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FX TV Series Review: Devs

Posted in botch, california, entertainment, Uncategorized by commorancy on March 7, 2020

devsDevs is a new “limited” series from FX, also being streamed on Hulu. Let’s explore everything that went wrong here.

Silicon Valley Startups

Having worked in Silicon Valley for several tech companies, I can confirm exactly how unrealistic this show is. Let’s start by discussing all of the major flaws within the pilot. I should also point out that the pilot is what sets the tone of a series. Unfortunately, the writers cut so many corners setting up the pilot’s plot, the rest of the series will suffer for it.

As a result of the sloppy writing for the pilot, the writers will now be required to retcon many plot elements into the series as the need arises. Retconning story wouldn’t have been needed had they simply set up this series properly. Unfortunately, they rushed the pilot story.

Slow Paced

While you might be thinking, “Well, I thought the pacing of the series was extremely slow.” The dialog and scene pacing is slow. But, the story itself moves along so rapidly, if you blink you’ll miss it.

What’s it about?

A girlfriend and boyfriend pair work for the same fictional tech company named “Amaya”. It is located in a redwood forested area near San Francisco, apparently. It doesn’t specifically state where it exists, but it’s somewhere located in a wooded area.

The female lead, Lily, and the male lead, Sergei, are in a relationship. She’s of Chinese-American heritage and he’s of Russian descent. She works on the crytography team at Amaya and he works in the AI division at Amaya (at least in the pilot of the show).

Things Go Awry

Almost immediately, the series takes a bad turn. Sergei shows off his project to the ‘Devs’ team leader, another team in the company. We later come to find that this unkempt leader is actually the founder of the company and Amaya was his daughter who died. He also apparently heads up a part of the company that we come to find is named ‘Devs’. Unfortunately, because there’s no setup around what ‘Devs’ exactly is, this leaves the viewer firmly lost over the magnitude of what’s going on at this meeting. Clearly, it isn’t lost on Sergei as he’s extremely nervous about the meeting, but he still goes in reasonably confident of his project. As viewers, though, we’re mostly lost until much later in the episode.

Sergei demonstrates his project to this not-explained team and they seem suitably impressed with Sergei’s project’s results… that is until the end of the meeting when the results begin failing due to insufficient amounts of processing power.

Still, Sergei’s results are impressive enough that he is invited (not the rest of his team) to join ‘Devs’ right then and there.

And then we hear the sound of a record needle being ripped across a record…

Not how Silicon Valley works

You don’t get invited to join some kind of “elite coveted” team at the drop of a hat like that. Managers have paperwork, transfer requests have to be made and budgets have to be allotted. There are lots of HR related things that must result when transferring a person from one department to another, even at the request of the CEO. It’s not a “You’re now on my team effectively immediately” kind of thing. That doesn’t occur and is horribly unrealistic.

Ignoring the lack of realism of this transfer, the actor playing Sergei is either not that great of an actor or was directed poorly. Whatever the reason, he didn’t properly convey the elation required upon being invited and accepted into “the most prestigious” department at Amaya. If he were actually trying to get into ‘Devs’, his emotions should have consisted of at least some moment of joy. In fact, the moment he’s accepted into ‘Devs’, it almost seems like fear or confusion blankets him. That’s not a normal emotion one would experience having just stepped into a “dream job”.

This is where the writers failed. The writers failed to properly explain that this was Sergei’s dream job. This is also where the writers failed to properly set up the ‘Devs’ team as the “Holy Grail” of Amaya.

Clearly, the writers were attempting to set this fictional Amaya company up to mirror a company of a similar size of Google or Apple.

Location

Ignoring the meeting that sets up the whole opening (and which also fails to do so properly), Sergei heads home to explain to Lily his change in company status and his transfer into ‘Devs’. They have a conversation about the closed nature of that team and that they won’t be able to discuss his new job in ‘Devs’.

The next day, Sergei heads over to the head of Amaya security to be ‘vetted’ for the ‘Devs’ team. Apparently, there’s some kind of security formality where the security team must interview and vet out any potential problems. The security manager even points out that because Sergei is native Russian and because Lily is Chinese that there’s strong concern over his transfer. If this security person is so concerned over his background, then he should rescind his transfer effective immediately.

Instead, he sends Sergei on his way to meet with the ‘Devs’ manager who then escorts him through a heavily wooded area into what amounts to an isolated fortress.

Record needle rips across again… “Hold it right there”

While it’s certainly possible a tech startup might attempt to locate its headquarters deep in a wooded area, it’s completely unrealistic. California is full of tree huggers. There are, in fact, way too many tree huggers in California. There is no way a company like Google or Apple could buy a heavily forested area and then plop down a huge fortress in the middle of it. No, not possible. In fact, an organization like “Open Space Trust” would see to it that they would block such a land purchase request. There is no way a private company could set this up.

