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WAYWARD PINES REVIEW

WHY IS WOOF STOOPING TO THIS? HOW DO WE WATCH TV WITHOUT     RECEPTION IN THE WOOF CAVE? WHY RISK YOUR RANCOR? WHY                        THIS INCESSANT NEED TO EXPLAIN OURSELVES? AND                                                                      WHO PROMOTED PERESS?                                                                                                 (Okay, that just slipped out!)    

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We don’t get TV reception in the cave, it’s true, but we do get the connection that permits our computers to function when they aren’t being hacked by the Chinese or the commensalistic Obama Administration, and we therefore get Hulu and Netflix and stuff like that–so we have some semblance of an idea what’s on television, and we are, naturally, horrified. We are also striking back at network television for canceling “Backstrom,” the termination of which after only one magnificent season, so enraged us that we have determined to speak up about the garbage that inexplicably was NOT cancelled, even if some loyal readers prefer to differ with our views (no pun intended). So what follows will be a vertical compilation of critiques of the drek that currently passes for popular culture on our TV screens–and we will keep at this, gentle readers until “Backstrom” is renewed by somebody for a second season–meaning that this forum is almost certainly bound to become very, very lengthy–perhaps even eternal, like styrofoam and Barry Manilow. And in a major departure from our movie-review policy,we admit that in most cases we will actually watch the programs under discussion–more proof, as if any were necessary, that we will go to any length and suffer appalling indignities to keep our readers informed! WOOF PRINT

backAbout our rating system: Programs reviewed in this forum will receive between zero and five “Backstroms” indicating to what extent we deem them worth even a fraction of the program Fox Entertainment mercilessly placed in the killer time zone of Thursday evenings vis a vis The Blacklist and Scandal (whatever that is) and abandoned to die.  All programs will be reviewed in terms of the critical essentials, namely direction, cinematography, casting, editing, acting, plot structure, score, and creative flair. Naturally, however, we will bring a frightening degree of right-wing prejudice to the process, thus programs with a decidedly liberal bent, which is, almost all of them, will receive rougher treatment than, say, NCIS, or—or— well, we can’t think of any others off hand.

                                         _________________________________

                                               “WAYWARD PINES”

matt-dillon-as-ethan-burke

A man stumbles into a peaceful town where strange occurrences defy explanation, and the townsfolk won’t let him leave. Sound familiar? It does if you remember the science fiction program Twilight Zone, and its dapper, mellifluous host and head writer, Rod Serling.  That episode was called “Valley of the Shadow,” but heck, the very first Twilight Zone ever to air on CBS back in 1959 featured a panicky Earl Holloman, trying to make sense out of a bizarre little town he wandered into. The same fundamental difficulty beset a host of others over the years, including Barry Nelson and Nancy Malone (“Stopover in a Quiet Town”), and Gary Merrill who found everyone in a small town in suspended animation in “Still Valley.” We could go on and risk tediousness recounting occasions on which this favorite motif replayed in various forms on Serling’s classic anthology over the years, but it seems more trenchant to remark that in its fourth season, Twilight Zone was picked up by CBS on the condition that it conform to the trend toward hour programming. The result was a ratings killer. Nobody wanted to endure an hour’s worth of mystification and bafflement before the genial, cigarette puffing Serling popped out of the scenery and offered a few wry remarks by way of explanation.

Unparalleled vapidity…

rod

Serling, in more creative, if smokier, times.

Given the drearsome result that expansion to a full hour produced for television’s most acclaimed sci-fi property, one might suppose a lesson of sorts was learned, but apparently not. It seems to have struck the producers of Wayward Pines and the executives at Fox (who cancelled Backstrom—did we mention that?) that offering viewers an agonizing ten-hour version of exactly the same plot design was a surefire recipe for success. This seems a bit more comprehensible when one considers that one of the show’s producers and top creative fixtures is M. Night Shyamalan, who began hamfistedly recycling Twilight Zone themes with his film The Village (2004). Roger Ebert evinced uncustomary sapience calling it “a movie based on a premise that cannot support it, a premise so transparent it would be laughable were the movie not so deadly solemn …so witless…that when we do discover the secret, we want to rewind the film so we don’t know the secret anymore.” Mark those words, gentle readers! Then came Lady in the Water (2006), which Michael Medved labeled “…a work of nearly unparalleled arrogance and vapidity,” and After Earth (2013), which is often called the worst movie ever made, although it was defended by the Wall Street Journal, whose cinema critic pointed out that it wasn’t as bad as John Travolta’s Battlefield Earth, which, he acknowledged,“remind[s] us how low the bar can go.”

