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Wilderness Loses Its Nerve Halfway Through Its 'Woman Scorned' Story

Oliver Jackson-Cohen's lying, cheating husband fares far too well in the Prime Video thriller.
  • Jenna Coleman in Wilderness (Photo: Prime UK/Kailey Schwerman)
    Jenna Coleman in Wilderness (Photo: Prime UK/Kailey Schwerman)

    [Editor's Note: This post contains major spoilers for Wilderness on Prime Video.]

    Prime Video's Wilderness establishes itself as a textbook "woman scorned" story right out of the gate. Even before viewers learn that the charismatic Will (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) has been cheating on his new wife Liv (Jenna Coleman), her melodramatic voiceover explains exactly where she went wrong in their marriage: Liv made the mistake of thinking it was "safe" to drop the act and be herself around a man. As they drive off in a vintage convertible, surrounded by the canyons of the American West, the first few notes of Taylor Swift's "Look What You Made Me Do (Taylor's Version)" ring out, making for the perfect soundtrack to Liv's quest for revenge (and a thumping, White Lotus-esque credits sequence rife with symbolism).

    The premiere, "Happily Ever After," effectively lays out how Will and Liv got to this point by flashing back to their first few months in New York. The couple moved from the U.K. for Will's job at a swanky hotel, but their exciting new life is turned upside down when Liv reads an erotic text on her husband's phone. Will claims he had a one-night stand while on a work trip, and Liv seems to forgive him — until she discovers a video of Will having sex with his coworker Cara Parker (Ashley Benson) and promising he'll leave his wife for her.

    Cut back to the Grand Canyon, and Liv has decided to go scorched earth on her lying, cheating husband. She imagines various ways of killing Will, from bludgeoning him with a rock ("Quick, but messy," she determines) to luring a bear to their campsite ("Not so quick and still, messy"), before settling on manufacturing a rafting "accident" by cutting Will's foothold. "It needed to be something utterly mundane, that in the real world would be nothing, but out in the wilderness would be the difference between surviving — or not," she says via voiceover.

    Will goes overboard on the first rapid, but when Liv reaches over to pull him back into the raft (it's not clear if she's actually helping him, or just wants to look like she is), she ends up falling into the churning water below. But while Will dives in to save her and they both emerge from the incident unscathed, Liv's resolve hasn't weakened. In the final minutes of the premiere, as she and Will have sex, her voiceover picks back up, and she scolds the audience for cheering for their fairy tale ending. "We're voyeurs; we want the blood and the dead girls on slabs and a look inside the mind of the sick f*ck who did it," she says. The scene shifts to Liv standing over a grave as she adds: "I guess in this case, that sick f*ck is me."

    Liv's graveside admission sets viewers up to believe that she does eventually kill Will — it's just a matter of how and when. That expectation ratchets up the tension in Episode 2, "The Other Woman," in which Will and Liv cross paths with Cara and her boyfriend Garth (Eric Balfour) while hiking in Yosemite. Will isn't aware that Liv knows about Cara (he told her his one night stand's name was Emily), so he's thrown when the women develop an unexpected friendship that culminates in Cara admitting to the affair and apologizing to Liv. When Liv refuses to tell Will what she and Cara discussed, he lashes out and leaves their hotel room; a few hours later, Liv follows someone wearing Will's red raincoat and shoves them down a steep embankment in a drunken rage.

    But in a plot twist anyone could have seen coming, it's Cara, not Will, who's left for dead in the woods. When Liv realizes what she's done, the show's focus shifts from her revenge plot to her desperation to cover her tracks, and she and Will, who admits to the affair in the wake of Cara's death, spend the rest of the season in damage control mode. With the murder investigation heating up, Liv agrees to lie for Will and serve as his alibi, as he'll be considered a prime suspect if the detectives (Marsha Stephanie Blake and Jonathan Keltz) learn of his relationship with Cara.

    Wilderness' quick pivot away from its wronged woman story lets all the air out of the thriller. Considering how committed Liv was to bringing down her husband just 12 hours prior (and the mounting evidence of his infidelity and all-around rottenness) it makes little sense that she would suddenly agree to help him, even if there's a chance she could be implicated alongside him.

    For the remaining four episodes, Liv and Will struggle to get out of their current predicament — which only becomes more complicated when a manic Garth confronts Liv and she murders him in self-defense — but the season's climax only reinforces the inanity of their back-and-forth. In the finale, "Where White Knights Go To Die," Liv anonymously sends the video of Will and Cara having sex to the police and, when the detectives play it in the interrogation room, pulls off an Oscar-worthy performance as a wife blindsided by her husband's betrayal. Will is charged with murder, while Liv gets off scot-free, though he's smart enough to figure out that his now-estranged wife was involved in Cara's death and masterminded his arrest. "Who are you?" Will asks after they have it out during their final conversation in a prison visiting room. "I'm who you made me," Liv spits back. Look what he made her do, indeed.

    This is the version of Liv who was introduced in the first two episodes, but Wilderness loses its way with Coleman's character in its effort to pad out the narrative. Framing Will was always going to be the best way for Liv to extricate herself from her doomed marriage, but viewers are forced to sit through four episodes of meaningless drama in order to get there. By the time Liv hits the open road and turns her experience into a novel, viewers may be wishing she hit Will over the head with that rock, after all. It may have been one of the messier options, but at least it would have been quick.

    Wilderness is streaming on Prime Video. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: Wilderness, Amazon Prime Video, Ashley Benson, Eric Balfour, Jenna Coleman, Oliver Jackson-Cohen