In the ever-growing world of streaming TV, it’s a rarity when a show can surprise you. You feel like you’ve seen almost everything before, a product of the flood of shows that everyone is imitations of other stories without even adding anything new. Yet this can often clear the space for a show to come and turn out to be a piece over, an experience that sticks out its place as something quite unique. The exciting first season of the Prime Video thriller series The Wilds was such a show. That raised a host of interesting ideas, challenged our expectations, and built complex characters that you liked. When the story ended on a cliffhanger, the audience was left with many unanswered questions and the hope that another season would bring out its own uniqueness. This makes it even more unfortunate that this second outing not only does not live up to the bar it set for itself, but it also ends up feeling stuck in reverse. Despite some glimpses of its former self, it all ends up being directionless and lingering looking backwards as opposed to forwards.
The Wilds continues right where we left off in the first season with the series’ characters at the height of a crisis. Rachel (Reigh Edwards) was attacked by a shark while floating out in the water, giving an explanation for how she lost her hand as we see her outside in many of the leaps forward in time. This serious injury came right after Leah (Sarah Pidgeon) had been confronting Rachel’s sister Nora (Helena Howard) about her role as a plant in the group. The surveillance of the island and the girls stranded on it was carried out by the controlling Gretchen (Rachel Griffiths) had been something the audience was very aware of, though it remained a mystery to the characters until this point. However, Leah had started putting the pieces together only to make everything turn around when disaster struck the group. The rest of the well-established character dynamics become central to the story as she will still try to convince Shelby (Mia Healey), Martha (Jenna Clause), Prik (Shannon Berry), Toni (Erana James), and Fatin (Sophia Ali) that something is seriously wrong on this island.
This is all well and good as it builds on what was the strong foundation of what came before. The Wilds is still at its best when we see the dynamics between these characters we have become acquainted with. They are all well written and performed and bring all the nuances of their lives to life while trying to survive. Where the problems begin is when we are introduced to the so-called control group, which had been codenamed “The Twilight of Adam.” If you have not already understood what this dish directly referred to, there is now a group of teenage boys who have been placed in the exact same situation in a separate place to serve as a starting point for the experiment. Leah had discovered this in the last scene of the first season, so this is by no means a surprising revelation. What’s surprising is how much focus this new group of boys turns out to be in this second season. The eight new characters are Seth (Alex Fitzalán), Scotty (Reed Shannon), Josh (Nicholas Coombe), Alex (Jarred Blakiston), Kirin (Charles Alexander), Rafael (Zack Calderon), Ivan (Miles Gutierrez-Riley), and Henry (Aidan Laprete). If you think, “huh, it certainly seems like a lot of new characters in a season that’s only eight episodes,” then you already have a sense of the program’s biggest drawback that it’s never able to get out from behind all-inclusive shadow off.
There was the first hope that these boys would serve as a kind of foil for the group we had known, and create an interesting juxtaposition that better filled the characters by comparison. While there are hints that this may have been the intention, it ends up missing the target completely. Instead, these new characters go through all the same moves that we had already seen done before. They get stranded on an island, unsure of what to do, and have to go together to find a way to cope in difficult circumstances. The problem is that their characters are just less interesting, both a product of how we have spent less time with them and how they feel much more superficial in what we experience. The Wilds had already been interested in showing how our first impressions of people can be challenged when we get to know them, even though it seems to have given up approaching it with the same truthfulness here. Our new characters range from the creepy jock to the shy emo-kid, walking clichés that made me wish the show would show mercy by keeping them as a B-plot. Instead, we sit with them for so long that it all just feels wasted.
When a horrible act is committed by one against the other, the scripture deeply lacks the pace to deal with it, as it instead becomes more and more exaggerated with a view to shock. It’s a way the story telegraphs that it’s creating a kind of new antagonist, even though it does so with all the finesse of a hammer that the series makes you fall into. Shown through flashbacks with an awkward visual aesthetic that only ends up looking cheap, it never feels as dynamic or compelling as what we had come to experience in the first season. Although there is some crossover between these two groups that we will see in the future, it all becomes lukewarm and boring when the original story had an energy that was far sharper. Even the elements of what the bizarre experiment is all about are starting to feel less well thought out, burdened by an additional scenario that it seems to acknowledge that is often unnecessary, even if it still plows on. The awe of the experience and the general excitement felt on the island is lost because of this, undermining itself at every turn until it has nothing to stand on.
All of this makes one gasp for air as these boys’ banal side shows become more and more tiring when it comes to the center. When a character talks about how he “spins his wheels” in an attempt to get through to another, he might as well describe the complete lack of progress in his own story. By starting from scratch with a whole new group of characters, The Wilds splits its focus and makes everything more superficial as a result. It is poorly thought out from the jump, digging itself into a narrative hole that it spends far too much time getting out of. The original cast still does their very best and finds layers of emotion in the all-too-brief glimpses we get of them. Whether it’s in an impromptu birthday party or an attempt to save a loved one who is injured, they all shine through, even when the story does not. It just leaves the impression that the show should have been focused on them without adding a whole other aspect that ends up getting messy. When the season comes to an end and hints that more is coming, the only last feeling you are left with is a desire to return to what made the show so unique and clear everything else out.
The Wilds Season 2 will be available to stream from Friday, May 6 on Amazon Prime.
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