This post contains complete spoilers for season 1 of The Wilds, and minor spoilers for season 2 of the Wilds. Proceed with caution.
This was meant to be a review of The Wilds, an Amazon Prime TV Show that I absolutely fell in love with during season one, and then proceeded to binge watch all of season 2 of in one weekend. It was meant to be an ode to all of the things I loved about the show (of which there are many) and an artfully worded rant about all of the things I didn’t (of which there were also many).
But upon finishing the season, something about it bothered me and I just couldn’t quite figure out what. As we discussed our feelings for the hundredth time, as I am wont to do with any show that I enjoy, my girlfriend said something that made it all click: “season 2 just felt so much more emotionally serious than the first season did”.
That was it. That’s what was bothering me.
For those of you that don’t know, season 1 of the Wilds was about a group of teenage girls whose plane crashes on the way to their weekend retreat. All of the girls were signed up by their parents due to some troubling aspect of their past, from being gay in a very religious and unaccepting community, to struggling with an eating disorder, to dating an older man and becoming completely and totally depressed when he cut things off. The show is a mix of the girl’s time on the island and flashbacks of their experiences in their “real” life.
Of course, we find out by midway through the season that the plane didn’t crash at all; the entire trip was all a social experiment to see how long girls could survive in the wild. The researcher’s premise was that girls could survive far longer and more efficiently than boys, and that once this research got out, it would change the world’s leadership structure as we know it.
Season 2 followed a similar structure, except it was the control group that was stranded on an island, aka a group of boys. Let me say upfront that I enjoyed this season. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the original season, and I do believe that it contained enough about the girls that even those of us who were the most irate about the introduction of the boys should be pacified. It was a great season.
Yet I still keep coming back to how much darker it felt than season one. It would be one thing if the writers had decided to give the boys more traumatic pasts. That would have indicated a tone shift, sure, but it would have been an intentional one designed to evoke a different feeling among the audience. My problem here is that the struggles that the boys and girls suffered in their mainland lives were of roughly similar magnitude (as one can measure those things). In fact, many of the girls suffered from things far more traumatic and emotionally devastating than the boys did.
It wasn’t the content of the show that changed, it was the way it was handled on the show. When the boys professed something serious, it was handled seriously. There was a corresponding shift in the tone of the show, the way it was directed, the way we were supposed to view it. When the boys suffered, it was meant to be taken seriously. When the girls suffered, it was played off as either a punchline (Shelby’s teeth, for example) or simply as a means of advancing the plot (Rachel’s eating disorder). When the boys suffered, it was as a means of advancing their personalities as people. Bo’s abusive family could have been played with the same humor which they played Shelby’s teeth, or Fatin’s parental drama. Instead, it was meant to be taken seriously.
I am in no way arguing that the boys problems should have been made into a joke. I am simply stating that the inconsistencies of tone between season one and season two point to the way that we handle the trauma of boys versus girls in our society. All of this is more entertaining when we look at the premise of the research each of these characters are a part of, which is that women are better leaders and survivors than men. What started out as a feminist narrative by the characters and the show runners gave way to the same basic flaw that has been taking place in media for centuries. Women are expected to suffer, and we as an audience only want to see it if it is going to be funny or necessary for the story. If not, they should suffer in silence. Men, on the other hand, are allowed to suffer and be taken seriously for it. Male characters are being handed a starring role even when they don’t deserve it.
When Kirin is an asshole to everyone on-screen, we as an audience are meant to see him as an ultimately relatable and good guy. When Leah actively works to help her friends while experiencing a complete mental breakdown, she is portrayed as unstable, annoying, and a character that many fans ended up hating. Complicated men are main characters. Complicated women are a nuisance.
In the case of The Wilds, this is even more disappointing because not only did the writers room remain relatively consistent, it is also made up primarily of women. Of the seven writers on season 1, three of them (responsible for seven episode credits on season 1 and four on season 2) returned. Among directors only Alison Maclean returned, but she directed two episodes this season and one the season before. Both season’s writers and directors were primarily women. It wasn’t that the writers changed and brought a new energy to the show, it was that the writers themselves treated the stories differently.
I would still recommend The Wilds, because it was an interesting premise that I think has even more interesting places to go in the future. The show has so much potential, and I only hope that now, with the full cast of boys and girls introduced to the audience, that the writers are able to focus equally on the men and women that make up the centerpiece of their story.