‘The Wilds’ Cast & EPs on How the Island Changed the Girls, Gretchen’s Team & More
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 1 of The Wilds.]
What’s harder: life as a teenage girl or life on a deserted island after a (seemingly accidental) plane crash? That’s the question for the new Amazon series, The Wilds, and as the first season (which dropped December 11) shows, the answer is both.
The 10 episodes take place across two timelines: when the girls are on the island, and once they’re off it, seemingly having been saved. As viewers know, however, Gretchen (Rachel Griffiths) — who’s in charge of the entire experiment that put them on that island — is also behind that rescue, and it’s her men, Agent Young (Troy Winbush) and Dr. Faber (David Sullivan), who are questioning them. We can see the physical changes — for example, Rachel (Reign Edwards) has lost a hand and Shelby (Mia Healey) has a whole new look — and know there are psychological ones as well.
And most notably, the fates of two of the girls — Nora (Helena Howard), who is one of Gretchen’s moles (the other died) and Martha (Jenna Clause) — are very much unknown. It sounds like they could be dead based on what’s said, but no one ever actually says they are. “You are very astute,” is all showrunner Amy B. Harris would say when TV Insider tried to get a straight answer on the subject.
Read on for more insight from the executive producers and cast on Season 1.
Who Changed the Most on the Island?
An argument could be made for each girl, but Shelby was a popular choice. “There’s been an incredible radical acceptance of herself and that comes with a lot of change,” creator Sarah Streicher notes of the girl with conservative Christian values who eventually opened herself up to her feelings for Toni (Erana James).
Sarah Pidgeon thinks her character (Leah) would agree because “Shelby presents very strongly as having this sense of self.” However, Healey suggests that Shelby might think Toni has changed the most because her character sees the other girl “in a different light later on,” but adds, “I also don’t think she’d think Toni’s changed because I think she’s always been fond of who she is, just from the beginning.”
For Harris, Rachel comes in “a close second” because she’s “a very different version of herself than she was at the start.” After all, Edwards thinks her character will react very differently to hearing her sister’s a mole for Gretchen after everything that happens on the island in Season 1 than she would’ve at the start. “Rachel would really have this understanding [that] ‘I actually needed that,'” she says.
Other possibilities for the girl that changed the most are the two who are MIA in the post-rescue timeline. Martha is the one to kill their dinner, emerging onto the beach covered in blood, as we near the end of the season on the island. “We really solidified her backstory a little bit late in the game, but then once it coalesced for us, we really knew that we wanted to land her in this place of triumph or strength,” Streicher says. “We wanted something vivid that shows just how grisly it can get when it comes to coming of age.”
And Nora’s “big shock element” — she’s working for Gretchen, to help her sister, whom she knew needed a change — puts her on Pidgeon’s list. But everything that happens on the island, including Nora putting Leah in a pit once the other girl is on to her, makes her realize she has to do things she wouldn’t have before.
“You had to address some things that you weren’t yet ready to address [on the island],” Howard shares. “At the end she realizes, ‘I have to take care of myself before I can take care of other people.'”
Ask Matt: Peanuts on PBS, Debating 'Undoing,' Holiday Movie Burnout, Alex's Last 'Jeopardy' Episodes & More
Shelby & Toni’s Developing Relationship
It wasn’t easy (due to Shelby’s aforementioned conservative values), but Shelby and Toni made quite a bit of progress in their relationship by the end of the first season on the island. (Young and Faber even think that Toni’s the one Shelby wants to see once they’ve been “rescued,” only to be asked to take her to Leah.)
According to Streicher, they “owe a lot” to writer Tonya Kong on the way they developed that relationship. “We talked a lot about Shelby at the beginning and how that dramatic story of hers would unfold.” she says. “Tonya just really lobbied hard for Toni to have a quieter story about love and being a teenager going through a relationship. And then [Mia and Erana] had a lot of chemistry — actually the actors are incredibly close now — so it really felt like this thing we’d been building in the writers room and on the page just took off in the hands of these incredibly magnetic and fantastic performers.”
For Healey, her character “saw how free [Toni] was [from the beginning] and wanted to be that,” she explains. “As the show goes on and their feud happens and they become sort of enemies, they realize they see themselves in each other and there’s more to love about one another than there is to hate. [There’s] an understanding that comes between them for sure.”
Post-“Rescue” Suspicious Behavior
Observing the girls on the island (and off it) is Gretchen and her team, with Young and Faber the ones in contact with them in the later timeline. They may act like they’re on the girls’ side, but the girls aren’t exactly buying it. “I think Shelby was suspicious of them from [the start],” Healey says, noting you can see in “her interrogation scenes that she doesn’t trust them at all.”
For Harris, “that’s a very exciting world, because once you’re in that, you say yes to the money maybe if you’re Young, Faber loves the power trip, Tom is a bit of a sycophant, but they’re also all going to have to change and grow and respond to the experience they’re in because like so many things in life, it’s not going the way they expected it.”
Sullivan agrees that Faber’s all about the power, and he likes the way his character is going about trying to get it. “I have a feeling I’m going to gain more and more control, not just over the girls, but over the experiment in general,” he says of his character. “He has a thirst for knowledge and truth and information, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get that.”
But while he may seem manipulative at times in his conversations with the girls, “really, sometimes you have to do certain things to get the truth out of people because a lot of times people just want you to give you the information they want to give you, whether it be the truth or not,” Sullivan adds.
Meanwhile, Young seems to have a softer side, at least when compared to Faber. “I question it,” Winbush says of his character’s feelings about signing on to Gretchen’s experiment the more he sees what the girls are being put through. “Dean is morally challenged. Something is going on with his past job or past relationship or past kids, that he sees within these girls, and his empathetic side is definitely coming out.”
But he doesn’t think his character is easily manipulated (though Leah’s ability to get him to take her outside of her room may be an argument against that). Rather, for Winbush, “he has a heart, and can that get in the way of seeing things that he should’ve? Maybe.” But don’t forget, he is an FBI agent: “He has to have some type of sternness and a level of certainty to do his job well, and with any given situation, if he’s challenged in any way, he’ll remind you of who he is.”
We can’t help but feel like someone should be watching that group. It should be very interesting to see what’s next with them as well as the girls if a second season is picked up.
The Wilds, Season 1, Streaming Now, Amazon Prime Video