Mar 31, 2020
Wayward Pines: Paging Nurse Ratched!
Welcome to Wayward Pines. It’s got a two-word title and northwestern exposure like Twin Peaks, people are stuck in a mysterious place like Lost, and it has secret agents like The Prisoner. The only things missing are humor, originality, wit and irony. But it’s an M. Night Shyamalan joint so what did you expect?
Let’s open with an eye-opening, because if you make it more bloodshot than Jack’s eye on Lost then it totally isn’t a rip-off. It’s homage. Also, while the character is wearing Jack’s suit, he’s upside down, so that’s original!
Who does the eye belong to? Matt Dillon, a man who hasn’t been in a movie anyone’s seen for so long that his brother is now famouser than he is. Welcome to television, Matt! Hey, wouldn’t that be an interesting concept? Over-the-hill actor is driving with his assistant. They get into a car accident, and the actor wakes up as a character in the world’s most hackneyed television program. He keeps trying to call his agent to get him out of there, but they’ve taken away his phone and everyone refers to him as the character and won’t let him leave the set. Oh shit! I didn’t just guess the ending, did I?
There’s a flashback, and Matt’s talking to a shrink because flashbacks were edgy a hundred years ago and we need some backstory. The character’s name is Ethan, and he’s FBI, no CIA, no Secret Service. Yeah, that’s different. Like another television agent or maybe all of them, he missed something and people got hurt, so now he has the demons. Also like a certain blonde CIA station chief, he may have some kind of mental illness as the shrink mentions his “hallucinations,” which he denies still having. So we’ve just been told we have an unreliable narrator and anything we see or hear from his point of view may be completely inaccurate. This could all be some kind of crazy dream or virtual reality experiment or maybe an eccentric millionaire created this town as a utopia but it’s really a trap.
Back to the present. The accident victim stumbles into town and walks into a restaurant. He asks where he is and is told by the waitress, who is not a professional actress, that he’s in “Wayward Pines (loooong dramatic pause) Id-a-ho.” He collapses. Maybe he died of old age waiting for her to get the line out. Cue the creepy credit sequence featuring dollhouse models of houses and people (like in that storyline a few seasons back on CSI). There’s even an old-timey carousel like in an iconic Twilight Zone episode. It’s very, very scary.
Ethan wakes up in a “hospital” where he is under the “care” of “Nurse Pam,” played by the usually very good Melissa Leo. The starched collar on her extra-white polyester dress—the kind nurses haven’t worn in forty years—screams wrong. At least they didn’t give her a nurse’s cap, but my guess is they wanted to. Her hair is pulled back in a way that ALWAYS indicates sexual repression, and she’s wearing dark almost goth-like lipstick. The door to the room is open, and there appears to be no other patients. Did I say it was creepy? Are you getting the creeps yet? I’m so frightened I need a drink.
Flashback to seconds before the accident so we can get more backstory. Ethan is in a car with another agent. They are searching for Matt’s ex-partner—Kate, who has been missing for five weeks—and another agent. Ethan looks at her picture purely for our benefit. She’s young and hot, and there’s discussion implying he had some sex shenanigans with her but that’s “old wounds.” Sounds like a big deal, two missing secret service agents. You’d think if three of them disappeared it might even hit the media. But maybe not, because they are secret.
The driver turns away for a second, and then the car crashes into some kind barrier that suddenly popped up on the road.
Back to Nurse Pam, who leaves it impossible for the viewer to believe for even a second that this is regular hospital. Heaven forbid things might slowly dawn on us. Everything will be telegraphed many times, so feel free to grab a snack, or some alcohol, or a gun. She tells Ethan the guy driving didn’t make it. He asks for his phone. She tells him the Sheriff’s office has everything and they’ve probably gotten in touch with his emergency contacts. To his credit, Ethan looks like he doesn’t quite buy this.
Back in Seattle, at the Secret Service office, Ethan’s boss, Adam Hassler, is telling another agent that they don’t know what happened and haven’t found Ethan’s body, though the car and the other agent’s body was found. Possibly Ethan’s body was so burned up they’ll never find it. Adam is going to call the family. Cut to wife Theresa and son Ben. Theresa is trying to reach him by phone without letting Ben know.
Back to Nurse Ratched Pam. Ethan’s asking questions like, “Where the other patients at?” Nurse Pam tells him in ever more chipper responses that the others are “busy” and there are no phones in the room so the patients can rest. Once she’s gone, he rips his IV out, grabs his clothes—which they conveniently left in the closet—and starts to leave. Nurse Pam tries to stop him, but when he seems threatening, she lets him go, losing a bit of her faux-cheer and turning more ominous.
He walks back into the restaurant, where he meets a different waitress, this one played by a real actress—Juliette Lewis, whose career, like Matt Dillon’s, seemed to end years ago. (It’s like The Prisoner for the D-list!) She gets him a real landline phone, and he calls his wife’s real landline instead of her cell, even though this is supposed to be 2014. The waitress gives him a “bill” with an address on it. She tells him it’s because he’s stuck in town with no money and no phone and might need her help. “So you believe me?” he asks. “I’ve always believed you,” she tells him. Another “clue”? Has this happened before and again and again like some crazy loop?
