Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Wayward Pines: “Do Not Discuss Your Life Before”

Illustration for article titled Wayward Pines: “Do Not Discuss Your Life Before”

This Wayward Pines post is written from the point of view of someone who has not read the books the series is based on. As such, spoilers are strictly forbidden. Any spoilers in comments will be deleted on sight. Remember: Discussions of things that were different in the books or confirmations of things that won’t happen count as spoilers, too. Have you read the books and want to discuss whats coming? Thats what our Spoiler Space is for.

Ethan Burke was permitted a grace period in Wayward Pines. People allowed him to flout the rules, to disobey direct orders from the sheriff, even to assault someone, all without much in the way of consequences. Now, it seems that grace period might be over. When Ethan and Beverly try to make their escape, the entire town is literally called to hunt them down, with every phone ringing simultaneously. But in yet another twist, the hunt stops not when they capture Ethan (who again severely injures someone, stabbing his pursuer), but when they capture Beverly. She’s the one who violated the first rule of Wayward Pines: “She discussed the past,” Sheriff Pope proclaims, right before cutting her throat. Beverly mentioned her daughter, and in so doing, sealed her fate. The rules are not to be taken lightly, and Ethan, watching from a window, finally sees why. It might be a lesson just for him.

The public execution of Beverly is a startling end to another sharp episode, full of deepening mysteries and droll comedy. Indeed, now that the premise has been established, the show is leaning even more into the deadpan absurdist humor hinted at in the pilot. When Pam and the sheriff’s eye-rolling assistant Arlene are unwinding at Beverly’s bar, they begin teasing her about possibly settling down with a man, now that Ethan is in town. Beverly tries to lightly brush it off, telling them it’s her job to talk to people who come into the place. “But not about the past,” Pam intones solemnly, as Arlene stares at Beverly, shaking her head slowly. It’s even better than the double meaning of Ethan’s line at dinner, after hearing that Kate and her husband Harold opened their toy store eight years ago. “Eight years—that’s almost hard to believe,” he says.

Nearly everything that happens in the town of Wayward Pines possesses a double meaning. Every conversation, every scene, is taking place on two levels simultaneously. There’s the surface level banter, meant to evoke the banal pleasantries of daily life in any small burg. But operating concurrently with that surface—sometimes implicitly, often explicitly—is a threat of violence, communicated with glances and warnings, actions and promises. Sometimes, the darker layer is folded into the surface one, such as when Nurse Pam taunts Ethan about missing his wife, turning a crude comment about his “banging” Theresa into a menacing remark. Other times, the lower level erupts into the surface, as when Pope pauses his roadside interrogation of Burke to greet some neighborhood kids, and one of them stops, turns around, and intones, “Don’t try to leave, Mr. Burke.” It’s not a disruption of everyday reality; it is reality.

Even though it’s not all that similar, these are the moments in which the show reveals its Twin Peaks influence. It’s in the moments when the sinister heart of this enigmatic neighborhood proves itself to be ingrained in the very fiber of everything that happens. It may be that it’s just as Beverly warns Ethan: Fear keeps everyone in line. This would explain why the townsfolk are so eager to help Ethan get along, to fit into the mold of this made-up place. Otherwise, they might be asked to do something terrible—or worse, be on the receiving end of Pope’s knife.

Ethan uncovers some key clues along the way to Beverly’s demise, however. Chief among these are the electronic monitors that relay everyone’s location to the digital powers that be. Supposedly safe inside the stone walls of the graveyard tomb, Ethan digs his microchip out, realizing that any escape attempt would necessitate fooling the systems into believing he was still safe and sound. And after he tests his theory, and learns the town cameras track the chips, not the people, he realizes dinner at Kate and Harold’s would be a great cover story for ditching the surveillance and high-tailing it out of town. Too bad Kate is also a former secret service agent—she knew instantly they would try to run. (It didn’t help that Beverly was such a rotten liar.)


