The following review, while not revealing too many major plot points, does contain some decent-sized spoilers for Wilderness, specifically about the gay goings-on.
The first shot of the Prime Video show Wilderness is a Black Widow spider being run over by a car driven by the show’s main character, a woman named Liv. It sets us up for the type of “be the thing the monsters have nightmares about” story we’re about to get. Black Widow spiders are deadly, but a woman pushed to the brink could be deadlier.
While normally I wouldn’t be drawn to a show that is, ostensibly, about a m/f marriage, this show caught my eye because of the cast: Clara Oswald herself, Jenna Coleman, who plays the aforementioned Liv. Oliver Jackson-Cohen, a Mike Flanagan-verse regular, plays her husband, Will. And Pretty Little queer icon Ashley Benson plays Cara, a coworker of Will’s. Plus, as an added bonus I didn’t know until I started watching: Liv’s neighbor Ash, played by Morgana Van Peebles, is a lesbian with a hopeless crush on her married best friend.
The theme song to this show is Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do (Taylor’s Version),” whose titular phrase takes something often said by abusers and turns it on its head. With that in mind, it seems like the show (or, more specifically, the book the show is based on) was written specifically as a narrative for this song. And if it wasn’t, whoever is in charge of those decisions did an excellent job.
After the opening shots, we get a flashback to what led Liv and Will to their road trip. Soon after they got married, they moved from London to New York for Will’s job, and because of Visa nonsense, Liv was unable to continue her work as a journalist. Instead, she stays at home, cooking, being his arm candy at work functions, trying to work on her novel. But it seems every time she sits down to write, he interrupts her. Whether it’s purposeful or inadvertent, the pattern is clear.
On Christmas Eve, when he gets home to a beautifully decorated apartment and a delicious meal cooking, he hops in the shower and gets a notification on his phone, and Liv checks it, thinking it’s his job. And instead she finds a sext. And while Will swears up and down it was one time thing, the truth remains: he cheated. While she was reluctantly playing Suzie Homemaker, he was off having his cake and eating it too.
I don’t like your little games
Don’t like your tilted stage
The role you made me play
Of the fool, no, I don’t like you
Liv goes to see her friend Ash, who she asks what her worst fear is. Ash’s answer is “straight white women” which is valid. Liv’s fear is becoming her mother, whose life seems to be consumed by hating Liv’s cheating father and his new family.
Liv tries to kick Will out that first night, but he manages to convince her to go on the trip they had planned, and thus our story really begins. It unfolds in fragments of time, seeing Cara and her boyfriend “just happening” to run into Liv and Will on their trip, watching Liv learn of more and more of Will’s lies without confronting him about it quite yet.
We also see more of her relationship with Ash, who is clearly head-over-heels for Liv. She says things to Liv like, “Hot is a dime a dozen. Beautiful on the other hand…” while looking at her longingly. Ash knows the pain of trying to convince your friend they deserve better, and in this case it’s compounded with the pain of being in love with your (seemingly) straight best friend.
Meanwhile, we also watch Liv on the trip, trying to figure out how to get back at Will, to keep his infidelity from consuming her, plans that include but are not limited to buddying up to Cara. They talk about men, the expectations put on them, the objectification they endure. Which, of course, makes Will sweat.
The world moves on, another day, another drama, drama
But not for me, not for me, all I think about is karma
And then the world moves on, but one thing’s for sure
Maybe I got mine, but you’ll all get yours
The trip takes a few sharp turns, and each episode heightens the drama more and more. I won’t spoil the overall plot points, because some of them are truly bonkers and honestly even just typing them won’t do them justice. Just when I thought I knew which direction the show was zigging, it would suddenly zag.
What I will tell you is that, during one of their rooftop friend sessions, when Ash is comforting Liv, she kisses her on the forehead…then the lips. Liv lets her, and maybe would have let her keep kissing her, until Ash says that she deserves happiness; Liv is not sure she does, so she ends up pulling away.
Liv ends up ghosting Ash for a little while, getting caught up in her own drama, wanting to send Ash a text saying she’s doing Ash a favor by staying out of her life, but ultimately forgoing the text.
I feel okay spoiling this next part for reasons I’ll explain in a minute, but it IS a big spoiler for the sixth episode, so approach this next paragraph with caution.
Liv goes to Ash and apologizes for blowing her off, which Ash is quick to forgive. Liv doesn’t understand why Ash is so good to her; Ash says it’s because she’s been where Liv is before, but we all know it’s because she’s in love. A few days later, they get together again and decide to have a bit of a party. They dance in Ash’s apartment, and it seems like the first time a smile has reached Liv’s eyes since the moment she found out Will was cheating. Eventually Liv approaches Ash and kisses her. She takes Ash’s hand and guides them into her pants, and Ash doesn’t seem too upset by this development.
The reason I feel okay spoiling this bit for you is that it has no real bearing on the show as a whole. Liv sort of uses it as an argument point with Will, but it’s not treated with any weight, it doesn’t have any real consequence. And it’s the last we see of Ash. Ash sort of felt like a diversity checkbox; one of the only two Black named characters on the show, and a Black lesbian at that. I feel like she could have been utilized more, but she only existed when Liv needed something. While I really liked what little we saw of her, and will never be mad at watching Jenna Coleman make out with women, the only conclusion I came to from her character arc is that a lot of Liv’s problems could have been solved if she broke up with Will at the very beginning of the show and dated Ash instead. In fact, it almost made it harder to understand why Liv was choosing to stay with Will at all, when it showed she wasn’t as completely isolated as the show sometimes was claiming she was, having moved to New York knowing only Will. I almost feel like it would have been more impactful if her lesbian best friend who did nothing but shower her in compliments was back in London. But then we wouldn’t have seen them kiss so I’ll allow it.
On a related note, this is Jenna Coleman’s fourth bisexual role, which means she is assumed bisexual until proven otherwise in my book. All in all, as far as representation goes, Ash isn’t exactly blazing any lesbian trails, but I was grateful for her inclusion.
Despite not being wowed by the queer representation, I did enjoy this show. It was a short but interesting glimpse into how one woman reacts when she’s pushed past her limits. It didn’t feel particularly new and unique, as far as stories go, but it was still intriguing. Jenna Coleman did a great job playing the nuances of Liv on her emotional journey. And as Will tries to blame Liv for his misdeeds, it’s kind of delicious to watch her turn things around on him time and time again, all but crooning ooh, look what you made me do.