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Review of Season One of ‘The Wilds’ on Prime

* Spoiler warning for all of The Wilds on Amazon Prime. *

 

On December 11th, 2020, Amazon Prime released Season 1 of The Wilds. The Wilds chronicles the story of a group of teenage girls who get stranded on a deserted island after a plane crash, only they don’t know that they’ve been planted there as a social experiment to prove that women make better leaders of society. The girls each have their own unique backstories and traumas they are working through, and two of the girls are also secret plants. In order to survive, they must change the way they see not only the world around them, but themselves.

In order to more accurately review all elements of the show, I’m going to break this up into different sections.

Technical Elements

In terms of the set, hair/makeup, cinematography, colors, lighting, audio, etc., I give this a 10/10. Scenes are well lit, audio is clear, and hair/makeup is always seamless — especially for the girls on the island. I appreciated the fact that the girls have sunburn scars on their faces, as I think a lot of us would forget how bad exposure could be to our skin from just the sun alone. The one thing this did make me consider was if they just had all forgotten sunscreen or no one had any left after a while? That is a little unclear from the makeup, but otherwise, realistic and solid. Shelby’s buzzcut from after she’s rescued was incredibly well-done. The actress didn’t actually shave her head for this role, yet the haircut looks exactly like she did. Someone really talented in hair is working on this show, and I appreciate that a lot as such effects make us think about the wider unspoken implications of plot that wouldn’t be available without this work. 

In terms of cinematography, while a lot of dramas may turn to the more generic back and forth shots of characters talking, The Wilds does not fall into that trap. Often, the camera is at a unique angle to emphasize a certain character’s perspective or the overall tone of the scene. Since the girls are on a beautiful tropical island, the types of colors are beautiful blues and pale sands that really emphasize both the nightmare of a situation they find themselves in along with how freeing it might be for them to let go of society. I’m glad no gritty, ugly color palette was applied over this, as happens to a lot of survivor shows (*cough*LOST*cough*The Walking Dead*cough*). It is beautiful, natural, and overall really simple but effective. 

Acting/Dialogue

Solid performances by everyone yet again. While it’s easy to talk about the main cast of girls, all of whom give groundbreaking performances and especially Sarah Pidgeon as the heartbroken Leah Rilke, even B-characters, such as the psychologist, “FBI” agent, and members of Gretchen’s team are fully-fleshed out. The main antagonist, Gretchen Klein, who is running the experiment on the girls, has an extensive and complex psychology to her that ties into her own motivations but also broader cultural and sociological ones that I’ve written about before. Often, we see villains that have cartoonish or childlike motivations, but Gretchen is such a formidable and human antagonist that audiences can easily hate while also having a lot of nuance about that hate.

Since this is a show about teen girls and their struggles, I expected some cringey or repetitive dialogue. While Leah’s character certainly has some, especially in the beginning, as I got to know her I began to see this more as a character choice because of who Leah is as a person, rather than actual bad dialogue. I singled out Pidgeon’s performance as Leah because she does incredible work expressing the absolute grief, devastation, and heartbreak in the scene where the older man who has preyed on her, and who she is infatuated with, breaks up with her after he finds out they slept together while she is still underage. On the island, as Leah begins to sink into psychosis and accuses other girls of being plants and knowing something more about why they’re there, Pidgeon exquisitely treads the line between empathizing with Leah while also finding her completely horrifying, especially considering we know she’s right. 

Each of the main cast has earth shattering scenes that they pour their heart into. Another especially complex moment comes when Toni’s girlfriend, Reagan, breaks up with her. The performance Erana James gives as Toni Shalifoe as she storms out of the car, squats and cries on the ground, and then smashes in Reagan’s windshield is incredible and jaw-dropping. Shannon Berry’s portrayal of Dot Campbell also lets me know exactly how she feels and what she is thinking despite not having a ton of dialogue in her time before the island through every facial expression and movement. You feel and know exactly what Dot is going through as she deals with the illness and inevitable death of her father, along with her own inability to let herself just be a teenager instead of taking care of everyone else. Rachel Reid comes off as perhaps the most unlikable girl on the island due to her demanding and callous anger towards the other girls; however, the mastery of Reign Edwards’s acting in making us feel this while also delivering the complexity behind Rachel’s bulimia and slow turn around makes my feelings towards her character extremely complicated. The reveal of the romance between Toni and closeted-Christian-beauty-queen Shelby Goodkind fulfills the tension established between them and also is completely realistic in a show in which eight teenage girls get stranded together — of course at least two of them will be queer and be curious about each other. I was wondering when this would happen being bisexual myself and was happy to see the writers being honest here. The love between Toni and Shelby is beautiful and contains multitudes. 

