Feb 6, 2020
Wayward Pines: Also Keep Off the Grass
Remember that really bad Wesley-centric episode of Star Trek: TNG (Okay every Wesley-centric episode was bad, but this was the worstest) where they visited the planet of beautiful, overly friendly people and the boy caused an intergalactic incident by stepping on the grass DESPITE being warned not to and as a result they were going to execute him, but then Captain Picard used common sense to save the day?
Turns out Wayward Pines also has a bunch of rules that some have to learn, as Nurse Pam might put it, the “hard way.”
Starting where we left off, Sheriff Pope is not eating ice cream and does not look pleased when he pulls over Ethan. Pope claims to have called Seattle Secret Service and found that no one has heard of him (I wonder if he reached “Marcy” the receptionist who sounds just like Nurse Pam?). Plus, Pope calls him the number one suspect in Evans’ murder AND has just caught him in a stolen car. So what does the Sheriff do?
Pope hits Ethan with the side of his gun and orders him back to the hotel, where presumably his bill is now being covered by the sheriff’s office until this is all straightened out, which will be never or maybe just ‘til he starves as there doesn’t seem to be a food allowance. You’d think Pope would have enough to put him in jail or maybe send him back to the hospital for that little brain surgery, but nope.
A bunch of cyclists pass by even though it’s a rainy night. One of them stops, turns, and says, “Don’t try to leave, Mr. Burke. That’s rule number one.”
Okay. So that’s a rule that he just broke, but why isn’t he being punished?
The next morning, he wakes up early and tries to use the computer—an old-timey desktop—at the otherwise empty hotel. Surprise! It doesn’t work. Not surprised? Don’t worry: 98% of what happens can be predicted by anyone not under mind control or suffering from a subdural hematoma. Also, the perky manager informs him there are no newspapers in Wayward Pines, but sadly the same is true across the entire country.
Ethan leaves the hotel and goes to take another look at Evans’ body, which is still festering away in the creepy old house. Pope shows up and is pissed because he’d rather be eating ice cream in his office. When Evans questions why “forensics” hasn’t been there yet, Pope tells him they’re coming from Boise. Does Ethan hang around in the hope that this is true so he can hitch a ride out of town with them? No he does not. Instead he goes to the restaurant where Beverly works. She grabs him and turns up the music so “they” won’t hear. They discuss a notebook he found but didn’t have a chance to grab out of Evans’ hiking boot. They talk of an escape plan and agree to meet later. She gives him money for coffee. Doesn’t he also need food? Or did they serve a buffet breakfast at the hotel?
He goes to the cafe and tries to call the secret service AGAIN. He gets the same “receptionist” Marcy, but this time he tricks her with the old, “Are you on the seventh floor receptionist desk? Got ya! There is NO seventh floor receptionist desk!” trick so she hangs up on him. Coffee girl knows his name, as does everyone else in town. He hands over the money, but not before taking a good enough look at it for us to know that he knows (being Secret Service and all) that it’s fake. He asks if she knows Kate Huston. She blinks robotically because maybe she is a robot and not a terrible actress and says, “I don’t know her. How can that be possible?” We get the visual of the mailbox that says Ballinger he saw in front of Kate’s house. Why would they need mailboxes in Wayward Pines? Do they all send each other Christmas cards? Or does junk mail still find us even there? When he says Kate Ballinger, she responds that Kate works at the toy store.
Then we get an awkward family moment flashback with god-awful dialogue. True example:
Teenager (a.k.a. Ben) to his parents: Okay you two. Get a room.
Male parental unit (a.k.a. Ethan): The last time we got a room we had you.
Really? Because that would explain a lot about why Ethan was doing Kate. Then we get a scene in the present where wife Teresa and son Ben discuss whether Ethan is dead or boinking Kate in Idaho. Ben is wearing a Nirvana t-shirt because we must have Seattle signifiers.
