Celebrating Wolfblood series 2

Now the finale has aired and a third series has been commissioned, we salute some of the highlights of CBBC’s Wolfblood series two…

This feature contains plot details for Wolfblood series one and two.

Inventive humour and satisfying storytelling pay little heed to age brackets. Just as Horrible Histories and Adventure Time couldn’t limit their audience to school-age kids if they tried, neither can CBBC’s Wolfblood, a drama that’s welcomed viewers of all ages into its growing pack.

Not that we interlopers gave Wolfblood any choice; construct a compelling world from likeable characters, peril, comedy and romance, and viewers seeking a decent story won’t be put off by an after-school timeslot. If you build it, they will… oh, you know the rest. Creator Debbie Moon and co. built it, and we came. Loads of us. Kids and grown-ups and everyone in between.

We’ll be back for series three too. How could we not, when the second run expanded the Wolfblood world in such gratifying directions? New characters were introduced, but not at the expense of existing ones. Relationships were developed. Previously supporting roles were brought into the spotlight. New menace arrived, was disarmed, and replaced by a wider threat. The finale saw Maddy Smith forced to leave friendship, love, and the human world behind her.

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While the long wait to find out what happens next begins, let’s remember some of what made series two of this children’s drama so special…

“So what is human life about?”

When Jana, series two’s wild Wolfblood newcomer, asked Rhydian that question in the school playground, it was difficult not to applaud. Casually dropped into a break-time conversation between two young teenagers was the query at the heart of more or less all the stories humans have ever told each other. Too often, young audiences are unchallenged, patronised, and worse, marketed to by their TV shows. Not Wolfblood. What is human life about, it asks its eight-to-twelve year old audience. Tell us what you reckon; your guess is as good as ours.

No, Rhydian’s answer wasn’t exactly Plato, but in its beautiful informality and impartiality, it was almost as much cause for celebration as Jana having asked in the first place. Blowing out his cheeks and shrugging, Bobby Lockwood said, “I dunno. Your friends. The things you do with them, fitting in, but also being yourself, just… stuff. Life stuff. You’ll work it out”. If you had to choose one single message to its audience from Wolfblood’s many ideas about friendship, loyalty and selfhood, it would be that reassurance: “Life stuff. You’ll work it out”.

“We’re your pack, and we’ll put ourselves at risk for you whether you like it or not”

Something Wolfblood understands with real insight is that school-age friendships are some of the most intense relationships you’ll experience. When Shannon and Tom were initiated into Maddy and Rhydian’s pack at the end of series one, its friendship metaphor became complete. Packs weren’t just a matter of lineage or geography, they were about the people you trusted and loved, regardless of species, gender, or background.

If it ever came to the attention of that dyspeptic element, Wolfblood’s inclusive approach to love could well merit it a place next to post-2005 Doctor Who as an example of the BBC’s legendary ‘liberal bias’. That’s how sound its politics are, and how positive its messages.

Series two saw the Wolfblood kids fall out, lose trust in each other, and rile one another up, but also resolve their problems through communication and showing affection (well, there was the odd bit of snarling here and there). I don’t mean to suggest the Stoneybridge lot are a pious group of paragons – they’re not. They’re the kind of characters who struggle but eventually come good, and are charitably quick to forgive. Forget about them being role models just for children, though. I’m in my thirties and want to be Maddy when I grow up.

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“One pack leader to another, whatever he decides, no hard feelings”

While we’re on the subject of positive representation, gender can’t go unmentioned.

The introduction of Jana in episode two put all the pieces in place for that stalwart of modern teen drama: the love triangle. Maddy and Jana started off at odds over their friendships with Rhydian, a scenario that could well have led to the competitive, back-biting cattiness teenage girls are so often associated with. In Wolfblood, however, it just didn’t happen. Aside from some bristling tension early on, Maddy and Jana’s relationship came to be defined by their differences  – wild versus tame Wolfblood – and their similarities – alpha versus alpha. These girls are defined by more than their boyfriend, and praise be for that.

Even the Kays – though no strangers to moments of competitive girl sabotage – prioritise their unbreakable friendship over all else, and underneath all the make-up and crafty schemes, are just as fiercely loyal and supportive as Maddy’s pack.

“There’s more to you than just Shannon the beast hunter”

Series two not only introduced the talented Leona Vaughan as Jana, but gave Louisa Connolly-Burnham a great deal of the heavy lifting as Shannon, a character who went through her own transformation this year. The whole cast deserve plaudits for this series, but Aimee Kelly (Maddy) and Connolly-Burnham’s emotional storylines were particularly affecting and maturely played. (Incidentally, on behalf of glasses-wearers everywhere, that Shannon got to keep her specs on when she glammed up for the school dance deserves a BAFTA nomination all by itself).

Not only was Shannon developed as a character, but two other supporting players came closer to the spotlight. Niek Versteeg as Jimi’s crony Liam was given much more to do this year, a challenge he rose to with real promise. Mark Fleischman too, established himself not only as the comic relief, but also as a brave (“I think I’m going to have to ask you to leave. Now”), empathetic teacher, and a character we’d sorely miss were Mr Jeffries to do as Rhydian jokes and have the long-awaited nervous breakdown that teaching a class of Wolfbloods may well cause him.

Now all we need is a proper storyline for the similarly talented Kedar Williams-Stirling as Tom in series three…

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“We have to move. Fast”

You can’t sing Wolfblood’s praises without tipping your cap towards its action. For every relationship drama and affecting moment of self-realisation, there’s an exhilarating shot of running, jumping, howling, and leaping into rivers, not to mention the impressive CGI wolves themselves. If nothing else, Wolfblood makes cross-country running look fun, which is no mean feat.

“We’ll find each other”

All that, and a love story to boot. When creator Debbie Moon told us that romance was on its way in series two, Maddy and Rhydian were the first thought, with Rhydian and Jana as the second. But it was neither of those potential couples that shared the first on-screen kiss. That honour went to Shannon and Harry at the school disco, leaving Maddy and Rhydian their climactic end-of-series moment on that Northern moor.

To sum up then, Wolfblood’s second series did exactly what a sequel should. It expanded, developed and deepened the fictional world of its predecessor, whilst being cleverly plotted (the dog chew introduced in episode one became a plot point in episode thirteen – it was Chekhov’s dog chew), roundly entertaining, and moving all at once.

With the Smiths off to live as part of Jana’s wild wolf pack for the foreseeable, series three promises even more adventure. Until then.

Read more about Wolfblood at Den of Geek, here.

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