Welcome to the Wolfpack: ‘Codominance’

In All, Television by David

It ‘s time for another edition of Welcome to the Wolfpack. This week I return to Beacon Hills to take a look at Season Five Episode 13, ‘Codominance.’ Last week Teen Wolf got off to an uneven but promising start. Will the show be able to build on that this week? Let’s find out.

Spoilers Ahead, so don’t howl about it, and thanks to the Teen Wolf Tumblr for the gifs.

Teen Wolf has never been the best at focusing. Which probably explains why, when the show does choose to hone its focus, such as in Season Four’s ‘Time of Death’ or Season 3a’s ‘Motel California’, the results are often quite positive. The show has figured out that, in an supernatural show like this, sometimes certain characters don’t need to be in an episode if they don’t really have anything to do, a good (albeit complicated because of how actor contracts work) strategy for achieving that focus. But the show applies this logic inconsistently, so some of the characters skip out on episodes but also often have little to do even when they do get on-screen, making them feel wasted or badly misused.

Of all the characters, none have been more underused than Kira (okay, maybe Lydia, but that is for another time), who has been an utter afterthought ever since being one of the major focuses of Season 3b. Things began to shift in Season Five, as Kira at least got her own storyline as she struggled to control her kitsune powers, but she had to be removed from the equation for a while in order for Theo’s plan to work, so once again Kira was sidelined–this time because she lost control of her powers and had to leave after Episode 8 to try and fix her issue. While it was another annoying example of Kira being ignored or pushed to the side, I hoped that at least when Kira finally came back this time, the show would finally have something for her to do. Things got off to a good start last week when she reappeared at the end of the ‘Damnatio Memoriae’ coming face-to-face with a group of skinwalkers; so the question became, would Teen Wolf stick the landing for her first full episode back? The answer: mostly yes, because the show actually showed some focus for once and kept things centered around Kira.

Maybe not what you were expecting when you first returned to the show.

That doesn’t mean this was a bottle episode involving only Kira, but getting her back to the main story was certainly the driving force of the episode. While Kira prepared to face the trial of the skinwalkers, Scott and Stiles drove off to help her return to Beacon Hills. The reason I say that this episode only mostly sticks the landing is that it makes the mistake of not containing this episode to just these two storylines. Had this been a Kira/Scott/Stiles threefer, it would have a helped reinforce how fractured the pack is and how Scott has to gain his people back one by one. Last week’s episodes were about Stiles, and this week’s was about Kira, with the added benefit of allowing Scott and Stiles to further discuss the issue that drove them apart last season. Every other character in this episode just felt like they were taking away from the two far more interesting storylines. It would be one thing if all the appearances were like Liam’s at the beginning of the episode, when he tries to talk to Scott about Theo’s new pack (especially Hayden), but mostly it really felt like the other storylines from this episode would be better off waiting for future weeks (especially Malia’s, Lydia’s, and mostly Theo’s). Luckily, both Kira’s and the boys’ storyline are still quite strong, but ‘Codominance’ does feel like a missed opportunity to give each of them a little more time and the show’s otherwise undivided attention.

Kira’s storyline works because it finally puts her in an active position again. When her mother brings her to the skinwalkers, because these desert beings are the only ones that can potentially help her, this sets up two conflicts for Kira. One is with the skinswalkers, who want to test Kira in order to determine if they can help her. The catch is that if Kira fails the test, she must become one of them, because that is the only way in the skinwalkers’ mind to prevent Kira from losing herself to her kitsune side and becoming a danger to the world. The second conflict is between Kira and her mother. If the kitsune spirit takes over, Kira will cease to exist as she is now. So Kira’s mother thinks that no cost is too high to protect her daughter. That means if Kira needs to train with skinwalkers for months, years, or even worse, forever, it is worth it if it keeps Kira safe. Kira is obviously not okay with this because the whole reason she left is to figure out how to fix herself so she can get back to help her friends. Her mother understands that, but considering kitsunes measure their lifespans in not years but centuries, it is also understandable why the elder Yukimura thinks that Kira should have different priorities. The situation meant that most of Kira’s storyline in this episode were conversations between her and her mother about what is best for her. This gives Arden Cho and Tamlyn Tomita the chance to do some good work together, and the emotional core really works, but they never get to go as deep as they could, because the episode doesn’t give them enough time, which is a shame.

