Jack from Lost woke up on that beach. What Ethan discovers pretty quickly, especially if he ever listened to what Rod Serling was saying on The Twilight Zone, is that the town of Wayward Pines is not what it seems. Something is off. Nothing makes sense. It seems like a kind of clean utopian outpost in the mountains, but when Ethan passes out in town and wakes up in the desolate hospital with creepy Nurse Pam (Melissa Leo), it’s pretty clear he’s in Freaksville, as she’s part Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and part Frank Booth from Blue Velvet.

Give Shyamalan and Wayward Pines credit for its all-star casting, which, in addition to Dillon and Leo, includes Carla Gugino, Terrence Howard, Juliette Lewis, Toby Jones, Hope Davis, Reed Diamond, Justin Kirk, Shannyn Sossamon and probably a few others you’ll recognize. The large cast means that anyone can go at any time.

As for more plot detail, well, it really won’t help you much. Burke was on his way to Idaho with a fellow Secret Service agent to find two other missing agents. He finds both in Wayward Pines — one dead, the other one not. But she’s very different now. Well, sort of. Burke and his wife, Theresa (Sossamon), have a teenage son, Ben (Charlie Tahan), who might actually like it in Wayward Pines (for a reason he can’t tell his parents).

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Does that help?

Here’s the not-unexpected thing about Wayward Pines — it tweaks its own reality as it goes. Sometimes, that can be interesting (like when the show becomes something drastically different than what you thought two episodes ago) and sometimes annoying (like when all the talk about what year it is and what year people think it is seems to lead nowhere).

And sometimes it's hard to determine if the clashing tonal shifts are on purpose, or if Leo is acting in a different series from Gugino, who might herself be acting in a series that Lewis didn’t know she was in.

Which brings us back to the top: Maybe the best answer to all of this is to not worry about ultimately being fully satisfied and instead just sit back and be entertained or at least distracted as you let the story happen. But watch all of the story or none at all.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine