The rise and fall of M. Night Shyamalan’s Hollywood career has been well-documented throughout the years. He arrived in style with smash hits, The Sixth Sense and Signs, but soon declined movie-by-movie, beginning with decidedly average The Village, and cascading all the way down to the ill-fated Last Airbender adaptation.
But we’re not here to talk about Shyamalan’s career per se. Rather, it’s his latest TV project that’s been making headlines. Wayward Pines debuted last year as a “single-series event,” pegged at a brief 10-episode run based on the trilogy of novels by the same name.
But as it is with any popular creative property, solid ratings led to a renewal for a second season, despite the network itself having previously admitted that “the series was always conceived and presented as 10 episodes.” Still, what’s the harm in extending a short story just a little longer?
Season 2 is just now getting off the ground, and it’s had a considerable task to take on in its early run: proving that it deserves to exist in the first place. A 10-episode arc with no designs for a new season ties a story together neatly, containing all the best elements within that limited collection of chapters.
When you green-light the story for another season despite this, you’ve stopped operating for the benefit of the story, instead valuing longevity for the sake of profit. For a show based on mystery and intrigue like Wayward Pines, this can be a double-edged sword.
Of course, the benefit is, “Yay, more Wayward Pines!” The first season of the series was a surprising return to form for Shyamalan, with a twist ending reminiscent of his early days as a filmmaker. The world he built out on-screen borrowed just enough from the source material, and was buoyed by a strong cast and some A-plus set design.
All told, for a 10-episode event series, it numbered itself among 2016’s best (all while pulling in strong ratings). This gave FOX a difficult choice to make: Renew the show past its self-imposed expiration date, or move on from it entirely. As we know, they went with the former of those two options, and it has presented a host of issues.
First and foremost (spoilers ahoy for Season 1; consider yourself warned), the main character was killed off at the end of Season 1. Season 2 has tried to fill this void by introducing a new one in Dr. Theo Yedlin (Jason Patric), but even he hasn’t had enough gravity to pull our interest in to his orbit.
Now, Yedlin is experiencing all the shock, surprise, and suspicion we as an audience went through in discovering the secrets of Wayward Pines last season, and in the end it feels more like a retread than a new story. Season 2 hasn’t been without its intriguing moments though.
We’ve gotten insight into how the town of Wayward Pines functions in a post-apocalyptic world, dividing our characters down a philosophical line of safety versus freedom. It’s a debate that has plenty of parallels in our own modern society, and it plays well within the sci-fi drama of the series.
Whether or not Wayward Pines has managed to justify its own existence in Season 2 is unclear at this point. From a ratings perspective, things look grim. The series was last summer’s top-rated drama, pulling in four million viewers on a 1.2 demo rating by its third week. In week three of Season 2, it’s dipped all the way down to 2.4 million/0.7, almost halving both numbers in just a year’s time.
As it is across all the major networks, ratings are what talk the loudest. What we may eventually get is a scattered rest-of-the-season focused on drawing in more viewers as a last-ditch try at keeping it alive for another year.
Sadly, it’s an approach that’s a far cry from the initial event run of Wayward Pines, which functioned entirely for the sake of telling a great story (incidentally this is why it caught on in ratings so well in the first place). We still have a while to go before Season 2 wraps up, leaving plenty of time for the series to turn it around both from narrative and ratings standpoints.
Even so, it’s tough not to feel as though Wayward Pines should have exited gracefully last season, rather than continue to drag out its story until it gradually peters out. There are already so few great sci-fi shows on TV today; it would be a shame to see this one fall victim to its own ambition.
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