The mother and daughter Yukimura pair are not the only ones to have a heart-to-heart in this episode. Scott and Stiles continued to build on last week’s strong work during their road trip to find Kira. Stiles finally tells Scott what actually happened with Donovan (Ashton Moio), and Scott laments that he should have let Stiles explain earlier. The two realize how thoroughly Theo played them against each other by taking advantage of their lack of communication. These scenes work really well, because it shows two friends realizing that their bond was not as deep as they had originally thought, and committing on working on fixing that. Even better these conversations lead Scott to reveal that he always feared helping people would lead to someone getting too much blood on their hands. He always thought it would be Malia, never dreamed it would be Stiles, and always hoped that it would be him instead. The moment reinforces how Scott had increasingly been taking too much onto himself, and how part of what let Theo rip Scott’s pack apart is that Scott still had trouble letting other people help him. When things get rough, Scott’s response has always to some degree been to shut people out in order to protect them. It’s why in the first half of Season Five he became increasingly more isolated, relying less and less on his friends and more and more on Theo. The biggest change since Scott’s death is that he realizes he has to do things differently. This might not necessarily be easy, as his reluctance to let Liam back into the fold shows, but what’s important is that Scott seems more receptive to sharing what is going on in order to get advice on what to do. In past seasons, Scott wouldn’t have told Stiles what Scott thought was going on with Malia (that Braeden and her planned to kill Malia’s mother, The Desert Wolf), nor would he have been so receptive to Stiles when Stiles called him out for not being willing to reconcile with Liam. These signs of growth can only deepen Scott’s character, and will help pay off a lot of the work from the first half of this season.

Don’t make the kitsune angry. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry.

Okay, that’s a lie, because this is awesome.

The editing in this episode is really something, especially as the show cuts between Kira’s storyline and Scott and Stiles’. This also helps make for some excellent action sequences. Kira’s conflict and test with the skinswalkers is especially good. The opening fight is rather well done (other than some odd camera choices that made me wonder if this had suddenly become an anime), and then Kira’s actual test is one of the cooler things the show has ever done. Bringing back an oni to fight Kira was a smart choice, as the oni are some of the better designed creatures of the entire show. Kira fights a shadow that pops in and out of frame, striking at her, and as the fight goes on it is clear that she is also fighting herself. Her strikes damage herself more than the oni, until finally Kira wills herself to victory with the help of her kitsune spirit. What makes this really work is the ambiguity. On one level, it seems like Kira used her kitsune spirit to win the fight, demonstrating the control she had been lacking; but on another level, she still needed to use her kitsune spirit for victory. The episode makes a big deal about how Kira is a girl who wields a sword; her katana is supposed to be her weapon, not her kitsune spirit. So there are questions about whether she is as in control as she appears, and even if she is, her kitsune side is dangerous, and Kira is heading down a dangerous path using it at all. This is why the skinwalkers insist that Kira failed her test, and try to bring her underground to make her one of them.

This leads to what is one of the better sequences in the show, because it works on multiple levels. First, it pays of the tension between Kira and her mother, as Kira’s mother decides to fight the skinwalkers instead of letting them take her, leading to a badass standoff between the skinwalkers and the Yukimura pair. Then the episode pays off the excellent cross-cutting it’s been using throughout by making it believable that this would be the moment Scott and Stiles appear to help. Finally, and most importantly, this scene works because it is able to walk the delicate balance of allowing Scott to help without making it seem like he had to come save the day. Sure, Scott gets to roll out of Roscoe (somehow the Jeep lives, and I am so cool with it), and let off a threatening roar, but only after Kira had proven herself against the oni spirit; and it is her mother’s skills that thwart the skinwalkers and allow the group to drive away. This was a line I worried Teen Wolf wouldn’t be to navigate as the episode neared its end, but ‘Codominance’ did a really good job showing how Scott’s pack could function if it worked together and trusted each other.

This worked way better than I expected it to.

