After a TV Roulette-filled hiatus, Teen Wolf is back for the second half of its uneven fifth season. This can only mean one thing: it is time for Welcome to the Wolfpack, an old mainstay from the Drunken Thieves days, to relaunch here at We Have Always Lived in the Kraken. Normally I take on the current episode, but today will be different, because I will be covering the first two episodes of this new half-season, episode 11, ‘The Last Chimera,’ and episode 12, ‘Damnatio Memoriae.’ Let’s get to it.
Spoilers Ahead, so don’t howl about it, and thanks to Teen Wolf Tumblr for the Gifs.
Season Five of Teen Wolf made a key decision that differentiated it from past seasons. It decided to be more like a network TV show than a non-network show. Non-network shows either release their seasons in smaller chunks of generally 10-13 episodes (with some going as low as six) or at the very least separate a larger 24-26 episode order into discrete parts that air seasonally. This has been especially true for networks aimed at teenagers like MTV or ABC F–I mean, Freeform (I still have no idea what to do with this silly name). Meanwhile, network shows get 22-26 episodes (kind of depends how much the network hates the show) that more or less air consecutively, with a winter hiatus and the need to fill sweeps periods offering some gaps. What’s important about this for our purposes is that a network television season has one story arc per season. Teen Wolf has always been a bit weird in that it has had seasons in which it gets the more expected 10-13 episodes, but also ones where it has received a more network-like order of 20+ episodes. No matter what, though, it has always kept its storylines to 10-13 episode chunks, either using its total order or splitting a network order into two smaller arcs. Even in Season 3, when the show got 24 episodes, it split into two different storylines that while different, did play into one another other, and that is why they are called 3a and 3b. So while Teen Wolf has always kept its seasons connected through various threads that set up future villains or storylines, it has always made sure that the slate is basically wiped cleaned before starting something new.
With this season, however, things have changed. Season Five got a 20 episode order, but was committed to telling one single storyline with more or less one group of central antagonists, give or take whatever the hell we call Theo (Cody Christian) at this point. The results have been mixed–although some of that is less the fault of the show than it is the fault of the model the show is trying to emulate. One of the main flaws of the network model is that a lot of storylines simply don’t have the juice to hold up over a full season. So a network show often has to find ways to stall the plot. Either the show has to be padded with filler, or the storytelling has to obfuscate what is happening. At best, both methods stop things from moving too fast or going out of control, but at worst, they grind the storytelling to a halt. Networks have been using this model for decades, so they have gotten pretty good at hiding these strategies, and with good shows it isn’t really noticeable–or at the very least is forgivable. Still, even a good show with this model can appear lacking when compared to smaller, tighter arcs that can move at a pace that actually answers questions in a timely manner, where every moment feels purposeful. (I’m not saying all smaller episode order shows pull this off, but when they do, it is a striking difference, and is one reason why cable networks have spawned many of our finest television shows in recent decades.) So Teen Wolf’s Season Five has a lot going against it: not only is the storytelling much slower than normal, but the show runners simply aren’t used to telling stories across this many episodes.
It may sound like I am just trying to make excuses for the show, but really I just want to give context for when I say that the fifth season has been all over the place so far. I could forgive the storytelling issues that come from the bigger order, or the fact that so little was answered in the first ten episodes of the season, because honestly, that’s just how it goes; but what hasn’t been okay is the sketchy character work that basically everyone has received this season (except for Scott [Tyler Posey])–especially the show’s women. One of the benefits of having more episodes is supposed to be that the show has more time to develop each character. This seemed like it would it would work for Teen Wolf. The season got off to a strong start, with Lydia (Holland Roden) looking like she would finally be more than just a McGuffin. Meanwhile, Malia (Shelley Hennig) got a storyline concerning her murderous assassin mother, aka The Desert Wolf (Marisol Nichols), which also got off to a great start with Hennig’s great work at the end of episode 3, ‘Dreamcatchers.’ But as the season went on, both girls found themselves more and more in the background, without anything actually happening to them–which is more than I can say for poor Kira (Arden Cho), who basically got written out of the show for the last part of the season, and doesn’t return until this week’s ‘Damnatio Memoriae.’
