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The Ending Of The Wilds Explained

Amazon Prime's The Wilds launched its first season at the end of 2020. The series focuses on a group of teenage girls who must work together to survive after a plane crash strands them on a desert island. It's a smart (and rare female-centric) take on a genre that includes the TV series Lost and Tom HanksCast Away. If you haven't watched the show yet, be warned that major spoilers for all of season 1 follow.

The season finale of The Wilds was just as explosive as the first episode's revelation that all the young women are unwitting subjects of a social experiment run by Dr. Gretchen Klein (Rachel Griffiths, whom you may remember from Six Feet Under). The show dropped hints about the true identity of Gretchen's mole inside the experiment throughout the entire season, but the big reveal in the 10th and final episode, "Day Twenty-Three," might surprise you. The episode also explained Gretchen's motivations for starting the Dawn of Eve project, finally addressed some of the tragic events on the island that had been mentioned in various post-interviews with the experiment participants, and introduced more mysteries that we're sure will be explored in the show's second season.

A lot happens over the hour-long run time of "Day Twenty-Three." Here's our analysis of the ending of The Wilds' first season.

We finally know who Dawn of Eve's inside operative is

After teasing the audience with red herrings, The Wilds' penultimate episode of season 1 revealed that the teenager with inside knowledge of Gretchen's experiment was Nora (Helena Howard, whom you might've seen on Quibi's Don't Look Deeper), timid and bookish sister of Rachel (Reign Edwards, who was previously in 2018 slasher flick Hell Fest).

The Dawn of Eve project had two "confederates," or people who were aware that the nine girls had been thrown into an experiment rather than crash-landed on a desert island. Viewers found out that Jeannette (Chi Nguyen), who died in the first episode, was actually an adult posing as a teenager for the experiment, but the second person was subject to debate.

Audiences first suspected Dot (Shannon Berry) and Shelby (Mia Healey), since Gretchen mentioned that the inside woman functioned as a "fail-safe" and had the knowledge needed to keep the girls alive in the island's harsh conditions. In the early days on the island, Dot used her familiarity with survival TV shows to build shelter and ration out supplies. In her flashback scenes, she also met Gretchen and was being paid to go on the so-called retreat the girls thought they were attending. Shelby also seemed questionable due to her background in hunting and eerie luck in finding crucial supplies at just the right time.

Nonetheless, it's always the person you least expect, and Nora definitely fits that bill. The finale emphasized the smaller ways she ensured the group's survival and reported back to the experiment's HQ, including hiding the bags that Shelby later found and tackling Leah (Sarah Pidgeon, who previously had a minor role on Gotham) before she could throw away a crucial tool.

Nora's backstory gives us insight to how Dawn of Eve came to be

In The Wilds season 1 finale, we finally got a glimpse into Nora's life before the island. In flashbacks, Nora met and fell in love with an incoming college freshman named Quinn (Johnny Berchtold) during the school's summer term. While Nora decided to break things off at the end of the summer, she still deeply cared for him and was devastated when Quinn died during a frat hazing just a few weeks into the school year.

Nora meets Gretchen when trying to visit one of the students responsible for Quinn's death. Their conversation about patriarchal customs and toxic masculinity were likely Gretchen's inspiration for forming the Dawn of Eve experiment, which aims to see how women could create a better society. While Gretchen understood her son's role in Quinn's death, she also believed that the aggressive culture of his fraternity was also to blame, so it makes sense that she'd try to right her son's wrongs by attempting to find a larger solution. 

Nora's flashbacks give us clues as to why Gretchen was fired

Previous scenes with Gretchen and Jeanette throughout season 1 showed that Gretchen had been a prominent psychology professor at a university before a vague incident in the past year resulted in her being let go. Gretchen's firing gave her time to develop the Dawn of Eve psychological experiment that placed the young women on their island, so viewers were curious as to what the scandal was.

In the season finale, viewers learned that she was likely fired due to her son's involvement in the hazing ritual that killed Quinn. The event took place shortly before Gretchen was dismissed from her position.

