‘The Wilds’ is for every young woman who’s felt brutalized by their teenage years

February 19, 2021

Amazon Prime’s “The Wilds” is the perfectly harrowing, heart-pounding escape that everyone needs to experience. Released in December 2020, this show tells a winding tale of how eight high school girls from different backgrounds get stranded on a deserted island. At first glance, the show seems something of the caliber of “Lost” and “Lord of the Flies.” While true that this show features some good old survival tropes as well as some thrilling twists, “The Wilds” takes the whole genre of ‘stranded on an island’ to the next level by digging into the nuances and complexities of teenage girl life. 

That said, the actual characters are one of the most impressive aspects of this 10-episode series. Stranded on the island is an assembly of girls who have all been touched by some trauma from the outside world. If anything, as said by character Leah Rilke (Sarah Pidgeon), “being a teenage girl in normalized America … was the real living hell”—not being stranded on an island. The audience sees how each of the characters carries that hell with them in their lives before the island as the show unfolds in a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards. 

Firstly, there’s Leah, the most anxious out of the group of girls stranded on the island. Paralleling the famous Greek prophet Cassandra, Leah has a feeling from the start that the reason for the girls’ being stranded on the island is not just a stroke of bad luck. There’s Martha (Jenna Clause), who plays perfectly into the innocent archetype—the one who believes that everyone must be good. 

There’s Nora (Helena Howard), a shy outcast who acts as the sage of the group. Her main priority, however, lies mostly in the safety of her twin sister Rachel (Reign Edwards), a diver fallen from grace in the wake of her eating disorder. Speaking of falling from grace, there’s also Fatin (Sophia Taylor Ali), who’s the class-A rich girl with surprising resourcefulness and sense of justice. She’s slow to help with survival efforts on the island, and yet when she chooses to help, she does so with a swiftness that only her opposite, no-frills, no-nonsense Dot (Shannon Berry) notices. 

Lastly, there are my personal favorite characters: Shelby (Mia Healey) and Toni (Erana James). Shelby, the stereotypical “Good Christian Girl” from Texas, at first has a rocky start with Toni, the short-tempered foster care kid from a “rez-adjacent town in Minnesota.” The two are wary of each other because of their extreme differences—most notably the fact that Toni is gay, and Shelby, as a Christian, believes that “that way of life is a sin.” However, it’s quickly revealed that Shelby herself is in the closet, and for that reason, her arc in contrast with Toni’s is the most interesting. Toni has never had to hide in the closet, but she struggles with being a foster kid—feeling unwanted, unloved. 

Shelby, for everything that she’s ever been given, fears that same unwantedness because of her own hidden identity. Given the lack of LGBT characters growing up with a religious—specifically Christian, and from the literal Bible-elt kind of Christian—background, Shelby is an honestly relatable character for those who might have shared a similar background. But in addition to being relatable, Shelby’s particular arc is almost hopeful for those who may share her experiences, especially as we see Shelby not only slowly come to terms with her own sexuality, but even spark a romance with Toni, who you’ll remember was wary of her in the first place. 

Toni, in contrast to Shelby’s often do-good attitude, tends to put on a more aggressive front, something that’s to be expected after having a life in the foster care system. However, as the show develops, we see more of how Toni’s aggression is also a form of fierce protection for those she cares about, like her ex-girlfriend Regan (Bella Shepard) or her best friend Martha (Jenna Clause). Toni’s passion is a double-edged sword: it’s the thing that launches her into arguments with loved ones, and yet it’s also the thing that ultimately shields them from the ugliness of the world. Where Shelby would carry the good for everyone, Toni would carry the worst, just so that everyone else stays safe, and because of that, their dynamic works so well. In essence, a solid enemies-to-lovers trope right here, folks. This alone should be enough to make you want to watch the show. 

Even despite all their differences and traumas, the girls come together as a family, making up what they affectionately call the “Unsinkable Eight.” The girls, each of them loners, have had to face hardships in their lives outside of the island. Through all these backgrounds, the show conveys that for all their different upbringings and backgrounds, all the characters have connecting themes in their adolescent lives: the fear of losing love, worth, acceptance—all of these themes are tied together in a messy knot that encapsulates the difficulty of being a teenage girl. 

Now, while the plot of these girls all coming together on this stranded island seems like enough of a story alone, “The Wilds” just takes this show one step further. The audience learns relatively early in the show that, just as Leah suspected, there is a reason why all these girls just happened to be stranded on an island together. While this review won’t spoil all the details, the only thing that can be confidently said is that the plot weaves together in such a manner that will make the audience finish this series in a day, maybe two, because the mystery is compelling enough for anyone to get addicted. 

After finishing this 10-episode series, you’ll have no choice but to spend countless hours looking up theories of what will come next for our “Unsinkable Eight”—and have no fear, because Amazon Prime has already confirmed a season two in the works. Although it’s unknown whether production has already started or not, the writers have promised nothing but excitement. I simply cannot wait. 

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