I really have to stop doing this, but when books are made into TV shows and movies, I really have to stop reading the books ahead of time, such that I know where things are going, even when they don’t go exactly to plan. I started watching the Wayward Pines TV series before I even knew there were books, then I went and read and reviewed all three books in the trilogy before the series was over. I’ve got reviews of the books coming up but I’m going to spoil pretty much everything here and point out where the show stays faithful to the books and where it goes far afield. You have been warned. So let’s go take a look at a nice little town called Wayward Pines.
The plot is simple, although it quickly goes entirely sideways. Agent Ethan Burke is sent to the small town of Wayward Pines to find two other agents who have gone missing. Upon arriving, he’s involved in an automobile accident and his life is turned upside down when he finds out that there’s no way out of Wayward Pines. Something sinister is going on and this sets Ethan on a path of discovery and intrigue that is far stranger than he could have ever realized.
The series starts off very similar to the books, although there are some minor differences. In the books, Ethan’s wife and son do not set off looking for him, in fact, he’s been gone and presumed dead for 18 months when the story opens. David Pilcher visits them in Seattle and offers to reunite them with Ethan, first voluntarily and then by force and in the books, Ben is much younger than he is in the TV show. There is a much longer story where Ethan gets out of Wayward Pines and encounters the abbies as he’s being chased, he manages to get into Pilcher’s mountain complex through a vent and makes a lot of discoveries that are either ignored or barely touched on in the TV series. In the books, Pope isn’t killed when Ben runs over him with the truck, Pope survives until the end of the book until Pilcher offers Ethan the job of sheriff, after which he feeds Pope to the abbies for wanting too much power.
Right around episode seven though, the TV show goes entirely off the reservation and away from the book. I guess I can understand why, they have a lot of content to squeeze into just a few episodes and there’s a ton of backstory they just don’t have time for. In the books, the group that Kate and Harold belong to are not terrorists, in fact, they just get together to talk about the outside world. They’re aware that something weird is going on in Wayward Pines. The whole explosives element is entirely invented for the series, the group has a way out of the town, they’re just afraid to use it. I suppose this is an easy way to bring around Burke explaining the truth to everyone like he did in the second book and allow Pilcher to have his meltdown, I just don’t know how necessary it is. The characters are significantly different as well, especially Pam, who was an out-and-out sociopath in the books but she seems to be a surprising moral center for David Pilcher. They’ve also added the “First Generation” nonsense, giving Ben a love interest, having the two of them getting injured in an explosion, which gives the rest of the crazy kids an excuse to run amok and kill people, all of which is totally unnecessary. Granted, Ben has little to do in the books, they had to increase his role somehow, but it’s all just unnecessary filler.
Casting is generally good, Matt Dillon is excellent as Ethan Burke. The rest, such as Carla Gugino and Shannyn Sossamon were fine as Burke’s loves and you just can’t go wrong with anything Mike McShane of Whose Line is it Anyway fame is in, even if it is a bit part. Honestly, I can’t imagine anyone better than Toby Jones to play Pilcher, it’s like the part was written for him. I had a couple of problems with Charlie Tahan who played Ben but he’s young and I can overlook some of his questionable acting, plus some of the other young actors, who were a bit painful to watch sometimes.
In the end, I think that the series managed to avoid some of the pitfalls that the books had, simply by being shorter. They picked the best bits out of the books and put it into a very solid 10-episode series. It isn’t perfect but it’s close enough to make Wayward Pines a solid and very enjoyable experience. If they go on with it, which honestly I hope they don’t because they’ve told the story, but if they do, I think they’ve earned my attention.