Prime Video’s “The Wilds” was one of the biggest surprises of late 2020, a clever riff on “Lost” filtered through a YA lens and a young female perspective. With a great cast, smart writing, and some fascinating plotting, it was one of the most watchable escapist pleasures of the pandemic. While “Yellowjackets” may have stolen some of its “plane crash survivors” thunder, it’s nice to have “The Wilds” back with a very watchable, hyper-paced eight-episode second season. Some of the magic has been diffused, however, largely because the show basically doubles its cast, feeling like it’s just getting more crowded instead of developing on the foundation of the first year. There’s still enough to like here, but the parallels to “Lost” are strangely more prominent than ever in how that series didn’t exactly know what to do in its second season, adding characters in “The Others” who never resonated like the original crash survivors.
Major spoiler for the end of season one to follow: Last year ended with a series of revelations, including Leah (the excellent Sarah Pidgeon) discovering she wasn’t the survivor of a plane crash as much as the survivor of a wicked psychological experiment. The girls who survived the crash had been placed there and monitored by the kooky head of the Dawn of Eve program, Gretchen Klein (Rachel Griffiths). In the season’s finale, Leah discovered another layer: They weren’t the only rats in Gretchen’s maze. There was a companion program called Twilight of Adam, with eight young men in a similar situation, believing that had crashed on a desert island, forced to fight for survival.
Naturally, season two of “The Wilds” has to follow through on this discovery, essentially doubling the dual tracks of season one, wherein survivors of the Dawn of Eve program were interrogated in “present day” material, intercut with flashbacks both to the weeks after the “crash” and character-revealing chapters from their life before they took that fateful trip. The flashbacks to the women have been largely jettisoned, but the plotting still keeps up with both their present-day material and how they made it there while adding the basic structure of year one to the “Adam” island. That’s where we meet young men like the charismatic Raf (Zack Calderon), alpha male Kirin (Charles Alexander), and outgoing Josh (Nicholas Coombe).
Largely through no fault of the young cast, the male characters in season two just aren’t as richly drawn as the female ones in the first season. Part of it could because of the crowded plotting with two less episodes and twice the characters. Part of it could also be that we’ve seen Lord of the Flies alpha male posturing like this so many times before, although the writers do try to modernize some of the classic issues in this dynamic and introduce a shocking act midway through the season that really reshapes “Adam.” The first season worked because all of the characters felt distinct, well-performed with full, rich back stories. That’s not the case here, but there are a few stand-outs: Miles Gutierrez-Riley and Alex Fitzalan feel like future stars.
Perhaps another reason Adam doesn’t resonate like Eve is that the latter isn’t done revealing its story. We don’t spend as much time with them as we did in season one, but characters like Leah, Shelby (Mia Healey), and Dot (Shannon Berry) still get arcs this season. It leads to one of the most narratively crowded eight-episode seasons in years. You know that Netflix sag wherein it feels like a show is spinning its wheels to fill out a season order? This is the opposite of that, unable to find the right rhythm because it’s SO busy with characters, flashback, and revelations, and the typically great Griffiths gets largely sidelined. To be fair, the busy-ness means that it’s incredibly watchable and never boring, just not as rich as the first year.
Of course, season two of “The Wilds” has to end with another shake-up, and this one seems like it could tighten the issues as the program goes into year three. Maybe this should be considered a transitional year for “The Wilds” and it will find its direction in chapter three. I know I’m still curious to see where it’s headed. Even if I’m less confident the writers know.