The following contains spoilers for the Season 2 finale of The Wilds, S2E8, “Exodus” (written by Sarah Streicher and directed by Ben Young)
For the first twenty minutes of the finale, it feels like The Wilds Season 1 again. The full focus is on The Unsinkable Eight. It’s their show once again, and what a relief that is. After seven episodes needlessly bogged down by the boys, the focus is on the girls’ last day on the island. Unfortunately, it is too little, too late, but those twenty minutes were some of the most engaging of the entire season.
The answer to how the girls get off the island is decidedly lackluster. The group comes together after a long day and sits around the hot spring. All of the girls sitting around and talking is a scene the audience knows well and there’s beauty in that familiarity and in their friendships. Their casual teasing and banter are more entertaining than anything the boys do on-screen. Suddenly, the sound of whirring blades interrupts their conversation and they see what appears to be a military helicopter hovering above them.
The audience doesn’t see the girls get on the helicopter or arrive at the bunker, and the focus immediately shifts to the boys playing a casual game of Frisbee. This feels particularly egregious because their characterizations are so hollow. The audience is finally given a (partial) answer to one of the main questions from Season 1, but it’s shoved aside for characters they have no attachment to. Despite the fact that most of the season is focused on the boys, they’re essentially strangers to the viewers. Leaving the girls’ critical plot point to focus on the boys’ game perfectly sums up the problems with this season.
The Wilds Season 2 ends with another cliffhanger. Leah is riding high on the belief that she conned her way to freedom and outsmarted Gretchen. The girls and boys are united, but there’s no trace of Gretchen’s operation in any of the rooms. Boxes are empty, papers are shredded, and evidence is gone. Instead, the group stumbles into a room that looks like it’s decked out for a prom. They hear Gretchen’s voice over a loudspeaker talking about how they are at the forefront of a “new world.”
The group continues to look for Gretchen in the underground compound, but they find no one there. Gretchen and her cohorts have escaped on her private jet. The last door the boys and girls open is one that leads to the outside world. They open it and are met with the horrible realization that they’re abandoned on yet another deserted island. According to Gretchen, but unbeknownst to the teens, this is a slightly modified Phase 3. It’s a frustrating cliffhanger for a series that is far removed from Season 1.
Gretchen tells those aboard the jet that she still has moles in the group, and the editing implies that Shelby may be one of them. Should that be the case, Season 3 (if the show is renewed) will be an even greater departure. After Shelby’s confession to Toni and her experience with Martha’s coma, it seems incredibly unlikely that she would aid in prolonging this nightmare. Shelby was so adamant about climbing the tree to get to the satellite phone and find help for Martha that she severely injured her leg. Should she be the mole, the show will have fully lost sight of Shelby’s character.
Season 1 of The Wilds hinted that Gretchen was conducting these experiments because her son’s fraternity hazing led to the death of a freshman pledge. Isolating groups of teenage girls and boys on an island to study their social behavior is a bit extreme, but it was a semi-grounded leap of faith the audience was willing to take. Now, Gretchen’s speeches about creating a new world and continuing the experiment call into question the “why” of it all. At some point, The Wilds needs to answer questions, or it will succumb to the same fate of another deserted island series, LOST.
And what about the parents of all these kids? Are they not calling the police or going on network news shows to talk about the disappearance of their kids? Sure, claiming a plane crash would buy Gretchen some time to conduct her experiment, but it’s getting a little more difficult to believe as time goes on. Especially knowing that the boys and girls disappeared around the same time. The Wilds would like the audience to believe that two groups of kids who disappear on their way to a “wellness retreat” wouldn’t even be a blip in the news cycle.
Even focusing on the girls’ parents would have been better than introducing the boys this season. Maybe the parents have been in on it all along and know that their daughters are going to be abandoned on a deserted island so they can “better” themselves. Show the audience the decisions that were made. Show the parents regretting their choices. Give the audience something more interesting than montages and underdeveloped characters.
The second season of The Wilds is a long, drawn-out departure from everything that made Season 1 so compellingly watchable. The introduction of the boys and the answerless finale beg the question—what was this season supposed to tell us? There were half-hearted attempts at discussing masculinity and abuse, but nothing remotely impactful.
Perhaps the harshness of this critique comes from the enjoyment of what The Wilds used to be. While Season 1 wasn’t perfect, there was something extraordinarily special about a survival series centered on teenage girls. This was the story of The Unsinkable Eight, and it’s a shame The Wilds lost sight of that.