You can’t be brought back to life in the town of Wayward Pines, but that doesn’t mean you can’t live on. When Ben Burke comes to in the final moments of the show, he’s shocked to realize he’s been out for more than three years. Unfortunately, it’s far from the worst shock he suffers. If it’s true that some things never change, then the town that David Pilcher built is running exactly according to plan. It’s a place once more ruled by fear, by intimidation—only, if the bodies strapped to poles and hanging from nooses are any indication, the atmosphere is much, much worse. David Pilcher was right; his ideas did live on. Mrs. Fisher taught her students well. It’s a shame she didn’t live long enough to bear witness to their ascension to power.

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In this final installment of Wayward Pines (yes, there’s chatter about a second season, but for now, let’s treat it as the one-and-done event series it was intended to be), everything comes full circle. The aptly named “Cycle” reveals the nature of this upheaval as just that—another spin around the wheel of boom and bust that seems to define the last remaining human outpost. The series ended in properly ironic Twilight Zone fashion, a fitting epilogue for a story so indebted to Rod Serling’s narrative trickery.

Mea culpa: There was nary a clone to be found. In hindsight, some of the things we all picked up on as clues look more like weird and/or inconsistent dialogue and story, leading me to guess the show’s flaws would be much more apparent under a repeat viewing of the whole thing. But the entire series flew along at such a breakneck pace, and with such verve and wit, that those dangling plot threads and inexplicable moments are forgivable. A show this fun, with such good performances and tight narrative momentum, can be forgiven for tossing out some half-baked and under-explained assumptions here and there.

The weaknesses in the finale overwhelmingly began and ended with Pilcher and the children. The decision to round up every single volunteer, with the intent of putting them back in storage, doesn’t make a damn bit of sense, even if Pilcher’s narcissism has driven him into Dick Cheney-esque levels of paranoia and arrogance. Similarly, Pilcher’s apparent conviction, shared with the young men of Wayward Pines, that there would come a “day of reckoning” implies that he was training his young charges to forcefully take over from the adults regardless. Adults who, we now know from nurse (!) Amy, have all been stuck back into storage. But let’s chalk these story beats up to “David Pilcher went nuts” and move on. After all, it seems to be the same conclusion some of his guards came to, given they let Pam back out of hibernation approximately 45 seconds after she went into it.

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The final fight and overrunning of the town by Aberrations was flagged from miles away—literally, in this case, as we watched the red dots on a scanner flood towards the town. And the carnage, while not exactly epic in scale (all Main Street, all the time), was suitably grisly. Big Bill meets his maker, albeit off camera. Our good friend Arlene is saved by Kate, which is as close to a happy ending as this show could offer, knowing that all the survivors end up in cold storage anyway. But the two hospital moments were especially nice—the Abie coming from behind to grab the doctor, and a shotgun blast from Ethan blowing the Abie threatening his family right out of frame—and overall the direction was solid, although it felt like director Tim Hunter was hampered by the need to cram in so much plot during this last installment. The abrupt commercial breaks were practically afterthoughts, frantic cuts made in the middle of trying to crank out all the moments that got shoehorned into this very busy hour of television.

But the upshot of that rushed pace was the way that no one lingered too long on their final moments. We didn’t get any of the common “get on with it!” scenes where characters reflect on the gravity of their situation, or how far they’ve come. (The closest was Kate’s great undersell to Theresa: “Sometimes things just work out, I guess.”) And as such, each character gets the send-off they deserve, with one final statement of purpose illuminating their (now bleakly tragic) viewpoints.

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Ethan Burke got to play the hero, one final chance to protect the innocent lives around him. How fitting that the means of his sacrifice is setting off a bomb. He began this story haunted by his failure to prevent the Easter bombing, and his last act is almost the inverse: Triggering a massive detonation to save people, not endanger them. His peace comes from the memories of his family, and Matt Dillon plays it with the proper gusto, the “going down with the ship smile” that has always been second nature to the actor. It was clear Dillon knew exactly what kind of show he was on from the get-go. His befuddled and frustrated boy scout behavior was infused with a sense of play; he hammered home the straight man role so hard, it was clear he was in on the joke, and loving it.

Kate Hewson was finally able to cut loose and be a hero, too. Once Ethan and she were on the same side, it quickly became apparent why the resistance chose her as their leader. Smart, capable, and handy with an automatic weapon, the show’s second-most-important Secret Service agent stepped up and helped take down Pilcher and his goons. With the exception of her flashbacks episode, there was never that much to Kate’s character. She was a good person caught in a bad situation, and she refused to let it crush her spirit. If anything, she was a little too ready to storm the barricades. Her husband of almost a decade did just die, after all.

