An FBI agent is held prisoner in a perfect town surrounded by a not-so-perfect electrified fence.
Welcome to Wayward Pines! It’s a town that also may be a prison! It’s an enclosed government training facility or maybe like a witness protection program or insane asylum sort of thing. It’s a spy breeding camp or human-harvesting test kitchen or sociological experiment that pumps taxpayer capital into answering the question, “What would Carla Gugino do!?”
It’s also your newest creepy-thriller obsession, following in the vein of those lofty, question-raising, theory-provoking forest mysteries like Lost or Twin Peaks or Last Man Standing. Will Wayward Pines prove to be a hotbed of philosophical epiphanies, or will it just be about Matt Dillon trying to come to terms with Melissa Leo’s collection of white Keds?
As your trusted recapper for this 10-week event series, I’ll try to guide us through the goings-on of the show and the little things you might miss along the way. If this all works out like that other show I recap, we’ll crack some ace theories and maybe even come close to explaining things before the show does. (If you’ve read the book series by Blake Crouch on which the Fox show is based, take your spoilery knowledge far away!)
ETHAN: THE AWAKENING
We begin, much like Lost, with a well-dressed man waking up amid a jungle of shrubbery. He’s bloody. He’s wearing a suit. His injures are random and poorly spaced like a child’s WordArt. He’s Ethan Burke, and he’s a secret service agent who’s in Idaho investigating the disappearance of two former agents who have gone AWOL near the Boise field office: One is Agent Kate Hewson, Ethan’s former partner and literally part-time lover, and the other is Agent Bill Evans, who is not Kate and thus much less important for Ethan to find.
Before he wakes up in this forest, a car crash involving Ethan and his partner, Agent Stallings, is the last thing he vaguely remembers—memory being a very tricky thing with Ethan, as we’ll come to find out. But Stallings is now missing and Ethan is alone, stumbling through the strange thicket like pilgrims on a corn hunt. He arrives on the main street (which for simplicity let’s call Main Street), where he enters the nearest coffee shop. A relatively normal-looking barista tells him he’s in Wayward Pines, Idaho. He faints.
ETHAN: THE FLASHBACKS
So before we get into what Ethan Burke goes through next, let’s quickly chat about his former life.
The family: He’s got a wife, Theresa, and a kid, Ben, both of whom seem perfectly normal in their lives back in Seattle, although it seems to me that Theresa definitely knows something was going on between Ethan and Kate. Some women can just tell when their husband is waywarding another lady’s pines.
The therapist: He’s got a therapist, whom Ethan was seeing about a certain recent tragedy in his life. Something called “the Easter bombings,” where 621 people died and Ethan, for one reason or another, blames himself. The therapist insists that the blame rests on “whoever signed those release papers,” suggesting some criminal Ethan put behind bars but whose freedom was given not by Ethan’s hand. We also learn that Ethan occasionally has a history of hallucinations.
The boss: Ethan’s boss at the secret service, Adam Hassler, is the one who sent Ethan to Idaho on the missing persons search in the first place. He’s the one who delivers the bad news to Theresa about the crash, adding the fun caveat that there was no trace of Ethan ever even being in the car in the first place, effectively declaring him missing and leaving it at that. But Adam’s moral compass is tricky; after promising Theresa that he’ll find Ethan, he goes off to a secret meeting with Dr. Jenkins—the resident doc in Wayward Pines—where he pleads, “If there’s time, I want to call it off,” thus basically confirming that Adam is a part of some deep conspiracy shit and is directly responsible for Ethan’s presence in this idyllic wasteland anyway. So, why would Adam want to get rid of Ethan? Does it have anything to do with the Easter bombings? (THEORY: Wayward Pines is a place the FBI sends agents who have suffered psychological damage that puts them beyond retrieval, or agents who have better jawlines than their superiors.)
Which brings us to…
ETHAN: THE HOSPITAL
After collapsing in the coffee shop, Ethan wakes up in a hospital bed and meets Nurse Pam (Melissa Leo). With her stark white clothes and a Stepford smile that’s so sweet it’s diabetic, Pam is a menacing if saccharine face. She’s also quite literally the most Ratched nurse in Wayward Pines. (This is a literature joke.)
Nurse Pam tends to Ethan’s wounds but ignores his pleas for the basics: a phone, a wallet, a sight of another human in the otherwise deserted hospital. She’s sugary sweet, but Ethan doesn’t buy it. He gets dressed and heads toward the elevator, but he’s blocked by her foot. “I’m worried about you,” she says with umbrage, but she allows him to leave. (THEORY: Wayward Pines is a town-wide medical experiment where the brunt of scientific observation is done in the streets and the hospital is merely a relic of irrelevance à la Val Kilmer.)