The performances of the main cast absolutely soar as they take these characters seriously instead of just reducing them to “dramatic teenage girl.” The risk of a show that is centered and targeted towards women of any age group is that it sees women, especially teenage girls, as surface level objects obsessed with vanity and sex. While shows like that can be fun (see Sex and the City), this show understands the gravity of what it is and therefore the gravity needed for its main cast. There is real trauma, heartbreak, mental illness, societal pressure, and layers of nuance baked into the lives of teenage girls, and the show and actors seem to understand that on a molecular level. Though I’m not too far from my teenage years, even as an adult, many of these issues were still relevant to me. The characterization of the main girls is perhaps the most pivotal element of the entire show, as it is obvious that without it, we wouldn’t have much else to latch onto. 

Plot

I’ll admit I was skeptical going into The Wilds after learning of the basic plot. I was never someone who was a huge fan of the survivor genre, and I felt as if it’s been done to death. I was really not ready to see it remixed but with teenage girls, and my first thought is that it might just be all the girls fighting over nonsense drama and acting helpless with really no layers to it. I wanted something new, and I’m so glad I can say that this was delivered in spades. The inclusion of this being a social experiment is perfect. I think some people (like me) might be unsure about the remix of the genre at first because it is such a new idea. However, as the show goes on, it becomes clear how vital it is to understanding the psychology of the girls themselves, as several of them are involved in the experiment voluntarily like Rachel’s twin sister, Nora, and the adult plant, “Jeanette,” aka Linh Bach. The inclusion of voluntary participants changes the dynamics and motives behind their actions, even before the island. The island being a social experiment also reveals much about why the girls were chosen, as each has their own traumas that suit them for working with others. 

For a while, I was worried the show was going to sell the “experiment” element of this as safe for the girls since it’s controlled, and thankfully, it does not. It becomes obvious how little control Gretchen has over the girls’ wellbeing and how she’s lying to herself about it because of her personal psychology, making the plot even more captivating to watch and Gretchen’s characterization stronger all in one. As a bonus, the experiment aspect leaves us wondering how they will deal with life outside. As often in the survivor genre, while people are changed but get back to their lives, these girls aren’t allowed to due to it being a social experiment. 

The smaller plots, even before they came to the island, are well thought out, realistic, and engrossing. All of them are related while also being completely unique in every way, including Gretchen’s, who was fired from her job at a university after her son killed a boy while hazing him for a fraternity. This ties into Nora’s, who was in love with the boy who was killed, and Nora’s plot in turn ties into Rachel and her bulimia. Rachel’s plot relates to Fatin Jadmani, also someone pushed to be perfect in order to survive her household, and so on and so forth for the other girls. Everything is interconnected seamlessly, and there was never a plot that I thought that was done insensitively, sloppily, or rushed.

Overall

11/10

The Wilds is one of the best shows currently streaming today. It offers a lot for those interested in survival dramas, while also something new in tying in a modern and realistic storyline of teenage girls dealing with their lives. It has ample representation across a wide range of demographics and offers something for literally everyone.

 

Season 1 of The Wilds is currently streaming on Amazon Prime and has been renewed for a second season. 

 

Shannon Sutorius was an award winning 23-year-old English major, over 40-time-published author, editor, and former Teaching Assistant who graduated from SUNY Oswego in December of 2021. Shannon was one of the Campus Correspondents for Her Campus Oswego, previously Senior Editor, and wrote the Advice Column, "Dear Athena." Shannon worked with and had been published in Great Lake Review, Medium, and Subnivean. Shannon's awards included the Edward Austin Sheldon Award, Pride Alliance's Defender of LGBT+ Rights in Journalism Award, and the Dr. Richard Wheeler Memorial Scholarship. As well, Shannon was an active member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society.
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