A governmental organization could do it simply through annexation via eminent domain, but not a private company. Let’s ignore this straight up California fact and continue onward with this show. Though, it would have made more sense if Amaya had been government sanctioned and funded.

Sergei’s First (and Last) Day

Ignoring the improbable setup of this entire show, Sergei is escorted by his new boss, who remarkably looks like Grizzly Adams… but more dirty, homeless and unkempt. Typically, Silicon Valley companies won’t allow men who look like this into managerial roles. Because we come to find later that he is apparently the “founder” of Amaya, the rest of the company lets his unkempt look slide. His look is made worse by the long hair wig they’ve glued onto this actor. If you want a guy to look like Grizzly Adams, at least have him grow his hair out to some length so a lacefront wig looks at least somewhat realistic.

Anyway, let’s move on. Sergei is escorted through a heavily wooded area (complete with a monstrously huge and exceedingly ugly statue of a child in a creepy pose) and onto his new work location… the aforementioned fortress I described earlier. His boss explains how well secured the location is by pointing out its security features including an “unbroken vacuum seal” to which Sergei ponders aloud before being shown how it works. Sergei is then told that there is only one rule. That rule being that no personal effects go into the building and nothing else comes out of it. Yet, this rule is already broken when they head inside. Even the “manager” breaks this rule.

Once they enter the building and get past the entry area, Mr. Grizzly explains that nothing inside the building is passworded. It’s all open access to everything. He is then shown his workspace and left to his own devices. Grizzly explains he’ll figure it out on his own by “reading the code”.

Unrealistic. No company does this.

Last Day

Here’s where everything turns sour. We are left to assume that only one day has passed since Sergei has been been escorted into the building. Sergei then stares at his terminal screen not doing anything for about 5 minutes. He gets up, goes to the bathroom, barfs and then fiddles with his watch.

He then attempts to leave the building, yet somehow it’s night time. It was probably morning when he entered. Here’s where the storytellers failed again. There was no explanation of time passage. The same screen he was looking at when he entered is the same screen that was on his terminal when he attempts to leave. Yet, now it’s night time?

His manager assumes that Sergei has absconded with the code (remember the open access?) from the facility and that he is attempting to leave with it on his “James Bond Watch”. Sergei is jumped by the head of Amaya security and is seemingly suffocated by this same head of security no less.

And so the retcon begins…

The writers have now killed the person they needed to explain this story. So now, they have to rely on Lily to unravel what happened (as a newly minted detective). Here’s where the show goes from being a possible uplifting story to an implausible detective horror story.

To enable Lily to even get the first clue what has happened to her boyfriend, the ‘Devs’ and the security teams collude to fabricate footage to make it appear as if Sergei is acting oddly while walking around the campus.

Instead of the writers creating actual story, they rely on fake security footage to retell the story. They even go so far as to fabricate a person setting themselves on fire with Sergei’s face attached… to make it appear as some kind of suicide. Yeah, I doubt Lily is buying any of it. Unfortunately, the writers leave too much unsaid. So, we have no idea what Lily is really thinking.

Instead, Lily heads off to find her ex-boyfriend and ask him for help… who he then summarily tells her to “fuck off”. This whole ex-boyfriend premise is so contrived and unrealistic it actually tops the list of unrealistic tropes in this show.

Questions without Answers

Would a Silicon Valley company stoop to murder to protect its intellectual property? I guess it could happen, but it is very unlikely. Would they allow a thug to head up its security team? Exceedingly doubtful. If a company were to need to protect its property through acts of violence, it would hire out for that.

Though, really, Amaya is actually very naive. If they didn’t trust Sergei, they shouldn’t have hired him. Worse, they allowed their one rule to be broken… allowing personal effects inside the building. Both Sergei and Grizzly wear watches into the building. If no personal effects are to be carried in or out, then that includes ALL forms of technology including wrist watches of any form. In fact, they should require everyone to change their clothes before entering the building, forcing ALL personal effects into a locker with no access to that locker until shift end. The staff would then wear issued wardrobe for the duration of their work shift.

If Amaya had simply followed its own rules by setting the whole system up correctly, there wouldn’t have been the possibility of any code theft or the need to murder an employee. Yet, Sergei is allowed to wear his watch into the building? It is then assumed that Sergei has managed to copy all (?) of the code onto his watch? Setting up such a secure system would have forced Sergei to thwart this system in some way creating more drama and enforcing the fact that Sergei is, indeed, a spy. By killing Sergei off so quickly, the writers were requires to take many shortcuts to get this story told.

Clearly, corporate espionage does exist, but would anyone attempt corporate espionage on their first day on a new team? On their second day? I think not. In fact, this setup is so contrived and blatantly stupid, it treats not only Sergei, but the audience as if we haven’t a brain in our heads. That the writers also assume that Russian espionage is this stupid is also insane.

