Wayward Pines' "Once Upon a Time in Wayward Pines" achieved two things I thought were absolutely impossible: it made Melissa Leo's iconic Nurse Pam character even more dark and threatening, and gave the moral high ground to a totalitarian state. Yes, Fox's most disturbing series got far darker and nihilistic than ever. I'm not sure if there's a single person to root for anymore or any way for there to be a happy ending, and yet it's cemented itself as my favorite thing I'm watching this summer. Is Wayward Pines just the right combination of cozy small-town charm and chilling existential horror or am I missing key mood-stabilizing vitamins? Who can say!
The episode opened with the dulcet tones of Melissa Leo describing how Jason Higgins (Tom Stevens) was flash-frozen as a baby and raised by Pilcher and Pam, always knowing the whole truth about the Abbies and the apocalypse. Pam's fairy tale about Jason was a framing device that recurred throughout the episode, showing different episodes in baby Jason's life: how he learned all the hot gossip about everybody in town, how he got sick of living behind a fence with a bunch of flash-frozen forced friends around age 11, and how he was secretly groomed to be a little tyrant by Megan Fisher (Hope Davis).
Jason's hastily laid-out history seems like a bit of a ret-con, because in Season 1 we learned the first batch or two of unfrozen Wayward Pines residents killed themselves en masse, but I say let's just go with it. Let's assume Pam waited 'til they had everything dialed in to defrost him, sure, on with the show.
Also Arlene made an extremely sexy pass at Dr. Yedlin.
She was making it seem like adultery was no big whoop in Wayward Pines, but that may have been the brain damage talking. Apparently Wayward Pines electro shock therapy makes you hilarious and wonderful and very frisky. Or maybe it was just the thrill in the air around town as for the second consecutive day no Abbies could be seen for miles.
Yes, instead of piling up heaps of their own dead to climb up the town walls, the Abbies had cleared a 30-mile radius of Wayward Pines. Were they scared off by the flame throwers from last week's "Blood Harvest"? No one knew for sure what had driven away the Abbies, but one thing was clear: a little celebratory love making was definitely in order. Especially for a certain cutie dictator.
Unfortunately Jason Higgins was about to be faced with the greatest cockblock of the last two millennia: a long, slow, twisted march towards matricide.
Nurse Pam was back minus about 8 pounds of hair and she was UP to something. She'd been in house exile but apparently had come back to lead her baby boy forward with expanding Pilcher's plans for Wayward Pines. Jason brought her back into the fold by publicly pardoning her.
Hilariously, Megan Fisher was not having it.
Still, Nurse Pam was back! And so was her sexy little white uniform and her sinister attitude, she got right back to slipping around corners, giving everyone the side eye and acting like she was up to no good. It was a powerful reminder that some of the best moments from Season 1 were entirely due to Leo's menace and seeming omniscience. Her first five minutes back in the hospital she'd already pocketed a syringe and got under Yedlin's skin big time.
Meanwhile, at the middle school, Fisher was encouraging teen pregnancy every which way she knew.
This is by far the creepiest element of Wayward Pines to me, these pregnant school girls and the euphemism of "blooming" for getting your period, which, point my head towards the nearest toilet because it is puke o' clock when I hear that phrase. I get the logic that when you're the last non-monsters on Earth it just makes sense to reproduce early and often. But do you have to be so excited about it, Megan Fisher, with your giggling and your euphemisms and your wiggling eyebrows, and maybe instead of bullying these kids you should put some of your effort into getting the people over 12 years old to reproduce? The Yedlins, for example.
Meanwhile Pam was taking a trip down memory lane, trailing through the beautiful bunkers in which so many of her friends had been frozen and stopping by the gorgeous Civilization Room in which she'd shot her brother Dr. Pilcher. Then she moseyed into the Slap-An-Abbie Research Center and pocketed something before Megan could catch her, though Megan by no means was fooled by Pam and knew she was up to something. Megan's hard cold rage and refusal to absolve Pam was pretty great, but Pam won the verbal sparring match when she asked how in hell a hypnotherapist student was supposed to map out a genome. Pam is like an eclipse, you cannot escape her shade.
