Warning: This article contains spoilers about episodes 4 and 5 of The Wilds season 2.
Throughout the first half of The Wilds season 2, Gretchen (Rachel Griffiths) and the rest of her team have been dying to know what mysterious event happened on day 15 for the Twilight of Adam "control group" in her experiment. But so far, none of the teen guys are talking about it during their interrogations after their "rescue" from the island. There's no footage of anything happening, and all the microphones suddenly stopped working, so the surveillance of their time on the beach is worthless. But something clearly happened to fracture the group of guy castaways halfway through their marooning, and it's frustrating Gretchen to be missing such a key component of evidence.
While Gretchen and her team are still in the dark at the end of episode 4, the audience finally learned what horrible event caused the group of guys to fall apart: Seth (Alex Fitzalan) sexually assaulted Josh (Nicholas Coombe) that night while the rest of the guys were unaware less than 30 ft. away, drunkenly partying around the bonfire with beer they found in an abandoned research station. After neurotic, nerdy Josh made an offhand comment about how the charming, seemingly-popular Seth is more like him than he thought, Seth went into a rage and pushed Josh down in the sand, stomped on him and held him down with his foot, and proceeded to masturbate on top of him.
The next morning, it's revealed that Seth is the Nora (Helena Howard) of the group and is working for Gretchen from the inside. He came up with some lies to tell to one of the cameras to explain away any change of behavior from Josh, and then he secretly cut all the microphones on the beach to ensure the assault stayed secret. But Kirin (Charles Alexander) was the first to notice something was wrong with Josh, and when Josh confessed what happened, Kirin immediately wanted to punish Seth. All the guys, including Seth's step-brother Henry (Aidan Laprete), eventually vote to kick Seth out of the group — although Raf (Zack Calderon) doesn't pick a side, unable to believe his friend Seth would ever do something like that.
Below, EW got The Wilds showrunners to break down why that assault took place and what it means for the guys moving forward.
Kane Skennar/Prime Video Alex Fitzalan, Miles Gutierrez-Riley, Nicholas Coombe, Aidan Laprete, Charles Alexander, and Tanner Ray Rook on The Wilds
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did you get the idea to have this sexual assault take place in the group of guys?
SARAH STREICHER: Gretchen is just waiting with bated breath for these young men to fail. Ultimately, we were chasing an outcome where they would fail, but we certainly did not want to tell some story about out-and-out, universally rotten men who are going ape on each other on this island. We started gravitating toward this story where we would have one of our male participants who was not redeemable the way all of our other characters have been and who would be a bit of a bad seed in an otherwise really promising and supportive community. Based on that, I think we started circling ideas of how that could occur.
AMY HARRIS: And then I actually had a horrifying story of a guy I knew in high school who had, in a very power dynamic kind of way, assaulted another kid. It was a pretty well-known story at my high school — he had gone to a different high school, but we had all heard about it. To me, Seth is a product of a broken home, of a lack of validation and love from a mother, and that's why we did tell his backstory. But then — and we talk about this a lot with Alex, who plays Seth, the difference between a human being who experiences that lack of love and, yes, is damaged, but then doesn't damage others, what happens when the person is somebody who either repeats a violent cycle or even extends it past that? That was a really interesting way for us to explore masculinity because it really did turn things on its head. You start episode 1 thinking Seth is this charming, warm, funny person and Kirin's what I think would be your more stereotypical, toxic male energy. Then, of course, things are seldom what they seem. I think, in a strange way, a lot of what this season is about is there's nothing that's black and white, there's nothing that's binary. Things are very complicated and people are complicated.
I was curious to see how the group dynamics would unfold differently with this group of guys compared to the group of young women, but I definitely did not predict that.
HARRIS: Yeah. Even the way Josh processes and reacts to what happened, we knew he would end up bullying someone more vulnerable than him, which is Bo (Tanner Ray Rook). It's just that idea of seeing the realities of what happens to a person after experiencing something traumatic like that. Josh is a good person who's having a difficult moment, so it's exploring how people come into your lives and they can really do damage. We just felt so lucky because we were putting it in the hands of these actors who are so talented and really found beautiful nuanced performances.
What do you hope people take away from watching the assault and its aftermath?
HARRIS: Well, God willingly — and by God, I mean Amazon — we get a third season, I think the exploration of how you manage the traumas you go through, all of our women's and all of our men's backstories are about trauma of some sort, and that coming-of-age is traumatic, and allowing people to know other people have been through your experiences, whether it's Shelby [Mia Healey] finding her sexuality or Josh figuring out how to own what happened to him and not feel like that makes him weak, but actually owning who he is, I hope people will see themselves and cut themselves a break as they're going through it. I don't know if it's a lesson, but I hope that's something that people feel.
STREICHER: I also hope it's a call to handle troubled adolescence with a lot of compassion and care and gentleness. Seth was mishandled several times, lastly by Gretchen, and that was, in a lot of ways, the straw that broke the camel's back. I think just being a steward and a custodian of a growing sensibility, a growing person, is really, really important.
Kane Skennar/Prime Video The new group of guys on 'The Wilds' season 2
You said that Seth is a product of his environment and his upbringing, but is there also a sociopathic tendency to him? Does he feel any remorse for his actions? Because it doesn't seem like it...
HARRIS: I think, strangely, he might. It's interesting. Alex wanted to play this part with such care and nuance. That scene when he is breaking apart all the microphones and he has that moment where he's rocking back-and-forth, I do think he feels deep remorse in that moment but he doesn't know how to... It's like he has to protect himself against all costs so when it goes to the next place where he could admit it and possibly apologize, he can't and then he sort of twists it. I wouldn't want to necessarily speak to the actual medical terminology of it, but I think he really is a strange combination of a child trying to do better and then becoming a man who may not be capable of that.
STREICHER: Agreed. That's beautifully put.
At this point, with all the traumatic things both the girls and guys have experienced during this experiment, I'm genuinely shocked any parent would willingly subject their kids to this. Do the parents know the truth about what they signed their kids up for? The fake plane crash, all the injuries, the assault, etc.?
HARRIS: In season 1, we hinted that Leah's [Sarah Pidgeon] parents at least think she's on a retreat in Montana, which I imagine they think it's like an Outward Bound idea. I think the assumption is Gretchen might have made it a little less traumatic-looking for the parents, but we'll reveal more of that in season 3.
STREICHER: She has this Russian nesting doll system of lies that she pedals, so the parents have told the kids they're going on an extended weekend retreat, whereas she's told the parents that they're going on this three-month wilderness retreat. She better be meticulously keeping track of these, though, because it's quite a web.
How is she going to explain it all away when the teens finally do reunite with their parents and tell them the truth about what they've experienced? What's Gretchen's endgame?
HARRIS: Make sure season 3 happens.
STREICHER: [Laughs] Yeah.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
The Wilds season 2 is now streaming on Prime Video.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to rainn.org.
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