Wayward Pines is a town that probably sits somewhere between Twin Peaks and Pleasantville -it’s a nice place to look at, but scratch the surface and this is no Utopia.
The new US mystery, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, is based on novels by Blake Crouch. Publicity information and promos detail a lot more of the first episode plot than I would have chosen to do, so I will stick to the poster tagline: One Road In. No Road Out.
The very first shot of this series is an extreme close-up of an eye opening, and a man laying alone on the forest ground (shades of Lost?).
Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) has cuts and bruises and is clearly disorientated. As he staggers through the forest we cut to a discussion with a shrink about his hallucinations. Suddenly the timeline is unclear: which is the flashback?
Before long Ethan is wandering down the main street of a picturesque rural town and collapses after being told he is in Wayward Pines, Idaho.
Awakening in a hospital bed, he is now the patient of Nurse Pam (Melissa Leo), a smiling, mother figure who is possibly a sibling to Nurse Ratchet. She tells him he was in a car accident and his driver, who as it happens is another agent, did not survive.
Ethan trying to grasp reality wants to call home where his wife Teresa (Shannyn Sossamon) and teenage son will most surely be missing him. Nurse Pam reminds him he needs rest and the police will take care of matters. Frustrated, he leaves his hospital bed to discover an empty hospital and therafter heads into town seeking answers.
There he meets diner waitress Beverly (Juliette Lewis) and explains he was on a search for missing Secret Service agents (not very secret, it seems). But the two bond quickly, with her showing none of the evasive answers of other locals.
“You’re the first normal person I’ve met in this town,” he tells her.
Beverly gives him a note that leads him to a dilapidated house with a dead body -one of the dead agents.
Even the local sheriff, Arnold Pope (Terence Howard) doesn’t take his story seriously, preferring to indulge in a tasty rum-raisin ice cream cone.
Worse is to come at the hands of Nurse Pam again, and deeper secrets about this town emerge. These are set against the concerned family at home and unanswered questions by the Secret Service, investigating Ethan’s wrecked car. Throughout it all, Ethan become more angry, more unclear if he is having relapses, and more guilty about a past case.
Wayward Pines is an unashamed genre piece with an alluring smalltown canvas. Matt Dillon is a fish out water alpha-male who ticks the boxes, but so far without much subtlety either. The stand-out is Melissa Leo as Nurse Pam, displaying plenty of depth with minimal scenes. Watch out too for character actor Toby Jones as spooky psychiatrist Dr. Jenkins.
But there are too many elements of Wayward Pines that draw upon a universe of small town mysteries without necessarily adding anything new. Have we seen it all before in The Twilight Zone? There are also a few dumb plot moves, offset somewhat by a sense of fun.
Much therefore falls to director, M. Night Shyamalan who, in my view, has an uneven body of work.
He gets a cautious pass for the first episode of Wayward Pines which looks like an inviting place to visit, but ….you know how the rest goes.
Wayward Pines airs 8:30pm Thursday on FX.