G.K. Chesterton

G. K. Chesterton

Ah, but it was the magnificent G.K.  Chesterton who insisted that “if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly,” and clearly the producers of Wayward Pines agree. They not only latch onto one of Rod Serling’s most shopworn tropes, they bludgeon it into brain death over several early episodes, and seem all the while to suppose they are building suspense, rather than belaboring a plot device that, at its freshest, could barely enliven 20 minutes of continuous footage. With such a grandiosely overstated backdrop, the particulars become almost immaterial. The important thing is, a guy wakes up in a town and nothing makes sense and no one will explain why. But here are the particulars, nonetheless:

Thud, thud, thud….

something's weird

Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) awakening to the endless nightmare that is Wayward Pines.

It seems that two federal agents have disappeared near the small town of Wayward Pines, Idaho. Why the U.S. Secret Service is sending agents to small towns in Idaho to begin with is never addressed, but top agent Ethan Burke (played by a hulking. almost zombified Matt Dillon) is dispatched to discover what befell his comrades, and no sooner passes the charmingly bucolic billboard welcoming him to the town “where paradise is home,” than ka-bam! Some sort of unidentifiable thingamajig slams into his vehicle from out of nowhere, and Ethan is kayoed—out like a light—Tango Uniform, as it were!  But our hero is not out of the game–he regains consciousness after an undetermined length of time (infer portentousness, gentle readers) and discovers himself in a hospital in the mysterious town of Wayward Pines.

Nurse Pam

Nurse Pam is unbearably sadistic and lewd until her character undergoes an inexplicable shift to the caring and humanitarian side–must be the times!

At this point, we begin to suspect the worst—namely, that Ethan’s subsequent adventures and frustrations are going to amount to one painfully expectable cliché after another, without the slightest variation from the standard theme. As he begins to compose his thoughts, the badly bruised and disoriented agent notes the incongruities haunting his situation. Why does he only see the spooky, fulsomely solicitous “Nurse Pam,” and never a doctor? Why can’t he have his cell phone? What happened to his badge, gun, and ID? Why is the spookily capacious hospital so strangely empty? Sadly, Rod Serling does not materialize in his mohair shark skin suit, white oxford and foulard tie to flick his cigarette nonchalantly and add some narrative sparkle to these proceedings. We are simply subjected to the muffled thud, thud, thud, of one formulaic device after another, falling predictably into place…

pope and cone

Sheriff Pope and his ice cream. Good thing they cryogenically froze all those cones!

When Ethan is finally granted access to a telephone, he tries to call home. His answering machine picks up, so he leaves a message for his wife—but (gasp!) no matter how many  messages he leaves, she never calls back. Oddly, it doesn’t occur to Ethan to call his office for several days, or a cab, but when he finally gets around to dialing work, he is routed to a receptionist who tells him everyone he wants to speak with is busy. After a few such experiences, his shrewd secret-service instincts lead him to conclude he is being deceived.  A visit to the sheriff’s office gets him nowhere. Sheriff Pope (Terrence Howard), proves an almost sadistically unsympathetic stooge who habitually slurps ice cream cones, smirkingly dismisses Ethan’s bonafides and shrugs off his pleas for interdepartmental cooperation. Even when Ethan discovers the rotted corpse of one of the agents he was sent to retrieve chained to a mattress spring, Pope tells him to ease off the matter insisting that a forensics unit has retrieved the body and opened an investigation. None of us believes this, of course, not even Ethan.

Sticking to the plan…

Something somewhat similar to a plot begins to thicken as Ethan’s wife Theresa (Shannyn Sossamon) and teenage son Ben (Charles Tahan) (who haven’t received any phone messages, gasp!) go looking for dad in Idaho, even though they have no particular idea where to look. Meanwhile, Ethan makes common cause with Beverly (Juliette Lewis), a comely bartendress , who claims that Ethan’s fellow agent had his throat slit in the town square as retaliation for an escape attempt, (so why did we find his decomposing corpse chained to a bed frame? Never mind). Beverly whispers to Ethan that the same fate awaits her if she is candid with him, or discusses her life prior to Wayward Pines.  Ethan, however, counsels courage and assures her they can escape together if they keep their heads and stick tightly to his plan. Persuaded by this despite the conspicuous absence of anything resembling a plan, Beverly shows Ethan how to remove the chip embedded in his thigh (who saw that coming?) so that the mysterious overlords of the town cannot track him.

