‘The Wilds’ Season 2 Expands Its Roster of Marooned Teens for a Battle of Genders

When we’re teenagers the adults can feel like some all-seeing eye of God. We’re entering the first real phases of independence in our lives, yet don’t have total control. Amazon’s “The Wilds” grips as a survivalist story about young people stranded in nature as part of some grander experiment. If it were only that, this would be just another thriller. The more engaging theme is the usual in any strong adolescent tale: The perils of growing up. For its second season the show now mixes up the drama by adding new characters, specifically males. Season one was about a group of girls crashing on the plot’s island. Although the roster is now very crammed, the story tries hard to maintain its main appeal.

The season begins by introducing us to Rafael Garcia (Zack Calderon), who gives testimony at the Dawn of Eve headquarters on what he experienced as part of the group of boys who crashed on the island. Like the girls in the first season, we meet the rest of his group who were under the impression they were embarking on some kind of getaway. They include lacrosse player Kirin O’Conner (Charles Alexander), brainy recluse Henry Tanaka (Aidan Laprete), aspiring playwright Ivan Taylor (Miles Gutierrez-Riley) and aspiring billionaire Scotty Simms (Reed Shannon), friendly Bo (Tanner Ray Rook) and finally, Ivy Leaguer Seth Novak (Alex Fitzalan). Their plight is essentially a repeat of what the girls went through last season as they try to avoid injury, search for food and attempt to figure out exactly what’s going on. On the other side of the island, the girls are dealing with the aftershocks of Nora (Helena Howard) disappearing amid a shark attack that left Rachel (Reign Edwards) injured. 

The format of “The Wilds” was easy to follow last season in a Gen Z “Lord of the Flies” sort of way. As the audience we got to know every girl in the group and inevitably sympathize with some over others. The great challenge this season is maintaining suspense while introducing a new group to the island’s dangers and continuing the narrative of the original female survivors. The result is still entertaining but at times clunky. One moment we’re with Shelby (Mia Healey) lying next to Toni (Erana James), kissing and discussing their now collective trauma, before cutting to Rafael and the guys going through trials we’ve already seen. It’s always harrowing to ponder being stranded somewhere strange, possibly discovering your friends’ mangled corpse on the seashore. In that department the show hasn’t lost its touch. But it can also feel like different sections of the material fighting for our attention. There’s still room for smaller, emotional drama like Martha (Jenna Clause) finding out about Toni and Shelby and accepting it. There are also some worthy survivalist moments like Dot (Shannon Berry) cauterizing Rachel’s shark bite with a heated axe. The voiceover tells us how the girls already knew what to do in such situations, probably because they grew up watching shows like “The Wilds.”

Watching over everyone are still the looming adults of Dawn of Eve, led by Gretchen (Rachel Griffiths), who embodies the classic idea essential to teen dramas that the adults can’t always be trusted. It gets even darker this season considering one of the boys is her son. The crop of new male characters is written in a way that once again, emphasizes particular social and class differences. Rafael is from Tijuana but lives in San Diego and is the more stable or controlled of the bunch. Kirin and Seth represent the upper classes with their jock looks and good schooling. Scotty, the Black American aspiring entrepreneur, scoffs at their privilege. But nature has a way of making everyone equal and that’s one of the stronger plot points of “The Wilds.” As with the first season, there’s still a strong sense of environment with how the island is a gorgeous menace, full of lush jungle lands and menacing beaches. It’s the perfect terrain to play out intense youthful emotions. The boys have to work together dumping a friend’s body into the ocean and search for sustenance.

The new addition of male characters adds new names to follow and maybe care for. But it’s the girls who still hold our attention best simply because their characters were already developed and established in the first season. At times the adding of a whole new bunch feels like a gimmick to justify expanding the show. Fatin (Sophia Ali) is still trying to write out SOS messages on the sand. Now we have to deal with the boys having to figure out the same ideas for survival. It’s more intriguing to see Martha finally dump being a vegetarian when hunger becomes too daunting and she learns how to hunt. This is not to say “The Wilds” doesn’t retain some promise. If it can find a proper arrangement for its wider lineup, it might still prove to be a crash landing worth following to the end.

The Wilds” season two begins streaming May 6 on Amazon Prime Video.