Still, it's not clear why exactly the school would have fired Gretchen solely for her son's actions. Gretchen tells Nora that she convinced her son to plead guilty and take responsibility for his part in Quinn's death, but that she never expected him to actually serve time, which might be a clue as to why Gretchen herself was punished by the school. The finale gave us enough information to come up with some theories, but we'll have to wait until season 2 to get an answer as to why Gretchen was let go. 

Leah got too close to Nora for her own good

While The Wilds features the stories of all the young women on the island, Leah is definitely one of the central characters. Leah's curiosity about how the group ended up on the island becomes more obsessive and paranoid as the show progresses. Certain characters began to look suspicious based on the little information Leah gathered.

Leah's suspicions were confirmed in episode 9 when she spotted Nora talking to the Dawn of Eve staff through a camera lens embedded in a tree trunk, but Nora tried to play it off as a drug-induced fever dream. It seems that Nora's tactic didn't entirely work, as Leah was extremely wary of Nora when she woke up the next day. Still, Nora was smart enough to lead Leah away from the others before she could be exposed, trapping her in a dug-out pit so she could be extracted by Dawn of Eve staff.

At the very end of the season finale, Leah had managed to climb her way to freedom, but what would've been a climactic showdown between Nora and Leah was interrupted by the shark attack. The aftermath of Leah's discovery will likely be explosive, but we'll have to wait until next season to see how it unfolds.

The girls aren't as safe as they think once they've been rescued

Throughout the first season, The Wilds explored the full stories of each of the women in the Dawn of Eve experiment. Scenes of their lives before the experiment were intertwined with their time on the island, as well as after their supposed rescue. At the onset of the series, the women are told that they're being interviewed by the authorities to better understand what happened on the island, but viewers soon learn that the interviewers are actually Dawn of Eve staff. By the end of the season, it's apparent that the interviews are simply another phase of Gretchen's experiment.

Of the interviews shown throughout season 1, it seems like only Leah and Shelby are aware that their rescue isn't what it seems. Shelby even went so far as to induce a nearly fatal allergic reaction during the finale. Leah similarly seems closer than ever to exposing the dark reality of the Dawn of Eve experiment, and was even able to make an impromptu escape out of her holding room in the last moments of the finale. Hopefully the girls will be allowed to leave Dawn of Eve's custody at some point in the future, but it looks like Gretchen's experiment is far from over.

We still don't know Nora's or Martha's fate

The Wilds' stories of each participant on the island have largely been told through their interviews with Gretchen's staff after their supposed rescue. However, there are two characters who were not interviewed in season 1: Nora and Martha (Jenna Clause).

Once it was revealed that Nora had been Gretchen's mole during the experiment, it made sense that Nora hadn't been interviewed like the other girls. Since everyone was quarantined from one another, it's still totally possible that Martha was simply waiting in isolation and hadn't been interviewed yet.

However, there are clues that the girls suffered darker fates. Rachel describes Nora in the past tense during her interview, and her comment about phantom sensations in her amputated hand insinuates that she also lost her sister. The last we saw of Nora, she was running into the water to save her sister from the season finale's climactic shark attack, so it's possible that the incident proved fatal for her.

As for Martha, one of the interviewers is tasked with going through her personal belongings to find evidence that would help them avoid legal action from Martha's family. While all the girls suffered enough emotional trauma from their time on the island to warrant suing for damages, Gretchen's team likely wouldn't go the extra mile of trying to cover their tracks unless Martha was seriously injured or died on the island.

Rachel's mysterious arm injury came from a shark attack

In an interview at the end of episode 2, Rachel revealed that she lost her right hand at some point while stranded on the island. Since there weren't any indications of how long the girls were on the island before they were supposedly rescued, viewers had little to no idea as to how or when Rachel was injured.

Finally, in the show's season finale, viewers got a glimpse of just how Rachel lost her hand. While she was swimming along the island's beach, Martha spotted a shark in the distance. While the girls tried to get Rachel's attention, the shark got to her first and pulled her underwater. We know from Rachel's post-island interviews that she at least survived the attack, and while we didn't see the results of the shark attack on camera in season 1, it's pretty safe to say that the dark pool of blood in the water and her missing limb are directly related.

