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Wayward Pines, Ep. 1.03, “Our Town, Our Law”

Wayward Pines, Season 1, Episode 3, “Our Town, Our Law”
Written by Chad Hodge
Directed by Zal Batmanglij
Airs Thursdays at 9pm (ET) on Fox

You can say this for Wayward Pines: for a show that’s built on big mysteries and has a lot of actors that most shows would kill to have around for a few episodes, it’s not a show that has any reticence about making big moves. Perhaps because they’re conscious of only having ten episodes to play around with, or perhaps because they’re cognizant of having a limited amount of source material (not that that stops Game Of Thrones) but “Our Town, Our Law” pushes things forward in a very meaningful way. It upends circumstances for over half of the characters, takes out its second big-name star in as many weeks, and adds ever more sides to the polygon that is the true nature of Wayward Pines.

From a plot perspective, the most promising of those developments comes by finally introducing Theresa and Ben into the Wayward Pines universe. Their investigation into Ethan’s whereabouts takes them into Idaho and leads them to cross paths with Sheriff Pope, who fakes an oil leak as a way to manufacture a car crash. It comes on the heels of some good character work for both as they prove Ethan’s investigative skills have rubbed off on them, willing to defy Secret Service protocol to log into a terminal and figure out where his last stop was. They’re still the least interesting characters on this show, but they’ve taken on a degree of activity that makes them feel more realized, as opposed to a distraction from whatever kookiness is going on behind the electric fence.

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Beyond keeping the two of them from feeling like they’re on a different show, reuniting the Burke clan in these circumstances is only a good thing for Wayward Pines. Ethan’s not going to get out of Wayward Pines long-term anytime soon, so in order to keep the character interesting he needs more motivations than simply returning to his family. Having to keep said family safe from the horrors of the town—and the question of how many of these horrors to disclose—creates a new set of obstacles, as well as introducing the question of whether or not he’ll be willing to follow the rules if it means sparing either of them from the act now known as a “Reckoning.” And given that both Theresa and Ben are highly sensitive to his relationship to Kate, it’s jeopardy to the one person who could might be his ally.

Speaking of his relationship with Kate, that’s a dynamic that’s given more shading this week as Ethan doubles down on trying to work with her in the wake of Beverly’s death. We learn that not only is she subject to the same weird time-shifting effect that plagued Beverly—the five weeks that have passed since they last met have felt like 12 years to her—but her acceptance of the status quo is a survival mechanism more than it is the action of the true believers who recite the town dogma to Pope. (Nurse Pam in particular has an almost beatific look on her face as she speaks of embracing the present.) The uncertainty of her loyalties remains an important part of Wayward Pines, and it’s good that “Our Town, Our Law” adds some clarity to why she’s helping Ethan but doesn’t commit to a full alliance.

Ethan doesn’t need Kate to keep getting to the bottom of things though, as he hijacks a truck and digs even deeper into what makes Wayward Pines tick. Here we get a Twilight Zone reveal of pulling back the curtain, as a journey via delivery van illustrates just how artificial this town is, taking Ethan into a full-bore bunker full of cars coated in dust (including his family car) and signs that imply this may only be one of many destinations. There’s a good vibe of expansion going on and the whole scene as directed by Zal Batmanglij has the fun feeling of a video game stealth section, Ethan darting from place to place and finding the right amount of cover on his way to an objective.

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Of course, standing in his way at every turn is Sheriff Pope. Terrence Howard has been playing the atmosphere of hidden menace over the first two episodes, but this week there’s no need to hide anything as he opens the episode having just slashed a throat. His recitation of the laws is scenery-chomping with gusto, as is his showing up at the newly minted Burke house to threaten Theresa if she denies him either ice cream (“You guys have a brand new flavor, which is a rarity”) or a thank you. His reactions this week are all ones of ultimate frustration, one he even gives specific voice to: “I’ve had it up to about here with my patience with the Burkes.” There’s fun broadness, but there’s also genuine frustration in how this family is defying the laws he’s evidently devoted his life to enforcing.

This leads to his confrontation with the Burkes on the outskirts of town, beating Ben, threatening Theresa, and getting into a brawl with Ethan—until he’s run over by Ben and shot in the head by Ethan. It’s a tightly shot and forceful sequence, one that emphasizes his (almost) immovable object to the unstoppable force that is the family’s desire for safety. Killing off Pope this early in the game deprives the show of its most compelling antagonist, even as “Our Town, Our Law” makes it clear that he’s not the puppet master of the whole shebang. That may in fact be the biggest reveal of the episode, as Ethan quickly pieces together that the rule to answer the phone if it rings applies to every resident and those in ostensible positions of power (Pope, Pam) aren’t exempt.

Well, that would be the biggest reveal, if it wasn’t for what happens when Ethan finally gets to open up a panel of that electrical fence and something out of American Horror Story or Constantine barrels out to snatch and nosh on Pope’s corpse. After mostly three episodes of implying a man-made source of this confusion, things take on a dimension of the supernatural that sends the Burkes running far from an ostensible exit. And it introduces yet another question as to the nature of the town, and that cryptic warning of “Beyond this point you will die” printed on the sign. The fence may not be there to keep the residents of Wayward Pines in, it might be there—going back to Game Of Thrones—there to keep something even worse out. And by sending the Burkes away from the exit and back to the town (with blood on their hands), it escalates the uncertainty and dread to a point you don’t always expect three episodes in.

The Points Beyond The Pines:

  • That’s Justin Kirk, star of such fine and not-so-fine programs as Weeds and Animal Practice, as the bearded realtor. He makes a good addition to this cast, his smarmy grin with just a hint of menace reinforcing that Ethan’s new house is meant as much for the town’s security as it is his.
  • If Beverly’s death was in fact a scam for Ethan’s benefit as was hypothesized last week, it’s a very convincing one given that her body is left strung up in the abandoned house. Though there’s still plenty of ways she could return in another form: Alex McCown over at The A.V. Club came up with an elaborate theory last week involving clones and imprinted memories.
  • Some great cinematography and color work in this episode, particularly in the floors of both the mysterious facility and the Wayward Pines hospital.
  • “There are no second chances here and you got one. So take it.”
  • “Prior occupant had a sudden sore throat, if you know what I mean.” Melissa Leo as Nurse Pam remains exceptional.
  • “I can assure you that everyone is doing the best they can. Including you.”
  • “The only way to stay alive in this town is to play along.”
  • “You think you know the truth. But it’s worse than anything you can imagine.”

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