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But she fought on, and before her discovery of the hibernation chambers at the end of the episode, Kate got a chance to utter her mission statement: “I’m better with more information.” That was her guiding light throughout, and she never wavered from it, even when we thought she was just another cowed victim of the town’s scare tactics. Her moments with Pam at the end reveal her strength of mind, and Carlo Gugino is superb at playing a badass. If anything, the show bent over a little too far in the direction of letting her kick ass: It was fun watching her smash in an Abie’s head in the back of her shop, but it wasn’t really a necessary scene.

Pam Pilcher ended up having to put a bullet in her brother, and yet she, too, maintained her mission statement right to the end. “If we work together…I believe we can succeed. We have to,” she tells Kate, finally putting aside their differences in the name of survival. Pam tried her best to reign in her vainglorious brother’s impulses, but eventually his megalomania was too much. David’s sister was always doing her best to keep maintaining the greatest good for the largest number of people, a position that leads to hard choices, and illiberal ones. But that final guarded optimism makes her another tragic sacrifice on the altar of Pilcher’s God complex, and Mrs. Fisher’s brainwashing.

Melissa Leo killed it, you guys. There’s no other way to say it. There were other excellent performances on this show, but I can’t imagine anyone had as much fun as Leo did. For the first half of the season, she deliciously spat out mustache-twirling menace, and in the back half, she got to walk it all back. It was an electric thing to watch. I’d call it scenery-chewing, but since Wayward Pines itself is essentially a giant furniture-mulching factory, it’s more accurate to call what she’s doing a perfect embodiment of the series’ tone.

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The other Burkes were somewhat underutilized. Ben was a means of getting exposition out—the show would send him somewhere, he’d learn something, and then he’d keep it to himself. True, Charlie Tahan didn’t help matters much with a mostly one-note performance, but the character didn’t get many moments to shine. Until, of course, that final reveal, as Ben walks through town, a callback to the very first episode, when the elder Burke similarly stumbled his way through Wayward Pines, earning odd looks and feeling dazed. Poor Amy doesn’t seem too happy, either. So much for young love!

Theresa really stepped it up in the last couple of episodes. Shannyn Sossamon got some nice scenes toward the end, especially with Hope Davis (another MVP of the series, one who should really win some kind of special achievement in acting award for managing to make nearly an entire episode of plot exposition one of the most gripping things I’ve seen on TV this year). Theresa Burke felt like a character whose larger arc had to be sacrificed in the interest of keeping the show fleet, so she ultimately functioned more as a conduit for plotting, as did her son.

But damn, was this show fun. It was a high-wire act from start to finish, and the fact that it wasn’t brought down by the accumulated weight of ridiculousness and “can you top this?”-style narrative trickery should be thought of as a testament to the show’s quality, not an excuse for breezy it’s-fine-for-what-it-is dismissals. It’s not easy to make gonzo storytelling consistent, let alone consistently compelling. The lack of bad episodes alone should merit Wayward Pines respect. The fact that it had a clear template with which to work—including a beginning, a middle, and an end—is a big help, too.

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The story is ultimately one of humanity in a nutshell. Whether there are ten thousand or ten billon people in the world, the show argues, makes little difference. We are fated to deal with variations on our fundamental flaws over and over again. In the case of Wayward Pines, it’s more allegorical than fearsome—the show’s a morality play, not a threat—and the cyclical nature has as much to do with the old saw about those who fail to learn from history as it does some sort of immutable human nature. It’s also an allegory of the passing of generations: The young will always bury the old, either in ritual or through more direct means. But the show isn’t too bogged down in such ethical or existential matters. It’s too busy having fun with just how weird the world can be. Don’t let the strange things bother you; the oddness is what makes life interesting. Don’t forget, there are no crickets in Wayward Pines.

Stray Observations:

  • Thank God Mrs. Fisher finally listened to Ben and helped Ethan. I was going to be so annoyed at her if she kept acting crazy during the Aberration apocalypse.
  • “I warned you revealing the truth would be the death of Wayward Pines.” Yeah, David, but you didn’t say that’s because you’re a wackadoo.
  • I was surprised at the shift into a firefight. When they came back from commercial into the fifth act, Ethan and Kate just started mowing down guards right out of the elevator. Very efficient, guys.
  • Ben’s apology to Ethan was perfectly teenage: “Uh, sorry, I said some stuff.”
  • Thank you, commenters, for reminding me: Ben getting hit on the head was super hilarious.
  • This ends the final review of Wayward Pines. I want to thank you all for watching this show together over the past couple of months. It’s been a blast reading the comments and debating theories with you. I’ll still check in here for the next few days, but you’re also welcome to find me on Twitter, where I will happily continue to talk about Ethan’s hilarious crouch-run from episode three until the end of time. God, what a neat show.

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