Reviewed for The List:
Wayward Pines is a difficult show to discuss without delving into spoiler territory. In fact, you won’t really know what sort of series — or genre — you’re watching until the fifth episode.
What can be revealed, though, is that it is a ten-part mystery thriller. At the centre of said mystery is Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon), a Secret Service agent who is investigating the disappearance of two colleagues. After being involved in a car accident, he finds himself in a quaint, out-of-the-way town, a seemingly idyllic place where the residents are unusually polite and chipper.
Before long, however, Burke discovers that the town isn’t what it seems. For starters, there’s something strange about the inhabitants, many of whom seem determined to stop him from leaving. He soon tracks down the agents who went missing, but one of them is dead and the other (Carla Gugino) claims she has been living in Wayward Pines for 12 years — despite the fact that he was with her five weeks ago.
Is all of this really happening? Or is Burke imagining it? Instead of keeping us guessing, the writers make it clear that what we are watching isn’t in our protagonist’s head. During the first couple of episodes, we learn that surveillance equipment is everywhere, and that the townspeople live by a strict set of rules, which forbids them from discussing the lives they had before coming to Wayward.
From here, the story contains a number of twists and turns, some of which are more effective than others. The plot veers between intriguing and silly, but the show also has a moreish quality to it, as each instalment concludes in a way that makes you want to see what happens next. If nothing else, Wayward Pines is blessed with a terrific cast, which includes Toby Jones as a Doctor of sorts, and Terrence Howard as a sinister, ice cream-favouring Sheriff.
At this stage, it’s important to highlight the involvement of M. Night Shyamalan, a filmmaker whose reputation has taken a (not entirely unfair) battering over the last ten years or so. He directs the first episode (which, in fairness, is perfectly decent), but sceptical film fans should be aware that Shyamalan isn’t the man in charge — he’s ‘merely’ one of the executive producers.
His involvement aside, the series does feel somewhat familiar at first. The setting and characters are bound to invite comparisons with Twin Peaks, while Burke’s predicament will remind some viewers of The Prisoner, given that he is trying to escape from a mysterious, outwardly peaceful place. The show also shares a few similarities with Lost — to say more would spoil a couple of key surprises — but there is one crucial difference here: you won’t have to wait long for answers.
Indeed, the aforementioned fifth episode — entitled The Truth — serves up a couple of game-changing reveals. Where the show goes from here is anyone’s guess (the second half of the season wasn’t available for preview), but the first five episodes do enough to keep us interested.