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'The Wilds' Review: Long on drama and short on mystery

The Wilds — Amazon's millennial version of 'Lost' and 'Lord of the Flies' — has a lot to work with, but we'll have to wait for Season 2 for any sort of payoff.

The Wilds on Amazon Prime Video
(Image: © Amazon Studios)

For

  • 🏝 The individual acting is strong, especially from the newcomers.
  • 🏝 The backstories are compelling and nicely edited into the overall storyline.
  • 🏝 If you've missed 'Lost,' this will help a little.
  • 🏝 A strong, female-centric show.

Against

  • 🏝 Season 1 lacks any sort of resolution or payoff.
  • 🏝 Three weeks on an island and everyone is still way too clean.
  • 🏝 And drunk.

This post contains spoilers for Amazon Prime Video's The Wilds.

Some series keep the viewer in the dark till the very end. Others keep us a few steps ahead throughout. The Wilds — Amazon Prime Video's hot new thing — is mostly the latter. There will be spoilers ahead, so read with care, but same goes for the series itself, which tells the tale of eight young woman en route to an exclusive retreat when their plane goes down in the Pacific Ocean.

Some moments are telegraphed. Others are teased. The 10-episode series moves swiftly, but also is frustrating in its lack of any real payoff — at least in Season 1. When you know what the end result is going to be for a character or a situation, the journey is what's important. But there are no "Holy shit!" moments like with Lost. There's no ultimate air of mystery that carries us from episode to episode, and from season to season. At the end of the first season of The Wilds, we're left waiting for the story to continue, but not with any real anxiety about what might be ahead. There's no mystery creature. No mysterious hatch or numbers or (for the most part) jeopardy.

That doesn't necessarily mean everyone's going to make it off the island, though.

The Wilds works in three main timelines: There's life on the island, which is about survival as much as it's obviously about the women finding themselves and dealing with their micro society. There's the post-rescue phase, which sees them being questioned by a couple men who appear to be police officers of some sort (they have badges, anyway), but also ask questions more akin to a therapy session. And then there are of the flashbacks that tell the stories of the eight women — Leah, friends Toni  and Martha, twins Nora and Rachel, Shelby, Dot, and Fatin. 

The women — each in their late teens or early 20s — each has her own damage and drama, and each brings it to the island.

Leah (Sarah Pidgeon) is the first we meet. She's young, but thoughtful. She meets her favorite author at a book signing and is asked to drive him to her hotel, and that leads to an actual relationship. The problem is she's not actually 18 like she told him, and it all falls apart. She's left with a broken heart and an annotated copy of his book. While thoughtful, youth and inexperience play a bit with her emotions. Or it could be something worse. 

Fatin (Sophia Ali) is a budding Real Housewife of Wherever She Is who's all about the sex and fashion and getting out from under the thumb of her parents. Definitely not the sort of person you'd want to stuck on a deserted island with, right? There's a little more there, but it's usually obfuscated by something fuzzy and pink.

Martha (Jenna Clause) is of Native American heritage. She's most definitely not into killing and eating animals, which is a problem when you're stuck on an island without food. Her dark secret isn't seen until late in the series and doesn't really do much for the character, but it's there and it's difficult, and likely is why she's just trying to avoid confrontation.

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Helena Howard as Nora in "The Wilds" on Amazon Prime Video. (Image credit: Amazon Studios)
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Sophia Ali as Fatin in "The Wilds" on Amazon Prime Video. (Image credit: Amazon Studios)
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Sarah Pidgeon (left) as Leah and Erena James as Toni in "The Wilds" on Amazon Prime Video.

Sarah Pidgeon (left) as Leah and Erena James as Toni in "The Wilds" on Amazon Prime Video. (Image credit: Amazon Studios)
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Rachel Griffiths (left) as Gretchen and Chi Nguyen as Jeanette in "The Wilds" on Amazon Prime Video.

Rachel Griffiths (left) as Gretchen and Chi Nguyen as Jeanette in "The Wilds" on Amazon Prime Video. (Image credit: Amazon Studios)
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Helena Howard as Nora in "The Wilds" on Amazon Prime Video.

Helena Howard as Nora in "The Wilds" on Amazon Prime Video. (Image credit: Amazon Studios)
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Erena James (left) as Toni and Mia Healey as Shelby in "The Wilds" on Amazon Prime Video.

Erena James (left) as Toni and Mia Healey as Shelby in "The Wilds" on Amazon Prime Video. (Image credit: Amazon Studios)
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Shannon Berry as Dot in "The Wilds" on Amazon Prime Video.

