Wayward Pines, Ep. 1.08, “The Friendliest Place On Earth”

Wayward Pines, Season 1, Episode 8, “The Friendliest Place On Earth”
Written by Patrick Aison and Rob Fresco and Chad Hodge and Blake Crouch
Directed by Tim Hunter
Airs Thursdays at 9pm (ET) on Fox

One of the most interesting things about Wayward Pines—and one of the reasons why it’s been so successful as a summer potboiler show—is the way that it’s a series where the central conflict is constantly in motion. Every week the stakes seem to shift one way or the other, peoples’ allegiance to one side or the other blurring as their motivations become clearer. Ethan’s trying to get out of town, then he’s trying to keep his family safe, then he’s trying to keep the town safe. Kate goes from placid resident of the town to the most extreme member of its insurgent group. And Pam goes from zealous follower of her brother’s wishes to the one who seems to be pulling his strings, guiding his paranoia and worry into more productive avenues.

In “The Friendliest Place On Earth,” the conflict shifts once again, and in a way that makes it obvious that everyone is fighting for the same thing: the soul of Wayward Pines. Everyone involved, from Pilcher to Ethan to Kate to Megan to Pam, has their own interpretation of what the town means versus what it should mean, and the clash of wills between these various parties drives much of what makes “The Friendliest Place On Earth” so engaging. Much as the town’s facade decays in the opening credits, so too has the facade of Wayward Pines lost much of its luster, and everyone’s either pushing to reinforce it or inflict as much damage as they can.

The bulk of said damage took place at the end of “Betrayal,” where the resistance bomb went off in the middle of town and left both Ben and Amy in critical condition. “The Friendliest Place On Earth” steers away from last week’s cliffhanger early on, establishing by the second scene that both teens are projected to make a full recovery. It’s an interesting choice for the writers, as it steers away from the narrative paths usually taken in similar cases: bedside moments of desperation from both Ethan and Theresa, Ethan becoming increasingly unhinged at possibly losing his son, uncertainty if the show’s proven track record of killing main characters will continue. But it’s also a choice that makes the most sense, given how Wayward Pines is a series that’s constantly on the move. In this universe, there’s no time to spend on a limbo episode.

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Instead, the focus shifts to the aftershocks of the explosion, and a populace that’s less inclined to buy into the happy picture of Wayward Pines. Here, the management styles of Dr. Pilcher and Ethan Burke have their most dynamic clash yet, as Pilcher tries to distract the town with a fake gas leak news story and a Fellowship Gathering, and Ethan outright tells everyone that it was in fact a bomb. It’s the unstoppable force and immovable object scenario that played out when Ethan was first brought to town, as being in the know redirects his aims but not his hunger for the truth. Pilcher’s way of doing things isn’t keeping it contained, a truth that Ethan knew long before Pilcher did—or perhaps he was simply more willing to admit to that truth. Toby Jones and Tim Hunter make that realization clear on Pilcher’s face, as well as the subsequent realization of how much ground he’s ceded to Ethan by giving him this position of authority.

Ethan’s challenge turns out to be only one of many problems created for Pilcher, and in fact most of “The Friendliest Place On Earth” is devoted to watching his illusions and best intentions crumble around him. The best of those scenes come via both past and present interactions with Kate, who’s now revealed to be one of his prized projects: converting a federal agent to his camp was in his mind validation of his abilities. Carla Gugino does top-notch work in these scenes, getting to play both sides of Kate—utterly serene in the therapy session, strong and triumphant in the jail cell confrontation—and even getting an opportunity to go over the top during a padded cell breakdown. In those scenes, she reveals how fully in control she’s been since the beginning of the series, and certainly long before that, her secret agent bona fides restored as she throws Pilcher’s real name in his face.

Even his relationship with Pam isn’t as it seems this week, the ultimate betrayal as she moves to temper his paranoia about the surveillance team and what they may have let slip under the radar. Much as Kate exposes further depths by declaring a commitment to freedom, so too does Pam by her willingness to show mercy to good-natured tech Reggie when he admits to blurring minor infractions. What was introduced as a support role now feels increasingly like the sober yin to her brother’s raging yang, there to temper his vision and destructive urges rather than serve him unfailingly. And given the degree to which she’s willing to fall on the sword for Reggie—even offering to take on his punishment—it raises a serious question about who she’d side with if it came to that.

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Reggie’s spared the worst of things—Pilcher opting to take the Demolition Man route and punish crimes with a stint in the deep freeze—but this is an episode where the stability of Wayward Pines is more in question than it’s ever been. The way we see Pilcher watching the watcher by observing Pam’s interrogations, and the sinister smile on his moon face when he praises their sibling bond, doesn’t do anything to bolster confidence that he should be in charge of things going forward. Kate calls him on being a fanatic and Pam calls him out for losing humanity if he executes his people, and neither one of them is in the wrong this week. His second chance at a last chance is crumbling, and much as he’s made the people of Wayward Pines desperate enough to try anything, his own desperation is setting in.

The only person who seems to be entirely on Pilcher’s side this week is Megan, who sneaks into Ben’s hospital room to pour some poison in his ear about Ethan’s methods in dealing with Harold last week. Yet despite her words about how her “clear and severe” attitude toward law and order are mirrors of Pilcher’s own beliefs, the tug-of-war that’s going on between the siblings give the impression the doctor might not be pulling these strings either. Megan’s zeal, particularly in the flashback in “Choices,” continues to give the impression she may have twisted some of Pilcher’s original ideals to her own purposes. And with Theresa challenging Megan’s authority as much as her husband challenges Pilcher, a similar conflict over the hearts and minds of Wayward Pines residents is playing out.

Yet despite all of these conflicts and cross-purposes playing out, the joke of “The Friendliest Place On Earth” is that none of it matters in the long run. Pilcher’s autocratic measures and Ethan’s investigative grit fly in the face of one heretofore unidentified Wayward Pines resident, who just wants to bury his dead friend in “free soil” and replaces all the subterfuge with the blunt force of driving a truck through the gate. One moment of joy turns into a final moment of terror when the abbies show their faces, and they fixate on the new hole with blood-stained stares of hunger. Once again, every priority for Wayward Pines shifts, as being free and being safe takes a backseat to a new objective: being alive.

The Points Beyond The Pines:

  • The one point that doesn’t land this week is the reveal of Ethan’s past trauma, learning that in his Secret Service days he authorized the release of a suspected terrorist who later detonated simultaneous bombs in Los Angeles and Washington D.C. It’s a flat reveal because while it was alluded to back in the “Where Paradise Is Home” therapy flashbacks, Wayward Pines discarded the early ideas of Ethan’s instability in favor of his investigatorial competence, and there hasn’t even been an allusion to it since the pilot. Bringing it back now only reminds an audience that they forgot about it weeks ago.
  • Fun to see Pam play both sides of the nurse coin, being genuinely supportive and caring with the Burke family and then back to Nurse Ratchet mode with Kate in the flashback.
  • Wayward Pines may well host the worst Fellowship Gathering ever. Between the pathetic two-man band and the lack of smiling, it’s almost comical how little everyone wants to be there.
  • The reveal that Lucy has been cooperating with the resistance sadly kills the earlier theory that she’s a robot barista.
  • “Fake cities built to impress.”
  • “When a disaster like this occurs in a town as beautiful as ours, it’s natural to ask questions.”
  • “These people want to be free. And I owe them that chance.”
  • “At least we have each other. Thank goodness for that.”
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