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TV REVIEW: WAYWARD PINES
Series Finale, "Cycle"
POSTED 9:00am | 25 JULY 2015
David Pilcher (Toby Jones) stands by as Wayward Pines burns
One thing I really liked about Wayward Pines was that it only spent about five minutes as a Twin Peaks homage before going off in its own, delightfully nutty, direction. Existing as a mini-series (just the ten episodes) gave it a freedom that allowed it to be an ambitious telling of the trilogy of novels by Blake Crouch rather than a drawn out series expected to last multiple seasons. It meant that the series travelled along at a rapid pace, never staying tied to any one sub-plot for too long, and all the twists came thick and fast. This approach made the rather flimsy plot stronger, by not giving the viewer enough time to stew over all its holes, and also kept me coming back for more, even though I knew it was basically the equivalent of junk food: tasty at the time, but ultimately unsatisfying.

Because the breakneck speed of the plot was its strength (along with its early establishment of atmosphere) it obviously led to the major weakness being the characters. Most characters were inconsistent from episode to episode or just didn't have enough time to develop because of the demands of the plot. That's not always a negative, if the creative mind behind the story is on top of things, but that isn't quite the case for Wayward Pines. The only thing I was looking for from the series finale was a satisfying conclusion to an interesting and twisty mystery/adventure, and the fact that it almost delivered is a big tick for everyone who worked on the show, but ultimately Wayward Pines failed to deliver. This is no more obvious than in the shows final minutes when, as if channelling executive producer M. Night Shyamalan, it offers one last twist that makes everything that has come before it a sorry waste of the viewer's time. There's twists, and then there's "twists".

Sheriff Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) explains the situation to the folks of Wayward Pines

The series finale kicks off in the middle of the night, with hundreds (possibly thousands) of Abies bearing down on the small town of Wayward Pines after egomaniacal puppet master David Pilcher (Toby Jones) disabled the power grid and the defensive walls. He plans to let the Abies kill off the rebelling townsfolk so he can start the experiment again with a new batch of human test subjects, a decision that doesn't sit too well with some of the technicians running the town - including his sister Pam (Melissa Leo). Sheriff Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon), having just told the townspeople the truth about their town and what lies outside its walls, must now get them safely off the streets and into the secret underground bunker before the Abies reach the town. He puts together a group to go to the sheriff's station for the weapons, including his ex-partner and leader of the resistance Kate Hewson (Carla Gugino), while his wife Theresa (Shannyn Sossamon) heads to the hospital to get their son Ben (Charlie Tahan) and his injured girlfriend Amy (Sarah Jeffery). While the Abies begin to cause death and mayhem on the streets of Wayward Pines, the insane members of the "First Generation" attempt to escape to their ark thinking that their saviour, David Pilcher, will save them (instead he's just sitting in his mountain, listening to Donizetti). Pam tries to start a coup in the mountain with some of the concerned technicians, Theresa tries to survive an Abie attack in the hospital, while Kate and friends try to shoot down as many Abies in the streets as they can.

This episode is mostly concerned with survival: of life and of ideals. Everyone is battling to protect their own skin, their source of power, or their secrets, and most of them fail. This is what the series has been building up to: that inevitable moment when all the lies that the town is built on are torn down to the ground. Everyone is forced to confront their own beliefs and ideals and ask if they're willing to die for them. The problem is that, even after all this time, it's hard to tell just what each character actually believes in, so that those who do die end up dying for almost nothing at all.

Wayward Pines hospital is not safe for Theresa Burke (Shannyn Sossamon)

I can't help but think that Wayward Pines would have been better served playing out over a longer set of episodes. As it is Crouch's whole trilogy is stuffed into ten episodes, and while that helps the story click along, it leaves a lot of character moments weakened by the lack of characterisation. Even the very end could have been told in one last episode rather than as a twist ending. It's disappointing that everything is undone because of the final few minutes, and it's distasteful for the viewer because it's both unsatisfying and wholly unnecessary. Twist endings are okay. Downer endings are okay. But you have to take your audience with you. Wayward Pines ultimately fails to do this.

It's a shame, because there were some genuinely interesting moments, some cool plot developments, and a really solid TV cast that deserved better material. Matt Dillon gives us all a reminder that he can still play the leading man. This finale is a perfect encapsulation of the series as a whole: well directed despite the writing, well acted despite the plot, and with an almost pitch-perfect sense of atmosphere and tone, but never actually cohesively coming together. It still falls on the enjoyable side of trash, but it could have been so much better.

4
Watch list: Glad it's over
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