(photo credit: Sergei Bachlakov/Fox)

A chase sequence, almost by definition, should be exciting. “The thrill of the hunt” isn’t a cliché for no reason; it’s the embodiment of our flight-or-flight adrenaline impulses. Watching the soldiers of Wayward Pines make their way through town, checking buildings and alleyways, fearful expressions on their faces, is a reliable way to build tension. So it’s dispiriting to have the results feel so uneven. The collection of nerve-jangling moments added up to less than the sum of their fitfully compelling parts, and a lot of it has to do with how the narrative got sidelined to a degree during “Pass Judgement.”

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The general rule of thumb when it comes to serialized television is that anything happening onscreen should push both the narrative and characters forward, either by deepening our understanding of the people, shedding new light on existing issues, or actively taking someone on a journey both emotionally and physically, where they end up somewhere different than they began. Tonight’s installment of Wayward Pines moved people around, but largely missed an opportunity to simultaneously move them forward as characters. When the episode ends, Hassler is out among the Abbies, cautiously making his way through their ranks, but that tells us nothing new about him. He was already wanting back outside the walls, already determined to try and coexist. He’d been doing so for a long time prior to this. And Margaret, our branded female Abby, may be hurt, but emotionally, she’s unchanged. We see the flashback to Pilcher’s chopper, raining down bullets, but we already saw that, and knew the consequences of his actions. Having Margaret be directly affected (I’m assuming that was her husband or some such who was gunned down in the initial burst of shooting) only confirms what we already knew.

(Photo credit: Sergei Bachlakov/Fox)

And that emotional stasis is what sapped a portion of the excitement from tonight’s proceedings. Hassler and Theo discovering the soldier’s body, and realizing Margaret had led them astray? A fun little trick that goosed our senses. Having them re-hash the same debates about what the Abbies want, and what they’ll do? Less so. And that was true for multiple scenarios tonight. For every step forward narratively, the story itself remained rooted in the same essential place it began. Getting Margaret back to her Abbie brethren sets up the possibilities of what happens next, but it didn’t change the stakes of the conflict.

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Except for Adam Hassler, who may have saved the entire town with his decision to lower his weapon. Throughout “Pass Judgement,” we watch Margaret search her memories of each citizen she encounters, and renders a verdict for each one: Live, or die. The kids get a pass, as do adults whom she sensed posed no threat. Before Xander shot her, Margaret already paused in her assault on Rebecca, seemingly brought up short by the realization she was pregnant. So in that moment in front of the drainage pipe, where they share a look, and Hassler The Geico Caveman drops his gun, the understanding is more than just a fleeting allowance of live-and-let-live. It just may stay the Abbies’ hand when making a decision on whether to simply wipe out the entire town.

In the meantime, Theo Yedlin continues his quest to get everyone in Wayward Pines to chill the fuck out. It’s interesting: Most of the time he’s right, but it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be super-annoying to have to deal with him in person. He has a habit of steamrolling over everyone, his alpha male tendencies in direct contradiction with the pacifist proclivities he keeps shoving down everyone’s throat. I have to admit, I was impressed by Jason finally agreeing with Theo when the doctor was at his most obnoxious, shouting down everyone to insist the town be notified of what’s happening. Those little moments go a long way towards humanizing the most exasperating character on Wayward Pines. Jason’s still an idiot, but at least he’s an idiot who occasionally sees reason, especially when it’s reflected in the face of Kerry.

And Kerry’s one of the only characters who actually ends up in a different headspace than she started. The realization that she can’t have kids has pushed her to confront the limits of what she thinks about Wayward Pines’ fascistic order. Her confession to Jason, down in the nursery and potential safe room he’s carved out for them, wasn’t just an explicit apologia for her body’s injuries. The subtext of that exchange was a question: Do you care about me more than the rules? For everyone else, the answer was always a resounding no. But here, his feelings for her finally overruled his authoritarian stupidity, and by trading “I love you”s with each other, they’re both taking steps toward a less rigid future. This is reflected in Kerry’s lie about giving the blueprints to Rebecca: When Jason sees her face, he’s not only accepting a statement he suspects isn’t true, he’s signaling that he’s okay with it, and ready to let things slide based on the relationship they share.

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(Photo credit: Sergei Bachlakov/Fox)

Mario’s injury is another example of pushing a character past their previous stances, as his injury leads him to crumble under the strain of pretending his memorized pledges are enough to give his life meaning. He repeats the mantra about “living a happy and productive life in Wayward Pines,” as Yedlin leaves the room, until he starts crying and hyperventilating, no longer able to contain his fear and confusion. We may not have spent enough time with Mario to give a shit—we definitely didn’t, really—but at least he’s progressed as a character.

“Pass Judgement” sets up both sides for a final reckoning, as Margaret is looking none too healthy, and the town has (temporarily) blocked the drainage pipe that gave her access pass the wall. But the best exchange was that between Theo and Rebecca, while Xander looked on. Yes, citizens were hurt becasue they had guns and didn’t know how to properly use them. But the alternative Theo is hectoring Xander about would be equally stupid: If the townspeople want to help track and take down something that could easily kill them, a weapon makes sense. They’re both right, and Wayward Pines could use more of that kind of moral ambiguity, rather than the “Theo is right, Jason is dumb and wrong” polarity that’s defined so much of this year. Rebecca is correct: No one should be defined only by who they choose to love, and if she and Kerry can get past their mutual dislike for the sake of improving everyone’s situation, there just might be a chance everyone will follow Theo’s advice, and stop pointing guns at one another.

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Stray Observations:

  • I did like Hassler’s reminder that Margaret used to live there before any of them. “She knows this place better than we do.”
  • The kids, Frank and Lucy, feel especially extraneous, now that the strange idiosyncrasies of life in Wayward Pines that were revealed by their stories have been shown.
  • Arlene is bananas: “You’re a very well-informed hair stylist.” And, even more ridiculous, on the subject of her binoculars: “I watch birds…I mean, it’s not like I use them to watch my neighbors.”
  • Theo also had a couple good lines tonight, in between all the patronizing speeches. “Shut up, Oscar.”
  • Really, some of the most exciting moments of this episode came just from watching Margaret roll commando-style through the town, leaping cliff faces, diving off military vehicles—all the while evaluating whether people would live or die.

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