Thursday, 30 July 2015

No Future

Well, that ended very, very badly indeed.

It's no surprise, of course. TV shows based on a central all-consuming mystery almost always have terrible resolutions, because by their very nature fascinating puzzles often disappoint once the solution is known.  But that's not what happened at all here. The fact Wayward Pines totally failed to stick its landing absolutely is because of a common problem in serialised storytelling, but disappointing answers wasn't it.

(Spoilers below)

Wayward Pines is worthy of praise in how it paced its revelations, actually. By the end of episode three there were already sufficient clues to work out most of what was going on (I reckon I could have gotten there by the end of episode two, actually, had I not fallen for the obvious trap of assuming the fence had to be there to keep things in, rather than out). By the end of episode five, there was almost nothing left still to puzzle out in terms of plot, with the questions over what was going on cannily swapped out for questions of how the characters would respond to what we now knew.  The decision to adapt three whole books over just ten episodes gave the show a tremendous pace (whether much was lost in so swift a translation I can't say, having not read Crouch's novels), which made for a welcome change from the frustratingly slow drip-feeding of information we got with Lost or The X-Files, both shows which took forever to give up their secrets even before they started overwriting themselves as the writers found themselves painted into a corner.

With answers available so early in the proceedings, the show had a real chance to dodge the kind of mystery-exhaustion those other shows suffered from, and with just ten episodes to play around with, there wasn't time for the strange 41st Century world of Ethan, Pam, Kate and Pilcher to get stale and familiar.  The episode nine cliffhanger - Pilcher decides this iteration of Wayward Pines is irredeemable and turns off the fence so the Abbies can clear out "the infection" - was both shocking and inevitable, as Pilcher and his sister finally completed the exchange of positions they had begun back in episode three.

Most of what we got in the finale lived up to its promise; a horrifying massacre as the Abbies hit town, a desperate storming of the mountain complex, betrayal and defiance and bravery (Mrs Fisher wasn't the show's most sympathetic character, but full props to her for staying to help every child she could whilst everyone was waving their arms around and running in whichever direction they were told to). But what I particularly liked about it was the gender balance: there were three main couples in Wayward Pines; the marriages of Ethan and Theresa and Kate and Howard, and the sibling pair of David and Pam Pilcher (not a romantic couple, but still a mixed-sex pair). By the end of the episode, all three of those pairings had lost its male member, leaving the women in charge. And what a trio of women they are. Pam has the trust of the remaining mountain staff and a full knowledge of how Wayward Pines works. Kate is a trained Secret Service agent, which means military ability and at least basic psychological awareness, plus over a decade's experience in how to not run a community. Theresa has an insatiable need to pick at anything that doesn't make sense, and firm convictions on how people are to be treated. Between them they now have the terrified remnants of Group B, and the whole of Group C to do with as they please. Imagine what those three women could achieve now they're finally in a position to work together.

That's a great ending. We see the final days of Group B ending in chaos and blood, but still with hope for a future which no longer has Pilcher reaching for the reset button every time he gets discouraged.  This time the collapse of Wayward Pines has meaning, because those who lived through can decide for themselves which lessons to learn, rather than Pilcher taking that responsibility upon himself. The men in control from the beginning are now all gone, killed either by their hubris or their need to play the hero, and the women are left to try things their way.  The fact that we'd be unlikely to know how they actually did is beside the point. The story of Group B is over. The story of how the men ran Wayward Pines is over. Time for something different. Time for the women to be in charge.

Like I say, a great ending. Which makes the actual ending - a three minute flash-forward by three years in which things are worse than ever - even more of a colossal heap of cheap, cynical bullshit than it might have seemed at first glance. Which, let's be clear, is pretty damned big.  I've talked about this at length before, but how is it we are still having to wade through sci-fi/horror stories that finish with perfectly sensible and satisfying endings, only to tack on codas that undermine the whole damn thing? Can there really be so many writers in film and TV desperate to show off that they don't understand basic story structure? Do they not realise that ever since the Outer Limits reboot in 1995 we reached a tipping point after which the most surprising ending for a genre story is for it to not have a twist ending?

But it gets worse. These final moments show that three years after Pilcher's death, he's venerated as a hero in Wayward Pines, which is now being run by the First Generation kids who hid inside a bunker within the town whilst Ethan got the adults to safety in the mountain. So rather than a new beginning, we're pretty much right back where we started, only instead of Pilcher calling the shots its the unbearable jocks from Eta Pinto Fuckwad. All of whom, of course, are male. The only female member of First Generation we see in this gratifyingly brief torrent of loose stool water is clearly terrified of the new bosses. So instead of a message of hope and new opportunity stemming from three women attempting to put right what an insane man got so totally wrong, we've got a bunch of testosterone-fueled boys murdering folk and stringing up their dead bodies because YOU DIDN'T SEE THAT COMING, DID YOU?

Well fuck you, Wayward Pines. Yes, I saw it coming. The separate ark for the kids was a colossal fucking giveaway. The adults vs children theme would have been obvious even if you hadn't ground it into the dirt when Kate's insurgents were all murdered by Phi Dick-stain Pecs-flex. There was no surprises in your oh-so-clever last-minute narrative sabotage, other than the mild surprise I felt at the fact that twenty years after I discovered that it's harder to write something that doesn't deliberately invalidate itself, there are still so many writers out there who will consciously ruin their own stories, and ask for money to do so.

So well done, Wayward Pines. You've become one more entry on a TV cliche list, one more smug sneering fool convinced that surprising people is better than satisfying them, and without any idea of how to do either.  Still, at least you managed to be unusually and thoroughly terrible in terms of gender politics whilst you did so.  I'll give you this: I didn't see that coming.

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