Ethan reminds Beverly that if they just stick to the plan, nothing can go wrong!

Ethan reminds Beverly that if they just stick to the plan, nothing can go wrong!

Meanwhile, Ethan discovers that the second missing agent, Kate (Carla Gugino), with whom he previously had an extramarital affair, is now running a toy shop on Main Street with her pretend new husband, Harold (Reed Diamond) and is part of the whole spooky gestalt. Apparently, the first part of Ethan’s “plan” is that he and Beverly should join his former lover Kate and her Wayward-Pines husband for dinner in their home, so as to avoid “looking suspicious.” Part of not looking suspicious includes the idea that Beverly will excuse herself and leave her bloody chip in the hosts’ bathroom while Ethan engages them in badinage. Ethan previously dug out his own chip and left it in his hotel room, but for some reason that’s not an issue. Unfortunately, after a few glasses of wine, Beverly blurts some autobiographical details about her past, which is taboo in Wayward Pines. Her indiscretion puts the kibosh on the evening and, simultaneously alerts the mysterious minders of the surveillance matrix to her apostasy.

This is Ethan and Beverly running through the streets of Wayward Pines--you can barely see them because like everything else in Wayward Pines, they are severely underlit.

This is Ethan and Beverly running through the streets. You can barely see them, though,  because like everything else in Wayward Pines they are severely underlit.

reckoned beverly

Beverly, hoping that plan B is a lot better.

The next part of Ethan’s plan is that he and Beverly should now make a break for it, running through the night down eerily pristine, echoing streets—all the while not looking suspicious—but the jig is up, and phones all over town begin ringing as lights all over town click on. The citizens are alerted to the escape attempt. This gives Ethan and Beverly an opportunity to dash into a few alleys, run down some side streets, and duck around some shadowy corners, but despite these dramatic flourishes they are hopelessly outnumbered and the pursuers are closing in. Thus, the final phase of Ethan’s plan seems to involve abandoning Beverly, whom Ethan enjoins to save herself while he creates a distraction—by running in the opposite direction. Beverly, of course, is immediately captured, and Sherriff Pope wrangles her onto a platform in the town square where she is trussed up and denounced as a traitor. By way of punctuating this accusation, Pope slashes Beverly’s throat and the poor woman expires in front of the wildly cheering crowd.

New sheriff in town

ethan confronts kate

Ethan confronts Kate after Beverly’s death.

Ethan confronts his ex-lover and fellow agent Kate about her willingness to play along with the psychotic municipal ethos, not to mention participate in such monstrous public displays as Beverly’s murder—but he gets worked up to the point that Nurse Pam has to stick him in the neck with a tranquilizer, (which happens a lot). Meanwhile, Ethan’s wife Theresa and teenage son Ben arrive in town after being waylaid by Sheriff Pope who convinces them they have an oil leak, which is fortunate if only to the extent that they otherwise had no idea where they were going. The new arrivals are quartered in Beverley’s former digs. Ethan reunites with his family who seem almost preternaturally incurious about the whole situation and discuss returning to Portland as if they were overnighting at the EconoLodge, but shortly afterward one of Ethan’s frantic discussions with Kate is observed by son Ben who tells mom that dad and Kate are seeing each other again—so mom and son huffily pack suitcases and start walking out of town (like that’s going to happen).  When Sheriff Pope attempts to apprehend them, Theresa and Ben run into the woods. Pope is hot on their heels, but Ethan shows up and tackles him. A fight ensues, during which the ice-cream slurping tank-town Sheriff gets the upper hand over the star secret service agent and is just about to finish Ethan with a pistol shot to the head when young Ben rams Pope him with his own police truck. For good measure, Ethan shoots the flattened constable and the family heads “home.” On the way, Ethan persuades Theresa that he and Kate are no longer an item as mysterious forces drag Pope’s body off and can be heard degusting it ill-manneredly in the distance.

Mrs. Fisher (Hope Davis) with two prize students (and future procreators of loyal citizens) flanked by Ben and his assigned girlfriend.