Then Pam hurried back to her hovel, laid out a sexy red dress for herself, and was about to inject whatever she'd picked up from the Abbie Stable into her arm when Yedlin came a-knocking. He'd presumably left in the middle of the work day because he wanted some answers about Hawaii. Pam insinuated that Yedlin wasn't here just because he was a doctor, that the Hawaii flash freeze hadn't been all about him. Was there someone who was after his wife? Some mystery man who kept Theo frozen and led Rebecca to believe he was dead?
After Yedlin had been thoroughly humbled, we saw Pam inject something in her arm. At this point I thought she was committing suicide, and that had been her endgame all along. Then she appeared at a meeting with the ruling elite of Wayward Pines, dressed up in her sexy red gown, and kissed her own son straight up on the lips.
Moments later, Dr. Yedlin came in announcing that a vial of smallpox had gone missing from the Harrass An Abbie For Science Center and was all currently coursing through Pam's blood stream. Caught out, Pam told everybody yes, she had infected herself with smallpox but she had done it to save Wayward Pines. She was so horrified that Jason had killed Ben Burke and was leading the town astray she'd made a unilateral decision to deliver to a "peaceful end" by killing them all with smallpox. Like, what?!
Totalitarianism is completely not my jam, but on the spectrum of evil I'd say mass extermination via smallpox is a couple notches up the scale even from all-powerful dictatorships. Pam apparently had no problem with killing off her (gasp!) biological son Jason and destroying the lives of every person in town — most of whom, remember, never asked to be here in the first place — and would happily have kept trying until smallpox or the First Generation took her down. In a previous scene, Pam had justified killing her brother, Dr. Pilcher, by saying he wasn't himself, his mind had snapped and he'd decided to give up on humanity by killing off the town. Pam too had given up, though she seemed chillingly sane the whole episode. When Jason choked her to death with his bare hands in the woods, there was the sense he was mirroring what she herself had done. He killed someone he loved deeply to keep them from destroying hundreds (or even thousands) of innocent lives.
It was a deeply disturbing and dark place for the show to go, an over the top moment of soap opera psychodrama, but it also helped shade in more nuances to our bizarre teen despot. If Jason wasn't hardened and twisted before, killing his mother in retribution for her attempting to give him smallpox with a kiss will probably get him there.
There is no one to root for here, guys, but if my choices are living under fascists or declaring this world imperfect and therefore dying quietly of smallpox, I guess the fascists are the good guys. I was hoping at this point Dr. Yedlin would give us a stirring speech about how humanity can still be saved in this town without resorting to full-on fascism, some kind of third rail that could lead to a happy ending, a pep talk if you will.
NOPE, no pep talk, just a long, extremely profound speech about the years of confusion and sorrow his father must have experienced after Theo was kidnapped from his own life. Hilariously, Rebecca seemed to have never considered this before? She was sitting there sobbing like "Oh yeah, right... our families. My bad."
So yeah, we went from matricide to a heartbreaking monologue accompanied by silent tears. Pretty dark, guys. But we were about to go 50 shades darker with yeah, that's right, PAM'S BODY BEING BURNT ON A TRASH HEAP. JASON THAT IS YOUR MOM THAT IS NOT RIGHT MAN.
Guys, this was the heaviest, most nihilistic and hopeless episode of Wayward Pines in the series' history. And yet it was compelling and intriguing and I could not look away. It made me root for characters I had no intention of rooting for and feel weird feelings about bad guys and made me think brand new thoughts. Which is what the best shows do! But also I probably need a brisk walk out in the sunshine now with happy music in my headphones.
How are you feeling about it?
...how could Pam possibly see smallpox as a merciful way to kill off the town? Was there an element of retribution there?
...where have all the Abbies gone?
...what was Pam insinuating about Rebecca Yedlin?
...Jason Higgins: what do you make of him after this episode? Twisted villain or TV's edgiest anti-hero?
...is there any possibility for a happy ending for Wayward Pines? What would a happy ending even mean?