Really, it’s a little more surprising that Ethan doesn’t realize just how committed this town is to keeping him in place. He’s the new arrival and everyone already knows his name; he should have realized it wouldn’t be this easy to escape. Although, in his defense, not everyone knows about him: His dead colleague Evans’ widow seems to genuinely not know who he is. Then again, she has a newborn baby. She can be forgiven for not staying up on town news. Not only that, she delivers some confusing info to Ethan about Evans: that he killed himself, and she watched him do it. This obviously has all the earmarks of a cover story, one told to keep hidden Beverly’s confession that the whole town watched Pope kill Evans, the way he subsequently does her.

Only, I think his widow might be telling the truth. And I think there’s a way to account for that.


Last week, I discussed the time shifts, and how they were the most intriguing mystery the show held. How could Kate claim to have been here for 12 years, when it’s only been a few weeks? How could time seem to move differently here—not only for the town itself, but differently for every single person in it? Since floating theories about a show like this is one of the most enjoyable aspects of watching, here’s the theory I’m currently working on: It would not only explain the time shifts, but explain why Ethan thought he saw his wife Theresa and son Ben in the hospital, strapped down in gurneys. And it’s not that time works differently in Wayward Pines.

It’s that the people do. Because there’s more than one of each of them.

I don’t believe for a second Beverly is gone for good. You don’t hire an actress of Juliette Lewis’ caliber and then kill her off in the second episode. I think Beverly has died before, and that Dr. Jenkins can make another one, and has done so many times in the past. Each Beverly wakes up with the former’s memories, tastes, beliefs, but not their sense of time. That’s why Jenkins so desperately needs Ethan to agree to surgery; because without it, there’s only one Ethan, irreplaceable, and therefore a threat to the experiment, whatever it is. It explains why Beverly, in the first episode, tells Ethan “I’ve always believed you.” Everyone in Wayward Pines has had to learn the rules a few times, and that shifting sense of time comes from whatever Dr. Jenkins implants in his clones after the previous model is punished. (“Clones” might be the wrong word; I’m not that far along in the theory.) That’s why Ethan thought he saw his wife and son: Because he did see them. Just not, you know, them.


But it’s still early, and I could be completely wrong. Also, it doesn’t explain everything about the time distortions, which I readily cop to not being able to fully suss out. Maybe there’s something far weirder going on. The show is still zipping along at a nice clip, exposing further secrets and revealing other characters as it goes. Ethan has realized he can’t contact the outside world, just as his family is heading toward Idaho, determined to find him. It’s an ominous way to leave Theresa and Ben, hurtling into the lion’s den. The money in Wayward Pines may be fake, but the violence is very real.

Stray Observations:

  • Still loving the motel clerk. The way he perks up with pride when Ethan refers to him as the “manager” was gold.
  • Additional Mystery Of The Week: The girl at the coffee shop is a little too surprised she doesn’t know who Kate Hewson is. “How is that possible?” Is there additional programming or brainwashing going on here?
  • People are wondering who could be voicing “Marcy” at the fake Secret Service. My money’s on Nurse Pam; I think her job might actually be monitoring newcomers like Ethan.
  • I’m still a little perplexed as to how Ethan finds the bag up in the tree. I’ve watched it a couple of times now, and I’m still not putting the pieces together. Are we to assume he put it there? Help me out, commenters: Am I missing something?
  • “I thought I saw my wife and kid.” “Maybe you did.”
  • Dr. Jenkins almost had Ethan convinced, right up until Nurse Pam showed her leering, untrustworthy face. Maybe it’s time to hire a new assistant, Jenkins.
  • Secret Service Agent Adam Hassler is still stalling Theresa. We know he wanted to call “it” off—whatever it is—but does he even know what’s actually happening?
  • As always, I’ll be checking comments throughout the week. This is a show that generates almost endless questions, so let’s see how many of them we can get into.