Ethan drops by to see Kate at the toy store, where she introduces him to her husband Harold, who goes back to the toy making. She definitely reacts robotically when he mentions Evans’ body. Then he buys some wooden ducks so he can show her the fake money he has. You’d think he might want to save some fake money to buy real food. She mentions Evans’ widow, giving enough details—a light brown house with pink hydrangeas (which may or may not be a callout to The Manchurian Candidate garden club scene, but I’ll give it points just in case)—so that he’ll be able to find it. Why would she want him to go there? Is this a secret message? A way of getting him to trust her? Or simply a ruse to get him out of the store?
As he turns to leave, he notices a small sign that looks like it could be a business license or some religious homily. He steps back to get a better look because even in paradise, the eyes are the first thing to go. It’s the rules. Kate reads them aloud, knowing them by heart. The rules include never trying to leave, never discussing your life before, and always answering the phone, which promptly rings as if someone were listening to the conversation.
Next stop: the widow Evans, who doesn’t take kindly to the suggestion that Bill didn’t have a wife or that he worked for the Secret Service. Also, she insists that her husband killed himself and she knows because she watched him. Then she shuts the door to go back to her crying baby.
That really doesn’t explain what the body was doing in the creepy house and doesn’t jibe with Beverly’s story of his being killed for trying to escape.
Then he visits the sheriff, even though no good ever comes from his visiting the sheriff. Pope is again eating ice cream (and I’m deducting the points I added because this shtick is sooo tired already) and ascribes Ethan’s confusion to his very bad auto accident and the blood on his brain. He tells him Evans’ body is in the morgue and warns him not to go there. So where does he go next? Back to the hospital, natch.
Because there is never anyone actually in the hospital until after he shows up, he manages to find his way to the morgue and the body is indeed there. They’ve removed the clothes and left them conveniently on a table in the otherwise empty room. Strangely, they didn’t find the little dead-tree notebook with the escape plan (unless they meant for Ethan to find it). Ethan pockets it right before Nurse Pam shows up. She asks if he ever got in touch with his wife. Then she suggests, “I bet when you two get back together, you’re gonna bang her brains out, huh?” Shocked by her dirty talk, he doesn’t explain that the last time that happened they wound up with a generic precocious television son who might not have been Jack’s sideways son on Lost, but did play a kid named Ben on Fringe, a lesser J.J. Abrams effort.
Not wanting to hang out and chat with Pam, he starts on his merry way, but in the hallway he sees Teresa and Ben being wheeled into surgery on gurneys. He runs to the room he saw them go into, but they aren’t there. Who does he find? Doc Jenkins, who tries to convince him that his “hallucinations” will get worse if doesn’t let them operate on his brain. Ethan almost seems ready to believe him, but the presence of Nurse Pam scares him off.
Why would they need his consent to do brain surgery when they didn’t last time? Why do they let him leave? (Not rhetorical. I’m asking. Theories? And please remember, don’t dismiss your idea because it’s too stupid or too obvious! Have you ever seen an M. Night Shymalen movie? Any M. Night Shymalen movie? You could already be a winner!)
Back in Seattle where Teresa actually is (unless there’s a time warp because, again, no explanation is too weird or ridiculous), she’s on the phone with Ethan’s boss, Adam (who maybe set this whole thing up because he’s in lurve with her). She asks Adam if Ethan could be in Boise with Kate—who transferred to Boise because who wouldn’t want to leave Seattle for Boise? (No, seriously, who wouldn’t? Seattle, like Wayward Pines, has much too high an opinion of its charms.)
Ethan meets with Beverly and shows her the map/escape route that Evans came up with. Beverly informs him that he has a microchip—the kind your cat or dog has unless you are a terrible person. She removes his. The plan is to keep it in his pocket until they run, which is what she and Evans had planned. But Evans went crazy and took off without her. She tells him more as they walk and talk. She woke up with no competing memories of her actual past, which came back over time. Oh, and Evans was killed by the Sheriff in front of the whole town for trying to escape. His throat was cut. She doesn’t explain how he wound up rotting in the creepy house or how she knew he was there. And Ethan doesn’t think to ask. Because? Who knows? Ethan tests a hunch and concludes the cameras “ping” when signaled by the microchips. They run into Harold and Kate, who invite them to dinner the following night. Ethan says yes for both of them because he’s seen reruns of The Prisoner and doesn’t want to be unmutual.
