This review contains spoilers.
2.1 Leader of the Pack
Romance. Wild Wolfbloods. Danger. Those were the three words Wolfblood creator Debbie Moon gave Den of Geek to tease the second run of her impressive CBBC supernatural drama. All three made an appearance in the action-heavy series two opener, Leader of the Pack, which welcomed an unkempt Rhydian back to Stoneybridge.
The threat of Shannon and Tom discovering the Wolfbloods’ secret now removed (not that it’s stopped Stoneybridge’s Mulder from continuing her investigations), fresh peril was required for the series two opener. It arrived in the form of wild Alpha Ulric, set on killing Rhydian.
Ulric’s introduction, if he goes on to fulfil a traditional ‘big bad’ role (nothing’s a given in Wolfblood), signals an older, more frightening direction for series two. Considering that the worst the gang faced last series was capture and social embarrassment, bringing a trio of fanged, veiny, yellow-eyed hunters through the school gates sends an unmistakeable message. Maddy and Rhydian are growing up, and so is Wolfblood. Sofa cushions at the ready.
While the BBC’s Merlin matured with the younger members of its audience, moving later and later in its timeslot as it went from madcap adventure to high-stakes drama, Wolfblood isn’t quite as free to do the same. Series one may have attracted an older fan base than CBBC’s eight-to-twelve demographic (far, far older if I’m anything to go by), something cemented by its 7pm repeat on BBC Three this summer, but it remains a children’s television show. What keeps it one – even in the face of menacing Wild Wolfbloods – is that the children always resolve the threat.
This episode’s photography plan, and Maddy’s blackmail negotiations (surely the first time a school assembly projector has been instrumental in fending off baddies?) took care of the problem at hand effectively and more rapidly than Daniel and Emma’s slow-moving parental phone call to a higher power would have done. For the wish-fulfilment side of children’s fiction to work, the adults not only have to be largely absent, but less effective strategists than the kids. Wolfblood understands this brilliantly, and so has Maddy, Shannon, Tom and Rhydian saving the day again and again, like a gender-balanced, supernatural Famous Five.
The Kays bundling Jimi aside, hitting the ground running with action and menace understandably left little time for comic relief in The Leader of the Pack. The Smiths did some characteristic joshing around early on – Daniel discovering a taste for cow hide thanks to Tom’s well-meaning but ultimately insulting gift – but were more or less shelved after Maddy schooled them in pack loyalty. Once again, the child was the teacher of the adult; an irresistible prospect for Wolfblood’s young audience, and more proof that our Maddy isn’t just a quick-thinking but also a warm-hearted hero.
There’s more to Maddy’s defence of Rhydian in the episode than pack loyalty though, as that hand-touching moment showed us. If romance is to be a major theme of series two – and why shouldn’t it be – the young audience tightrope will have to be walked just as carefully as the fear factor. By the looks of the next episode preview, The Girl From Nowhere (also written by creator Debbie Moon) it seems a narrative obstacle has already been placed in the way of the two ‘cousins’, which could either prove to be a bucket of cold water, or an accelerant to smouldering teenage hormones.
In many ways, Leader of the Pack revisited series one opener, Lone Wolf. In both, Rhydian appears at school unannounced with a question mark over him, turns Maddy’s head, sets the Kays’ eyelashes fluttering, and immediately gets into a fight with poor Jimi. With thirteen episodes behind it having laid down a bed of themes about family and identity though, it feels much richer this time around. The Wolfblood world has expanded, the characters are learning more about themselves, and – if this episode marks the start of a trend – the action and snarling quota has ratcheted up a notch or two.
Romance, Wild Wolfbloods, and Danger then, all accounted for in this confident, eventful series opener. Blended with series one’s themes of Secrets, Growing Pains, Friendship, and Wolfblood’s warm sense of humour, and it looks as though CBBC audiences (and ageing interlopers like me) are in for another treat this year.
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