ETHAN: THE RESTAURANT
And so Ethan wanders back over to Main Street. The sheriff’s office is closed, so instead he turns to a bar, where he meets Beverly Brown (Juliette Lewis). Beverly is a friendly bartender who offers him a cheeseburger (which he orders “bloody with onions” because he’s insane), and she seems to be the only person Ethan can sustain a normal conversation with. He tells her that he’s in town looking for Kate and Bill, and her expression instantly changes. She scribbles down her home address and tells him to pay her a visit, but on the back of the paper, she’s also left a note: “There are no crickets in Wayward Pines.”
And lo, outside the bar, Ethan hears crickets chirping, so he investigates and discovers a sound effects speaker box in the bushes. (THEORY: Wayward Pines is Disneyland. Or, more probable, an insect-less utopia where only the best species are hand-picked to co-exist under the happiest of living conditions. So, Disneyland.) Thanks to Beverly’s candid advice, we now know that she is an ally, and she’s the Pines-ian to truly confirm Ethan’s suspicions that he should be having suspicions.
The next morning, after an encounter with an overly hostile hotelier, Ethan heads to the address Beverly gave him. Despite her claim that it’s her house, it’s actually a decrypt, dangerously run-down old shack that’s starkly different from the rest of the town’s picture-perfect manses. Comparatively speaking, it’s the Boo Radley of houses.
Inside, he finds a dead body tied up on the bed, and despite the fact that the puffy corpse looks like it’s been burnt, stung, boiled, drowned, and overall just generally Quasimodo’d, Ethan inexplicably recognizes the body as one of the two missing agents, Bill Evans. Man, that’s some good identification. Ethan should be in the FBI.
ETHAN: AT THE SHERIFF’S
Having found one of the two missing persons he was searching for, Ethan pays a visit to the sheriff (an ice cream-loving Terrence Howard, who should have been eating a cookie instead, heyo!). Sheriff Pope seems slightly more concerned about Ethan’s discovery of the corpse than the actual corpse itself, but to say he expresses any concern whatsoever would be lying. Sheriff Pope is concerned only with his ice cream, and when he leaves to ‘investigate’ the corpse, he does not pretend to care about helping Ethan get his phone and wallet back.
Ethan makes two calls from the phone at the sheriff’s station: the first, to Theresa, who doesn’t answer yet whose voicemail greeting still plays (an important thing to note); and the second, to the secret service, where a woman named Marcy (who sounds suspiciously like Nurse Pam) insists that Adam Hassler is out of the office. Ethan leaves a message with this strange new receptionist, deciding that that’s a better choice than asking to speak to absolutely any of the other co-workers he knows. Or perhaps Ethan doesn’t actually know anyone else at his office? Perhaps he’s an FBI black sheep and that’s why Adam sent him to the Pines? (THEORY: Wayward Pines is a place for fired office workers whose only crime is being unpopular.)
With no luck at the police station, Ethan goes to the bar again in search of Beverly, but when he gets there, a guy tells Ethan that there aren’t any women who work there. (THEORY: Wayward Pines is the Marvel Cinematic Universe.) The random guy then accuses Ethan of drinking too much, which spurs Ethan to attack him. With a quick move, the guy knocks Ethan out, and as Ethan hits the floor, the man speaks into a walkie-talkie: “10-16-28 is not doing well.” Oh dear God, numbers. But are they the numbers!? I don’t think I can go through that again.
NEXT: Technically he’s like 50 percent done with his mission, right?
ETHAN: BACK AT THE HOSPITAL
When Ethan wakes up at the hospital again—handcuffed this time—he’s tended to by Dr. Jenkins, a pudgy little nugget who looks perfectly harmless, except for the whole “you’re having hallucinations, so we’re going to give you a lobotomy against your will” thing. Derek Shepherd, this is not.
Ethan starts freaking out, giving his best Claire Danes-meets-Jack Nicholson, so Nurse Pam injects him with a sedative with all the bedside manner of a velociraptor. She rolls his gurney out into the hallway and leaves him there with a prime view of the operating room.
And suddenly, he’s being wheeled off! It’s Beverly to the rescue! Wearing a soaking wet hoodie, Bev has snuck in from the rain to wheel Ethan’s gurney to safety. But since the hospital maze is tricky, Nurse Pam is quickly coming after them. In a super sneaky secret service agent type of way, Ethan uses Beverly’s trail of water to confuse Nurse Pam before smashing her face into a pane of glass. (Possibly important reiteration: Nurse Pam saw Beverly’s water trail, proving that Bev is real and not just a hallucination, because science.)
After escaping the hospital, Beverly and Ethan take refuge at Boo Radley’s house, where Ethan demands answers.
Bev explains that Agent Evans tried to escape, and that’s why he’s dead. She says that she herself came to Wayward Pines in 1999 and was hit by a motorcycle. Like Ethan, she awoke in the hospital and was told she had a head injury and memory loss. She says it’s now a year later, and Ethan’s shocked because she thinks it’s the year 2000. “It’s 2014,” he moans, but he finally fades off to sleep because of the late-acting sedative and also because of the oppressive weight of life’s harsh truths.
