‘Wilderness’ (Limited Series) Review: Revenge is a Dish Served Extremely Cold
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
A woman’s fury is not to be messed with, especially if she finds out that her partner has been cheating on her. Wilderness is a six-episode limited series, adapted from B.E. Jones’ novel of the same name, that focuses on infidelity and revenge. After a newlywed British couple moves across the pond, the flawless picture of marital bliss starts to crack. Patriarchy is a suffocating system that traps women in hopeless situations. In this story, a woman’s righteous fury turns into a revenge thriller about accidentally murdering her partner, but she quickly loses herself.
After moving from the U.K., Liv (Jenna Coleman) and Will Taylor (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) are finally settled in a glamorous apartment in New York City. Will has been promoted to ‘Events Manager’ at his hospitality company, which leaves Jenna without a job because she doesn’t have a work visa. She leaves behind her journalism career, family and home to move for her husband’s career. While Will goes to work, she writes her novel, cleans the apartment and puts food on the table. Everything is perfect. Nothing could ever go wrong.
On Christmas night, Liv discovers Will has been cheating on her with a co-worker. He begs for her forgiveness and convinces her that it was a mistake. After Liv forgives him, Will proposes to go on a honeymoon to give their relationship a fresh start. Days before their trip, Liv learns that Will lied about the affair being a ‘one-time thing.’ She uncovers video evidence of them together. Liv feels betrayed by the person she trusts the most, so she plots for his “accidental” death. But when the co-worker, Cara (Ashley Benson) and her boyfriend, Garth (Eric Balfour), arrive at Yosemite National Park. Once their paths cross, everything turns into a nightmare.
The phrase “revenge is a dish best served cold” comes nowhere close to that meaning in Wilderness. A man has an affair, the woman believes his made-up story, and it turns out that he has been lying far more than she was told, so she takes matters into her own hands. Liv unpacks this situation by imagining different scenarios where she can “accidentally” murder her husband. She could purposefully drop a hot coffee on his lap so that he loses control of the car or smash his head with a rock, but all of these situations would leave too much of a bloody splatter. In the first episode, against Will’s desire to stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon because he’s afraid of heights, Liv takes him there. She plans to push him, but a tourist interrupts them. During a rafting experience, she decides to sabotage his equipment but gets saved by him from the deep. At some point, Liv’s planning comes to a screeching halt when Cara and Garth arrive at a hike at the Yosemite National Park. This is when the series turns from a fun and exciting revenge thriller to a clunky mess.
There’s commentary about patriarchy’s suffocating crisis, oppressed women, and the social conditions where women are meant to pretend everything is good. Liv’s determination is revealed through flashbacks of her childhood. Her parent’s toxic marriage was due to her father’s affair. She is going through the same path as her mother, who stalked her ex-husband’s new family. Liv knows that there is no other way. Perhaps marriage counselling could have been another option, but murder will do. Patriarchy is a suffocating crisis for everyone, especially women. There aren’t any winners at the table. Women aren’t rewarded for being ‘good’ and ‘respectful.’ In Liv’s case, the cracks in her marriage were present even before they moved across the pond.
Wilderness had the potential to be a satisfying series with a solid plotline and engaging characters. However, that is far from it. Ash (Morgana Van Peebles), Liv’s neighbour and friend, is completely smitten by Liv and vice versa. But she only exists as the friend Liv vents to when she has an issue with her marriage. Ash is also used as a vessel for Liv to get back to Will. Then there’s Liv’s mother, Caryl (Claire Rushbrook), who is incredibly protective of her daughter and flies to America to force Liv to return home. Caryl and Liv’s issues are related, but she is an underwritten character who is only there to bring some sense into Liv. Mother knows best! Her arrival in America is meant to create tension between Liv and Caryl. The series slowly reveals the reason for their strained relationship, but it all comes down to an unsatisfying conclusion close to soap opera drama-like elements.
It’s hard to find this revenge thriller series enjoyable to watch. There is no revenge, and it’s barely even a thriller. The series continuously shows how Will gaslights and lies to her while Liv loses her mind and plots his death. This isn’t Jackson-Cohen’s first foray into playing characters that gaslight his partners were in Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Woman and Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Bly Manor. In Wilderness, he plays… another character who gaslights his partner. Coleman is fantastic in the role, as she attempts to play the calculating wife; however, her arc gets lost after the second episode. Her character becomes less intriguing and human as the series progresses towards the end.
There’s nothing special about Wilderness, but it’s a fun series. There’s the factor of unpredictability with several twists and drama well needed for a thriller, but that’s all it can offer. The series has several shouting matches (Yes, that’s my marriage story) and glasses thrown at each other. It falls back on many of the tropes and character arcs, and Wilderness turns into a disappointing revenge dish served so extremely cold that you won’t even crave it.
Look what you didn’t make her do, Will.
Solidarity with striking film and television workers: https://freelancesolidarity.org/wga-sag-strike-solidarity/