Mrs. Megan Fisher (Hope Davis) with two prize students (and future procreators of the race) Ben and his assigned girlfriend, Amy. 

You might think Ethan would be executed, or at least chastised, for killing Pope, but instead he gets to be the new sheriff. Theresa is told to become a real estate agent (she gives people houses for free), and Ben starts at Wayward Pines Academy where the creepy blonde teacher, Megan Fisher, is obviously brainwashing the kids and encouraging them to hook up and procreate like rabbits. Megan is portrayed with histrionic intensity by Hope Davis who was previously featured on NBC’s  Allegiance, a tawdry clone of The Americans, as if one were needed, that collapsed after one idiotic season. In flashbacks on Wayward Pines the piquant detail that Megan Fisher is an expert hypnotherapist is hammered home, although she never actually hypnotizes anybody.

When escapism fails…

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David Pilcher (Toby Jones) emerges from his 2,000-year-old helicopter armed with the “horrible truth.”

So…Ethan finally escapes. Despite a massive, seemingly impenetrable electric fence surrounding the town, it tuns out that one portion of Wayward Pines is conveniently unfenced, blocked instead by a sheer rock face that nobody is presumed capable of scaling. Naturally, Ethan climbs it in about 5 minutes with only token huffs and puffs while lugging a duffle bag and a 12-gauge shotgun. Cresting the summit, he makes his way through the dense forest and thence toward civilization, or so he supposes. His plan goes awry when he is almost immediately spotted by surviving members of the Blue Man Group—or so it seems at first glance. It’s worse than that, though; the bluish-grey  creatures in skin tight costumes with pointy ears and barely-concealed zippers growl ravenously and flit about at what seem near supersonic speeds, slicing Ethan up with their hideous talons as they zip past him. Ethan has a hard time shooting these blighters owing to their incredible velocity, but just when it looks like he’s going on the menu, a helicopter drops out of the sky and out steps the genial town psychiatrist (whose work must be endless!)  Up until now we’ve thought of the psychiatrist as the harmlessly avuncular Dr. Jenkins, but no! He’s really zillionaire David Pilcher, who now proceeds to reveal the truth about everything to Ethan, who has evidently earned Pilcher’s trust by yanking out his chip, trying to escape with Beverly, killing the sheriff and breaching the town’s perimeter.  As the helicopter flies over the eroded remains of an ancient city that turns out to be (gasp!) Boise, Pilcher points to immense herds of roaming blue-body-suited guys and explains that everything Ethan remembers and longs for is gone—lost forever. Only the hyperthyroid blue guys remain, they having eaten everybody else, except the inhabitants of Wayward Pines—earth’s last surviving human habitat.

The vaunted twist arrives!

checkerNo, really. In the fifth episode “the truth” is unveiled, and newly appointed Sheriff Burke learns that he and everyone else in Wayward Pines are living in the 41st century. Ethan is made privy to the shocking realities of his situation during the flight back to Pilcher’s secret headquarters (inside a mountain adjacent to the town), even as son Ben and his classmates are entrusted with the same information while undergoing ceremonial induction into the Academy’s “first generation.” Ben, his girlfriend Amy (Sarah Jeffery), and their brainwashed fellow students are intended to form a kind of Pilcher Jugend and become the town’s first fully informed and dedicated citizens. About these matters, head mistress Megan solemnly swears the kids to secrecy (as if!) explaining that adults can’t handle such shocking revelations. But teenage school children? Sure, they’re perfectly okay knowing their town contains the last remnants of human civilization surrounded by limitless hordes of howling, “abbies,” (slang for “aberrations”), an evolutionary offshoot of mankind whose incredible speed, talons, and fangs make them the Darwinian winners who ate up all the real people.  No problem.

An

An “abby”