No. If Sergei were being handled as a spy, he would only attempt espionage after having been in the position for a long time… perhaps even years. Definitely well enough time to be considered “trusted”. No company fully trusts a new employee on the first day. No company gives full access to all data to a new employee on the first day, either. There is no way that “first day” Sergei could have ever been put in the position of having access to everything.

Further, a new employee needs to fully understand exactly what’s going on in the new department, where everything is and get accustomed to the new work area and new co-workers. There is no way Sergei would have attempted to abscond any the code when he barely understands what that code is even doing. Preposterous.

Episode 2

The writers then again further insult us with the passworded Soduku app that Lily finds on Sergei’s phone. Lily enlists her ex-boyfriend again (whom she hadn’t talked to in years) to help unlock the app. Amazingly, this second time he agrees. He then explains to Lily that it’s a Russian messaging app and that Sergei was a spy.

Here’s the insulting part. After her ex-boyfriend unlocks the app, all of the messages are in English. Seriously? No, I don’t think so. Every message would have been in Russian, not English. If it’s a Russian app, they would communicate using the Russian language. But then the next part wouldn’t have made any sense.

Lily then decides to text whomever is on the other end. If the text had been in Russian, she would have had to learn enough Russian to message the other party. By making the text app English, it avoids this problem. That’s called “lazy writing”.

Inexplicably, the other end decides to meet with Lily. Needle rips again… No, I don’t think so. If it were really Sergei’s handler with the power to delete the app, the app would have been deleted immediately after Lily made contact. No questions asked. If they wanted to meet with Lily, they likely would have abducted her separately much, much later.

Still, it all conveniently happens. Worse, when the meeting takes place, the head of Amaya’s security is somehow there eavesdropping on the whole conversation. Yeah, I don’t think so. If the head of Amaya’s security is there, that either means he’s spying on Sergei’s apps (which are likely encrypted, so there’s no real way) or Amaya’s future prediction algorithm is already fully functional.

Basically, everything is way too convenient. Worse, if Amaya does manage to crack the prediction algorithm, the show’s writers have a huge problem on their hands. There’s no way for them to write any fresh stories in that universe without it all turning out contrived. With a prediction algorithm fully functional, Amaya can predict future events with 100% accuracy. This means they can then thwart anything negative that might hinder Amaya’s business. The whole concept is entirely far fetched, but it’s actually made worse by the idea of an omniscient computer system that Amaya is attempting to build. But really, would a company actually kill an exceedingly bright software engineer who is just about to give your computer full future omniscience? I don’t think so.

Omniscience is actually the bane of storytelling. If you have an omniscient being (or anything) available to see the future, then a company could effectively rule the world by manipulating historical events to their own benefit. This situation is a huge predicament for the writers and show runners.

In fact, I would make sure that Amaya’s computer is firmly destroyed within the first 4 episodes. Amaya’s omniscience can’t come to exist or the show will jump the shark. The show should remain focused on Sergei’s death and Lily uncovering it, rather than on creating Amaya’s omniscient computer. That computer becoming fully functional will actually be the downfall of the show. The espionage doesn’t need to succeed. In fact, it shouldn’t succeed. Instead, one of Amaya’s existing internal staff should be enlightened to the of danger Amaya’s management once the actual reality of Sergei’s death becomes widely known. The now enlightened staff should turn on Amaya and subvert the soon-to-be “omniscient” computer, now comprehending the magnitude of just how far their bosses are willing to take everything. That computer is not only a danger to the show, it’s a danger to that entire fictional world. Worse, though, are murderous bosses who are the real travesty here.

Any person working at a company with management willing to commit murder of its staff should at best seek to leave the company immediately (fearing for their own safety)… alternatively, some of these employees might subversively see to that company’s demise before exiting the organization. In fact, Devs should become a cautionary tale.

Technical staff always hold all of the cards at any tech company. Trusted coders and technical staff leave companies extremely vulnerable. These staff can insert damaging code at any time… code that can, in fact, take down a company from within. This is the real danger. This is where this show should head. Let’s forget all about the silly omniscience gimmick and focus on the dangers of what can happen to a company when trusted technical staff become personally threatened by their own employer. This is the real point. This is the real horror. The omniscience gimmick is weak and subverts the show. Instead, bring the staff back to reality by having them take a stand against an employer who is willing to commit murder merely to protect company secrets.

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Netflix: Lost in Space Season 2

Posted in entertainment, netflix, reviews by commorancy on January 5, 2020

LostInSpace.jpgOn the whole, I enjoyed season 1 of Lost in Space on Netflix. The premise stayed fairly true to the original Irwin Allen idea. The actors chosen are not bad for a TV series. However, by Season 2, the series veers way off course. Let’s explore.