To the show’s credit, the first two episodes of this second half of the season seem to be aware of this issue, and if nothing else, are at least setting up Lydia, Malia, and Kira to have prominent roles in one or more upcoming episodes. But why did their use have to be so sporadic in the first half of the season? Scott was always going to get a certain amount of screen time no matter what, because he is the star of the show (though some of the best moments of the first half of this season have been when he has taken a step into the background, as in ‘Dreamcatchers’). And (also to the show’s credit) his storyline this season has worked quite well, because Teen Wolf gave it a lot of time to breathe. But the rest of the first half season’s screentime has been spent poorly. Stiles’ (Dylan O’Brien) storyline can be forgiven, because he is basically the co-lead at this point–not to mention that O’Brien is a great actor, which allows him to salvage pretty much whatever is given to him. But the bulk of the rest of this time so far has been spent establishing Theo–mostly as the blandest and most boring dude in existence, because the show has had trouble properly defining his place in this show. He at least showed some progress in the final two episodes of the first half of the season, as his villainous nature finally came to the forefront and he completed his turn as the “nega” version of Scott.
This was crucial, because the actor playing Theo, Cody Christian, has not proven a diverse enough actor to play a more nuanced role than straight villain, which is why it is unfortunate that show has been so obsessed with muddling Theo’s intentions. His grand master plan worked quite well, as he was in fact able to kill Scott (at least temporarily) and raise his own pack from the dead. So with Theo finally interesting, what does the show do after forcing him down the audience’s throat back when he wasn’t interesting? Why, they push him back to the background, of course, and once again muddle his intentions! Theo is boring again, and all this makes me wonder why I need to spend so much time with him while far more compelling characters are ignored or minimized. Sure, it’s fun seeing how Theo can corrupt those in his pack through murder, or the “drug” of electricity; but man, if there were any two episodes that needed to justify Theo’s existence in the show, it was these, and Teen Wolf balked at the prospect.
Of course, Theo is not the only one who got all of that extra screen time in the first half of Season Five. Liam (Dylan Sprayberry) and Hayden (Victoria Moroles) also benefitted, but the results were a mixed bag at best. As a potential successor to both Tyler Posey as the center of this show and Scott as the leader of the pack, Liam already has his Styles equivalent in Mason (Khylin Rhambo), so of course it made sense that he would get his “Allison” (Crystal Reed). The problem is that Liam and Hayden just didn’t work as well as Scott and Allison. Part of this is that Sprayberry and Moroles were not quite ready for the extra exposure, making a lot of their scenes pretty cringe-worthy, but if we are being honest, early Scott and Allison were pretty cringe-worthy too at times, especially because Tyler Posey was just not a very good actor yet. The real problem is that the show tried too hard to push Liam and Hayden as Scott and Allison, and we’ve already seen that story, so this repeat is just boring. Add in that every minute the two of them got was taking away from far more interesting characters and storylines, and you can see why a lot of Season Five’s first half just felt like a waste.