Shannon Berry as Dot in "The Wilds" on Amazon Prime Video. (Image credit: Amazon Studios)
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Erana James (left) as Toni and Jenna Clause as Martha in "The Wilds" on Amazon Prime Video.

Erana James (left) as Toni and Jenna Clause as Martha in "The Wilds" on Amazon Prime Video. (Image credit: Amazon Studios)
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Erana James as Toni in "The Wilds" on Amazon Prime Video.

Erana James as Toni in "The Wilds" on Amazon Prime Video. (Image credit: Amazon Studios)
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Sophia Ali as Fatin in "The Wilds" on Amazon Prime Video.

Sophia Ali as Fatin in "The Wilds" on Amazon Prime Video. (Image credit: Amazon Studios)
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David Sullivan as Faber and Rachel Griffiths as Gretchen in "The Wilds" on Amazon Prime Video.

Rachel Griffiths as Gretchen in "The Wilds" on Amazon Prime Video. (Image credit: Amazon Studios)
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Mia Healey as Shelby in "The Wilds" on Amazon Prime Video.

Mia Healey as Shelby in "The Wilds" on Amazon Prime Video. (Image credit: Amazon Studios)
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Most of the Wilds gang stuck on the island. (Image credit: Amazon Studios)
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The other women help Rachel out of the mud on "The Wilds" on Amazon Prime Video. (Image credit: Amazon Studios)

That's very much in contrast to Toni (Erana James) — Martha's best friend and who was taken in by Martha's family. Toni is gay and funny and one of the more likable of the stranded characters. But we see in her flashback that impulse control is a problem. 

That also puts her up against Shelby (Mia Healey), who is the quintessential Texas pageant girl. She does everything and is perfect at everything. Her family is ultra-religious, which means of course there's going to be some sort of incident that causes her to question everything that she believes.

There's also Rachel (Reign Edwards)— the athlete who found out the hard way what most of find out much sooner in life: That very few reach the top of their sport, no matter how hard they train or how far into the depths of bulimia they end up. Rachel is both comforted and haunted on this journey by her twin sister, Nora (Helena Howard), who might well be somewhere on the Autism spectrum, even though that's never actually addressed. She does have acute social anxiety, so maybe a diagnosis isn't really necessary. But in any event it's a great bit of acting. 

Finally, there's Dot (Shannon Berry). Dorothy kind of flies under the radar in life, which is good when you're selling drugs at high school to help buy the medicine your dying father needs. She's a survivor, for sure. (And like everyone else weirdly knows a whole lot about a whole lot of things one needs to survive on an island.)

The Wilds very quickly lets us in on the fact that the women didn't end up on the island by chance, and that their plane didn't actually crash. But that doesn't change the fact that one more in their ranks — Jeanette (Chi Nguyen)— made it from the water to the beach, only to die of internal hemorrhaging. She was there alone, but also not alone, because in her bag was a second cell phone with a little bit of juice left. 

Jeanette, it turns out, is a plant. She's a young adult there to provide legal cover for some sort of off-the-books social experiment run by another woman, Gretchen (Rachel Griffiths), who is traumatized in her own right by past events, which also tie neatly into the trauma surfaced in Nora's flashback, which is one of them more substantive of the bunch.

All of which is to say that there's a lot to work with here. You've got a relatively diverse group of women thrown together as some sort of bizarre social experiment. You've got the matter of them trying to "survive." There's a certain amount of mortal danger that Gretchen is content to allow (if not inflict). Supplies magically appear when they're needed most. There's a lot of forced drama — exactly what you'd expect from this sort of ordeal if it were being made into a TV series. Each of the characters has redeeming qualities, as well as a few nuances that make you want to hurl your TV into the Pacific Ocean in protest. 

The Wilds feels a bit formulaic. It moves the story along, but we've got to work our way through each castaway in the process. Most of our time is spent on the island or in flashbacks, which isn't unimportant. But it's the post-rescue scenes — the interrogations and ultimately, as we approach the season finale, the reveals — that truly get things going. 

And so there aren't any real resolutions after 10 episodes. We know who was behind everything, and we mostly know why. (Hint: It's about breaking the patriarchy.) We know most of the women made it off the island, but we also know more death is possible. The finale didn't even feel as much a teaser for Season 2 as it did the end of just another episode. (Very much like when Netflix's Warrior Nun went to black just before the final battle.)

That's not to say you won't want to know what happens. You will. And you'll probably want to stick around and watch. It's just like after a few weeks stranded on a deserted island in the middle of nowhere, you're going to have a sort of dry feeling in your mouth.