Teen Wolf season 3 episode 16 review: Illuminated

Review Ron Hogan 28 Jan 2014 - 07:58

Ron sings Teen Wolf's praises once again as it delivers yet another well-directed, well-written episode...

This review contains spoilers.

3.16 Illuminated

When Teen Wolf throws a party, it throws a pretty spectacular party. Given the incredible amount of access Teen Wolf has to MTV's song library, they're pretty judicious about making use of their music-filled playground. When they pick a song for a scene, typically it works; when they pick out a series of songs for a 90s style paint party rave, then they pick the best possible dance and trance music that will fit the scene. For example, this week's Teen Wolf music seems totally appropriate for a party, and when they break from that thumping routine, it makes the viewer sit up and take notice because cinematic-style music cues are more likely to catch attention when they're totally different from everything else you've been hearing.

Another benefit to the show's overall quality is the presence of director and executive producer Russell Mulcahy. As the show's primary director, he's done a lot in establishing its general style, specifically its use of light and shadow, the use of reflected lights rather than direct lighting when possible, and the general... neon-nightmarish look that Teen Wolf reaches toward. I'm sure his background in 80s music videos helps keep the show's eye attuned on its frequently shirtless cast members, too.

All three of these defining traits for Teen Wolf came together this week during the dance rave thrown by Danny, Ethan, and Aiden at Derek's abandoned-ish loft in the industrial zone. The show has gone down this particular rabbit hole before during the second season's episodes Frenemy and The Rave, so there's some experience in filming parties for maximum visual interest. Given the extensive use of blacklight and blacklight-actived paint (and the cast's incredibly white teeth), this episode's illuminated party ends up being pretty spectacular from a look standpoint. Rarely has something looked like a) that much fun and b) that threatening. Once again, Teen Wolf is great at depicting two conflicting emotions at the same time. As the party continued on, it began to look less fun and a whole lot more like some sort of paint-smeared frenzy, and the music, style, and lighting all reflected that devolution.

The menace this week is provided by the presence of five black-clad, masked figures who display uncanny speed, fighting skills, and the ability to appear and disappear in clouds of thick, black smoke, rolling across floors ominously and appearing in any handy shadow, which there are a lot of considering Beacon Hills is going through a blackout after Doug Jones's crazed serial killer Barrow destroyed the town's power station (the band Power Station remains at-large, speaking of the 80s).

This ability to seemingly teleport from place to place, striking at various cast members at various times, gives Mulcahy a chance to have some real fun with the visuals in true horror movie fashion. Dancing teenagers, throbbing lights, and in the back, there's a scary monster face. Ethan (or Aiden) goes to get some ice from the cooler room, and the flickering light bulb creates tension before the masked figures appear, disappear, and reappear again only to leave one of the twins crumpled on the floor. Lydia notices the figures creeping around the party, gets appropriately weirded out, and flees only to be stalked from the shadows by yellow-eyed monsters? I'm not sure what their motivation quite is yet, so far their ability to show up, be scary, and survive broken necks is all that's needed from them, but the show will feed us more information as it continues throughout the season.

Of course, the party and its mysterious figures are only part of episode; the B plot involves Scott and Kira breaking into the sheriff's office to rescue Kira's phone from Agent McCall's evidence room to erase some pictures off it (not the kind of pictures Stiles is imagining). I turns out that Kira shows up strangely in photographs, and it's related to the spark-absorbing scene from last week's episode. She's evidently one of the show's new monsters, though not of the evil variety as far as we know right now. The Nemeton is proving to be a draw for strange things, and given that Beacon Hills was a magnet for strangeness before the tree was revived, well... it's only going to get more interesting and Jeff Davis gets to add another animal to his MTV bestiary.

Both plots were done justice by the script from Alyssa Clark (Teen Wolf's editor during the first season, getting her first screenwriting credit on the show), who found a good balance between comedy (Derek's trick-or-treaters) and suspense without having much in the way of gore or horror style involved in her work. Any scene with characters sneaking around in a dark office is going to be intense; even though we all knew Stiles would come and run interference for his friends after the fact, it still worked because it was well-executed and well-plotted. The episode was mostly a boiling pot, simmering things for future consumption while keeping audiences happy with cute couple moments, Stiles' eternal cleverness, and Derek knocking over a DJ table while roaring at teenagers.

Being too old for the show's target audience, I often find myself inadvertently being defensive about my love of Teen Wolf even as I try to convince more people I know to watch the programme. It's a weird position to be put in, yet here I am. It's a show for teenagers, but it's not written down to them; it's written at them, and it speaks to anyone who has ever gone through awkward teenage years and emerged with more than a few mental and physical battle scars. Some things, like awkward small-talk at very loud parties and the pangs of young love, are universal, no matter your age, gender, or orientation. That universal teenage experience translated in a stylish and visually-appealing manner is what makes Teen Wolf worth promoting.

Read Ron's review of the previous episode, Galvanize, here.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan is intrigued by the idea of sushi and pizza as a progressive meal. Probably in that order, because the other way would probably end terribly. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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