Shelby and Toni's relationship got off to a rocky start

Shelby, the pageant queen from Texas, had one of the most compelling backstories among the Dawn of Eve participants. Earlier episodes painted Shelby as a stereotypical religious popular girl, and when she said she was uncomfortable with Toni, a lesbian character, talking openly about her sex life, the rest of the group rebuked her for her prejudiced views.

However, life was not as easy for Shelby as it seemed back home. Her own views about the LGBTQ community stemmed from her family's deeply religious and intolerant values, and a lot of her discomfort with Toni was tied to her confusion about her own sexual orientation. On the island, she had the freedom to begin accepting herself and her desires, culminating in a romantic relationship between Shelby and Toni beginning in episode 9.

In the season finale, it seems that things might not pan out happily ever after for the new couple. While Shelby and Toni's initial relationship hurdles were cleared by the end of the episode, their two very strong personalities and emotional baggage will likely sow conflict down the line.

As flawed as Gretchen's experiment is, at least she has a control

The social experiment that lands the main characters of The Wilds on a deserted island, the Dawn of Eve, is based on its creator's assumption that women could form a better society if freed from existing norms. While Gretchen convincingly explains to Nora that toxic masculinity harms people and larger change is necessary, her approach to the Dawn of Eve experiment raises more questions than answers.

For all Dawn of Eve's logical and logistical missteps, there was at least some scientific methodology behind Gretchen's social experiment. One of the most shocking moments in the season 1 finale was when Leah discovered the monitor screens of Gretchen's control group, aptly named the Twilight of Adam. It makes sense that if the entire hypothesis rests on women working together better than men, that you'd test men under the same circumstances (i.e., stranded on an island with scarce food and supplies).

Anyone who's ever read Lord of the Flies knows that the Twilight of Adam probably won't end well, but it'll be interesting to see if Gretchen's hypothesis is correct or if the two groups will ever cross paths.

We now know where the survivors are being held, maybe

At the onset of The Wilds, we know basically nothing about where the island where the girls "crashed." Additionally, when the young women are questioned about their time on the island, they're given no information about where they're being held as the interviews take place.

When Leah and the other girls ask when they can see the other survivors, Gretchen's Dawn of Eve staff say they can't interact with the other women due to an unspecified quarantine. For viewers, however, the supposed quarantine is a pretty clear tactic to keep the girls apart and more vulnerable during the second phase of the experiment, which saw Gretchen using the mental health professionals at her disposal to manipulate the young women into feeling guilty about their actions on the island.

In the season's finale episode, Leah becomes more and more impatient. She convinces one of the investigators, Dean Young (Troy Winbush of The Cosby ShowBetter Call Sauland American Horror Story), to let her outside for just a moment of fresh air, and he lets her stand for a moment in the compound's courtyard. When Leah tries to use Dean's phone to find their location, he tells her that they're near Peru, which stuns Leah and seems to be a satisfactory answer for her. Still, we can't take anything on The Wilds at face value; the Peru clue could just be a lie Dean was willing to use to appease Leah and calm her down.

The finale leaves us with some unanswered questions

While the season finale of The Wilds gives us some information on the girls' fates on the island and the larger experiment they are unsuspecting participants in, it also introduced more questions we hope season 2 will answer.

Leah's discovery of the Twilight of Adam will likely have huge consequences for both Leah and Gretchen, since at least one of the experiment subjects now has enough information to piece together that the crash that led to the girls being stranded was no accident. Given how single-minded Gretchen is about the success of The Dawn of Eve, it's not a stretch to say Leah's discovery could be fatal if Gretchen knows she's been compromised.

While the season finale filled in some of the blanks behind Gretchen's motivation for her controversial project, we're still missing some details. In an earlier episode, Gretchen visits an investor to secure more funding, but the escalating problems in the season's final episode could spell financial trouble for her down the line.

Additionally, viewers still don't know whether Nora and Martha survived the events of their time on the island, nor whether Leah's claim that Nora was part of a larger conspiracy will have meaningful consequences for the group.