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Genetics Gaffes Ruin Wayward Pines Finale

The FOX TV sci-fi dystopian series Wayward Pines had been unspooling a terrific second season, until a common genetics error halfway through the finale left me dumbstruck. The writers must have missed the day in tenth grade when they should have learned Mendel’s laws.

David Pilcher, in the portrait, conceived of and planned Wayward Pines. Jason Higgins became the first leader of the First Generation.
David Pilcher, in the portrait, conceived of and planned Wayward Pines. Jason Higgins became the first leader of the First Generation.

The plot is straightforward, summarized a year ago here. In our time, visionary mad scientist David Pilcher devised “cryogenic suspension” to preserve a selected few to survive coming planetary upheaval due to climate change and unspecified habitat destruction. One time traveler, CJ, is tasked with waking up periodically to see if things have calmed down yet.

The first season opened (or will open?) in 4028, with a typical small town that we learn in episode 4 has been plunked down in the midst of humanoid beasts called “Abbies,” for aberrations. People are defrosted as needed and told that they’ve been in a car accident and suffered amnesia. This can be problematical when a frozen baby grows up in Wayward Pines and then his mom is thawed out 20 years later and they have sex. Ick.

I catalogued only 3 genetics errors, which is pretty good. But the first is a whopper: ABO blood type.

You Don’t Inherit Your Parent’s ABO Blood Type

The second season focuses on Jason, a charismatic leader from the First Generation, kids born into Wayward Pines. He is fatally shot at the end of episode 9, on the cusp of realizing that he’s been schtupping his mother, Kerry. They can’t seem to conceive, not because they share half of their genomes, but because she was attacked by an Abbie and has scar tissue that causes endometriosis in a matter of weeks. It happens.

When halfway through the final episode the good doctor now in charge, Theo Yedlin, realizes that Kerry and Jason are mother and son, he frantically consults blood type data for the town’s residents. And he nails it! Of course Kerry is Jason’s mom! They both have type AB-negative blood, and that’s a rare blood type!

1599px-Blood_Test_(15575812743)The good Dr. Yedlin was apparently unaware of how ABO blood typing works. The “A” and the “B” stand for variants (alleles) of the ABO gene, whose effects were actually described in 1900. It encodes an enzyme that places either of two antigens, A or B, onto red blood cells. Have all A’s? You’re type A. All B’s? Type B. Both? Type AB (and yes it is rare). None? Type O.

Rh inheritance is not as straightforward, but only 15% of people do not have the Rh factor and are therefore Rh-negative. The dual blood type AB- accounts for only 1% of the Earth population today.

A person’s two ABO alleles separate as egg and sperm form, like all gene pairs. So Jason got an A allele from his mom and a B from his dad, or vice versa. He did NOT get both A and B from his mom unless an extremely rare event (called uniparental disomy) occurred and her egg somehow got two doses of that particular gene instead of the normal one. Jason’s biological parents would both have had to have been Rh-, but could have been any combination of types A, B, and AB that would yield an offspring of type AB. So that’s probably about 12 percent of the Wayward Pines population, assuming it was selected randomly from doomed humanity.

Viruses and Bacteria Are Not Interchangeable

Yersinia pestis, the cause of the Black Death.
Yersinia pestis, the cause of the Black Death.

Fortunately, Dr. Pilcher stored a cocktail of 3 viruses that could be used as a bioweapon against future monsters. Dr. Yedlin prepares to inject himself and then offer himself as a meal to the slavering Abbies beyond the Wayward Pines wall.

Then he names the diseases that spring from the viruses: bubonic plague, typhoid, and Marburg. Except that bacteria cause plague and typhoid. Oops! Guess the doc missed microbiology too.

Natural Selection Would Favor Dark Skin

The Abbies are a curious lot. They appear to be mostly male, with white skin, no hair, and extremely bad dental hygiene. In episode 10, the camera lingers for a bit on a dark-skinned Abbie, and episode 2 featured another. They’re rare. But if humanity was supposedly wiped out by global warming, wouldn’t survivors with darker skins have been at an advantage, protected from sun damage?

Of course 2000 years in the future is too short a time for the changes depicted to realistically have occurred, unless there was a chromosome translocation event, as I described last year.

A Disappointing Ending

Science aside, the ending wasn’t at all what I’d hoped.

1920px-Hillary_Clinton_(24007578223)Early in the season, the leaders of Wayward Pines capture a few Abbies, including a lone woman who is clearly their leader and extremely intelligent. Her name is Margaret, but I began calling her Hillary right away. In her cage, she glares at the Hitler-like Jason who blows the brains out of nearby imprisoned Abbies just because he can. He’s a bully; she’s smart. A quiet, new character, a founder of Wayward Pines, gets it. “They’re not our enemies. They’re our replacement.”

Hillary escapes, and in glimpses over the episodes we catch the Abbies communicating, coalescing, cooperating, experimenting with survival strategies like linking bodies to traverse a barrier, using symbols, and caring for babies and each other. Their numbers explode, while the Wayward Pines academy pushes young girls to get pregnant as soon as they can, shoving pre-pubescent couples into “procreation rooms,” to save the species.

In one disturbing scene, the boy is clearly repulsed.

930px-Rainbow_Flag_(18245119582)“Do you think maybe you’re gay?” asks the doc after young Frank fails to perform.

“It’s the opposite of that,” answers Frank.

“It doesn’t mean happy. It means same sex attraction.”

Frank is flummoxed. “Can you give me a pill, a treatment?” He fears for his life should the news get out. “I have to reproduce. It’s my glorious obligation.”

I was pretty sure the season would wrap up with an “unreliable narrator” twist. This is a technique in which the reader thinks one thing all the way through a book, and then in the last few pages realizes things weren’t as they seemed. My favorites are Chris Bohjalian’s The Double Bind, Suzanne Rindell’s The Other Typist, and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

But it was not to be.

1920px-Packed_VegetablesBefore he died, Jason and the other leaders decided to pop selected residents back in the deep freeze, to await the end of the Abbies. But only 571 cryopods were/will be available, and the population exceeds 1,000. What to do?

I was certain that Wayward Pines would devolve quickly into violence and madness once those left behind realized their fate. Instead we saw only an abandoned dad quietly hang himself, and a mediocre crowd at the gates of the cryopods protesting at a level less intense than the Republican convention chanting “lock her up!

Meanwhile, the Abbies continued being Abbies, amassing and screaming and frothing, with no sign of the cooperation and intelligence that had been quietly brewing all season.

In the final scenes, the chosen ones don form-fitting gray gym suits to enter the waiting cryopods. Each person dramatically steps in and smiles serenely as the black powder that freeze-dries them pours down.

I seem to be drawn to end-of-the-world fiction every summer, but this year more so than usual. Right now I am reading Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson, a tome that opens with perhaps the best beginning I’ve ever read:

Lunar-eclipse-09-11-2003“The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.”

Instantly Stephenson adheres to Isaac Asimov’s first law of science fiction: change one thing. And the story unfolds from there.

Wayward Pines changes one thing. Instead of the moon blowing up, climate change decimates populations. And everything unravels from that, pitched forward two millennia. Now that the surviving humans are packaged up like boxes of frozen veggies, I hope next season will focus on the Abbies. I still do not think they are what they seem.

  1. Thank you, I was unable to watch last night…taping The Nightshift and watching American Gothic…got into Wayward Pines because there was nothing else on. but I got drawn in….so I didn’t miss much. I actually look for it to not be renewed??

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