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Shake it up, Baby, Twist and Shout: That was Some Twist on 'Wayward Pines'
June 23, 2015  | By Alex Strachan  | 1 comment

Expectations carry a heavy burden. Just ask M. Night Shyamalan.

A stylish visual artist and masterful storyteller, Shyamalan took moviegoers for a ride with his 1999 thriller The Sixth Sense, then tried to cap that with 2000’s somewhat less successful Unbreakable.

Since then, Shyamalan’s movies have devolved — if we’re to believe the critics — into something approaching self-parody, a labored effort to recapture some of that old mojo.

Shyamalan’s name featured prominently in network previews for Wayward Pines — Shyamalan directed the pilot and is one of Pines’ executive producers — so it was only natural that early reviews focused on the idea of a once mighty feature filmmaker trying his hand on the small screen, with a cast of familiar, film-based names like Matt Dillon (below right), Toby Jones, Juliette Lewis, Carla Gugino, Melissa Leo and  Terrence Howard.

The familiar Shyamalan signatures were there from the beginning: the salt-of-the-earth Everyman/Everywoman, faced with a mystery he/she can’t explain, surrounded on all sides by an overwhelming sense of dread.

Wayward Pines was adapted by relative unknown Chad Hodge from the novel trilogy by Blake Crouch, but as anyone familiar with Game of Thrones or Under the Dome knows, TV adaptations are not the same as books.

More people watch TV, though, than read books — it may not be right, but it’s true — and so the most effective TV adaptations understand that much of their audience is coming to the story for the first time.

So when the truth was recently revealed — in an episode titled, appropriately enough, The Truth  — most of the 4.24 million viewers who watched that night couldn’t help but be surprised. And not just because, this time, Wayward Pines has sprung its “Shyamalan twist” in the middle of the story, not at the end.

When Wayward Pines began back in May, the concept of a mysterious, drizzly mountain town full of creepy residents and things-that-go-bump-in-the-night struck me as overly familiar, despite the solid cast and effectively creepy backdrop.

There were positives, though. As with Shyamalan’s most successful films, Wayward Pines is visually striking — even in this present golden age of TV dramas that look really, really good.

The small screen is no longer a junior cousin to feature films where looks are concerned: Game of Thrones this past season was as beautifully filmed as anything you’ll see on the big screen this year.

Still, the old Shyamalan questions remained.

When the inevitable twist comes, will it hold up? Do I care enough about these people to keep watching? Are the stakes high enough? As Michael McShane’s menacing real estate agent told his new hire, played by Shannyn Sossamon, in a recent episode: “My advice is don’t think too hard, sweetie. It’s not very becoming.”

Some TV critics, especially those familiar with science-fiction tropes and old Twilight Zone episodes, found the Big Reveal to be contrived and gimmicky.

I don’t agree. As with many limited-run series that take a while to get under the skin, I was finally starting to buy into Wayward Pines’ weird goings-on. And the Reveal, when it came, threw me for a loop. (For the sake of late-to-the-game DVR users and would-be fans who might catch up with Wayward Pines at a future date, I won’t spoil the surprise here.)

Judging from viewers I know — ordinary, everyday folks who are not in the industry but who are watching Wayward Pines just the same — I’m not alone. In the real world, the world that doesn’t have the benefit of advance screeners and scoops from the set, the audience that is tuning into Wayward Pines each week seems to be enjoying it very much.

Interestingly, the lowest-rated episode was the first, on May 14 (3.76 million viewers). Wayward Pines’ audience jumped to 4.59 million viewers the following week, and has averaged a little more than 4 million since. That’s unusual. A series that grows from week to week is considered a hit in most executive circles, no matter how downbeat some of those critics’ reviews may be.

Now, though, the heavy lifting begins.

When Wayward Pines returns this Thursday, with an episode portentously labeled Choices, the secret is out. From here on, the story must play out in a way that feels natural, organic, logical and, most importantly, entertaining.

Shyamalan has his critics to be sure, but this time I’m in. To the end.

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Well, shoot! Now you have my curiosity going. I watched the first two episodes, or maybe it was one and three quarters, before I tossed in the towel. I wanted to like this show, and the photography is superb, but the characters and story-line? Ugh! Still, thanks to your review, I'm going to check back in, for the big reveal and the next episode before I make up my mind, again.
Jun 29, 2015   |  Reply
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