The next morning, Beverly has left Ethan a bag of clothes, so he goes where anyone with new digs would go: to flaunt them at a local park. (He’s seemingly unconcerned about running into the nurse he just face-planted into glass the night before.)
Suddenly, like the deusest of ex machinas, he sees Kate (Carla Gugino)! The missing person he was looking for just happens to be wearing a sundress and schmoozing at a picnic. Kate is so popular and conveniently located! She looks just like the agent he remembers—the tender partner he confided in about the Easter bombings, the pretty face he kissed despite her not-quite-convincing resistance. And for Kate, Ethan looks the same, too, because the second she sees him, she’s frozen like a bad laptop. But never losing her million-watt smile, Kate quickly impels her husband Harold to leave, claiming, “We’re going to miss our program.” (THEORY: Wayward Pines is a purgatory where TV terminology from the 1960s waits until it’s “in” again.)
Ethan tails Kate back to her house—a little too closely, I might add—and she’s barely inside before Ethan knocks on the door. Her husband Harold answers. He’s a little too smile-y for my tastes, but that’s not important right now. He beckons Kate, and she appears. Upon seeing Ethan, she blanches and steps outside with him.
Never losing her cool, here’s what Kate reveals:
1. They’re being watched and listened to. Not only is Wayward Pines full of tiny speakers that emit fake insect noises and smooth whale sounds, but the town is also riddled with cameras and microphones. (THEORY: Wayward Pines is The Truman Show or, more likely, the re-used set of Fox’s short-lived Utopia.) This begs the question: WHO is watching? Is it Sheriff Pope, or is he simply the lowest rung on a ladder of bureaucratic oversight that supervises whatever the hell Wayward Pines is? Is it a governmental “they” who’s watching, or a privatized “they”? Is the cloud somehow involved?
2. She’s lived here 12 years; Ethan thinks they were together just five weeks ago. The timeline is an interesting thing here, because it suggests that there’s a supernatural element at play. He thinks it’s 2014. Beverly thinks it’s 2000. Does Kate think she came to Wayward Pines in 1988, or is she settling on a 2012 sort of thing? A quick look at her happy-sad eyes suggests that she remembers 12 years ago in Wayward and five weeks ago with Ethan. So, the timeline seems fun.
3. Ethan asks, “Is it happening again? Am I having a relapse?” We already know that Ethan has a history of hallucinations, but is that what he’s referring? Could he be an alcoholic, which explains why he got so angry when the random bar guy accused him of drinking? Assuming he’s talking about relapsing into a hallucinatory state, Kate shakes her head no, confirming that Ethan is living the real trippy deal right now.
And that’s about all we get from Kate, who straddles the line between wanting to help Ethan and not wanting to put herself or her husband at risk. Before she leaves, she tells him, “You could be happy here,” but her smile is too wide to be telling the truth.
ETHAN: ON THE ROAD
Frustrated as all hell, Ethan decides to make a run for it. He breaks into some lady’s car and drives it out of town, but moments after he reaches the Wayward Pines city limit…he comes across a “Welcome to Wayward Pines” sign and suddenly he’s back on Main Street. Let’s try this again. Reversing, Ethan drives the opposite direction and yet again finds himself in a loop back in Wayward Pines, except this time he passed a creepy carousel, which is probably not worth mentioning except that I want to.
It’s during this déjà vu driving moment that we see a flash of Adam Hassler and Dr. Jenkins meeting—presumably in rainy Seattle. Adam wants to “call it off” but Jenkins says, “It’s done. It’s all been taken care of.” Again, WTF!? But then again, if we knew TF, we wouldn’t be watching the next nine episodes.
And so, back in Wayward, Ethan ditches the car and stumbles back out through the woods, where he reaches the crème de la crème of creepy: a giant electric fence that encloses all of the town’s acreage with copious warning signs that say, with no lost meaning, “Risk of death. Return to Wayward Pines. Beyond this point you will die.” (THEORY: Wayward Pines is Jurassic Park except with Juliette Lewis instead of dinosaurs.) But serious question: Are these fences supposed to keep people in, or keep something else out?
Ethan climbs back out of the woods and gets back in the car, where Sheriff Pope is waiting for him. “How do I get out of here!?” he begs, and Pope, between bites of a non-existent rum raisin cone, says, “You don’t.” End of episode.
So, that’s where we are now. One half of Ethan’s missing persons case is long since dead in an abandoned house, and the other is living in a pristine colonial with a husband, friends, and 12 years of memories. There’s a lady who claims that you can’t escape the town, and a sheriff who basically confirms it. And there’s an FBI agent who knows the town doctor, and they both seem to be responsible for Ethan ending up in Wayward Pines in the first place.
Let’s begin this week’s Theory Corner on a clean slate: What is your gut reaction to what Wayward Pines actually is? Is it a prison? An asylum? A science experiment? Do people end up there because of their pasts, or because of what they can offer the town in the future? Is residence in Wayward Pines a punishment…or is it a gift?
Leave your comments below, or hit me up on Twitter with your craziest theories!