If you are not a Pines viewer, we can hear you rubbing your chin! What is going on—right? Why is it 4028—how does that make any sense? A series of flashbacks to our own time shows us Pilcher trying to avert the onrushing evolutionary cataclysm (which he alone has somehow anticipated) by writing books about his theories, but nobody wants to listen (except for Megan, Pam, and a handful of other devotees) so he takes matters into his own hands and commits his vast resources and inexhaustible wealth to building an outpost for humanity in the distant future. So is Pilcher a time traveler?  Actually, that would make more sense—but no, his technicians have mastered the art of cryogenically freezing people and unfreezing them in the future, so that’s why everybody in Wayward Pines thinks they’ve only been there a short while—because they have, but only after skipping 20 centuries and being thawed out by Pilcher’s dedicated staff of technologists and scientists—who were thawed out a bit earlier, one presumes, as were Pilcher, Megan, and Nurse Pam- who turns out to be Pilcher’s devoted sister. Pilcher’s genius was to predict mankind’s extermination by “abbies,” but since everyone thought he was crazy—go figure–he had to start abducting unsuspecting citizens of our own era in order to freeze them and subsequently thaw them out as the bewildered inhabitants of Wayward Pines.  See? Disappointingly, and despite their availability, Walt Disney and Ted Williams do not seem to have made the cut.

Where you want to put that paradigm shift…

M. Night Shyamalan attends 'La Trampa del Mal' Photocall

M. Night Shyamalan

Okay, your obvious first question is probably, “So, if Pilcher froze people and sent them into the distant future, who thawed out the first arrivals?” Saw you coming!  And if abbies, that voracious and super-kinetic evolutionary offshoot of humankind, are ubiquitous in the 41st century, why weren’t the successive waves of freshly unfrozen pioneers gobbled up before they knew what hit them?  And if Wayward Pines was constructed in the early 21st century, as all its technology and weaponry and mint-condition automobiles seem to indicate, why didn’t it corrode into nothingness before anybody got there in the 41st century? But before dwelling on these and countless additional difficulties with the show’s premise, let’s agonize over the sheer klutziness of its application. Who on earth, in any century, would give you the main plot twist halfway through the show?  The correct answer is, of course: M. Night Shyamalan, who goes so far as to insist that “You never want to put that paradigm shift at the very end because you want to live in the new world, and this allows me to live in that new world for the whole second half of a season.” Unfortunately, it forces the rest of us to live in it too, and like the unhappy townspeople who keep trying to bomb or bash their way through Pilcher’s electric fence, we cannot accept the terms of our internment.

The electric fence trapping us in the paradigm shift for another 5 episodes.

The electric fence trapping us in “that paradigm shift” for another 5 episodes.

To begin with, major plot twists that occur halfway through a story are fiduciarily obliged to turn out to be red herrings presaging at least one additional, upcoming twist calculated to dumbfound those silly enough to have credited the original twist. That’s just basic. Combine this fact with the manifest ridiculousness of Pilcher’s explanation, and the savvy viewer feels a rational obligation to set the whole cryonics business aside and continue hunting for the real story…even wondering how so seasoned an agent as Ethan Burke could fall for such manifest hogwash. These perfectly legitimate reactions are further fueled by a number of plot ambiguities that reinforce our suspicions that something far more intriguing must be afoot.

Wasted celluloid

Pam gives a toast to honor the new town sheriff, Ethan Burke.

Nurse Pam  leads the assembled nutjobs and sycophants of Wayward Pines in a toast to Ethan, the new sheriff in town, who just shot the previous one.

To name just a few of the show’s illogical features, how is it that a hand-picked population of abducted and cryonically preserved townspeople are such a batch of weirdos and losers? If we accept the notion that Pilcher populated Wayward Pines by abducting only specimens he thought would prove valuable to his community of the future, we are hard pressed to comprehend his choices. Instead of the best and the brightest, he clearly opted for an assemblage of colorless conformists, borderline deviants, and prickly oddballs who seem to be the last people on earth anyone would pick to be, well, the last people on earth. Even Ethan, who was apparently chosen in the belief that he was the perfect man to impose order as the town constable, seems hopelessly ill suited to the task and blatantly resistant to Pilcher’s draconian ideas of a police state that punishes transgressors with gory public executions.

Pilcher's handpicked population assembles to gawk at Beverly's

Pilcher’s handpicked population  of survivors assembles to gawk at Beverly’s “reckoning.” Jeesh, what a bunch of maroons.