Much of this back half the season is likely to be about the importance of a pack and the best way for a pack to function. This should not be much of a surprise, as different ideas about packs have been a major part of each season. In Season One, Peter (Ian Bohen) tries to use Scott to form a pack; in Season Two, Derek (Tyler Hoechlin) tries to create a pack in order to validate becoming an Alpha; Season 3a dealt with Deucalion’s (Gideon Emery) alpha pack; Season 3b (while the least pack related) is partly about Scott coming to terms with having a pack; Season Four dealt with Scott navigating what it means to be an alpha and have a pack; and so far, Season Five has been about how dangerous it can be if a pack is not united. This episode reinforces that point by showing how much stronger all the character in the pack are together than apart, whether that’s in emotional terms, like the conversations between Scott and Stiles, or in a dangerous situation, where only as a group were Kira, Mrs. Yukimura, Scott and Stiles able to escape the skinwalkers. Effective action, skillful editing, and strong themes made for a tight, unified episode that saw Teen Wolf continuing the upswing from last week.

Notes and Observations:

  • Scott and Kira’s immediate make out session upon being reunited in the car was sweet and hilarious. The only thing is, Kira’s “I love you,” doesn’t have quite the impact it should, since she has been gone so long that most people have probably forgotten: a lingering issue from the first half of the season was Scott’s casual “I love you,” to Kira, which she had not really figured out how to respond to before she had to leave.
  • It seems like the show is committing to the idea of Kira embracing her kitsune side instead of running away from it. Kira used her kitsune side without fear in this episode, and that will likely continue going forward. This is good, because it means Kira will continue to have a juicy storyline as she deals with the repercussions of her kitsune powers. It also opens up a lot of storylines for the future (including if the show wants to pull a Whedon and have Kira go evil after losing control of herself to her kitsune side). This puts Kira in the most exciting place she has been in for quite some time.
  • So one scene I can forgive being in this episode is Theo’s confrontation with the Dread Doctors and the Beast of Gévaudan. It probably would have been better at the beginning or end of the episode, but it did give a better idea of what is going on with Theo. Theo has a pack, but he isn’t an alpha or even a true werewolf (though, considering he is a werecoyote, he can’t really be a werewolf, but whatever). So it looks like a lot of what Theo will be doing is trying to become an actual alpha to protect himself from the Beast of Gévaudan.
  • With all that said, the Beast of Gévaudan looks awful. This is why you have avoided using conventional werewolves, Teen Wolf because they look cheap and terrible. Seriously, I cannot find this thing threatening at all when all I want to do is laugh at it.
  • Another strong part of this scene is that, for the first time in a while, Tracy (Kelsey Asbille) didn’t act like a murderous sociopath, which means that maybe she will get to be a character again. She also helped humanize Theo a bit, which is always good.
  • I know that Liam and Mason are our replacement Scott and Stiles, but this week it almost felt like they were already in a new show where they are the main characters. Unfortunately, while Scott and Stiles were off in a supernatural show dealing with skinwalkers, Liam and Mason were in a high school show dealing with boredom.This is saved by the fact that their interactions with Hayden and Corey (Michael Johnston) allowed them to figure out that Theo is trying to find Deucalion, but every time they were on-screen I wanted to go back to the better supernatural show.

Unless the show wants to do more of this, because this was hilarious.

  • Malia beats the hell out of Theo, but it is a lot less satisfying than it should be. Probably because he is smiling virtually the whole time, and because it is clear he is trying to alienate Malia from her friends, just like he did with Stiles.
  • I give the show credit for trying its darndest to justify Theo’s pack’s loyalty to him when confronted with the fact that he is a sociopath. The idea that his pack believes that he is the only way they can survive works, seeing as all of them have died once and don’t want to do so again.
  • Lydia was in the episode, continuing her banshee training. I would find this a lot more interesting if I didn’t already know the results of this training from the flash forwards in episodes 1 and 11. So until Lydia gets to do real things again, I am going to rename Kira Watch to Lydia Watch.

Episode Grade: B (though a higher B than Episode 12, just not quite good enough for a B+)

That’s it for this edition of Welcome to the Wolfpack. After a predictably shaky first episode, Teen Wolf‘s second half of Season Five has had two straight solid episodes. Hopefully, this newfound focus and highlighting of misused characters will continue. We’ll find out when I next return with more Teen Wolf coverage. Until then, I need to go train with my katana some more, or there is no way I am going to be able to cut these incoming spears in half.