This Wayward Pines post is written from the point of view of someone who has not read the books the series is based on. As such, spoilers are strictly forbidden. Any spoilers in comments will be deleted on sight. Remember: Discussions of things that were different in the books or confirmations of things that won’t happen count as spoilers, too. Have you read the books and want to discuss what’s coming? That’s what our Spoiler Space is for.
In Wayward Pines, every compliment is also a warning. In fact, just about everything can be interpreted as a warning. Ethan is cautioned multiple times this week by people overly concerned with making sure he knows there are consequences for breaking the rules. Pam, Mrs. Fisher, even Dr. Jenkins—they all remind Agent Burke (sorry, Sheriff Burke) of his responsibilities to the town. They may not all actually want Burke to succeed, or have the same motives, but they all have an interest in making sure he carries out his duties. As long as those duties don’t involve asking questions.
Wayward Pines is less like a 10-episode TV series, and more like a movie 10 hours long. Each episode picks up exactly where the previous installment left off, and while it makes for tight pacing and plotting (I can’t begin to imagine how perfect this show will be for binge-watchers), it also makes it tough to isolate and evaluate on a week-to-week basis. The overarching mystery—what is happening in Wayward Pines?—is so intricately woven into every episode, it’s hard to say a particular element is weaker, when it turns out to be in service to another aspect of the series. In the case of “One Of Our Senior Realtors Has Chosen To Retire,” what seemed like a dearth of humor in the last episode now feels like setup for the delicious irony that saturates the events of this hour.
And in an episode where Ethan Burke becomes the new sheriff, it’s a testament to the show that his promotion doesn’t even feel like the most important development. That honor goes to the school, which, as we’ve learned from the mayor, is all about “shaping” young minds. “Be careful,” he warns Ethan—a bold statement when your wife is the one doing said shaping. Between the creepy children staring at Ben and Theresa as they first approach the school, and the knowledge that Hope Davis’ hypnotherapist-turned-educator is conducting what looks an awful lot like brainwashing sessions on the youngest Burke, the school has suddenly achieved a central place in the mythology of Wayward Pines. It’s unclear as of yet just what these children are being groomed for, but if Ben’s new paramour Amy is any indication, they’re being trained to be a lot more like Nurse Pam than Peter the realtor.
Ethan gets his best chance yet this week to learn how Wayward Pines executes its recruitment strategies, while Peter and he try their best to do the right thing, albeit in very different ways. Peter is the only opportunity Ethan has had since Beverly died to talk with someone willing to discuss their past, and he makes the most of it, learning that car crashes aren’t the only way this mysterious town pulls people into its purview. Before his suicide at the wall (very kind of him to make it look like Ethan was responsible), Peter discusses what appeal the town can hold. It allows you to forget your past, he points out, to be someone else. That’s an appealing prospect for anybody running from their history, and helps explain why this menacing little society doesn’t just operate from a place of fear—some folks, like Peter, relish the chance to start over. But the past is never done with you, not really. It catches up, and when it caught up to Peter, he couldn’t accept it. It may have felt like another life, looking at that photo, but it’s still him.
And Ethan is still himself, too, only now he has a little maneuverability. Becoming sheriff (“I guess when you kill someone in this town, you get their job”) affords him the chance to see how everybody has been separated from something. Arlene, his secretary, no longer has her “domestic partner.” Mr. Fisher had a child in his former life, which may explain his sensitivity toward Ethan’s own progeny entering his wife’s indoctrination program. Everybody in town is a prisoner, as Ethan tells Theresa during their bathroom tête-à-tête; he no longer views those around him as a collective threat, so much as a collective problem to be solved. No one wants to be here, and despite the seeming enthusiasm for something like Beverly’s Reckoning, it’s starting to become clear that no one wants any more deaths, either.
Well, almost no one. With Pope gone, Pam is the closest thing to a nemesis Ethan has in town, and she shows no signs of slowing down. By the end of the episode, it looks like she’s gotten what she wanted: Ethan’s job. His decision to scale the cliff face and go for help allows her to take off her jacket, settle in, and claim a place at the sheriff’s desk. Whether this is going to remain the case or not is unclear: There’s no way Ethan will be gone for long, and when he returns, he may decide handing over authority so indifferently might not have been the best move. It’s possible a power struggle could develop—and whoever can get the townsfolk on their side just might win.