Spoilers

This review contains spoilers. If you wish to watch this series for yourself, I’d suggest that you stop reading here. The spoilers won’t be huge, but this review must reveal certain plot elements to critically discuss how this series goes so off course.

Additionally, because Netflix has dumped their ability to leave reviews directly on its site, I feel that it is important that someone reviews Netflix original series somewhere. I’ll begin this one as a new series of reviews as I watch various Netflix efforts. The posts will always be prefixed with ‘Netflix:’ when it is a review of a Netflix original series.

Lost, Lost and more Lost

The original premise of Lost in Space is that the Jupiter 2 gets, you guessed it, lost on its maiden voyage. The original 60s series starring June Lockhart and Bill Mumy kept to this premise all throughout the run of the series, changing format only to move the Robinsons around, but not disband the “alone” premise.

However, this Netflix original series sticks to the original plot only for the first season. The second season sees only one episode that holds true to that original plot. In fact, after inexplicably resolving their “stranded” predicament in pretty much “Lost in Space” form, the whole series takes a turn for the worse and it goes downhill from there. Let’s get into it.

Robot Lost

The first problem is that the Robot has disappeared and is lost. This is supposed to be about the family lost, not the robot. However, in an attempt to escape the planet they find themselves on, one with inexplicable lightning events that traverse across the planet at a specific location and in flashing sequence no less…(a location they can see from shore), they shrug it all off as a natural event. Before they can leave, they first need to understand that there’s absolutely nothing natural about that lightning event. Yet, Maureen, the “mother with a head on her shoulders” shrugs it off as “part of the planet”. There’s nothing at all natural about a clock work lightning event on a planet. She, of course, gives some nonsensical explanation citing a location somewhere on Earth that seems to have a similar kind of storm activity. A lame justification at best.

Worse, Maureen then concocts a plan to turn the Jupiter 2 into a sailboat to “sail” out to the lightning storm to recharge the Jupiter 2’s batteries. I guess that’s one way. Yeah, lightning is, at best, unpredictable. Predictable lightning events are even more unpredictable. At worse, it could fry every electrical system on the Jupiter 2. Yet, Maureen mentions nothing of that danger. Instead, she goads John into turning the Jupiter 2 into a sailboat by attaching rigging and a mast. Yeah, its fairly far fetched.

After doing all of this modding to the J2, they push the J2 into the sea and head out to where the lightning occurs. After a few mishaps on the ocean (to be expected), they find the need to let Dr. Smith out of her confinement to help the sailing process. It seems that Dr. Smith is some sort of a jack of all trades. She can do everything and she always does it exceptionally well, even though she also happens to be a ruthless, conniving, cold psychopathic killer. We all must shrug her behavior off and let her become “friends” every time the family needs her. This whole story premise is so badly concocted, I’d have stopped right here. But, I decide to press on and boy does this series go from bad to worse.

The Resolute

After finding an inexplicable structure that rings the planet creating a huge waterfall in the middle of the ocean (yeah, how is that supposed to work exactly?), they find writing on the bottom of this trough and some huge spikes that “they don’t know what they do”. Um, Maureen, are you all right there? Clearly, the spikes attract the lightning. For what reason the builders want to attract lighting isn’t exactly made clear. But, use some logic here, hon.

One thing is clear, the spikes are likely collecting electrical storm energy for capture. More specifically, if the trough is man made to capture the lightning, then it’s crystal clear that someone or something is harnessing that lightning for energy use purposes. Yet, Maureen’s head is clearly not in the game here. It’s like she’s taken a dumb pill or something.

The short of it is, after a few struggles and silly setups, lightning strikes “The Chariot”. That lightning is then miraculously captured by the J2 which then gives it all the power it needs to lift off and fly away immediately. No waiting on charging up couplers or anything.

After getting into space, they locate and land on the Resolute, a floating ring station that allows docking of multiple Jupiter crafts. After a few moments on the Resolute, they find an abandoned child with the rest of the station not having been inhabited for seemingly weeks or months (it’s never made clear). It also seems that those who formerly lived on the Resolute left in a hurry as food is all still sitting out in the mess hall.

While Maureen, John and the rest of the Robinson family wander the empty halls of the Resolute, Dr. Smith does her own nefarious thing of managing to hack her way into the Resolute’s security computers. She then changes her identity to Dr. Smith, implants her wrist with a new RFID sensor that she’s conveniently ripped out of the real Dr. Smith, whom she happens to find on board in suspended sleep (convenient!), which allows her to gain access to higher classified areas. Oh, so she’s implausibly good at medical implantation too? Yeah, so…. let’s skip the rest of the Dr. Smith stuff here. This part is incredibly badly written. Eventually, the family simply uses Smith as a tool to get what they need from the now returning Resolute crew. I can’t even believe that such a conniving person as Dr. Smith would allow themselves to be so easily manipulated by the Robinson family, after having gone to the trouble of “becoming legitimate”. Let’s move on.