And how could Pilcher know that Pope wouldn’t last as sheriff or decide that Ethan should replace him before he himself had made the time jump and awakened in 4028?  In an interview, the show’s chief writer, Chad Hodge, explained that even though Pilcher recruited Pope as the town’s law officer, he realized that power was going to Pope’s head and a change had to be made. According to Hodge, “Pilcher recognized that it was getting a little out of hand…. Pope went and took it a little too far.” So okay, Pope had to be replaced, but to know this, Pilcher had to be in 4028 observing Pope’s deterioration—so how did he send word back to grab Ethan Burke as the replacement lawman?  Reverse cryonic messaging?  And where did Pilcher’s helicopter come from—was it cryonically frozen too? What about the gasoline it runs on? How reliable is 2,000-year-old gasoline? How did Picher cryogenically maintain all the computer systems, cameras and other technology that keep Wayward Pines humming? How much beer does one need to cryogenically transport across 20 centuries to keep the bar open–?

pilcher computers

Pilcher’s desktop computers are nothing–you should see the surveillance rooms!

“But I don’t understand, Sheriff, I wasn’t going a year over 2015!”

Then there’s the scene in which Sheriff Pope pulls over Theresa Burke’s car and persuades her it has an oil leak in order to lure her and her son to Wayward Pines. Problem: this either happened in 2015, when Theresa and Ben would have been driving through Idaho looking for Ethan, in which case Pope could not be present and Pilcher’s Wayward Pines would not yet exist, or it occurred in 4028, when Sheriff Pope would be uniformed and equipped to pull the Burkes over, but the Burkes and their car would no longer exist.  Sorry! If A and B are mutually exclusive, then he who says A cannot say B.

When Megan Fisher teaches her students that they now inhabit the future, she proves her point by handing them an ancient-looking quarter stamped with the date 2095, so why does everything sent forward in time, from clothing to computers to vans and trucks date from our current time or before?

meagan teaching

Megan Fisher indoctrinates the stepford students of Wayward Pines Academy.

Also, when Theresa and Kate (Ethan’s wife and ex-lover) confront each other shortly after Theresa arrives in town, Kate confides to Theresa that after she found herself in Wayward Pines, she found a real, working telephone (which wouldn’t be possible if there’s nobody else to talk to) and retrieved a voice message from their Secret Service boss (who should have died 20 centuries earlier) telling her she blundered into a “government experiment” and was to play along and eventually be “tested.” We later find out that the same boss led an exploration for Pilcher in the 41st century and was, it seems, devoured by abbies on the outskirts of San Francisco–but how did he get that far to begin with, and where was he in the timeline when he counseled Kate to chill? Granted, Kate may be cast here as an unreliable narrator, but why? And in a similar vein, was the Burkes’ answering-machine tape featuring Theresa’s greeting somehow preserved across 20 decades just in case Ethan dialed home? All of these incongruities seem clearly to denote a situation at odds with the elapsed-time premise. Collectively they would constitute a tantalizing hint at an alternative explanation in a disciplined scenario, but in Wayward Pines, they are simply irritating wastes of celluloid.

“Something less than human…”

Chad Hodge: Genius at large.

Chad Hodge: Genius at large.

But no matter—despite all countervailing evidence, the show trudges forward with its goofy cryonic premise. Actually, the idea of handing out this clunker of an explanation about halfway into the series, seems to strike those involved with the production as a stroke of sheer genius. Asked if he ever considered a different explanation,chief story adapter Chad Hodge replied, “No, never considered changing the twist. Never ever. The truth of what Wayward Pines is, which is what Blake Crouch [author of the novel] came up with in his books, that idea is one of the main reasons I wanted to do this show. I thought it was so brilliant and one of those twists that you can go back and literally every plot hole you think you’ve found is plugged.”  Now, that’s the kind of assertion (and syntax) that could only be deemed credible in—well—Wayward Pines.

deer dinner

Abbies also love to eat deer–so why are there any deer left?

Which reminds us, if the “abbies” are evolutionary specimens, and if Pilcher is telling the truth when he says of them, “Our species has evolved into something less than human,” how did it happen so fast?  A chronic critique of evolutionary theory is that barely enough time has elapsed for random selection to allow man to evolve from the primordial slime, but if we accept the evolutionary hypothesis, and even if we limit our discussion to the time it theoretically took Leakey’s Australopithecus anamensis to become your neighbor in the polo shirt and Bermuda shorts, we’re talking 4.2 million years. The idea that something as distinctive as the blue guys with huge fangs, talons, and the capacity to move faster than cheetahs managed to evolve from contemporary homo sapiens in the blink of a mere 2,000 years is completely ridiculous—and one more point regarding abbies: If they’re so preternaturally athletic, why can’t they climb down the same rock face Ethan asayed when he escaped by climbing up?

The twistette

A desperate Ben calls for his father just before a giant chunk of styrofoam bounces off his head.

