'Wayward Pines' Tinkers With Familiar Strangeness

Mixing together the perfection of Wisteria Lane, the damp environs of Twilight, and Twin Peaks, Wayward Pines is an intriguing collection of the familiar.

Wayward Pines

Cast: Matt Dillon, Carla Gugino, Juliette Lewis, Toby Jones, Shannyn Sossamon, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Charlie Tahan
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: Fox
Creator: Chad Hodge
Air date: 2015-05-14

Wayward Pines introduces Matt Dillon as battered, unsmiling FBI agent Ethan Burke. I'd add that he's "troubled", too, in the sense that he's like so many TV cops: burdened with a familiar backstory. Wounded by an operation gone wrong and a marriage made frail by his inability to communicate, Ethan is dispatched to Idaho to locate a pair of missing agents, one of whom just happens to be a colleague with whom he had a brief affair.

Wayward Pines' first three episodes (of ten) lay out this history, as they also establish a paranoiac and rather bloody allegory of eroding privacy and personal freedom under the guise of promised protection and security. Ethan's own story takes a turn at the start, when a car accident leaves him in a hospital in Wayward Pines, Idaho, a strange hinterland that splices the unearthly perfection of Wisteria Lane with a damp, subpar Twilight, a place whose citizens insist on their strong sense of community, not to mention the show's most obvious precursor, Twin Peaks. It’s hardly a spoiler to state that beneath the folksy charm of Wayward Pines, every resident harbors a painful secret.

Despite our suspicion that Ethan’s relationships and interactions constitute an excuse for repeated demonstrations of man-pain (Dillon does the jaw-clenching, thousand-yard stare beautifully), Wayward Pines actually becomes more complicated and involving a couple of episodes in, as the intrigue deepens.

Some of this intrigue has to do with what might optimistically be viewed as a wry comment on the eternal strong-woman trope, combined with a twee appropriation of early-Mad Men-like intricacies. This occurs early, as Ethan’s wife and erstwhile lover reverse roles: he confesses that he fell for fellow agent Kate (Carla Gugino), not just for her professional haircut, but because she was "fearless", which makes her apparently unlike his wife Theresa (Shannyn Sossamon), who begins the series with little identity beyond wronged wife and mother. Wayward Pines' most disorienting and interesting idea might be the way it upends this narrative: as we observe Kate's paralyzing fear (figured though a softened sweater-girl look), Theresa channels her anxieties into action.

The show offers other intrigues as well, one focused through Ethan’s confrontations with the local sheriff, Pope (Terrance Howard), seems to reverse the usual dynamic of a vicious, institutionally racist police force suppressing the locals. Is it by coincidence or design that Wayward Pines' most prominent authority figure, seemingly the only non-white male in town, leads with terrifying religious fervor? Sheriff Pope visits repeated violence on Ethan when he tries to escape, making Ethan part of a brutalized minority: the outsider. At the same time, Pope is hardly "in control", as Ethan may (or may not) be considered part of a sinister force comprised of generations of anonymous white men in suits who wield power secretly, whether officially or not. This plot point gains traction when it's inevitably revealed that someone ominous and unseen is watching over Wayward Pines, but also that Ethan’s faith in his own office is misplaced, his control lost long before his badge.

Though it's unclear in three episodes where such ideas might go in Wayward Pines, the show does provide plenty of unanswered questions to pique our interest. We might also be wary: the occasional half-hearted carnival imagery or the all-purpose atmosphere of dread created by tired old tricks like thunderstorms, ugly motels, and abandoned houses suggest that Wayward Pines may not want anyone to think all that hard just yet.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.