Robot Found

Here is where the series takes it biggest sour turn. Inexplicably the abandoned Resolute crew “hear a signal” coming from the Resolute and fly their Jupiter back up to the Resolute to find out what’s going on. In doing so, they find the newly minted Dr. Smith and the Robinson family wandering its halls.

In fact, there’s apparently a rogue robot of some form wandering the halls loose on the Resolute. After a few moments, Maureen concocts a plan to capture the loose robot and she does it so quickly and efficiently that you’d think Maureen is some kind of miracle worker! After her lapse in judgement on how capturing lightning works, I guess she’s trying to make up for that here?

Inexplicably, the rest of the Resolute staff decides its time to return to the Resolute (with no explanation). Now that Jupiter 2 is back, I guess that means “everything is okay” and they can all return to the abandoned Resolute station. Oh, but there’s one catch. The Resolute’s jump engine has been taken by a robot. Sad face. Maureen again concocts a plan to take the jump drive from the Jupiter 2 and place it back into the Resolute so they can get to Alpha Centauri. The only problem is, no Robot as it’s still lost… somewhere.

Without Robot, they can’t use the jump drive. Suffice it to say that after some toiling and a lot of fill time, they discover Robot (and other similar, but hostile, Robots) on the planet just below the Resolute (convenient). They bring Robot back, but he refuses to help because of “family” issues. After doing things for Robot, he decides to help but not before…

Hastings Interferes

Hastings is a security officer over the Resolute, but clearly seems to be in command over the whole thing. Even the captain seems to take orders from Hastings. Additionally, Hastings seems to also be psychotic… willing to strand the vast majority of the “colonists” on the planet below simply to get the Resolute to Alpha Centauri.

Let’s just stop here to understand exactly how badly written this is as a story concept. If this is supposed to be the best and the brightest sent into space, how does a man like Hastings, with clear psychological problems, get a job aboard a critical mission like the Resolute? Wouldn’t mission protocols enforce subduing potentially psychotic individuals to prevent further damage to the mission? How is a person like Hastings left to roam free on the ship to do whatever he pleases?

The captain of the Resolute should have seen to Hastings removal the moment his intentions to abandon 500 people became known. That’s not the mission. Anyone with a brain could easily see Hastings mental faculties have been compromised. Whether that’s from a pathogen or from space sickness, it’s clear that Hastings is not in his right mind. Yet, no one even questions this man’s mental state.

Any organization putting together a space mission would have not only clear mission objectives, but also personnel sanity protocols in place. If a person gets beyond their ability to lead, then someone else needs to assume command of that role. Hastings was clearly compromised. Both he (and anyone loyal to him) should have been relieved and brigged. Yet, Hastings remains free to not only abandon 500 colonists, but also endanger with intent to kill Maureen and John and anyone else who stands in his way. Hastings is not rational. Yet, even after that, no one sees it. No one acts on it. No one even mentions it. The biggest danger to the Resolute is not John and Maureen, it’s Hastings. While Maureen’s stunt to capture ammonia from a gas giant to clear out the water supply of a foreign contaminant borders on insanity, at least her idea was born out of good intent to save ALL colonists. Hastings has no good intentions. Hastings isn’t at all rational and shows all of the signs of space sickness. Being in a position of security, that should have immediately thrown up red flags throughout not only the rest of the Resolute’s crew, but also to John and Maureen. Yet, everyone seems to blindly overlook Hastings’s delusional behavior.

Gone Astray

This season’s story flaws and woes go way deeper than the above. Lost in Space is a show about the Space Family Robinson who, through no fault of their own, become lost and on their own. This show is not about finding other backstabbing humans. They have already enough of a backstabber in their midst with Dr. Smith. They don’t need another one in Hastings. Hastings was an unnecessary antagonist. In fact, everything that transpires between the Robinson family and Hastings could have been handled by Dr. Smith. In fact, all of that story should have been given to Dr. Smith. We’re still trying to come to terms with our trust levels of Smith. Keeping not only the Robinson family on their toes with her treachery (along with the audience), giving this arc to Smith would have cemented her two-faced personality.

That this arc was given to an extraneous character, Hastings, who is effectively wasted and a throw-away, is in fact a pointless exercise. We as an audience learned nothing. The Robinsons also learned nothing. Dr. Smith gained nothing. It’s better to give these kinds of story arcs to characters who will remain with the show season upon season, building their character arc. Giving such deep story arcs to effectively throw-away characters shows just how amateur this show’s writers really are. Think, writers, think. Give important story arcs to the recurring characters, not to characters we don’t know and don’t care about.

