I present to you scenes from a destructive marriage:
Wife is the paragon of a perfect homemaker. She is as brilliant as she is gorgeous, dutifully staying home to cook, clean and care for her husband in every sense of the word. Their relationship is oh so idyllic … until it isn’t. Husband cheats on Wife. She forgives him. He does it again. And again. Wife goes for runs to cope with her incandescent rage. Husband pretends like everything is fine, but spends every conversation floundering between gaslighting her and pleading for her forgiveness as she screams about his infidelity. She kicks him out, has a girl breakdown (drinking and smoking a cigarette with streaked mascara as she dances around the living room) and destroys some of the lovely glass decor that adorns the walls of their home. She calls her mother to hear her say “I told you so” and cries some more. Rinse and repeat.
Finally, Wife has had enough. She begins to plot her revenge.
In every episode of “Wilderness,” Liv (Jenna Coleman, “Doctor Who”) cycles through the same three emotions: rage, sadness and guilt, in no particular order. After finding out that her husband Will (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, “The Haunting of Hill House”) has been cheating on her and that their picture-perfect relationship is a sham, their dream vacation trekking through the wilderness quickly becomes the stuff of nightmares. Every steep cliffside and secluded alcove they encounter is suddenly the prime location for an oh-so-terrible accident. It’s not a matter of if she’ll murder him, but how.
Unfortunately for the audience, it’s also a matter of when. “Wilderness” makes no attempt to veil the pulpiness of its premise, which is neatly condensed in its theme song, Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do.” But it takes its sweet old time to get to that premise.
Maybe it’s because limited series are so in vogue right now, but I feel the need to remark that not every story is suitable for the length and episodic format of television. There’s no shame in making a movie — the alternative is whatever the hell happened to this show. About halfway through, the story starts to run out of gas. Its six hour-long episodes are filled to the brim with cliche plot devices and fluffed with an inconceivable amount of filler material. The supporting cast is terribly underdeveloped and inconsistent, as if they were thought up and thrown in whenever a red herring or shocking reveal was deemed necessary. Liv’s token lesbian friend Ash (Morgana Van Peebles, “Superstition”) exists solely so she has someone to confide in about her scumbag of a husband (and to get drunk and make out with sometimes). For reasons I can’t entirely fathom, other characters that were relatively unremarkable in one episode become inexplicably unhinged in the next — to keep us on our toes, I suppose?
This lack of development of the side characters and B-plots demolishes any build-up that the initial mystery or its main characters might have had. All of its fun and thrilling potential is painfully depleted as the story drags on, episode after episode. As the protagonist, Liv seems to bear the worst of these faults. The show seems unable to decide if it wants to paint her as the sympathetic victim of unforeseen incidents or as a psychopathic mistress of calculated revenge, and the whiplash between these two extremes results in a muddled, inconsistent characterization of the homicidal heroine (and an extremely subpar rip-off of Amy Dunne).
To make matters worse, the plot does little to back Liv up on either front. Her straightforward murderous plans kick things off, but the story readily devolves into chaos. It stacks up cliffhanger after cliffhanger, which effectively derails the focus away from Liv’s revenge plot and her relationship with Will. In every episode, the unhappy couple somehow circles back to the same conversation (re: scenes from a destructive marriage), and all that comes out of it is the discovery that the depths of Will’s douchery know no bounds and that Liv is angry, sad and guilty. On the rare occasion that she gets to give Will hell, Coleman is nothing short of fantastic, the delivery of her words irreverently callous and unabashedly cruel. But these moments are few and far between. Over time, Liv’s motivations and desires grow unclear and erratic. The endless twists and turns not only veer from the path of predictability but knock the entire show off its course.
For all of its faults, “Wilderness” does have loads of chaos and messy drama and could very well have been a fun, albeit formulaic, watch. But as daring as the show seems to think it is, the few resolved plotlines are resolved in expected ways, and the ending is rather lackluster. If anything about the show’s premise or themes resonated with you, I’ll save you some time and just tell you to go ahead and (re)watch “Gone Girl.”
Daily Arts Writer Serena Irani can be reached at email@example.com.