SPOILERS AHEAD! And I mean it, because I had Wayward Pines spoiled for me before I watched it, and I really wish I hadn’t. Most of the time, I don’t really care about spoilers, but in this case I think it’s a show best watched cold. Which is why I’m hiding the rest of this behind a click-through.
I like The Last Man on Earth, even though I’m constantly confusing it with Last Man Standing, which I don’t even watch. It’s a funny show. But it can veer into wish fulfillment fantasy for me, because these characters live in a world where they can literally do anything they want that doesn’t involve other people. Break into a craft store and spend all your waking hours knitting? Done. Collect every amazing work of art the world has ever known for your own personal museum? Done. Claim the biggest, most expensive house in town as your own and designate one of the swimming pools as your toilet and another for margaritas? Done. It makes living real life difficult, because people are always in the way. I’ll be sitting in traffic in my horrible daily commute (am I angry that so many people go to the Hollywood Bowl, or jealous that I’ve never been?) and just start screaming, “Why don’t you all just die?!?” But I don’t mean it. Because also, on a regular basis, I discover something that people are capable of that I didn’t know about. Objects of great beauty and wonder and I can take part because of the work of other people. Ever heard of Irish crochet? Or needle-felting? Or, of course, the wide world of television that I love and could never be produced with the last 7 people on Earth, even if all of them were JJ Abrams? I can do these things because somebody else figured out the way and allowed me to use their knowledge to put my own spin on the craft.
I had to stop watching The Walking Dead years ago because it got too depressing. The problem wasn’t the zombie plague that was devouring humanity, it was the healthy people who run around killing each other for absolutely no reason. No one gives any thought to making sure that civilization survives in any form, or carving out safe spaces for themselves, or anything beyond “who do we have to kill today?” It’s not a show about people surviving despite great odds. It’s a show about the destruction of humanity. And I’ve yet to find a fan of the show that can argue me on that. (But there’s also a huge difference between “this show is bad” and “this show is too depressing for me.” I’m only ever arguing the latter.)
Wayward Pines sort of goes the third direction, where it’s a dystopian future that really sucks, but the killing that happens is very planned and rationalized. (I mean, still clearly wrong, but the people in charge have thought long and hard about it and come to the conclusion that this will benefit their long-term goals. They’re not reckless.) The show sort of careens around a bit – season 1 starts as a mystery, then there’s a couple episodes of exposition, then ends with a thriller. Apparently there was a gap of two years or so between when the first season was shot and when it aired and the actor contracts expired in the meantime, so season 2 resets to 3 years later, so some actors are the same and some are different, and the story revolves around all different characters and plots. It takes them a while to find the focus (it spends an uncomfortable amount of time fascinated with its child-sex angle) but as of episode 6, when it’s figured out that “evolving” and “devolving” are separate concepts, it looks like it’s about to get good again.
I’ll be interested to see if they push it a step further – we think of our legacy now in terms of our technology. We’re in the middle of the Technological Revolution (like the Industrial Revolution, but with cat videos), and that’s largely how we think about the future. Any science fiction that discusses the future discusses it in terms of what the technology will be, and often how the human race will expand into space. We think beyond our world. But what are other ways to expand the meaning of humanity? The abbies don’t appear to have any plans to leave the Earth, and clearly technology isn’t a priority for them. What do the abbies value? What does the future look like for them? How could they continue evolving that would be beneficial to them?