Season Five hasn’t been all bad. The parents on this show are as awesome as always. On Teen Wolf, parents have always been this show’s secret weapon, as they add an element to the supernatural teenage show that most of them fail to explore because they let the parents in on what is happening and actually offer advise as older and wiser people worthy of respect instead of clueless morons that get in the way. Sure, they never get enough to do, but seeing as this show is about the kids, the parents get about as much material as one can expect. And like I said, Scott’s story worked pretty well in the first half of Season Five. I liked the gradual isolation he began to feel as his pack disintegrated around him and he felt more and more powerless to stop all the horrible things. And more importantly, that story at least gave some rationale for the misuse of several characters. Theo wanted to make Scott’s pack his own, so Theo and the Dread Doctors corrupted Kira’s kitsune spirit so that she would have to leave town in order to stop herself from becoming a murderer; eroded Malia’s confidence in everyone around her, causing her to isolate herself from the group; eroded Lydia’s confidence in Scott enough that Liam could catch her off guard and basically put her into a strange magic coma; caused a massive rift in Scott and Stiles’ friendship by forcing Stiles to kill someone in self-defense; and most importantly, used Liam’s love for Hayden to get the young beta to try and kill Scott. This all culminated with Theo temporarily killing Scott before Mama McCall (Melissa Ponzio) was able to help will her son back to life. By the end of the finale, Scott was at his lowest point emotionally (which is saying something, considering he was dead), and while it would have been nice if the show had figured out how to make all of these rifts be as big a deal as the show acts like they are, Posey does a great job of nailing Scott’s emotionally broken state, which carries over very well into the first two episodes of the second half of Season Five.
When the show returns from its break, Scott is barely holding himself together, both mentally and physically. His wounds are going to take a while to heal, and he is physically diminished in a way that is realistic and actually makes sense. This is really key for me, as for once I don’t have to be annoyed that the supposed strongest character on the show always seems to be getting his ass handed to him in a fight. Scott uses these two episodes to take stock at how damaged things really are in his pack, and, well, it’s not good. Stiles is pissed Scott for listening to Theo and assuming the worst in him, and he also blames Scott for what happened to his dad, Sheriff Stilinski (Linden Ashby), who spends much of episode 11 struggling to recover from an attack. Lydia is still in a coma, and her mother (Susan Walters), blaming Scott and the pack for everything that has happened to Lydia, sends the unconscious girl to the magical ward in Eichen House so that Lydia will be safe. Malia is no longer letting anyone in, because she plans to team up with Braeden (Meagan Tandy) and kill her mother, the Desert Wolf. Liam is still trying to come to grips with what he almost did to Scott. Finally, Kira is currently with her mother (Tamlyn Tomita), visiting a group of skinwalkers in order to figure out what is wrong with her.
Things aren’t looking great, but Scott is undeterred. He spends much of these episodes repairing his fractured relationship with Stiles. This is not easy, but luckily, once Sheriff Stilinski recovers, he is able to convince his son that the only way the boy can start to heal is to forgive Scott. It is a welcome relief that this process takes both episodes to actually resolve. That is not to say all the tension between Scott and Stiles is gone, but the episodes definitely earned the moments at the end of episode 12 where Scott and Stiles finally seem to be back on the same page. More importantly, the end of that episode seems to establish the idea that Scott and Stiles will get the pack back together one by one, which means each pack member should be getting a episode centered on their storyline. If this proves to be true, it will be crucial to fixing the missteps of the first half of Season Five. So that is a welcome development.
Another welcome improvement: the show seems to have figured out a better way to use Liam, in part because they are using more Mason. Rhambo and Sprayberry have always had good best friend chemistry, but Mason’s effectiveness was limited for most of the first half of the season while he remained ignorant of the fact that he’s in a supernatural show. With that no longer a problem, Mason has been unleashed, and the results are great. He really helps ground Liam, and the two of them work really well together, even if they are retreads of early Scott and Stiles. The other good thing the show is doing is taking the Liam and Hayden stuff back a bit. Turns out coming back from the dead can cause some issues, so Hayden is having trouble adapting to being back. She feels torn between the boy she loves, Liam, and Theo, the boy who saved her life. This adds an edge to the Liam and Hayden relationship that didn’t exist before, and that edge means their storyline will go in a different direction from simply being a Scott and Allison retread.