If all of what Hastings had done had been given to Dr. Smith, this would have nailed down Smith’s treacherous nature. Instead, we are treated to John and Smith colluding to determine what the Resolute staff is actually planning. Why? What point did this serve? It showed us that Dr. Smith wasn’t beyond manipulation by John Robinson. John also didn’t need to really know the Resolute’s details. However, if John can manipulate a character like Dr. Smith, then John Robinson is way beyond the amateur status of Dr. Smith. Instead, by giving Hastings’s arc to Dr. Smith, this would have shown us that while Dr. Smith appears to be nice and good on the outside, she’s as treacherous as they come… something that the show dearly needs to prove to us.

Instead, we get a watered down Dr. Smith who is about as strong willed as a turtle.

Overall

Season 2 is definitely a sophomore effort in all senses of the word. The writing is convoluted, logically bad and in places asinine. The music is top notch, but that’s not enough to carry the weak and silly plot lines. Molly Parker, as an actress, needs to let go of using her smirk at the wrong times. It seems to clog up the character and makes her seem silly and less serious than she should appear.

Overall, the show was decently okay, but there were plenty of times where I wanted to tune out and go watch something else. Unfortunately, it’s 20 far too long episodes. If you’re really a die-hard Lost in Space fan, then you might like parts of season 2. I was hoping for far better with season 2, but it delivered much, much less than it should have.

In fact, the writers need to ditch the Resolute quick in season 3 and go back to the Robinsons on their own flying around in the Jupiter 2. Let the story focus on the Jupiter 2 rather than a ship we care nothing about. If the Resolute must make a reappearance, it should only be one or, at most, two episodes in length and then move on. Oh, and let’s not lose Robot again, m’kay?

Overall Rating: 2.2 stars out of 5 (with music being the best part of this season)

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TV Review: Wayward Pines

Posted in botch, california, entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on August 27, 2018

WaywardPinesNote: *** Contains Spoilers ***

Here’s yet another M. Night Shyamalan thriller, this time in the form of a two season TV series.  Let’s explore.

Comparisons

This show has a similar premise to Stephen King’s Under the Dome. However, it is based on novels by Blake Crouch. Basically, it’s a small town that’s been cut off from everything and everyone. As a result, the town must live by its own rules. These two premises pretty much match up.

The way in which the Wayward Pines diverges is how the plot unfolds. With Under the Dome we come to find that the town is encased in a huge dome that, when the dome wishes, allows some exchange of air with the outside. In the case of Wayward Pines, we come to find that it’s supposed to be set in the year 4028, after a great holocaust mutated the human population. Both Under The Dome and Wayward Pines have populations that are cut off from “the outside world”, but for differing reasons.

Both towns, however, fundamentally operate in very similar ways with the exception that Dome runs out of resources a whole lot faster since they were cut off from the world without any resource planning. The dome town’s resources wear thin much, much faster. Wayward Pines, on the other hand, has the benefactor, David Pilcher, who not only had foreseen this event, but seemingly planned for it well in advance by building infrastructure and storing limited food rations to sustain the small town. We’ll come to find that Pilcher didn’t quite think ahead much or have planned for all contingencies.

Characters

The Wayward Pines town is inhabited by a number of adults and children including a sheriff, a nurse, a doctor and several primary families who become part of the series. It’s a similar kind of makeup as there was in Under The Dome. There’s also a faction of disenchanted citizens looking to escape from the city… so they can get “back home”. The characters change over time, particularly in season 2.

Weak Opening Premise

The show starts off entirely on the wrong foot indicating the “making it up as we go” syndrome. Meaning, the show begins by making no sense. Burke wakes up near a creek, beat up, bruised and injured. The question is, why stage this 2000 years in the future? What purpose does it serve?

If he had just awakened from cryosleep, why take him out of his cryosuit, dress him back in business attire and place him in the woods? Is it simply stage his awakening as though he had just crashed from a car? Why not start the episode off with Burke in a hospital bed recovering from his car injuries. That’s just as easily explained and shows us the Wayward Pines hospital right from the start.

If they want Burke to accept his life in Wayward Pines, why spend that time and effort staging his awakening? Did they stage other reawakenings in this way? They didn’t do it for Burke’s wife and kid. Staging reawakenings like this also means that someone at Wayward Pines needed to be 100% up to speed on exactly how Burke (or anyone else) was abducted into cryosleep to know exactly how to restage the reawakening. There are so many better things to worry about in a burgeoning town than dealing with staged awakenings.

