TV REVIEW: Wayward Pines

When I was younger and less jaded with the world, a few friends and I decided to take my clapped out Peugeot 205 to Newquay. The idea was to have an idyllic weekend on the North coast, larking on the beach during the day, being typically British and wading into the Watergate Bay sea up to our ankles and then shrieking like harpies when a large wave came up to our knees and then spending the evenings quaffing back jägermeister until we were blind.

We left London early in the morning, about 3am in order to avoid traffic. About 2 hours in, I took a wrong turn somewhere (don’t ask me how this was possible, but it was before the black magic sorcery that is GPS) and we found ourselves on a desolate, misty road, shrouded in the kind of darkness that not even a pale moon could penetrate. To our sides were woodlands and the fog was enveloping everything in our path. A great hush had fallen over the woods, but it was a malefic hush. We finally found the only light source apart from the dim headlights of the car: a petrol station, located in bumfuck nowhere. As I slowly inched onto the forecourt, a strange resonance was starting to shudder throughout my core. No other vehicles were present. It was the kind of setting that you would find in an 80’s slasher film.

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Undeterred by the ominous settings around us, we went inside and started asking the lone cashier for directions. I was spooling through the swivel rack looking for a roadmap when the door beeped open and a dishevelled, filthy bearded man walked into the petrol station. He looked like the kind of chap you would find loitering about the scene of an accident, a little bit too keen to find out what dismembered limbs were thrown from a wreckage. Either that or you might have found him prowling around the countryside, looking or a newborn baby to eat.

‘Going to Newquay, are ya?’ he growled at me, indicating the flapped out map of Great Britain I was feebly folding and re-folding to find out exactly how lost we were.

I nodded, trembling in a paralysis of fear. I looked like a lost toddler in a supermarket.

‘There are ghosts in Newquay,’ he said, before shuffling to the counter and paying for a Marathon bar.

My friends and I piled into the Peugeot and went on our way. The words the gruff man spoke stayed with me, for some reason. As we entered Newquay and saw the sun rising over Cornwell, a flock of seagulls lulled by the roadside. Unbeknown to us at the time, they were still probably waking, readying themselves to pinch some sandwiches from unsuspecting tourists.

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One of them meandered towards the road. There was a heavy clunk as the bumper collided with its head. I stopped the car, and we disembarked, looking at the dead bird on the roadside. A passing road sweeper truck with floor wipers was trundling down the other side of the road; it had just started doing its rounds. One of my friends waved him down to let him know that a dead seagull was on the road.

Without hesitation the driver of the road sweeper nodded, made a U-turn and sucked up the dead bird into its gaping, revolving maw.

There was something poignant about that morning. A series of strange events had left me with an indelible feeling that something was wrong with Newquay, something so intrinsically foreboding that it left a jarring impression on my young mind for the rest of the weekend.

After watching series 1 of Wayward Pines I was reminded of this strange encounter with the man in the petrol station and the nonchalant demeanour of the road sweeper driver. Executive producer M. Night Shyamalan brings Blake Crouch’s best-selling trilogy of novels, “Pines,” to life in this psychological thriller about a mysterious small town in Idaho. Wayward Pines has the style and appeal of a 50’s B-movie, which sounds like a criticism but is rather a reverent compliment; so steeped in its lore that you’ll be hard pressed not to be impressed by its authenticity – you’ll be consumed with the atmosphere of the show, in a similar way that Twin Peaks gripped audience’s imagination with its luscious woodland horror of the Pacific Northwest. If you’ve ever seen “Haven,” “Eureka,” or several “Twilight Zone” episodes, you’ll be in familiar territory with the “eerie small town hiding big secrets” premise.

Here, Matt Dillon plays Secret Service agent Ethan Burke, sent to Idaho in search of two missing colleagues. After a car accident, he stumbles into an idyllic little town and is told he’s in Wayward Pines, Idaho. Upon waking in a sickly green-wall painted hospital he is greeted by Nurse Pam (played with chilling efficiency by Melissa Leo) and it slowly dawns on Burke that not everything is quite as it seems in the town.

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An ethereal piano tinkles over the PA system in the town every evening; cricket noises are played through secret speakers to give the illusion that the insects are thriving – quaint houses seem to hide unidentified horrors behind each door. Burke tries to call his wife but can’t get through and when attempting contact with the agency a Siri-like woman informs him that his handler is unavailable. Everyone seems to blandly go about his or her business with unsettling indifference. Carla Gugino plays Kate Hewson, one of the Secret Service agents that Burke has been assigned to find, but he’s surprised to find that she has made Wayward Pines her home, a role that seems more Stepford wife than what he’s previously been accustomed to from the past. Terence Howard plays Sheriff Pope, oddly more engrossed with ice cream than helping Ethan with his assignment. To reveal any further would betray the beauty of Wayward Pines, but unlike Lost the tale unfolds at an even keel, wrapping up everything nicely within the ten episodes of the first series. Some of the lesser characters seem a tad two-dimensional and only offer exposition for narrative drive and there’s a subplot about terrorism that seems to ring shallow within the confines of the story; ultimately the set up of the importance of the children of Wayward Pines leads into the second series, but from what I’ve heard so far the follow-up pales in comparison of the former series.

If you’ve read the novels then you’ll know the twists and what Burke’s investigations will lead him to, however if you’re a newcomer to Wayward Pines then you’re in for a treat – it’s an underrated TV series that you should set your sights on as soon as possible. Just look out for the ghosts…

40

*

Review by Anthony Self

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