'We felt like there was still a lot to be said about what it's like to be on the last town on the planet,' he says
When Wayward Pines aired last summer, the eerie thriller about the mysterious, eponymous Idaho town caught viewers’ attention, making the sci-fi drama the season’s surprise sleeper hit. But with an explosive finale that effectively closed the chapter on the series’ hero and jumped ahead in time to a gut-punch of an ending, how can the once-dubbed “event” series return for a second season of even more twists? To find out, EW asked the master of twists himself: Wayward Pines executive producer M. Night Shyamalan, who promises that the show isn’t spinning its wheels now that the secret’s out and Ethan (Matt Dillon) is no more. Below, Shyamalan talks how he and The Wayward Pines Trilogy author Blake Crouch came up with season 2, where the story will go, and how the series moves on — and possibly tops — the thrills of season 1:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What made you want to pursue a second season? This had been billed as a one-off, 10-episode series.
M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN: One of the important things that felt good about the first season was that it was kind of a complete movement. I always knew the fences were going to come down in the last beat, I always knew I wanted a Night of the Living Dead architecture at the end. After the success of the first season, Blake [Crouch, author of The Wayward Pines Trilogy] came to Philly and we hung out and I said, “Let’s just talk about what the end of this story is, and let’s work backwards from there. If we came out and didn’t feel strongly about the end point, then we’ll just leave it.” But, we thought it would be kind of cool to see if we had an ending, so we basically came up with an ending that we loved and then we said, “Well, how many episodes would it take to get to that end?” In our mind, we broke it up to an additional two seasons. It’s still an event series, but instead of 10 episodes, it’s 30… We felt like there was still a lot to be said about what it’s like to be on the last town on the planet.
How confident are you that this is a three-season, 30-episode story? Will we find out next season, for example, that this has actually ballooned to another additional season?
No, I don’t think so. When we sketched it out over the few days we were there, I said, “We have to go from here to here to here,” and we got there. By the end of the second season, we were exactly where we wanted to be.
When you and Blake were brainstorming that ending, were there any alternate stories you had in mind that would have required a longer time frame?
We landed on [30 episodes] right away. I’m trying to remember if there was some kind of detour before we got to that, but we just started talking about it, and I [told Blake], “You know what? The profound thing about your premise is X, Y, Z, and that led us to this conclusion.” And then we got excited about it.
Still, building the rest of the story doesn’t cover everything: At the end of season 1, the writers also killed off its hero, Ethan. Why did you decide to move forward with an entirely new protagonist?
Look, the premise is such a beautiful one with all those people asleep, and how they feel when they wake up is so tantalizing to me, so it felt very natural to us [to move on from Ethan] when we were laying out the story. I liked the feeling of you not knowing who we’re waking up and how long they’ll last. It’s lovely to have that finality, that even our stars could get killed. [Laughs] And Jason [Patric, who plays new protagonist Theo] is interestingly funny the way Matt [Dillon, who played Ethan] was. He’s super charming, and I’ve been stunned by Jason’s nuance. I’m excited for the audience, I know they’re going to become addicted to him.
How different is this season from the first, aside from have a new cast of characters?
I would say that because every character’s waking up, they’re having their own arc, so you get to watch all these characters go through initiation in their own way. Even if you know or don’t know [the secret to Wayward Pines], both sides are getting information in a fresh way, and a bunch of old characters keep coming in and out. The beauty of the premise is that it exists on multiple time frames [so you can ask], like, how did that person get there? Why was it built like that? What does that mean? So we urge the writers of this show to lean into using time frames a lot, because the premise is now outed and it’s interesting to learn about each of the characters and why they were chosen.
But more importantly for me, this is the season about the Abbies, about what they are and how do they think and who they are. [Season 2] feels much more muscular, because the premise is outed. You can have more fun. In the first season, the first part had to be a dark mystery with a dark comedy edge to it, and then in the second half, it’s sci-fi. Now, there’s more chance for muscularity and bigger questions to be asked.
It’s interesting that you say both sides will get information in a fresh way. Those who watched season 1 obviously know what’s going on with the town. How do you avoid repeating yourselves with this season, especially as you’re waking characters up?
There’s so much that hasn’t been told… you keep on digging deeper. [For every character] there’s always a “How does he get here?” and all of those things. Like, Djimon’s [Hounsou, who plays CJ Mitchum] character is really pivotal, and you’ll get that sense and as you watch him, you’ll think, “What is he doing, who is he?”
The key twist in season 1 was revealed in episode 5. Is there a similar key twist in season 2?
No, there’s nothing like that, but there’s plenty of surprises in store.
What would you say to the book readers who were dismayed you killed off Ethan and have pretty much gone past the books? Are you concerned with how they’ll perceive this season?
Well, Blake came up with the story, so there you go. [Laughs] It was Blake’s idea, so you can get mad at him about it! Blake just doesn’t want to write more books about it, but he wanted to continue telling the story, so this was his way of telling it, and it was very exciting for him to continue to the finish line. If he had finished writing the books, this is what he would have written. Those books were based on what we were doing as well, so we were doing them together… Blake wrote one book, and then we all started to write together [for the show] and he finished the books and we finished the series and continued to write. It’s very tied.
This was the first TV series you’ve ever produced. What did you learn from season 1 that you’ve carried on to season 2?
I mean, I could not have more respect for it. I now look at TV [crew] like they’re gods to me, the amount of work they do. It’s just been an incredibly demanding art form, it’s a humbling task. But in a way, it’s so freeing because you stop being precious [about your work] with the amount of time pressure and money pressure to deliver… And you have an ongoing relationship [with viewers], which is really interesting. For me, my movies come out and get a reaction, and they don’t see me for a year and a half, but this is every week, like “Oh my gosh, what’s happening?” It’s different. I’m just in awe of how much it takes.
Wayward Pines returns Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.