Lillian’s Review of The Wilds

I don’t have a funny joke to put here. This show sucked.

The Wilds is an Amazon Prime original about some teenage girls getting stranded on an island. It was praised for its plot twists, characterization, writing and pacing when it came out.

If you read any farther than this, you’ll get spoilers for The Wilds, including why it genuinely did not deserve to be praised for any of the above things. You’ve been warned.

On their way to a feminist retreat, nine girls are stranded on an island after their plane crashes, where they have to survive and wait for rescue to come. They get on each other’s nerves and have to learn to work together in an environment that kills one of the girls very quickly, and eventually learn to work together. Of course, this is all a social experiment by an evil scientist, is strands the girls on the island for vague reasons that unfortunately become clear as the series progresses. I say “of course,” because this is framed as a plot twist, but is actually very obviously the premise from the beginning. About the only saving grace for the show’s pacing is that it gets that tedium out of the way at the end of the first episode, instead of pretending for all ten that something genuine is going on. Unfortunately, that means the show gets to spend more time focusing on the other tedium surrounding the evil scientist, which is the worst part of the show by a margin that is frankly impressive considering how bad the rest of it also is.

Most episodes are framed by an interview being conducted with one survivor from the island per episode, by a therapist and an FBI agent who, in a surprise twist, both turn out to be working for the evil science lady. The revelation of this partway through the series was obviously meant to be surprising, which I suppose means the show was hoping you’d write off their terrible interview and therapy styles as bad writing instead of what it actually was, which was a different kind of bad writing. Normally I love a frame story, but the interview frame really doesn’t work here, because in addition to narrating their time on the island, the girls are also telling their life stories through flashbacks, which creates two layers of flashbacks and makes it seem like they’re interspersing their own recounting of their time on the island with flashbacks about their home life, some of which are also out of chronological order for dramatic effect. It’s supposed to be arty and clever but it actually just comes off as stupid and badly constructed, especially when the three narrative layers are also interspersed with tedious scenes at evil science HQ, where the evil science lady is monitoring everything on a bank of supervillain screens with her personalityless underlings who you’re supposed to care about for some reason.

The drama of the girls surviving on the island is fine, and might have even been compelling if it weren’t for all the other parts. The acting is solid if not always good, and the characters, though none of them ever transcend or even push the boundaries of their archetypes, are interesting enough. I’m not going to run through every character in the show, but a few highlights are Leah, who isn’t a highlight so much as a mandatory inclusion because she’s the main character. She’s obsessive and paranoid, with obvious mental illnesses that have gone untreated for her whole life (and are also left unnamed throughout the show, because that lets them not have to deal with them in a meaningful way, despite how unrealistic it is for someone like Leah not to have at least self-diagnosed), but she’s also proven to be right about everything, which is the least interesting way to do a paranoia storyline. But she’s also the least interesting character in the show, so that’s probably not surprising. There’s Shelby, the homophobic Evangelical Christian pageant queen who, in a shocking twist, turns out to be a lesbian and is only angrily homophobic because…last time she was angrily homophobic it caused her best friend to commit suicide, which I guess was cause for her to do it again. She gets involved in a predictable but admittedly fun gay storyline with the angry lesbian, where they hate each other but then have sex, and that was extremely predictable but still very entertaining for two minutes, and absolutely not deserving of the GLAAD award the show was nominated for (losing out to Star Trek Discovery’s third season, which also didn’t deserve it for different reasons). But everyone likes some good old hatesex, so I was there for it. There’s Martha, who I’m mentioning because her entire character seems to be that she’s Indigenous and there are a lot of problematic vibes in her writing because she has all these airy-fairy connections with animals and nature that come off as just a tiny bit racist. There are also other characters, but like the three who I’ve talked about, they’re not really important to the story, because the narrative is trying very hard to exist in absence of real characters.

It turns out that the evil science lady has concocted this plan to abduct and strand some teenage girls on an island to demonstrate what society would be like if there were no patriarchy, which she tells us in an extremely tacky evil speech partway through the show. This is where it becomes clear that the show is irredeemably bad. She’s obviously not only crazy but also deeply stupid, and the show really does seem to think that she’s a brilliant thinker with radical ideas who has taken them too far. There’s a great deal of criticism of her actions, but no criticism whatsoever of her ideas themselves, which are rooted in sixty-year-old second-wave feminism and are the kind of ideas that if you handed them in is a high school social studies assignment you’d get the feedback that you need to develop your thinking a little more. This woman is an ambiguous professor of something and her ideas all come directly from Simone de Beauvoir’s Cliff Notes, and nobody calls her on it, which means that the writers of the show have no idea how stupid the thing they’ve written is. In her grand evil speech about the need to overthrow the patriarchy, she explains that stranding the girls on the island is going to prove that patriarchy is bad (somehow) by showing how the girls will create a utopia while stranded on an island with no food.

I could write seven or eight more paragraphs solely, entirely about all the reasons why that’s fucking stupid, but I’ll leave it at the fact that not only does it not take into account differences of race, class, sexuality and ability between the test subjects that are going to disallow publishable results, but the experiment is also in a totally artificial environment that the researchers are controlling (while simultaneously having no control over, which I guess is supposed to provide drama but doesn’t), which makes it useless as an experiment. In the very last episode we’re introduced to the idea that there’s a “control group” of men in a similar situation, presumably to prove that they won’t build a utopia, but that’s not what a control group is or how science works and it’s really just one of many, many, many, many, many examples of this show not understanding its own premise in any way, shape or form.

The acting is serviceable like I said, but the character writing becomes inconsistent as the show goes on, and the writers use the excuse of the stress everyone is under to have them act in a way that’s convenient for the narrative rather than a way that makes sense for their characters. One thing I will say is that the show deals with some legitimately serious issues, eating disorders and mental health issues and sexual assault and frankly all the kinds of issues that you’d expect a show about teenage girls to focus on. It does a passable job at all of these things, though I can’t honestly say any of that material stands out, and it’s all been done better in other shows. The show says all the right things about all the right issues, but there’s no complex or interesting characterization behind any of it, so it once again just feels like the characters are incidental to the message the show wants to teach you.

The show would have been better either losing the social experiment stuff, and the interview stuff, entirely, and just having it be a straight-up survival show. Or, alternately, they needed to make the social experiment stuff more prominent, bigger, tackier and more insane. Because it’s currently tacky and insane, but in this really milquetoast way that’s not worth watching.

Honestly, the biggest, most obvious problem with this show is that it’s not self-aware at all. It has no awareness that it’s in a genre with a history and a context. It has no awareness that it’s tacky and stupid. It has no awareness that its villains are one-dimensional and their ideas are seventy years out of date, and it has no awareness that the attempts to give depth to their archetypical cardboard cutout characters are just rehashes of things that have been done in this exact way a million times by a million different things, most of which are better than this. I predicted every single story beat of this show right down to the fucking shark that showed up in the last ten minutes and ate one of the main characters, and that’s genuinely not a problem except that the show really thinks its twisty and exciting and that it’s leaving people on the edge of their seats waiting to find out what’s going to happen next.

The last episode ends on a boring cliffhanger that’s just annoying instead of intriguing, and doesn’t satisfactorily answer any of the questions the rest of the season raised, but obviously thinks it did. I’ve already forgotten most of the characters’ names and I have no interest in what happens next (they’re going to get stranded on another island).

This show obviously didn’t do it for me, because it was absolutely fucking terrible. But I do know people who liked it and I did watch all of it even though it had no redeeming features, so maybe you’ll like it.

But probably not.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s