Over in the Emerald City, Teresa decides to go to Boise, and Ben is determined to come with her because what teenage boy wouldn’t want to go on a road trip with his mother, especially if it was going to end with either identifying his father’s corpse or busting his father with his hot girlfriend and watching his mother explode. Who doesn’t love family drama?
In his hotel room, Ethan studies Evans’ map, which doesn’t have a clear exit plan. He leaves his chip under the covers on his bed. Chipless Ethan then walks in the woods and climbs a tree exed out on the map. He finds a canvas bag left up on a branch. A hooded figure in the distance is shooting a gun, but in a different direction and doesn’t see him.
Nurse Pam, still in the uniform she always wears just in case a patient comes in, is sitting next to Arlene, the Sheriff’s secretary who attended the Earnestine School of Office Etiquette. They’re discussing Mr. Burke’s lousy attitude and suggesting that Beverly—the one serving them—has finally caught herself a man. Beverly says he misses his wife, which stops the conversation short because it may not be her past but it’s his and that’s pretty close. Pam lets her know she better watch it.
When they meet up, Beverly doesn’t want to go to the dinner, but he’s made it part of the plan, which of course is going to fail because this is the second episode. She gets so nervous that while Ethan is in the bathroom checking for microphones and cameras so that Beverly can dump her chip there, Beverly accidentally mentions her daughter back in Portland. Ethan tries to change the subject. Beverly excuses herself to use the bathroom. Kate and Harold give each other a knowing smile. The conversation continues briefly ‘til Kate wants to check on Beverly. Ethan makes an excuse that she wasn’t feeling well and will be upset with him if he doesn’t check on her because women love men who walk them home when they’re sick. As soon as they’re both gone, Harold asks Kate, “You think they’re gonna run?” She gives him a smug look and says, “Absolutely.”
As they start to walk away, all the old-fashioned landlines in town begin to ring. This was a genuinely original moment that might have been scary if everything around it wasn’t so ridiculous. They separate so that Ethan can try to distract the crowd now coming out to hunt for them, but Beverly is caught and then dragged off before everyone including Doc Jenkins. Sheriff Pope officiates. Kate and Harold are thanked for doing their “civic duty” and “bringing this woman to justice.” It’s like a good old-timey public lynching or how they stoned that lady in the short story they made you read in middle school. Only their method is way sexier than a scaffold or a pile of rocks. They’ve got both her arms in chains as she hangs from a metal clothing rack. It’s like a DIY red room of pain for poor people. Her crime? Trying to leave and discussing her past. Her penalty? Ethan watches, as does everyone else, as the Sheriff gleefully fulfills his civic duty and slashes her throat. Just like what she said happened to Bill Evans.
Meantime, Teresa and Ben are heading toward Boise. What are the chances of their finding Ethan or getting trapped in Wayward Pines? (No, really, what are the chances? Theories welcome, the more outlandish the better. We won’t judge, but if you read the books, no spoilers please.)
David Lynch created towns that looked on the surface like paradise but had dark underbellies, literal worms breaking through the surface. Lost presented a deserted island with fresh water and enough food to keep Hurley’s weight up—plus being there cured your cancer. In all the stories this steals from—including The Wizard of Oz through and beyond The Matrix—the difference is that the dream world looks good at least in the beginning. It offers something, and the dreamer comes to realize that it’s tempting, but not enough. Everything is a riff on the Allegory of the Cave (or can be taught that way in a freshman Humanities class at a community college.) All we have so far in Wayward Pines is a trap and a puzzle. Things are terrible from the moment Ethan gains consciousness. How do you get out of the trap? That’s the only question, not “Why would you want to?” Wayward Pines is nobody’s idea of paradise. In addition to sadistic nurses who want to cut open your brain, people have boring service jobs and they don’t even seem to read books. There’s no Internet. There aren’t even the cats that give the Internet meaning. Kate told Ethan he could have an extraordinary life, but what the hell was she talking about? The town doesn’t even have a decent Chinese restaurant. Beverly said they were out of ketchup for two weeks. Ketchup! For fuck’s sake, even Seattle has good eats! Is weed even legal there?