Wilderness opens with a happy couple zooming down the highway in America in an open-top convertible, hair flying and scarf whirling in the wind. Then across the highway crawls a tiny black spider—a black widow. Remarkably this is one of the show’s more subtle gestures. Jenna Coleman stars in the new Amazon Prime series as Liv, the ‘good wife’ who follows her new husband all the way from England to New York, where he’s landed a coveted but ambiguous role in ‘events.’
Liv is a journalist but is happy to leave her job and life so she can sit in a fancy New York apartment and write her novel. This she demonstrates by opening a Word document on her laptop and typing, ‘Untitled Novel’ by Olivia Taylor. That’s about as far as Liv gets before her world comes crashing down when her husband cheats on her with a co-worker.
He’s not very subtle about it—his phone keeps flashing with texts that say, ‘I want you inside me’, which really can’t be taken any other way. Liv tears her kitchen apart when she sees the unambiguous texts—smashing crockery, pulling the Christmas tree down, destroying her nice puddings and casseroles. Fair enough, I’d say. But the show says, ‘Isn’t she pathetic?’ It wants us to pity Liv for leaving her home and job for her husband, and for making a Christmas dinner like a good wife. Thus begins a running theme that ‘good wives’ are boring, and wouldn’t it be a bit more fun if that good wife was trying to kill you?
Later, the mistress also tells Liv that she is a ‘good wife’, and she feels bad about having an affair with her husband. ‘By good you mean “boring”’, says Liv. Yes she does mean boring. What’s wrong with being a good wife? Do they really think a murderess is better? The show has major tone problems. Jenna Coleman keeps giving the audience a knowing look whenever her husband nears a treacherous cliff edge—is she going to do it? But one genre is too boring for Wilderness’s writer and creator Marnie Dickens, who then propels us into Liv’s sad, neglected past.
Liv’s parents also throw crockery at each other while little Liv waits to blow out her birthday candles. We feel bad for Liv. But fast-forward to when she’s developing plans to kill her husband, are we supposed to root for her? Is it light-hearted killing, with mistakes and mishaps along the way, like a Cohen brothers film? That’s probably what the writer is going for here but needless to say, it falls short.
The characters behave in very strange and unlikely ways. As soon as Liv finds out about her husband’s affair she agrees to go with him on a reconciliation trip to various national parks. When she stands atop the Grand Canyon she has the idea to push her husband William off a cliff. Then in perhaps the most unlikely incident, they run into none other than ‘the other woman’, in the middle of Yosemite National Park. Surely Liv must have arranged it all? There is no other explanation for it—but no. She didn’t.
So Liv and William and Cara (whose name I swear was Emily back in New York) and her boyfriend Garth are forced to go hiking together. Danger, violence and awkwardness await. Wouldn’t it have made more sense if Liv arranged it all? Despite Wilderness’s desperation to be a revenge thriller, Liv herself does very little to exact revenge, except drink bourbon and cry in satin dresses. The show then does that annoying thing of making you doubt earlier observations. Suddenly there’s a flashback to New York and Liv is spying on William and Cara. So she’s known all along about the affair? She stalks Cara and follows her into a salon where she gets the same fingernail polish.
Wilderness is a mess—it offends our intelligence by throwing around unlikely plot-twists and expecting us to be impressed by them. They’re not clever, their implausible and irritating. It really doesn’t know what it wants to be, or rather it’s trying to be too much. When in doubt, the writers throw in the Taylor Swift song, ‘Look What You Made Me Do’, just to convince us that they know what they’re doing. But they don’t know what they’re doing, and neither does the protagonist. She’s bumbling through. The satisfaction of a revenge thriller is in the carefully laid plans that unfold, or that go wrong.
Liv has no plan—the crucial sense of anticipation is missing, so those little chance encounters don’t derail the revenge-plot, because Liv hasn’t plotted. She doesn’t even know who she’s killed. In episode two she pushes someone off a cliff thinking it was her husband, but the person was wearing a woman’s red parka, and petite as could be. Fitting then, that the song playing in the next scene says, ‘I don’t know shit’. That sums it up.