(Credit: Sergei Bachlakov/FOX)

“Don’t trust anyone over 30,” goes an old slogan from the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley back in the ’60s. It’s an understandable sentiment among young people, who have a clear picture of the hash the older generation constantly seems to be making of this world. But it’s also the central thesis statement of the First Generation in Wayward Pines, the kids who grew up only knowing this small town in Idaho. In the first season of Wayward Pines, the kids were the only ones let in on the secret truth of the world around them. The adults from Group A hadn’t been able to handle the truth, so when Group B began, it was decided to keep the ugly reality of their situation from them, instead shutting them out, leaving the newly arrived in the dark. That tactic failed, too, as people demanded to be set free. But now, the First Generation has come to power. And they don’t need to not trust their elders—because they’ve decided to imprison them instead.

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The second-season premiere of Fox’s hit miniseries-turned-ongoing-tale is a bleak affair. It was always a bit of an open question how the series would handle coming back with a new story, having burned through three books’ worth of narrative in the original 10-episode plot. Now that the mysteries are revealed, the town has hit the reset button, and it’s three years later, with a much more fascist-seeming military presence. The show was free to do anything it wanted. Hell, it’s the year 4032, and this is the last human outpost on earth; where do you go from there? Now, we have an answer: someplace dark.

Jason Patric’s Dr. Theo Yedlin is a much less self-assured presence than Matt Dillon’s FBI agent. True, he’s got marital issues with his wife Rebecca, much as Ethan did, but it’s the desire for a child, not infidelity, that’s come between them. And Rebecca gives off every indication she’s been up and about for awhile, and has already internalized the facts of the situation. Theo doesn’t get the luxury of wandering around town, checking into a hotel room, and slowly gathering his wits. No, he’s thrown right into a complicated surgery, on Kate (hi, Carla Gugino!), given only the flimsiest of explanations for the current predicament (”emergency tactical role play,” is how Jason describes it), and then is shunted off to a hotel room—only to immediately be taken in again for having the temerity to try and help someone who was just publicly executed. The nerve! Of course, he’s then shoved outside the fence, where he watches a horde of Abies electrocute themselves. And he thought he was confused before he discovered mutant humanoids exist.

The series launches right into its new direction with confidence, but it’s an awfully somber tone being set. It’s easier to get away with such dark material when the audience is just getting its bearings, but we have a whole season of the show under our belt at this point, not to mention the expectation of a certain oddball comic tone that’s almost entirely absent here. Thus far, the only one who seems to retain the smart mix of grim seriousness and arch absurdity is Hope Davis and her returning zealot Megan Fisher, whom we last saw being ostensibly ripped to shreds by Abies. She survived that encounter—albeit now confined to a wheelchair—and the show’s sense of humor apparently survived with her, too. (“There’s been so many angry words exchanged. Words that hurt. And also some deaths.”) We’ll see, going forward, if that delightful balance is simply absent by dint of the world-building being done here, or if it marks a more permanent change in the vibe of Wayward Pines.

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(Credit: Sergei Bachlakov/FOX)

Jason Higgins has dispensed with the surface-level niceties that David Pilcher allowed to remain, finding the brute force of martial law preferable to the hypocritical pleasantries of collective fakery. It’s devolved to the point where Theo, looking for help in a random home, encounters a smiling wife, glassily intoning, “Isn’t music a privilege?” Yikes; it didn’t used to be. The campaign against Ben and Kate’s resistance looks like it’s been going on awhile, a painful war of attrition that has exacted heavy casualties on both sides. It’s bad—so bad that Kate, the scrappy, never-say-die fighter from season one, has hit the point where she’d rather commit suicide by cutting her own throat than living to fight another day. (Bye, Carla Gugino!)

The First Generation isn’t just trying to keep the peace, though. It’s also working as quickly as possible to rely only upon itself for everything the town needs. All the kids watching Yedlin as he performed the hours-long surgery, and the way the adults all seem to be essentially cannon fodder or manual labor for the young, shows how wrong everything has gone. True, executing citizens on the platform in the middle of town is also pretty bad, but that was happening under Pilcher’s rule, too. The difference now is that almost nobody seems to be cheering because they want to. They’re taking part because they know that otherwise, they’ll be next. “For your safety, suspected rebels will be detained and questioned.” That kind of proclamation is nothing if not a fiat for those in charge to do anything they want, to anyone at any time.

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For now, the most compelling aspects of this rebooted show are Ben and Theo’s opportunity to get to know one another outside the fence (once those Abies all run themselves into an early and electrified grave, presumably), and the dissension in the ranks of the First Generation. Kerri (Hannibal’s Kacey Rohl) doesn’t seem to share Jason’s disdain for the older people, especially those like Theo, whose talents the town sorely needs. This episode flew by, largely on the strength of frenetic exposition dumps and world-building. The show desperately wants to lay out this altered landscape for us, so it can get down to the business of narrative. That’s a smart instinct, one it kept from season one, and will serve it well, so long as it has someplace good to go. For now, we’ll just have to wait and see how it develops. Jason may not want another Ethan Burke situation, but I sure wouldn’t mind a little disruptive behavior.

Stray Observations:

  • They’re really having Patric play Theo close to the vest. Dillon’s Ethan was an earnest and charismatic oddball who wore his feelings on his sleeve, so it makes sense they’d go the other way this time out. But I hope it’s not too slow teasing out his personality; we’ve only got 10 episodes, after all.
  • Everywhere you looked in “Enemy Lines,” things were dire. Oh, a random hospital room? It’s just poor Arlene, getting electro-shock therapy. Sigh.
  • Ben’s reintroductions—both of them—were a bit overblown. His opening voiceover was both flat and TMI, telling us things we didn’t even know yet, and his physical appearance in the truck was paired with awfully on-the-nose dialogue. Here’s hoping that was just first-episode throat-clearing on the part of the series.
  • Kate, to Jason: “Things change. They evolve. But you haven’t evolved at all.” Given the new season’s poster, I’m curious how literally this concept is going to end up being applied.
  • Welcome, everyone, to the reviews of Wayward Pines’ second season! I’m looking forward to talking with all of you about it, both in the comments and on Twitter. If last season was any indication, we’ll have a lot to discuss.

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