TV Review: Wayward Pines (USA, 2015)

Whether we’re talking about the impressive work that Neil Marshall has done on Game of Thrones or the Wachowski’s ambitious Sense8, it’s becoming clear that a lot the directors that cross the line from Hollywood to TV bring their reputation with them. And love him or hate him, M. Night Shyamalan is a director with a reputation.

Wayward Pines is Shyamalan’s first major effort for the small screen and while it’s definitely the kind of series that ties nicely to his larger legacy of telling stories with ridiculous plot twists, it doesn’t necessarily make for compelling television.

Based on the book by Blake Crouch, the setup here is relatively straightforward: Secret Service agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) wakes up after a car crash in the quaint town of Wayward Pines. However, it doesn’t take long for Burke to discover that there’s something not quite right with the small town.

As per Shyamalan’s reputation, what begins as a scenario highly-reminiscent of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks quickly escalates and diverges in unexpected directions. The series’ most fun scenes come in early episodes – where the series delights in its ability to throw the audience’s understanding of the its world upside down. If anything, it’s once the series runs out of big revelations that it seems to run out of steam and become bogged down in the melodrama of its character.

WAYWARD PINES:  Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon, R) meets Sheriff Arnold Pope (Terrence Howard, L).  @2014 Fox Broadcasting Co.  Cr:  Ed Araquel/FOX
WAYWARD PINES: Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon, R) meets Sheriff Arnold Pope (Terrence Howard, L). @2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Ed Araquel/FOX

While Shyamalan’s penchant for convoluted storytelling is a mixed-blessing for the series, his cinematic talents are a definite boon. Wayward Pines is very impressive when it comes to visual storytelling and the series revels in its faux-Americana aesthetic. At it’s best, it hits an eerie cinematic tone that few networks series can match.

Casting-wise, things are more of a mixed-bag. Unfortunately, so much of the series’ potential character development gets thrown under the bus by its convoluted plot that by the time the characters become the focal point of the show, it’s difficult to be invested in them. If there are any real standouts, they come in the form of the quirky Sheriff Pope (Terrence Howard) and the sinister Nurse Pam (Melissa Leo).

Matt Dillon is serviceable as the series’ lead but there’s not a lot separating him from the countless other brooding white men on TV at the moment – though his arc does aim for some compelling ideas. He starts out firmly against the social grain of the town but ends up in a radically different position by the end.

Wayward Pines is far from terrible, but even at its brightest moments, it falls short of both its lofty aspirations and beloved inspirations. Shyamalan’s talents lend the series a visual impact it might not have had otherwise, but his storytelling habits often lead the series into mistakes all-too-common to this kind of episodic mystery drama. There are some fun performances and unexpected story beats, but by the end, it becomes a bit of a mediocre slog.


Wayward Pines screened on Foxtel’s FX Channel. It will be available to purchase on DVD and Blu-Ray in Australia on 26th August.


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