Wolfblood series 4 hits the ground running… literally. First episode Captivity introduces its new urban setting and action-spy genre with a slickly directed nocturnal street chase that’s more Alias than Eolas. No longer a stranger to technology, formerly wild Wolfblood Jana has a headset and a mission. She’s the best agent in the business, and her prey doesn’t stand a chance.
In a fun twist, said prey turns out not to be a villain but TJ, the errant teenage son of Jana’s boss at swish multinational Segolia. He’s soon sniffed out and found mucking about in Katrina’s newly opened Kafe (a franchise don’t-you-know).
On their way home to mum, Jana and TJ cross paths with a couple of young Wolfbloods in peril whose story instigates a series-long mystery…
Bang. New setting, new characters, new updates on existing ones and new intrigue, all breathed in by the audience as easily as air. In just a few minutes of screen time, Wolfblood viewers are pulled deep into series 4’s set-up before they’ve had a chance to register quite how much has changed.
How much is a lot. With no Stoneybridge, Bradlington High, Rhydian, Shannon or Tom, series four might be considered a reboot or spin-off more than a continuation. (Think Angel’s move from Sunnydale to LA, and then skip ahead a few seasons to when the Investigates team had the resources and dubious moral practices of Wolfram & Hart at its disposal.)
And yet the fundament of Wolfblood remains intact. Underneath what’s new is still an exciting genre show that encourages its young audience to accept difference—their own and other people’s—, to respect themselves and their friendships, and to be unafraid to show strength and weakness. The Wolfblood TV world is one where teenage girls are empowered as alphas and teenage boys are allowed to cry. Masculinity and femininity aren’t cages. Emotions are for everyone. And kids almost always have it more sussed than grown-ups.
All that, plus bonus Judge Dredd quotes. Is it any wonder we love this show?
Captivity makes short work of bedding in its new characters and establishing Jana’s new pack. The conflict between TJ and his high-achieving mother quickly reveals that the episode title isn’t only relevant in the literal sense. Meeting TJ as an escapee positions him as someone who feels held captive by the demands of his home life.
And then there are the adults at Segolia to whom Jana is teaching wild Wolfblood skills. Their natural instincts have been dulled by spending too long living in elective ‘captivity’.
In less figurative cages are brother and sister pair Matei and Emilia, who immediately win our sympathy, not only because of the family tragedy that provides the ongoing mystery of this series (who started the fire that killed their parents and why?), but also because of how fiercely protective they are of each other.
The tense scene in which the pair is broken out of containment shows what can be achieved with a good idea and strong execution. With a fraction of the budget enjoyed by many young-skewed US fantasy dramas, Wolfblood continues to work wonders.
And crucially, unlike some of its counterparts over the pond, Wolfblood isn’t po-faced fantasy. A thread of genuinely funny comedy, whether from Louis Payne’s likeable TJ, Gabrielle Green’s always-enjoyable Katrina (they kept the funniest K!) or a spooked zookeeper, is woven through the episodes.
Pairing Jana with Katrina is a brilliant move, by the way. Who wouldn’t want to watch a teenage Faith and Cordelia flatshare?
In one scene between the two new flatmates, creator and writer Debbie Moon seems to directly address young fans whose attachment to the original cast could overshadow their enjoyment of the new-look Wolfblood.
“I bet you must see Maddy, Rhydian, Tom and Shannon all the time”, Katrina says to Jana. “They’re quite busy,” Jana replies. “But it’s okay though. Friends are friends however far away they might be. And what we’ve got here is actually okay.”
Wolfblood has been offering its young audience positive messages for years. Showing them that when life inevitably brings change, it’s not only actually okay, but sometimes even better, is just the latest.
Wolfblood series 4 continues next Monday and Tuesday the 14th and 15th of March on CBBC.