- Matt Dillon and Juliette Lewis in a strange land
This second golden age of television we’re living in is cool and all, but I’m especially excited about the resurgence of the miniseries. As shows become more cinematic, it makes more sense for them to achieve an arc during the course of a single digestible season. Two of the best things on TV last year—the first season of True Detective and HBO’s four-parter Olive Kitteridge—were effectively miniseries. Spending seven often frustrating years watching something like Mad Men build to fruition is satisfying (although I think part of the satisfaction is self-congratulatory—we stuck it out!). Still, there’s something to be said for the vision required to tell a story in a predetermined number of episodes.
The creator of the new Fox sci-fi-ish mystery series Wayward Pines has already guaranteed that he’ll tell a complete story in the ten-episode season. There’s a mystery afoot and, damn it, we’re actually going to solve it without committing to watching for the next however many years. So as Twin Peaks-y as everyone is saying Pines is, at least it learned a lesson from that show’s perceived misstep (i.e., drawing the story out into a second season, which a large chunk of viewers stopped watching, megafans excepted).
Of course there are similarities that I’m sure Fox hopes appeal to Lynch’s cult fan base. Wayward Pines is also a creepy, cloyingly picturesque town in the Pacific northwest (Idaho, in this case), and the story revolves around a special agent’s experience of the place. The season opens with the secret service’s Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) arriving under less than ideal circumstances; there to investigate the disappearances of two colleagues, he’s injured in a catastrophic car accident and becomes the ward of Nurse Pam (Melissa Leo), a menacing disciplinarian who oversees the dystopian town’s hospital.
In the spirit of economical storytelling, last Thursday’s premiere episode—directed by M. Night Shyamalan—gives us a generous peek at the show’s hand. It’s evident people are being disappeared, that a conspiracy is afoot, and that almost everyone in town is a part of it, but it’s not clear why. There’s some discrepancy in terms of people’s perception of the passage of time, but lest we think Wayward Pines, the town, is an alternate universe or different plane of existence, an overhead shot of the town from a distance shows what appears to be a man-made construct, a town in a valley enclosed by a fence where it isn’t bordered by mountains.
It’s creepy and bleak in all the right ways, which should appeal to people who pine for Twin Peaks. Certain things even seem like homages, like when Juliette Lewis’s character hands Ethan a cryptic note that says, “There are no crickets in Wayward Pines,” I immediately thought: “The owls are not what they seem.” But ultimately it lacks the sort of anarchistic disregard for reality that made Peaks so wonderfully troubling. But, the ten-episode time line makes it seem infinitely less daunting.
Wayward Pines, Thursdays at 8 PM on Fox.