Trapped in the Past

As with the isolated town premise in Wayward Pines, I find that there are a lot of stupid ideas, particularly from the supposed creator of the town, David Pilcher. According to his telling, the first time Pilcher tried to set up Wayward Pines, he chose to reveal the 2000 year old truth to the residents. While the children seemed to accept their fate, the adults couldn’t face life in this way and eventually the town self-destructed. This forced Pilcher to commit genocide by using the indigenous mutated humans to clear the population. This idea is stupid from the go. If you’re trying to repopulate humanity from limited pool of people, why kill them? You’re going to need that genetic diversity to repopulate… as much of it as possible.

David Pilcher has his (very large) crew (including his sister Pamela Pilcher) clean up the town, only to reset it all and restart it for a second time with group B. For group B, instead of revealing the truth, this time Pilcher decides to only tell the children the whole truth and withhold that information from the adults. This led the adults to believe they are still in 2014 (or whatever time period they came from). It also meant the adults believed they could leave the town and get back to their families… the idea that would inevitably become the town’s undoing. This keeps the adults in the dark of the reality of the world. This second time up to bat, Pilcher decides to incorporate corporal punishment in the form of town center lynch justice as a means to control order in Wayward Pines. If someone gets out of line or breaks rules, they are summarily brought to town center and executed by slitting their throat in front of the town mob. This is called a reckoning.

Here’s where I dislike this plot idea, where I feel this part was entirely unnecessary and sent the story premise off the rails. Pilcher is indeed correct to be worried that his group B town is degrading into chaos and destruction, just has had group A. It is. There is an underground movement that is growing and sowing the seeds of a second town self-reckoning once again. However, the reason for this is primarily because of Megan’s ideas she fed Pilcher. Megan’s ideas were the poison seeds that fueled Wayward Pines’s destruction, every time. Megan is a cancer on Wayward Pines.

Cryonics and The Past

To give a bit of backstory here, Pilcher foresaw the destruction of the 2014 world due to a DNA mutation he found, a mutation that would lead to humanity’s destruction in the future. He tried to alert the attention of the scientific world, but failed. Instead, Megan Fisher (eventually becomes the teacher at Wayward Pines school), urges David Pilcher to take whatever means necessary to ensure survival. This was the primary piece of bad advice David Pilcher took in securing his vision and the piece of advice that single-handedly ensured Wayward Pines’s demise. Megan would go on to not only continue giving bad advice, but poison the children and jeopardize the entire project.

Anyway, Megan’s continual bad advice leads Pilcher (being all wealthy that he is) to use his great wealth to hire people to nab random folks off of highways and put them into cryosleep. One set of unwilling participants is our protagonist Ethan Burke, his wife Theresa Burke and his school age son Ben Burke (season 1). Ethan Burke was sent to the area by the secret service (?) to investigate the disappearance of two of his colleagues. Ethan becomes the eyes of the audience as the great mystery of Wayward Pines unfolds. Of course, the premise includes everyone else in Wayward Pines, who were all unwillingly abducted and cryofrozen. The only people willingly there are those that who David Pilcher hand picked to operate the mountain complex to keep Wayward Pines functional as a township.

The Philchers (Pam and David) call Wayward Pines the Ark.

Aberrations

In season 2, we find out more about the original awakening of group A via C.J. Mitchum. He was the advanced cryo engineer who was the first to awaken and who awakened group A. He was also the person who found the aberrations and alerted Pilcher to them. This is also where the story takes a bad turn. Instead of staying and killing off a bunch of indigenous humanoids, C.J. suggests heading back into the pods to wait more time for them to die off. In fact, there were so many ways this story could have been handled, Wayward Pines might have worked as a simple utopia. Pilcher decides not to wait… yet another dumb idea from someone who’s supposed to be very smart. Anyway, Pilcher clears the area and erects an electric fence.

Outside the electrified fence, the indigenous humanoids (called Abbys … short for aberrations) inhabit the countryside. They also inhabited the area where Wayward Pines has been built. This means that David Pilcher kicked them off of their land. The aberrations are the remnants of humanity left over after the DNA mutation and the event that David had predicted. The aberrations are vicious carnivores that eat any animal flesh they can find, including any 2014 humans that happen along the way.

However, we come to find in season 2 is that Pilcher cleared out the area where Wayward Pines was to built by killing all off the indigenous folks. This action effectively starts the war between the aberrations and the humans and ensures all of the problems for Wayward Pines going forward. A problem that could have been avoided had Pilcher taken CJ’s advice and waited longer.

Keep It Simple Stupid

The first problem I have with this premise is that Pilcher kidnapped folks without consent. He also didn’t vette them for suitability or compatibility for living in a utopia city project. He yanked them out of their life and put them into cryosleep. After unfreezing them in the year 4028, he has two options. Tell them their reality or make them think it’s still 2014. After all, the town looks like it did in 2014 so it’s not that hard to convince those who are unfrozen.

