The first season of Wayward Pines made its premiere with auspicious timing. Aside from recruiting veteran actors Matt Dilon, Juliette Lewis and Toby Jones, or the fact that M. Night Shyamalan had joined as a producer and would direct the series pilot; the show would find its most eager audience in a void that had formed six months earlier.
The initial plot synopsis – a cop arrives in a perfect suburbia to slowly discover the truth behind the town’s veiled mundanity – was exactly the kind of mystery that sent the sirens call for Twin Peaks fans. Even Blake Crouch, the author of the original trilogy behind the series, had himself admitted that his books were inspired by the 90’s TV classic. And by great coincidence, Wayward Pines had finished filming and was to premiere (although it was eventually bogged down by delays) a few months after the return of Twin Peaks had been announced, becoming the perfect appetiser for fans stuck in Lynch limbo.
Unfortunately the second season hadn’t hit such sweet scheduling. There was a wave of second season sickness that had settled over some of 2016’s most anticipated shows. Better Call Saul, Mr Robot (premiered one month after Wayward Pines) and American Crime had for some, failed to deliver on the promise of their founding seasons, finding varied success amongst critics and audiences.
This was an illness that seemed unavoidable for Wayward Pines, which at the end of its first season looked like most of its cards had been played. The mystery of the small town hadn’t been left in limbo, but rather solved absolutely. Season two then did the only thing it could do; it turned its attention to the mysteries outside of the town. And as the show was now moving beyond the narrative backbone provided by Crouch’s novels, both the characters and the writers stepped into foreign territory.
And this is where the second season was at its best. The time spent on developing the unknown, building foundations for the citizens of Wayward Pines outside of the fence and the characterisation of the series resident ghouls, the ‘Abbies’, all floated the series through its sophomore season.
The new protagonist, Dr. Theo Yedlin (Jason Patric), emerges from his cryogenic pod and into a Wayward Pines that’s a little more autocratic than the town first season fans will be familiar with. Following the First Generation’s seize of power, Jason Higgins (Tom Stevens) has established a police state where dissidents like Ben Burke (Charlie Tahan) and Xander Beck (Josh Helman) have been outlawed for betraying Pilcher’s will, with the opposing forces now locked in guerrilla warfare.
Beyond the border the town is introduced to early signs of the Abbies intelligence, with the mutants forming cadaver ladders and learning to use fire, as well as a female Abby penetrating the town’s defences (although strangely enough, a few episodes pass by before there’s any effort afforded to discovering how she had actually got in).
In the second half of the season the Abbies begin to form in forces around the border fences, placing what seems to be an expiry date on Wayward Pines and the town begins to fall inwards under the pressure of possible extinction.
Not all episodes are made equal
Where the series turns its head to the first season, it stumbles. The rebel/First Generation complex within the new Wayward Pines doesn’t succeed in returning either tension or mystery to the town. There are entire episodes wasted on trying to redevelop the town as a character when most of the season’s allure rests outside of the fence.
Moments like the brief return of Pam, with her entire arch playing out in the space of one episode, do little more than act as filler for the genuinely interesting content; the same could be said for the two-episode lead-up to the incest twist (no typo). In fact most of the important first season characters do not make any significant impact on the direction of the second season; Adam Hassler, Theresa and Ben Burke all return, but they all fall out of the spotlight in ways unfitting for former fan favourites.
An explanation may rest in the decision by Fox to renew the series for another season after the show had effectively finished following the season one finale. The decision came just after first season showrunner Chad Hodge decided to step down from the series, being replaced by Mark Friedman, and many of the original lead cast, also not expecting a second season, had begun working on other projects.
The new leads fill the vacant space with erratic success. Jason Patric, for better or for worse, seamlessly adopts his role as the narcissistic, self- righteous Dr. Yedlin. He articulates the protagonist like it’s his own person; unfortunately the character he plays is not a person anyone would like to be, at least at first.
His character has a moral compass that is constantly drawn inwards, living by the rule that he knows what’s best for the civilization he’s known for two days. But his character improves, and Rebecca Yedlin (Nimrat Kaur) adds personality to the early scenes where his haughtiness becomes a little overwhelming.
Djimon Hounsou does what he does best with his role as C.J, acting out some of seasons more introspective moments as his character raises his hand over humanity. Through a series of flashbacks, C.J also brings us a little closer to the mutation that has formed the Abbies and gives the mystery behind their evolution a human shape.
This is among the best moments that the season offers. The mystery of the outside world and what occupies it always refreshes the drier narratives. The tunnel systems being dug by the Abbies and the mark of leadership etched on the female Abby’s hand develop the series in ways reminiscent of George R Romero’s Land of the Dead, where the true intelligence and culture of the enemy appears to grow with each passing moment.
While some of these plot lines may just be repackaged dystopian cannon, they are handled with finesse and imagination, and provide audiences a reason to continue watching.
While the season feels like it ends one episode short of a finale, it leaves open a lot for implication (or for a third season). The cryogenic pods allow the writers to reproduce the characters through any cycle of time without having to explain how they got there and given the varied success of the second season (ratings fell gradually towards the finale) another season shouldn’t be ruled out.
Whether or not it’s a good idea is another question. The second season just didn’t carry the intrigue of the first and with even more mysteries unearthed; the narrative is heading towards an even narrower tunnel of possibilities. But for Wayward Pines to continue on outside of the original novels framework and create ten forty-plus-minute episodes that are mostly entertaining, it seems like the team’s creativity has yet to reach its limits.
It’s nothing new and for any Twin Peaks fans the series had claimed, it more than likely lost its appeal through the second season. But for the willing, there is enough in the sophomore season of Wayward Pines to give fans both new and old a series worth binge watching over one Abby infested, existential week.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Wayward Pines: The Complete Second Season is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital.