I promise this review will cover the gay storylines on The Wilds Season 2…eventually. Just have to get some…less fun feelings out of the way first. Also there will be some spoilers, so proceed with caution. Less in the first half, more in the second.
Season 2 of The Wilds did everything right that they did right in Season 1, while also managing to do so much wrong. The girls we fell in love with were able to really shine, despite being given limited screen time due to the
usurping incoming boys.
Season 1 asked the question that Yellowjackets eventually did too, the question that I would watch be answered in a hundred different variations over space and time: What if…The Lord of the Flies, but with girls. It dove into each girl’s past, present, and future in a beautiful dance that revealed layers to the characters and the mysteries at every beat. Every fight felt real, every win felt earned, and by the end of the season, I was rooting for every girl, individually and as a group. Plus, it was so deliciously gay! Shelby had a dark gay Christian past, Toni had a dramatic gay past, and then they found their way to each other’s arms.
Slowly the underlying mystery was revealed to us: their “crash” onto this uninhabited island wasn’t bad luck or fate, but a manufactured experiment set to prove that a matriarchy would be better than a patriarchy.
And, to their credit, in Season 2, they proved exactly that…but not in the way they intended.
I’ll cut right to it: the boys were a bad idea. The reveal of the “control group” of boys was a clever way to show how insidious this experiment was, that Gretchen truly viewed these kids as test subjects and not people, despite her insistence that she cared. But it should have stayed a control group. Just a test they voiced over now and then, told us with words that it took the boys 33 days to crack but the girls made it the whole 50. We would have gotten more time with the girls we were already rooting for, and we wouldn’t have had to watch the infected wound of toxic masculinity fester. I didn’t need to see the boys fail to believe they would. I’ve seen how society has failed them, I’ve seen the hostility so many of them hold in their bodies, I’ve seen how they’ve been raised to treat each other. (And while I will slap anyone who says #NotAllBoys I do want to clarify: I know some parents take strides to change this, but Gretchen hand-picked these boys for a reason. She specifically chose victims of the patriarchy.) The boys’ fights were loud and frequent and violent and by the end of the season, I felt like I barely knew them, and I was hardly rooting any of them. I sure couldn’t root for them as a group, because Seth was an unforgivable villain who sexually assaults another castaway, who then immediately becomes a villain himself? It’s a whole mess. There is a queer Black boy amongst them, and since I am neither Black nor a boy I can’t tell you if he was good representation or not; I will say he was higher on the list of new characters I liked, though the bar was low. I felt like maybe he was a little stereotypical but I’m a lesbian who loves flannel and used to play softball and ye who live in glass houses etc etc. But even he couldn’t save me from feeling like the boys’ scenes were annoying commercials I had to endure until it was time to check on the girls again.
Overall this season had the exactly same vibe as Orphan Black‘s Season 3 Castor Clone arc which can be summed up as: who asked for this?? Who watched Season 1 and was like, “This is great, what if we had less of it and more of something completely brand new.” I would have rather had every flashback be learning more about the girls’ past, or even just more time with them on the island.
However, I’m done complaining for now (I have one more gripe at the end), because it’s time to talk about what I thought the show did RIGHT, which is basically all the same stuff they did right in Season 1, and all has to do with our girls. The actresses were amazing and the show did a great job of showing their personal growth journeys while also occasionally reminding us that they’re all just kids doing whatever they can to survive.
Okay that’s the end of the more vague part of the review. From here on in, explicit spoilers are fair game!
Season 2 picked up with the girls right where they left off: with Rachel’s hand getting bitten off by a shark, and with Nora being taken out to sea, vanishing. The girls banded together to cauterize Rachel’s wound, to tend to her as she sat staring out at the ocean that stole half of her. Someone was almost always by her side. Because they were a full month in now; they were more than strangers on a plane. And who knows if they would like each other enough to call each other friends in any other scenario. But for 30 days they have survived an impossible situation, and they survived it together, so they can only be one thing: family.
And it shows! Everyone does work every day without having to be yelled at, including when they decide to move into the forest for more shade and protection from the tide. When someone looks off, someone else checks in on them. Even Fatin, who maybe resisted “settling in” the most at first, now feels stressed when people leave the campsite without telling her where they’re going, or if anyone is gone for too long. Possibly because of losing Nora, possibly because despite her best efforts, she’s bonded to these girls, too. Especially Leah, who is losing her grip on reality to the point of hallucinating Ben Folds in the forest, but who Fatin is slowly but surely realizing uncovered some actual kernels of truth in what they had all written off as paranoid delusion. Martha has embraced her inner hunter, Dot is still project managing everyone, and eventually Rachel and Leah channel their chaotic and/or dark thoughts into physical activity.
And all the while, Toni and Shelby have a more in-depth and complicated relationship over 50 days than most lesbians have in 50 weeks. Whenever they sneak away from the group, they do, holding hands and stealing kisses. Rolling around on the forest floor, all tangled limbs and teen love smiles. They almost feel guilty for being this happy, considering the circumstances, but they can’t help it. They are light and shadow intertwined; Toni representing the raw emotion Shelby was repressing and Shelby representing the joy Toni was resisting.
Eventually Martha catches them smooching, and she feels conflicted about it. On one hand, Toni is HER best friend, and she wasn’t prepared to have to share her with Shelby. On the other, Shelby was HER new friend and she wasn’t prepared to have to share her with Toni. But in reality, she was a little afraid that either a) it would change her relationship with Toni, b) Toni would tell Shelby what only Toni knows about her. But once Martha gives her stamp of approval, they get to just be a cute couple.
Eventually the girls find a box of party supplies that include a piñata, champagne, and some tablecloths they use as blankets. And I just love that the girls have conversations as deep as how they feel about losing a member of their party to whether or not they used to make their bed every morning. While they’re chatting about the only truth which is that making your bed makes about as much sense as a bird unmaking their nest every morning, part of a tree falls and almost flattens Toni, sending Shelby into a tailspin; she just found this happiness, she hadn’t yet considered what would happen if she lost it.
Shelby and Toni talk about their feelings, Fatin and Martha talk about sex from two very different places on the spectrum, Rachel and Leah find a way to make music, and they all plan an 18th birthday party for Dot…despite rocky beginnings and a constant threat of death, an underlying sense of dread, and a very learn-as-we-go approach to survival since this wasn’t anything most of them were ready for, they manage to find joy. No, actually, scratch that: they don’t find joy, they MAKE joy. They mine for it, and they hold onto it. They know it’s a rare but valuable currency, and they don’t take it for granted.
And in a twisted way, some of them are happier than they’ve ever been. Including Shelby, who is finally able to be her true gay self without having to worry about her family judging her or being excommunicated from her church and her community. Without having to risk what happened to her best friend Becca.
So it’s not that surprising when one night, while she’s in charge of the signal fire, she sees what looks like a boat on the water and…she hesitates. It’s just a few seconds, before she realizes what she’s doing and starts to feed the signal fire. And in those few seconds, maybe you were horrified, and maybe I would have been too if I had watched this three years ago, but watching it now? After two years of living through a pandemic, undoubtedly an impossible time where survival feels like the best you can do some days. Where the thought of having to go…back? seems impossible. Because there are going to be expectations, that you’re the same as you were, that things are the same as they were. But the truth is, everything has changed. Perhaps most importantly, YOU’VE changed, and you’re just starting to figure things out about yourself. And somehow, even though it’s the worst thing you’ve ever experienced, or close to it, you’ve somehow managed to find some semblance of comfort, of routine; you know there’s surely a better life out there for you, but you also know it can’t be the one you left behind. So you just…avoid it. As long as you can.
But then you think about everyone you’re letting down. At least, that’s what Shelby does. She realizes that as much as she would be content to live on this Fantasy Island forever, it’s a) not sustainable, b) not about her. Unfortunately, she’s too late; or maybe the boat was too far away to have seen the fire, even if she had stoked it. We may never know.
Of course, Shelby overcompensates a little, going all in for Dot’s birthday celebration, to try to make everyone else remind them that this whole stranded-on-an-island thing isn’t ALL bad, and to be honest, she does a great job. They sing, they dance, they limbo. And Dot admits that it’s the best birthday she’s ever had. The girls start to talk about birthdays…until Rachel realizes she will have to spend the rest of her birthdays alone, now that her twin sister is gone. It feels…real. The way that people will try their best to talk about things that don’t matter during harrowing times, try to make each other laugh, until something…hits.
Eventually Shelby confesses to Toni, and eventually she even tells her she loves her. Toni kisses her as a response, but doesn’t say it back. And then next thing you know, we get back the Toni we first met, the hair-trigger rage, the anger ricocheting off anyone in her vicinity, regardless of its source. This goes on until it hits Martha, and Toni immediately recognizes what she’s doing, and Martha does too. She admits that her history has led her to believe the phrase “I love you” is just a pretty lie, because there’s no way she deserves it. Especially not from someone she likes as much as Shelby. But Martha promises she deserves all the good things, so she finds Shelby and tells her how she really feels.
There’s a moment in the sixth episode that really encapsulates, to me, how far the girls have grown as a group. Martha reaches the breaking point in her hunting, calls herself a monster, and hits herself in the head with a rock. In that split second, Toni launches to Martha’s side, as expected, but the way the rest of them react really tugged at my heartstrings. They all immediately stand up, no hesitation, but then they all watch quietly to see what Toni does, wait to see if she needs their help. In the first season, every moment of crisis was met with more crisis, shouting and yelling and too many hands trying to do too many things. But now they know how to be patient with each other, to listen.
Martha retreats inside herself about this whole ordeal, and Toni starts to push Shelby away again, calling her needy and telling her not to make this about her, but Shelby suspects it is about her and about the boat she let pass. But Toni is lashing out at everyone again, not just Shelby. Martha is like a sister to her, and now something’s wrong and she doesn’t know how to fix it.
Shelby reacts to this breakup like any good queer and cuts all her hair off. Fatin finds her and tells her about how she thinks Leah was right, so maybe they’re both losing their minds a little.
Then, in yet another moment of character growth, Fatin climbs a whole tree to prove it.
Oh and while the rest of the girls are trying to snap Martha out of her self-induced catatonia, Leah is off talking to her imaginary Ben Folds, who starts listing all the crushes she’s ever had, and that list includes a girl named Amanda and Lana del Rey. So obviously I ship her and Fatin now, thank you for your time.
Fatin and Shelby decide to wait to get more information before telling the rest of the girls, so they just rejoin the group and everyone is laughing and happy in the hot spring they found. And in this moment of peace, a helicopter arrives. They are saved.
In the present day, when the girls are at Gretchen’s facility, Shelby has a dream that she’s a lounge singer mourning the two girls she loved and lost, and Toni shows up and smiles while she sings.
Eventually she and the others, their eyes now open to the fact that Leah was right all along, find themselves in some kind of twisted prom scenario and are all reunited once again. We see all the girls, including a now-awake Martha, and when Leah runs out of the eerie room, the girls follow without question. The boys eventually do too, because for some reason Raf trusts the wild-eyed girl that showed up in his room one day. Leah thinks they’re home free, because she got the guard to let her make one phone call, and this time she didn’t call her ex-boyfriend, but her best friend, and exposed the experiment. But Gretchen wasn’t going to let the Dawn of Eden die that easily, so her and her people packed up and shipped out, leaving the remaining survivors alone in the compound. When they make their way outside, they realize they’re still on the island, or at least AN island, and the worst among them is in the control room.
Which is where my final criticism comes in. If Gretchen’s true goal was to prove that women would fare better than men in a crisis scenario, why put Seth, a man who has physically abused both women and men, and also kidnapped a cat, and also has clear anger issues, in charge of this part of the experiment. Why, in trying to prove that when left to their own devices, women would thrive and natural leaders would emerge, would you take that back and add a toxic man at the top? Why would you create the worst character on the entire show…and keep him around longer than strictly necessary?
Anyway, I’m mad about that aspect, and I’m not looking forward to the likelihood of any given episode passing the Bechdel Test decreasing significantly, but I can’t help myself…I still want another season of these girls. I want more Fatin and Leah, I want “Shoni” to find their way back to each other…
I mean hey, Shelby is, and I quote, “fucking incredible at escape rooms,” so getting out of the compound and off the island could be an interesting endeavor.