There are lots of reasons why this town won’t ultimately succeed. The primary reason it is doomed to fail is that these folks didn’t consent to be there, the problem treated by Megan. They still think it’s 2014 and they think they can leave and get back home. Yet, they are being told never to talk about that. That idea won’t work. You simply can’t tell people to suppress their desires to go back home to their families and loved ones. If he had explicitly kidnapped folks who didn’t have loved ones waiting, then perhaps he could have used that. David didn’t think the kidnapping idea through very well.

Another secondary reason why this township won’t work is limited food and medical supplies. While he did stockpile food to get the town started and maintain certain levels of conveniences like ice cream, liquor, fudge, toy shops, hair stylists and various amenities offered by the 2014 standards, that cannot possibly last. There is also simply not enough food resources to maintain a growing community of people. Pilcher also failed to foresee the need for medicines in the future. While he did bring some medicine forward in time, it simply wasn’t enough (season 2). Over time and with enough generations, there would be no way for 2014 humans to survive, particularly without access to modern medicines. It’s not like he also brought along a pharmaceutical company and people to run it.

This lack of foresight sows the seeds of destruction for any forced community at some point in the future. The corporate punishment only serves to double-down on this destruction by, along with microphones and cameras monitoring everything in the town, eventual dissent and violence. If David stays this course with each successive town reset and restart, he’ll eventually run out of people to inhabit the town. Thankfully, Pam puts a stop to that, but too late to really save Wayward Pines.

Survival

Even if there had not been any indigenous population to defend against, the community would still have failed. As I said above, Pilcher didn’t bring along enough medications, vitamins and food to last indefinitely.

If the town had been able to survive without the threat of attack, the population would have eventually overgrown the town. They would have had to either institute population controls or force people to leave and settle elsewhere. There were so many better and more horrifying story avenues than the aberrations, the aberrations simply ended up as a convenient copout distraction from all that was missing when actually trying to build a utopia.

Season 1 versus Season 2

Season 1 started out promising by offering hope that the town might survive and morph into something useful. By season 2, not only had the show jumped 3 years into the future, which robbed us of the internal struggles, we come to find that the first generation is now running the town. While this is a fairly stupid premise to begin with, it effectively turned the show into a Young Adult novel.

On so many levels for a TV series, this change doesn’t work. You can’t start out with adults running the show only to turn it into a teen fest. That, in and of itself, caused too many problems going from season 1 to season 2.

Additionally, season 2 introduces a lot of foreign concepts that take the show in a direction that really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. While I have not yet read Crouch’s novels, I’m assuming that the two seasons follow the novels to some degree. Ultimately, I can see why this show was not renewed after season 2. It just wasn’t strong enough of a premise to survive such jarring changes between season 1 and season 2. By jarring changes, I not only mean the survival concepts, but also the never ending cast changes, particularly the teen fest.

Overall

This was not a great show. It had a lot of promise when it began, but it quickly degraded into a story place that couldn’t work. Additionally, there were so many unaddressed mistakes made by Pilcher, these made the show’s story entirely weak. For example, where was the livestock? If you can cryofreeze humans, why didn’t Pilcher cryofreeze cows, pigs and chickens? They will need protein and vegetables as food sources… particularly if they’re to repopulate the earth.

Also, if Megan’s population birthing initiative was so all fired important, then why didn’t they cryofreeze a bunch of babies or pregnant woman to immediately restart the repopulation process?

Additionally in season 1, it was never addressed where all of the food was coming from or how much food there was. By season 2 and three years later, the town was already running out of food and needed to build farms to sustain the population. However, the valley soil where Wayward Pines is situated is supposedly tainted and cannot grow food with no real explanation of this. If food was an important thing to consider, why didn’t Pilcher cryofreeze some farmers and botanists? Also, why wasn’t this idea addressed in season 1?

Also, if Pilcher wanted his Wayward Pines town to thrive as a small town circa 2014 style, he must have packed enough rations to last for well more than 3 years. I’d suspect he’d brought along enough to last 10 or 20. If you don’t bring along enough rations to last 10 or more years, then why lure people in with all of the ice cream and hot dogs when in 1-2 years they’ll be starving or subsistence farming? Also, ice cream is made from milk. Where was the livestock to keep it all going? What about clothing? What about making cloth? What about growing cotton to make yarn to make cloth? What about sheep to make wool for winter clothing?

Clearly, the show’s writers weren’t thinking ahead. They might be able to blame some of this on Blake Crouch, but the show’s writers should have been able to read the book material, see the problems and fix them in the series. Overall, it’s a generally weak show that appears better than it actually is. It’s easy to see why it was cancelled after 20 episodes. In addition to being only half-assed in concept, the stories were simply not thrilling enough. The story needs a whole lot more thought and work.

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