SPOILER ALERT: This story contains spoilers for the limited series “Wilderness,” now streaming on Prime Video.
The scripts for Amazon Prime Video’s new limited series ‘Wilderness’ include the blueprints of a massive revenge saga set against the backdrop of America’s National Parks. But among those finer points, writer and creator Marnie Dickens has also incorporated the songs she wants to play alongside the action. A curated retaliation playlist, if you will.
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Based on the book by BE Jones, ‘Wilderness’ follows Liv (Jenna Coleman), a British expat living in New York City, who discovers that her charming husband Will (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) has been having an affair since they met. American soil. Shaken by the resurfaced trauma of her father’s own infidelity, Liv begins plotting to kill her husband as they honeymoon through America’s natural wonders like Yosemite and the Grand Canyon.
He thinks sightseeing will save their marriage. She thinks the wilderness is the place where tragic accidents happen all the time.
As the two descend deeper into her deadly itinerary, Liv retreats to the music in her headphones when something goes wrong (Will isn’t as easy to kill as she thought) and new obstacles arise (the unexpected arrival of his mistress Cara, played by Ashley Benson). Liv’s moments of internal reflection include songs by Britney Spears, St. Vincent, and Tkay Maidza –– all female artists that Dickens identified in her scripts to illustrate her heroine’s complicated mentality. But one needle drop remained blank.
Executive producer Elizabeth Kilgarriff narrates Variety that she and Dickens (who is eschewing interviews due to the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes) struggled with what the series’ theme song should be — a conversation that shot for the stars, and actually managed to land one.
“Marnie messaged me one day and said, ‘The perfect song would obviously be Taylor Swift’s ‘Look What You Made Me Do,’” Kilgarriff says. “That would be incredible, but it will probably never happen.”
The song, which served as the lead single from Swift’s 2017 album “Reputation,” embraces the liberating power of karma — a core tenet of Liv’s motivation. Dickens and Kilgarriff were initially unsure whether to even ask if using the song was a possibility: until they realized they had nothing to lose.
“It really was one of those fairytale moments,” says Kilgarriff. “And it was as simple as Marnie writing her a letter, which we sent to her label along with the first two scripts, and it was passed on to her team.”
It’s here where Kilgarriff laughs in the disbelief she still has about what happened next.
“Somehow it reached her inner circle and we got the message back that she wanted to be involved,” she says. “From then on it all became a constant conversation. Honestly, it was this random approach that became so much fun.”
This isn’t the first time Prime Video has courted Swift and the unreleased “Taylor’s Version” tracks from her ongoing efforts to re-record her early albums. This summer alone, Prime Video’s teen drama “The Summer I Turned Pretty” debuted the first clips of “Back to December (Taylor’s Version)” ahead of the July release of “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)” and “Delicate (Taylor’s Version) )’. of the upcoming re-recording of ‘Reputation’.
But unlike “The Summer I Turned Pretty,” which featured nine Swift songs in its second season alone, “Look What You Made Me Do (Taylor’s Version)” is much more woven into the fabric of “Wilderness.” In August, Prime Video debuted a teaser set for the song, marking the first time fans heard the new version. As Dickens and Kilgarriff initially envisioned, it also plays with the series’ opening titles, another verse is heard in episode 2, and it even inspired the tagline: “Look what he made her do.”
Narratively speaking, the song also ties in nicely with Liv’s story. The first lyrics sound like they were written to be part of Liv’s narration in the series –– “I don’t like your little games / Don’t like your tilted stage / The role you made me play of the fool / No, I do not like you.”
Now armed with their dream song, Kilgarriff says she and Dickens still fought to make “Wilderness” more than just a revenge story. To do that, they threw a spanner in the works of Liv’s plan.
In episode 2, her missions to expel the height-phobic Will from the Grand Canyon or orchestrate his drowning during a rapids excursion are both thwarted. Instead, the couple is on a walk with the other woman, Cara, who has followed them on holiday, and her unsuspecting boyfriend Gareth (Eric Balfour).
Faced with her husband’s lies more deeply rooted than ever, Liv’s drunken rage gets the better of her one stormy night, and she pushes a person she thinks is Will off a cliff, only to realize it was Cara who wore jacket.
“The whole episode 2 was about leaning into the tropes of the ‘other woman,’” Kilgarriff says. “But at every step we try to undermine that and peel back the layers. That’s why, at the end of the episode, Liv realizes that Cara isn’t the enemy, and she’s just as abandoned by Will. She’s another victim in this triangle. Then to have her be the character who dies, we had to think very carefully about that and how Liv will carry that weight from that point forward. But if anything, it reinforces the need and sense of revenge – because it almost seems like she’s taking revenge for both of them.
By the time they return home from the honeymoon from hell, Liv and Will are more entangled in each other’s lies than ever. He hides his affair with a dead woman, and she supports his lies to stave off her own guilt. In episode 6, they are forced to expose everything between them, especially when Liv discovers that there is a second woman in Will’s life. With nothing but hatred left for her husband, Liv unleashes a calculated tirade against him in front of his colleagues, striking a different tone than the one she took when she met them as the dutiful wife at the premiere.
“We always talked about Liv’s journey throughout the season as a journey from mouse Liv to wolf Liv,” says Kilgarriff. “We wanted to get to the point where the gloves were off. There was no way to save this marriage. It’s over and it was kind of a fact that they could really enjoy that.
She says Coleman and Jackson-Cohen were especially excited about playing off each other in the finale’s climax, which comes after Will’s arrest for Cara’s murder. Liv visits her former husband in prison and confirms his suspicions of her complicity, laughing off his request to wait for him until he is released from prison. In return, she gets a glimpse of the self-centered survival instinct he so often hid behind a smile.
“It’s the moment, it’s the confrontation that we’re building to,” Kilgarriff says of the scene. “From the beginning, this whole thing was about betrayal, and when they went on their journey, it was about getting revenge. But that revenge only comes at that last moment in prison. And it’s quite nice for Liv.”
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