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 every episode, Wayward Pines has been deepening the mystery, offering tantalizing hints of how this place came to be. The first four episodes steadily expanded the mythos of the odd town, revealing bits and pieces of a larger whole, though to what purpose was left unclear. I had assumed the entire show would be the slow unraveling of this mystery, as piece after piece of the puzzle gradually came together, until the final episode revealed just what we’d been looking at all along. I was wrong. And I’ve never been so happy to be utterly mistaken, because “The Truth” is one of the boldest, most unexpected episodes of television I’ve seen this year.
Most of that has to do with the daring formal structure of this installment. The choice to simply allow Hope Davis’ Mrs. Fisher to deliver what is more or less a nearly 20-minute monologue explaining exactly what is going on was incredibly risky. Such an info dump could easily have become pedantic, not to mention boring, which is the exact opposite sensation a mystery show wants to evoke. Instead, the clever choice to use Ethan’s scenes as a wordless visual allegory of Ben Burke’s illumination over the course of the day gave Davis’ speechifying exactly the jolt of energy it needed. Right as she’s revealing the big twist—it’s not the year 2014, it’s the year 4028—Ethan steps out of the forest, and onto a vista overlooking the ruins of Boise, Idaho. It works precisely because the build-up was elegantly assembled: We were given just enough pieces to know that something like this was coming, but not so much that it felt like a letdown. It’s a boffo reveal in an episode filled with them.
Because Mrs. F just keeps dropping bombshell after bombshell. The monsters out there in the woods? They’re what humanity has become: aberrations, or “abbies” for short. Mother Nature’s course correction, if the orientation lecture is to be believed. The world? It’s been two thousand years since the kids’ lives outside Wayward Pines, and this town is all that’s left of civilization. Why were Ben and the others chosen? To ensure the survival of the human race. Oh, and by the way, Ben—don’t tell any of the adults, because their minds can’t handle it. Cue the final scene at the school, in which the back wall of the orientation room slides away to reveal what looks for all the world like an initiation ritual into a secret society. Which, in a way, it is. A society of kids, dedicated to keeping a secret from the adults of their world.
Every member of the Burke family gets a piece of the truth revealed to them this week, although Ben is the only one really getting the full picture. Ethan’s conversation with Dr. Jenkins (a.k.a David Pilcher, the scientist-creator of Wayward Pines) clues him in to the truth of their situation, even though it leaves out a lot of the details Mrs. F filled in for Ben and the viewers. Theresa’s conversation with Mr. Johnson clues her in to the existence of the hibernation chambers, and Pam’s authority in monitoring them. The truth comes to everyone this week, in pieces large and small. But no one has all the answers yet, not even Ben. Let’s not forget that Mrs. F was a hypnotherapist in another life. Who knows what information she’s leaving out of orientation?
What makes “The Truth” such an excellent hour of television is that it lays bare so much of the fundamental mystery at the heart of the show, while triggering new concerns about what’s going on. For instance, when the mayor warned Ethan last episode about the school’s plan to shape the minds of the children, was that because he knows what his wife is doing, and it’s not all true? Or is he in the dark, like most of the other grown-ups in town, scared into obedience and unaware of what’s outside the walls? Going forward, it’ll be exciting to see just how far the conspiracy of silence extends. Which adults are in the know? What does that do to their relationships with everyone else?
Furthermore, now that our questions about time have been answered, we’ve got some new ones about how these people were chosen. Can the David Pilcher we’ve seen walking around in 2014 somehow communicate with the David Pilcher of 4028? Sheriff Pope was obviously in on the conspiracy when he cut the brake line to Theresa’s car back in the present day. Yet nobody else seemed that concerned about Ethan killing him, even Pam and Dr. Jenkins/Pilcher. Given that most of the adults are in the dark, one would think that keeping a steady supply of people who have knowledge of the truth from way back before they were put into hibernation chambers would be essential. Unless…
Clone theory is still going strong! The hibernation chambers go a long way toward explaining what has happened, but it still leaves a whole mess of puzzling elements unaccounted for—elements that could be justified if our working theory of additional selves/bodies hasn’t been disavowed yet. Beverly’s “I’ve always believed you” could still make sense if those hibernation chambers are containing not only the bodies of people stored in the present day, but also alternate versions of them. And despite that fact that bringing people out of hibernation helps account for the time gaps between different people in town, it still leaves the knotty problem of just how many hibernation chambers there are, how many people arrive in Wayward Pines, and what the ultimate goal is, beyond keeping a small group of humans alive, like lab rats in the world’s largest cage.
In the coming episodes, I’m excited to see how this colors my understanding of every interaction between people. Do the children pity their elders? Do they feel protective toward them, as though they were the true leaders, and the parents naive innocents who require defending? This town needs its citizens to function, and as Pilcher explains to Ethan, grown minds fight against accepting the truth. But sustaining a town based entirely on fictions is dicey, and feels unsustainable. If Kate is right, it’s been at least twelve years that Wayward Pines has operated like this, but who’s to say what happened inside these walls over the past two thousand years? Giving people a means of clinging to sanity may turn out to be more important than any of us suspected.
I’ve been pitching theories at all of you left and right for the past couple of weeks, and we’ve had some great discussions about how the story can move forward. This week, it feels good to just sit back and marvel at a bravura piece of storytelling. We’ve got new questions, just like any mystery worth its salt should deliver, but for once, it feels like they can keep. I trust Wayward Pines, now; this show has taken us outside the walls, and although there are monsters everywhere, we just got a ride in a helicopter.
- Mrs. Fisher, on the need to keep this secret from the adults: “If there is one hole, one crack, the water will get in, and we will all drown.” Something tells me Wayward Pines may have encountered a problem like this in the past.
- Theresa’s new boss is a creepy one, huh? Between the sexual harassment and the anger that seems to be swirling just below the surface, Big Bill is a wild card. Does he know the truth?
- Nurse Pam Petty Criticism Corner: The character worked great this week when she was oozing menace as usual, assuring Theresa she knew Peter was never going to make it: “Far too much of a freethinker.” To have her giving Ethan a genuine smile and hand into the helicopter (“Looks like you could use a nurse”) felt like too much of a 180 degree shift. We’ll see how it shakes out next week, but I like my Pam smarmy and sinister.
- Ben’s concern at lunch over how these abbies could possibly be real: “They’re running around in broad daylight. In Idaho.”
- The secret society of schoolchildren sure operates a lot like a Skull And Bones crew. Ben is going to be a lot more alienated from his family now, but given how angry he was before, this might make him more kindly disposed toward Ethan and Theresa.