Of course, not every issue the show has had lately is resolved here, as the villains this season continue to be frustrating. Theo has decided not to be a straight villain for a time, as everyone must now deal with the last chimera, which is actually the resurrected form of the Beast of Gévaudan (yes, the same beast from ancient French lore that Brotherhood of the Wolf is based on, and no, the show hasn’t given much info yet, so the historical lore will have to do). How well this creature will work as an antagonist remains to be seen, but at least it brings the Argent family back into the fold, as in the show’s lore their ancestors killed the original Beast. Plus, maybe this will allow the Dread Doctors to take a step back until they can be fought on less ridiculous terms. At this point they’re just always too strong, and it’s gotten frustrating. Add in the looming Desert Wolf, and Teen Wolf still suffers from the fact that there are too many villains that are only possible future threats. Then there is Parrish (Ryan Kelley), who is supposed to be more of a wild card as a Hell Hound, but the show is still struggling with what to do with him right now–other than Parrish saying he is in love with Lydia and that he is determined to get her out of Eichen House.
These remaining concerns feel pretty minor, though; overall, I finally have some real hope again that this show might be able to get back on track. Episode 11 is cluttered and clunky, like all Teen Wolf premieres, but episode 12 actually moves things forward and starts tying some of these storylines together. There is still a lot to be worried about, but for now, at least, the show feels purposeful again, and more importantly, primed to start giving the proper attention to its misused heroines. I have been burned by such thoughts before, but I think now that now that Teen Wolf can enter back into the type of storytelling momentum it is used to doing since it only has ten more episodes to fill that things will pick up again.
Notes and Observations
- Papa Argent (JR Bourne) is back, and his entrance was spectacular.
- More importantly, Argent healed his father, Gerard (Michael Hogean), because the Dread Doctors and the Beast of Gévaudan are scary enough that of course you need another season’s big bad to help in the fight.
- Malia and Scott’s conversation about each of their break ups with Stiles is hilarious, and really shows that Scott and Malia need more time together, because it generally works really well.
- Mason is the best, and the fact that he made Liam bearable for long periods of time means he deserves the largest gold star ever.
- Meredith (Maya Eshet) is going to help Lydia learn how to use her scream as a weapon. This should explain why Lydia was suddenly so badass at the beginning of the season.
- Still, I am disappointed that the show hasn’t quite caught up with Lydia’s storyline yet. It’s hard to get too invested in what is happening when the action is still lagging behind the flashforwards.
- I was so excited because I thought Teen Wolf had learned to stop creating hashtags during episode 11; not only are they are distracting, but the target audience for this show doesn’t need help creating hashtags. So it was disheartening when the dreaded tags returned in episode 12–and worse, returned in their worst form, as #ScilesIsBack happens before Scott and Stile actually have their reconciliation talk. Seriously, Teen Wolf, just stop.
- Poor Hayden’s sister and Liam’s father. They are currently the only members of the not realizing they are in a supernatural show club. That club is no fun.
- Hayden leaving Liam behind after he breaks his back is hilarious. She has a point; he did pull them off a cliff, so he should lie there and reflect on what he did.
- Deaton (Seth Gilliam) is currently being held hostage by the Desert Wolf. Presumably this knowledge will eventually force Malia to get more help.
- Malia and Stiles are still broken up, but Malia’s reaction to the news that her surrogate father Sheriff Stilinski is alive was a great bit of acting from Hennig.
- Kira Watch: She is back, and dealing with skinwalkers. More importantly, next episode looks to be primarily focused on her. Try not to screw this up, Teen Wolf.
- Tumblr Update: Generally I do something to interact with Teen Wolf‘s Tumblr community, but this week I am going to take a break from that while I get back into the thick of things, so check back in future posts.
- Episode 11, ‘The Last Chimera’: C+ to B- (way too cluttered, and takes on way more than it should)
- Episode 12, ‘Damnatio Memoriae’: B (gets things on the right track, but what the show will do with that remains in question)
That’s it for this edition of Welcome to the Wolfpack. I probably won’t be covering all of Teen Wolf the way I have in the past, especially once TV Roulette returns (updates to the master list are in progress), but for now the plan is to at least cover a couple episodes in the middle and then the final two of the season. So look forward to that! Until then, just remember that money is probably going to be better than torture when you want information. What can I say? Loyalty always comes with a dollar sign.