Wayward Pines Thursdays, 9 p.m., Fox.
Wayward Pines starts off as an intriguing mystery, with elements of shows like Lost and The Prisoner (and, to a lesser extent, Twin Peaks, the influence touted in all the promotional materials): Gruff Secret Service agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) finds himself stuck in the seemingly idyllic Idaho town of Wayward Pines, at first because he’s incapacitated by a car accident and then because the entire town appears to be conspiring to prevent him from leaving. What is going on in this wholesome, sinister place?
Readers of the source novels by Blake Crouch already know the answers (assuming the 10-episode miniseries adaptation doesn’t change them), but anyone else may be a little flabbergasted by the time they get to the fifth episode (appropriately titled “The Truth”) and discover that this isn’t a conspiracy thriller but a convoluted sci-fi story.
The show is better in the early episodes, when Ethan is trying to figure out what’s going on, and there’s a question of whether he might be imagining or hallucinating some or all of his experiences (an idea that gets quickly dropped). “The more you see, the less anything makes sense,” bartender Beverly (Juliette Lewis) tells him in the second episode, as she’s become his only ally in town, and that turns out to be a useful motto for the show as a whole. Even as a schoolteacher played by Hope Davis delivers an info-dump monologue that lasts nearly half of the fifth episode, every answer opens up three or four more plot holes.
Davis, Lewis and Dillon are just three of the talented actors the producers have managed to cast, and Melissa Leo (as a cheerily sadistic nurse) and Terrence Howard (as the town’s menacing, ice-cream-loving sheriff) are particular standouts. Filmmakers M. Night Shyamalan (also an executive producer), Zal Batmanglij (Sound of My Voice) and James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross) are among the episode directors, and they create some moody, disturbing atmosphere. But all the creepy set pieces and engaging performances are no match for the increasingly absurd exposition.