This review contains spoilers.
Teen Wolf continues to double down on the two advantages it has over other shows of its ilk on television: a large cast that is actively developing chemistry, and a willingness to slaughter extras by the dozens in the name of body horror and gore. Teen Wolf makes great use of both things this week, splitting the team up on various missions while highlighting the growing fractures in the group. Some want to go on a brave rescue mission, others opt for protecting the weak, and still others are actively working to take the fractured group and shatter it completely. There’s a lot going on and the conflict grows with every passing moment. All the while, people die horribly.
The titular teen wolves are pulled in all sorts of different directions this week, and the disagreements about what to do about the missing Liam and Hayden surface differences that expose the deeper rifts in the group. Scott, ever the man of action, and Malia want to rush off and go searching, along with the eager Stiles-lite Mason. Lydia and Stiles, being the least powerful and most victimized, want to stay behind and render aid to Corey, recovering from his sting and possibly the next victim of the Dread Doctors. Theo, being the agent of the Doctors, agrees to stay behind with Lydia while Stiles goes to stop his father from doing something dumb trying to keep law and order in a town full of supernatural murder machines.
The pressure in the group is building with every passing week. Scott is straining under the burden of leadership and returning physical frailty. Stiles is keeping secrets from his best friend and panicking that his girlfriend is going to go for the hot new hunk. Kira’s unable to keep her powers under control to the detriment of the group. That straining in the group is causing them to crack, to separate, to break up the gang that pulled together so well in previous years. The breaking up a close group of friends is something that’s inevitable; the only difference is most high school friends don’t have to routinely hide murders and fight super villains.
However, the slow way in which Teen Wolf is playing it out is perfect. Little cracks grow into fissures, and the tight group of the third season is no more. Theo is working to pry Malia from Stiles, who is keeping secrets from his best friend, who is struggling with the leadership role without his adviser Derek Hale around to help him make the right choices. That conflict is bleeding over into the world of the parents, too. We’ve seen what happened to Lydia’s mom, but now the original Teen Wolf ship—Melissa McCall and Sheriff Stilinski—is also on the rocks. Their conflict is tied into the problems with their children, in that Stilinski wants to try to keep some semblance of law and order while Melissa is willing to do whatever it takes to keep the town’s secrets, even at the cost of justice and perhaps even a career in law enforcement (or at least scruples).
Will Wallace enforces the growing distance between the core group of kids with his script, both in words and in general plot. The philosophical differences are there, and aren’t lingered on, but then the group fractures in setting. Scott and Malia go one way, Lydia and Theo go another, and Stiles goes a third while Liam and Hayden are caged and waiting for the Dread Doctors to do something terrible to them. There’s a lot of great body horror in the Liam and Hayden scene, and Stiles and Stilinski’s fight in the hospital is also really fun, with great use of steam to hide Parrish’s theft of the latest body (as well as a great scene where Parrish creepily tells Sheriff Stilinski to back off in not so many words). The separate groups work very well, and you get just enough with every group so that no one feels shorted—there’s even an appearance by Deaton and the infamous Desert Wolf (Marisol Nichols, AKA Audrey from Vegas Vacation) to open and close the episode.
The thought of spreading the group out is appealing, considering the emergence of Khylin Rhambo’s Mason as a valuable part of the ensemble and the further development of Dylan Sprayberry’s Liam. I don’t like the breaking up of the group on sheer stubborn fandomness, but from a dramatic standpoint and an emotional angle, it really works well. You feel for Scott and Stiles, particularly as Stiles flounders between his worlds and Scott has trouble keeping to his principles and being a real leader. I mean, they had Mama McCall and Papa Stilinski fight; if that doesn’t make Tumblr freak out, nothing will anymore.
It doesn’t come across as provocation for provocation’s sake, it feels like a real point of change for Teen Wolf. This is a show that has lost a character or two pretty much every season, shifted characters from regulars to special guests and vice-versa, and that seems to be able to bridge those losses without much trouble ratings-wise. So far the core of Stiles, Scott, and Lydia has helped carry the show through the chaos; I can’t help but wonder if the next change will be Stiles going off to college, or Lydia and Parrish heading off into the grown-up sunset. Could the show handle a new Teen Wolf? I’m not sure; it all depends on how long they can convince Dylan O’Brien to show up on set in between blockbuster movies.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan has been very impressed by the way Teen Wolf has backed up emotional trauma with lots of physical trauma. Teary eyes and a churning stomach is a great thing for a supernatural drama to provoke. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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