Next morning, a strangely passive-aggressive hotel clerk is knocking on the door. Ethan asks if he’s gotten any calls as he left the hotel’s name in his message to his wife. Shockingly, nope. The clerk insists he vacate immediately as he has no money. He takes out the bill Beverly the Waitress gave him and walks to the address, which is the kind of place dead people might live in. Very, very scary. There, he finds Evans—the missing agent who wasn’t his ex-lover. Evans is several weeks dead, but his decaying corpse has been left tied to a bed. Maybe he forgot his safe word.
Ethan goes to see the Sheriff. The receptionist gives him the fish eye. She’s sounds like she’s doing Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine down to the snorts, and she even has a rotary phone—but she’s got a definite David Lynch vibe. What’s missing? Anything original.
Sheriff Pope, played by Empire’s Terrance Howard, is eating an ice cream cone because that’s quirky. To his credit, Howard is the only one who appears to be taking this less than seriously, winking that he’s just there for the paycheck.
In addition to reporting Evans’s corpse, Ethan also describes his still missing ex-partner and squeeze. While the Sheriff is allegedly checking out what Ethan found, Ethan leaves another message for Theresa and then calls the Secret Service. He reaches a receptionist who sounds exactly like Nurse Pam, but Ethan is one step behind us and doesn’t catch on. I don’t think she’ll be passing along his message. Then he goes to the restaurant to find Beverly and is told by a bearded ginger that nobody like that works there. They get into a confrontation. Ethan collapses, and the ginger gets on his old-timey walky-talky to report, “10-16-28 is not doing well.” Is this supposed to blow our minds because up to that point we had no reason to believe things weren’t perfectly normal?
Meantime in Seattle, Adam is looking at the car recovered from the accident site. The GPS module is missing. There’s no evidence Ethan was ever even in the car.
For no particular reason we get a flashback to Ethan’s son’s birthday. Ethan wakes up strapped to a bed in handcuffs. Really good actor Toby Jones is by the bedside, playing Dr. Jenkins. Guess what? He’s kind of creepy, but seems a bit uncomfortable, like he too would like to get a phone and call for help getting out of this. He asks about the headache Ethan doesn’t have, reminds him of his mental illness, and oh yeah, tells him he has bleeding on his brain, which explains his “dissociative breakdown” and why they are going to perform brain surgery.
When he gets agitated by this news, Nurse Pam comes in to give him the world’s biggest needle. She whistles as she wheels him to the operating room, which contains many nasty instruments last seen in 1959. But then she conveniently leaves the room even though she has no other patients. Beverly arrives to rescue him. He warns her he’ll be out in about five minutes from the sedative. He knows this because he played a doctor on TV. They both hide as Nurse Pam comes down the hall. He shatters a conveniently located mirror and grabs a shard of glass so he can both see Nurse Pam coming and stab her with it. As she walks down the hall, she tells him if he doesn’t come out and let her give him his anesthesia, the drug she did give him will leave him unable to move but fully alert and able to feel everything during his operation. He knocks her down, and then he’s down. But Beverly forces him up, and of course NO ONE ELSE IS THERE to keep them from leaving because there’s a staff shortage and/or it’s all part of the plan, or some crazy dream/virtual reality, or who really cares?
Beverly takes him to a mausoleum where he’ll be “safe.” She says “they” are trying to “break his mind.” She tells her own story. She was a sales rep there to outfit the school (we haven’t seen any kids) for Y2K, and oh yeah, she’s been there almost a year. So to Beverly it’s still 2000. The anesthetic hits him before he can follow up on this.
Over in Seattle, Theresa and Adam are discussing things on the street because he doesn’t have an office or maybe he does but it’s a secret. He’s drinking coffee because it’s Seattle. Adam manages to imply that maybe Ethan is with “her” or maybe he’s on a top secret mission. Also, from the way he looks at Theresa, he’s either in love or they just served us another plate of red herring.
Ethan wakes up and finds clothing conveniently left for him. He leaves his resting place and walks into the center of town, where he sees his missing sexy partner, only her hair is much longer than in the photo. He has a flashback where he and she are talking about his guilty feelings due to the aforementioned screw-up in which people died. They start to kiss. Back in the present, she is at some town picnic and appears to be radiantly happy. He follows her home without anyone noticing and knocks on the door. A man answers. The man gets her. First, Kate tells him he’s mistaken, and then she goes out to sit on the porch with him. She warns him that “they” are watching and listening, and we see a little red dot on the ceiling fan above them. She tells him she’s been there for twelve years, and he has to go. She can’t tell him anything other than that he could be happy and have an amazing life. He asks if he could be having a relapse, but she doesn’t answer, which means sure why not, the whole thing could be a hallucination.
He steals a car and tries to leave, only guess what, the road seems to be a circle back, giving us repeated shots of the eerie mountains and of course the carousal. He leaves the car and tries going through the woods.
Back in Seattle where it’s raining and overcast as usual, Adam is still walking on the street when Dr. Jenkins comes up to him. Adam wonders if it’s too late to call “it” off. Doc Jenkins says, “It’s done,” but nothing to worry about. Then we see Ben playing a guitar and Theresa checking her messages. She still hasn’t heard from Ethan.
Ethan, meantime, has hit some kind of electronic fence where there’s a sign saying go back to Wayward Pines or risk death.
He gets back in the car. The Sheriff pulls up behind him. He asks the Sheriff, “How do I get out of here?” Even if you didn’t see the episode, you know exactly what he’s going to say, so no need to repeat it here.
Did I mention I volunteered for this gig on the basis of a promo before I realized M.Night Shymalan was the Executive Producer? If we were comic book characters he would definitely be my nemesis.