The Burke family may be closer, but they’re still not on the same page. Even though Ethan essentially tells Theresa everything in those opening minutes, he keeps Ben in the dark, which anyone who has ever met a teenager can tell you is not a brilliant idea. Ben is sullen, resentful, and unsure why he has to stay in Wayward Pines while his dad finishes the case. And so, like any teen boy who was almost murdered in front of a giant electrified wall rimming the perimeter of his creepy town, Ben has some questions. For now, he’s getting answers from Amy, or at least the only answers a hormonal boy cares about: namely, kisses. If Ethan doesn’t open up to him soon, the fracture in the Burke family could be exploited all too easily—which is exactly what Mrs. Fisher would probably like to happen. There are monsters in the woods, yes; but the scariest ones might be those trying to turn Ethan’s son against him.
THEORY CORNER: This show depends so heavily upon all the mysterious goings-on, it felt silly not to dedicate a small space to some of the possibilities flying around. So, for starters, let’s talk monsters. At the end of “Our Town, Our Law” we encountered what seemed like unknown creatures carrying away Pope’s body. This week, it looks like that was true. The face revealed at the end of the episode is humanoid, but it’s far from human. New working theory, based in large part on my “clones” idea: the monsters in the woods (and in the walls) are failed reproductions of humans, efforts to recreate townsfolk who died either inside or outside the wall. Maybe that face we saw was the original Ethan 2.0? Although, that still leaves the question of why the rest of the world hasn’t discovered these monsters. Which leads us to:
Time theory #1: There’s been a lot of discussion in the comments about the possibility that the events in Wayward Pines are actually occurring at some point in the near future. This would explain the amount of dust on Theresa’s car. I like this idea, and it plays into my clone/reproduction idea. Did you notice Ethan asking Peter why there were two sets of numbers on the front of his file? My hypothesis is that Peter actually died when he tried to escape the first time, and this is his second body, retrofitted with a cane to account for the escape attempt. People have number sets based on how many times they’ve been brought back.The biggest weakness? It doesn’t explain how Dr. Jenkins can be outside and inside the town, unless he’s two different Jenkins. But then how would each know what the other is doing?
Time theory #2: This one appears to be equally popular, but feels like it would launch the show in a radically different direction. There is no cloning going on, in this reading, but there are hibernation pods of some sort, with people being woken up at different times based on what the town needs. It’s appealing, in that it would be a very simple answer to why people have been here for different periods of time. The biggest weakness? It would mean Ethan didn’t actually see Theresa and Ben on those gurneys, implying he really is a little crazy. Which would be worrying.
There are a lot of variants on these two big choices, and I expect I’ll be seeing a lot of them in the comments. This show has been moving swiftly all along, but it feels like it’s about to kick into overdrive. The Burkes are shaking up Wayward Pines. Ethan is the sheriff, Ben is in school, and, if we are to believe the mailbox, Theresa is about to become a realtor. After all, a senior realtor has just chosen to retire.
- How great was Pam’s toast to Ethan at the Beer Garden? Her flowery demand for punishment being cut short by Ethan’s assurance that he will punish the “true criminals”—followed by a glance in her direction—was just icing on the creepy, creepy cake.
- “Where do you live?” “I don’t know.” “Good, Ben, so good.”
- Arlene continues to be one of my favorites. When Ethan asks if she ever wishes she could go home, her sullen claim of “No, I love it here,” was tops.
- Really, the whole episode was a return to form for the great ironic one-liners that give the series character. “So—who wants cake?”
- One of you pointed out that Matt Dillon is like the perfect combination of Kyle MacLachlan and Brendan Fraser on this show—a “boy scout somewhere between earnest and cheeseball.” I love this description, and it’s a good evocation of why Dillon is so masterfully nailing the tone asked of him.
- “I love it here. The mountains, the pine trees, the look of fear in everyone’s eyes.”
- Maybe Dr. Jenkins’ responsibilities don’t allow him as much sway in town as we thought? His sad, understated “So, the rumors are true” when he learns Ethan is expected to Reckon Peter seemed genuine, and regretful. Maybe this is why the town needs someone like Ethan?