The Wilds: A gripping and thoughtful drama full of intersectionality
When asked to describe Amazon’s new YA drama series, you will not have a difficult time in surmising its premise. In the simplest sense, The Wilds is teen girl Lost, The Lord of the Flies with young women, a heartfelt Euphoria, and Mean Girls meets Survivor. Although reminiscent of other familiar concepts and YA material, The Wilds is something completely different from what we have seen before. It is a coming-of-age dystopian story that keeps female power at its core. There is extraordinary depth, excitement, and originality weaved throughout the season’s bingeable 10-episode run that will buckle you in for a thought-provoking and hectic ride. Though hopefully, your ride won’t end with a nose-dive into the ocean.
“Being a teenage girl in normal-ass America — that was the real living hell”. One of the first lines uttered in the series almost provoked me to immediately turn off my tv. However, the sheer cheesiness and boldness of this statement perfectly expresses the message of the show and is profoundly articulated through the eight young women that fight for survival on a deserted island.
We are introduced to the high school girls aboard a private plane on its way to an all-girl retreat in Hawaii called “The Dawn of Eve”. Most of the girls are disgruntled as the flight heads towards “paradise”. We learn the origins of their contempt later in the show as each episode gives us insight into each character through flashback storytelling. Among them is a literary enthusiast Leah (Sarah Pidgeon), an All-American athlete Rachel (Reign Edwards) and her intellectually gifted sister Nora (Helena Howard), the rugged and practical Dot (Shannon Berry), perpetually raging queer warrior Toni (Erana James) and her sheepish friend Martha (Jenna Clause), and reckless cello prodigy Fatin (Sophia Ali). On the side of optimism stands a single soul, Christian Texan pageant queen Shelby (Mia Healey).
Everyone on the island is grappling with some form of hardship and the series allows us a glimpse into the starkly different worlds the girls left behind while focusing on the group dynamic of the stranded individuals. The Wilds is successfully driven forward by its unique character backstories and is remarkably intersectional. The show explores women of different races, sexualities, classes, and belief systems. Notably, two of the characters, Toni and Martha, are both Native American and live on a reservation. It was extraordinary to watch representation of teen Native American culture as it is not usually highlighted on screen. Within this same realm of making traditionally invisible groups seen, Toni is also a queer woman with a fiery passion that eventually inspires one of the other survivors to confront their own personal desires. Toni’s identity as a Native American and queer girl enhances visibility of multi-faceted communities.
These well-crafted characters make the series not only a compelling watch, but also asks us to step outside of the boundaries and backgrounds we traditionally see represented and into the lives of each unique individual. It was apparent that the show was made by women, for women, about the journey into womanhood and the expectations and trauma that young girls face from mainstream society, and sometimes, from each other and themselves.
And that is exactly why it is so engrossing to watch these girls slowly shed the burdens that had been weighing them down back in the real world. Even though they are marooned on a desolate island, they are finally able to be free from the anxiety of worries such as the loss of a loved one, mental illness, identity issues, heartache, homelessness, and assault. The various storylines are extremely distinctive without feeling forced and are played with raw emotion by a cast of relative newcomers.
While The Wilds deeply explores different identities, it is also fast-paced, wickedly amusing, and comical. Early on, the audience is given the sense that not all is what it seems on the island. This mystery is ushered in by Gretchen Klein (Rachel Griffiths), a powerful yet shady woman with the belief that if teen girls are pushed to their limit, they will yield their best selves. Some of the twists and turns brought about by Gretchen end up being a bit far-fetched and takes away from other sincere messages but ultimately drives the plot forward.
The Wilds is a thrilling mystery coupled with diverse narratives that will have you crying, cheering, and yelling along with the young women as you get pulled in deeper with each episode. The series is a striking victory and offers a successful blueprint for future YA shows to follow in terms of representation and female-centric stories.
The Wilds is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.