Three-fourths of the way through “Bedtime Story,” Dr. Theo Yedlin records a message for the future generations of humanity, those who will emerge from the cryostasis pods years from now, give or take a millennia. And it’s a simple one. “David Pilcher was wrong about everything.” Yedlin wants to make a point about the ethics of taking away people’s ability to decide their own futures, to try and ensure those who survive don’t replicate the mistakes of the past. As he tells CJ earlier, everyone in Wayward Pines would have lived out the rest of their lives, dying young or old as fate saw fit. But Pilcher stole that life from all of them. He forced them into a second act in their lives, as the future of humankind. And that power shouldn’t be in anyone’s hands—the sad irony being that we’re all subjected to such unfair manipulation of our lives, right here and now. We’re not the last hope of our species’ survival, but everyone is familiar with the actions of those in power screwing with our unwritten destinies.
It’s no coincidence this message is coming at the end of season two of a show that was never intended to be more than a one-off miniseries. That “event series” was the top-rated scripted series last summer, which inevitably led to Fox executives demanding more. A story that had a deeply satisfying beginning, middle, and end was suddenly turned into an ongoing machine; viewers smelled a cash grab, a way to unnecessarily prolong the life of something meant to have already ended. Sound familiar?
So it’s to the credit of Wayward Pines that the second season’s reboot has been as narratively successful as it was. While it couldn’t hope to sustain the engaging mystery of its predecessor, the extension of the story was a drastic enough change in tone and plot that its existence felt justified. Being revamped into a tale of paranoia in times of war allowed for a new direction, and a way for this universe to continue revealing additional tales without feeling like it was just a pale rehash of its prior life. Hope Davis might be right when she says Wayward Pines is capable of creating many more stories (though they’ll have to be without her character, save the odd flashback). Which is why this season finale was such a disappointment: It didn’t do anything unexpected—it barely even pushed the narrative forward—and essentially petered out into a downbeat shrug of an ending.
With half the town getting back into their pods, and the other half left to riot in the streets, “Bedtime Story” did little more than abruptly pull the plug on everything that happened this season, the events of the past weeks having been consigned to the past by survivors attempting to again restart their lives in the distant future. After the death of Jason, Theo assumes command with a lack of resistance that’s baffling in its efficacy. Soldiers (and make no mistake, that’s what Jason’s militarized First Generation are) aren’t exactly famous for letting civilians step right into their murdered superior’s shoes, no questions asked. But with a quick speech to the assembled throngs and the assurance he would carry on with Jason’s plan to return everyone to hibernation, Theo watched the armed guards of Wayward Pines return to business as usual. No wonder Kerry wants him to take her place in the future: That’s leadership.
Story-wise, this episode just went through the motions of carrying out everything that was promised last episode. Hard choices were made about who got to return to the mountain. Everyone you expected to get a pod got one, even Frank. (Kerry’s decision to sacrifice herself—by injecting deadly diseases into her system and enter the forest to be ripped apart by Abbies—is the closest we got to a surprise.) There was much speechifying about issues and ideas the show has already discussed, with Theo and CJ even repeating essentially the same debate twice. And the Abbies assembled under the watchful eye of Margaret, into an army of thousands, only to do…nothing. The long-promised Aberration assault never happens; it’s like the show decided, with only five miles left to drive, that no one wants to go to the fireworks factory, after all.
That’s not to say there aren’t well-executed moments among the overall dyspeptic delivery. Poor Ti West does the best with what he’s given—though, between this and “Exit Strategy,” the talented director was saddled with some of the worst material of the season. Still, when given small contained sequences, he adds some flair and fun to the events. Theo’s random decision to grab a military vehicle and save Xander and Frank from death pays off when it gives Xander a chance to unload his weapon into a fellow citizen’s molotov cocktail, showering the guy in flames as our protagonists head back to the mountain. And the choice of Johnny Cash’s cover of “I Won’t Back Down,” playing while Arlene and the others stand in front of the hospital, watching Main Street descend into chaos, was inspired.
But ultimately, Jason Patric’s Theo Yedlin remained one of the few bright spots right to the end. Patric started off wobbly, but he soon turned his character’s taciturn grimace into a reliable source of humor. Here, he gets some good laughs through a few well-placed lines (“Well, a pod just opened up”) and a great, wordless moment: Taking the time to walk back into his office, just so he can smash the picture of Pilcher hanging on his wall, was as good a send-off as anyone got this year. He may have been cheated out of his plan to sacrifice himself for the good of the community by Kerry’s self-destructive death wish, but at least it means he’ll stick around, should a third (and presumably final) season happen.
It’s amazing to consider how underutilized nearly every other major character was in season two. Djimon Hounsou’s CJ was a cypher, save for one episode; Jason and Kerry never really progressed beyond their initial characterizations; Arlene became a punchline. Megan Fisher had a slight evolution at the very end of her arc, though it quickly became moot when she bled out from the wound Margaret’s blade opened. This was never a series about deep character study, true, but numerous subplots and other concerns were dispatched with barely a hint, like the blooms growing in CJ’s greenhouse at the end of this episode. And these hints, when they happened at all, are now pointless. See you in a couple thousand years, plants! Much like the anticipated Aberration invasion, it was a bunch of time spent talking about something that never came to fruition.
At its best, Wayward Pines earns the title of this week’s episode. It aims for the potency of a fable, its allegorical meanings ladled onto its sci-fi conceit with the thickness of a bedtime story. And it has a sense of eternal return to its pessimistic worldview. The idea that humans will continue to make the same mistakes, over and over, is a bleak message, but the series manages to make compelling television of the endless struggle against our instinctual demons and fears. It’s just not always terribly fun. Much like its pod-ensconced denizens, viewers of Wayward Pines will have to wait and see what the future holds; but regardless of whether there‘s more to come, it’s hard to shake the feeling this was an ill-conceived diversion, given how it panned out. It doesn’t erase the strengths of a worthwhile season, but it does leave a bad taste.
- Kerry finally realized what should’ve been obvious to her after she killed Jason last week: He was her son. Gross. I’d vomit, too, Kerry.
- Arlene is bananas: This exchange with Theo was appropriately bonkers: ““I’ve had a lot of different…professionalities in my life.” “You mean jobs?” Glad you’re living to crazy it up another day, Arlene. Tally-ho.
- Given the mindset of most of the First Generation, I can’t fathom why CJ or Theo should be the slightest bit optimistic. That guard who beats the hell out of Frank with the butt of his rifle? If that’s representative of humanity’s hope, maybe CJ should just pull the plug.
- Speaking of which, what an odd, out-of-character moment for CJ, to have him briefly ponder whether to just kill everyone. Thanks, ghost wife, for saving humanity from the weird and ill-fitting inclusion of that scene.
- “I guess the future needs ice cream.” And you, Theo.
- Favorite Theo line: “You were always the brains behind that tyrannical moron.”
- So that Abbie, cradling a very human-looking baby at the end? Is this the Aberration evolution teased all season long? It’s a strange thing to do, especially in light of Kerry’s disease-ridden death-attack on the entire population. Which we didn’t see, of course: Don’t want to close any options for season three yet.
- Thanks for watching along with me, everyone. Even when the show was faltering, I always enjoyed parsing it with all of you, both here and on Twitter. With any luck, I’ll join you back here next summer, to provide a hopefully satisfying cap on this odd little show. (But I’ll see a lot of you over in the Mr. Robot comments in the meantime.)