A new group of castaways and more emotionally complex storytelling further elevates Amazon's addictive YA survival series in season 2.

You may have missed The Wilds when it first dropped on Amazon back in mid-December 2020, a time in history when our minds were on other things: The announcement of the first COVID vaccine, our country's tenuous hold on democracy, the hot Duke licking a spoon on Bridgerton, etc. As someone who gobbled up all 10 episodes of the first season two years ago, I'm honestly a little jealous of anyone coming to it now. What a treat to discover this gripping YA drama from Sarah Streicher for the first time — and then have the luxury of diving immediately into season 2, which elevates the survival saga into an even more riveting psychological thriller.

For anyone who has a hard time remembering last week, let alone two years ago, here's a quick refresher. (Season 1 spoilers ahead.) The Wilds follows a group of teen girls — Fatin (Sophia Ali), Leah (Sarah Pidgeon), Nora (Helena Howard), her sister Rachel (Reign Edwards), Martha (Jenna Clause), her best friend Toni (Erana James), Shelby (Mia Healey), and Dot (Shannon Berry) — whose plane crashes on their way to a fempowerment retreat in Hawaii. But there was no retreat. Instead, the girls are part of a social experiment called Dawn of Eve, headed by a possibly insane academic named Gretchen Klein (Rachel Griffiths), who hopes to prove that women are better suited to run the world than men. The action toggles between the group's ordeal on the island, their lives before being stranded, and present day, as the girls are debriefed after their "rescue" by two Dawn of Eve operatives, Dean Young (Troy Winbush) and Daniel Faber (David Sullivan).

The Wilds Season 2
Sarah Pidgeon, Sophia Ali, Reign Edwards, Mia Healey, and Erana James on 'The Wilds'
| Credit: Kane Skennar/Prime Video

The finale ended with Leah discovering surveillance footage of a new unwitting control group, dubbed "The Twilight of Adam." (Gretchen, like The Wilds itself, has a flair for the grandiose.) Season 2 kicks off with a series of snappy video introductions to these soon-to-be-stranded boys: Rafael (Zack Calderon), an introvert from Tijuana; Henry (Aidan Laprete), a nose-ringed doomsayer; Seth (Alex Fitzalan), Henry's affable stepbrother and self-described "try-hard kiss-ass"; Bo (Tanner Ray Rook), a kindhearted neat freak; Bo's savvy best friend Scotty (Reed Shannon); Ivan (Miles Gutierrez-Riley), a sharp-witted activist; Kirin (Charles Alexander), a dude-bro lacrosse star and Ivan's classmate/nemesis; Josh (Nicholas Coombe), a loquacious, over-diagnosed rich kid; and DJ (Elliott Giarola), a tracksuit-wearing "man of taste."

It's a lot, yes. Dropping eight new characters into an already sprawling ensemble is a bold move, but just as it did in season 1, The Wilds — which, it should be noted, premiered 11 months before Showtime's plane-crash thriller Yellowjackets — draws multiple narrative threads into a taut and twisty rope that pulls viewers along. Emerging from the crash, the boys sort through the physical and emotional wreckage, assuming rescue is on its way. The dynamics form in expected but entertaining ways, as each of the guys falls into a recognizable role — Kirin with his "daddy voice," Seth with his "camp counselor" vibe, Henry and his "hardcore morbid" pessimism. Streicher, like her fictional Wilds matriarch, did an excellent job assembling this meticulously eclectic group of newcomers. Coombe is particularly funny as Josh, whose chirpy-chatty demeanor belies deep-rooted alienation. Australian actor Alexander infuses Kirin with an unexpected sweetness, and Laprete is a standout as the deadpan know-it-all Henry.

Meanwhile, the girls — already 30 days into their tropical nightmare — sink further into despair as their situation calcifies into hopelessness. It's difficult to praise the actresses, each of whom bring additional depth and pathos to their characters this season, without getting into spoiler territory. I'll just say that "Shoni" shippers will appreciate how Shelby and Toni choose to deal with new stressors on their budding romance. And watch out for the charming comedic chemistry that develops between Pidgeon and Edwards, as Leah and Rachel turn to hyper productivity to avoid thinking about their respective traumas.

Gretchen may think that this contrast between coping styles — the boys lash out at each other; the girls turn inward — proves her point, but The Wilds knows that both strategies result in their own form of violence. The sophomore season hurtles through its eight episodes, dropping in satisfying reveals about the girls' island timeline, seeding new mysteries for the larger group, and tackling themes of racism, sexuality, and domestic violence. If it all culminates in a somewhat silly and histrionic cliffhanger, well… this is a show about a madwoman terrorizing teenagers for the greater good. Streicher and her team have earned the right to make The Wilds even wilder. B+

Season 2 of The Wilds premieres Friday, May 6, on Amazon Prime Video.

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The Wilds
The Wilds (TV series)

A group of teens ends up as castaways on a mysterious island.

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