A desperate Ben calls for his father just before a giant chunk of styrofoam bounces off his head.

So, the whole town assembles to watch Ethan slit Kate’s throat (because it turns out she’s the brains behind all the escape attempts) but Ethan uses his stage time to tell everyone the truth about what’s out there and what year it is. This infuriates Pilcher who doesn’t handle confrontation well at all. He starts shutting all the power off including to the fence, and the abbies get in and start munching on the citizens. Ethan, his family, Kate (who suddenly possesses an MP5 submachine gun) and a band of remarkably well armed citizens fight their way to the elevator shaft that hoists them to Pilcher’s secret sanctum. Led by Nurse Pam who suddenly sees the error of her ways, they make it up to Pilcher’s posh quarters. Pilcher tells Pam everybody has to die so they can start over, but Pam rejects the idea and shoots Pilcher by way of emphasis. While Pilcher bleeds out, everybody agrees they need to start afresh with no surveillance, no police state, no lies and lots of transparency—and to vouchsafe this future for Wayward Pines, Ethan Burke nobly sacrifices himself by returning to the elevator and blowing himself and the elevator up, thus wiping out all the abbies who are climbing the shaft. Why more abbies won’t climb the shaft after the exploding elevator wipes out the first wave we cannot imagine—besides which, simply sending the elevator down the shaft and retrieving it would have annihilated the abbies just as handily–and worked repeatedly–and preserved the elevator, which seems to be the way out of the mountain–but our thoughts are distracted by son Ben who frantically looks down the shaft, tearfully calling for his dad. While thus engaged, Ben is beaned by a falling chunk of debris coming from above him, which makes no sense because the elevator blew up at his level and crashed downward, but the important thing is, Ben gets clonked on the head in a scene so contrived that it plays as unintended slapstick. He is knocked unconscious as we go to commercial…and thence to our “twistette;” which is what we prefer to call the final, puny effort to instill some shock value into the show’s conclusion—a twistette being our coinage for a twist unworthy of the name.

Ben recovers from his coma.

Ben recovers from his styrofoam encounter…

We return from commercial to find Ben regaining consciousness in the (gasp!) Wayward Pines hospital—has it all been a dream? (No! Even cryogenic freezing beats that tired old chestnut!)  But wait–mopping Ben’s brow is Amy, his teenage girlfriend, only looking a bit more mature and uniformed as a nurse—because (gasp!)  it’s four years later—and, she explains, she’s become a trained professional while Ben languished in a coma. Ben rattles off a volley of interrogatives, but Amy hushes him and warns that he must avoid asking questions. “They’ll hear us!” she whispers urgently. Uh-ohhhh!

Oh no, not again!

pines sign

Yes, rumors  suggest that Fox is considering a second season–ugly, horrible rumors.

Ben pulls out all his various tubes and monitors and dashes into the street in his hospital gown. Oh no, he sees a statue of Pilcher in the town square. Oh no, it commemorates Pilcher as a savior and a “visionary.” And guess what? Ben’s former brainwashed school chums from Wayward Pines Academy have survived and and are marching around in fascist uniforms, obviously in total control of the town. One of the little Nazis smirks at him in passing. It seems that Pilcher built a special “ark” –a survival chamber filled with emergency rations and other sundries–where the brainwashed teens graduating from Megan’s academy were instructed to take refuge if the power ever failed. Somehow, they have subsequently emerged and seized control from the grown-ups, re-establishing an even more intense version of Pilcher’s police state despite the adults having about a jillion guns, all the collective experience, and the support of Pilcher’s paramilitary guards who conveniently defected to Pam’s side the moment she shot their boss. This is all risibly implausible, of course– as is the notion that all the adults ran off with Ethan to the elevator shaft without once wondering aloud where their kids were–as is the scene in which schoolmarm Megan makes a point of placing herself in considerable peril in order to wait behind for the kids to show up in the tunnel when she would be the one who taught them about the special “ark” in the first place, but finally we can only share Ben’s shock as he realizes what has transpired. All that sacrifice for nothing! All those efforts to no avail—Ethan Burke’s martyrdom—for what? And one additional tragic realization descends on us as we witness Ben digesting these shocking realities; namely: There go ten hours of our lives we’re never getting back! WOOF PRINT

                                    Final score: One out of five “Backstroms” backstrom

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