Sunday, May 26, 2024

Teen Wolf 6A Was A Study In Wasted Opportunities

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Teen Wolf delivered its mid-season finale exactly a month ago. It seems like enough time has passed to be able to look back with at least a little bit of perspective, so let me try to do that. The title is harsh, I know. Especially as it‘ s likely that there were some last-minute changes to the plot – if it was not changed entirely – in response to Dylan O‘Brien‘s injury and lack of availability. Still, looking at the half-season as it stands, on its own merit, it’s hard to miss.

Ghost Riders In The Sky

First, let’s look at the main plotline itself. It had potential. You may remember how I enthused about the sheer drama included with the threat of people being forgotten. And at the beginning, it delivered, too.

Stiles’ disappearance and the struggle of everyone left behind to remember him made full use of this, but almost immediately afterward, it started to go downhill.

It began with Gwen, whose frustration at everyone forgetting her sister was well done and heart-wrenching, but whose own memory was a little too easily retained. It would have added another layer of drama had she struggled with her memory as well. But fine, let’s say they did not have enough room to devote so much time to Gwen. She is a tertiary character, and her storyline still worked as it was.

All the other people taken by the Hunt, though…

No one forgets any of them.

Or maybe someone does, but we never see it on screen.

Gwen herself. The people taken on the lacrosse field. Corey. Melissa. Hayden and Mason. They are all remembered perfectly fine, taking away a good deal of the terror of the Hunt. As it is, the Riders are downgraded to sort of “temporary killers.”

Hand in hand with it also went the decrease of their power. At the beginning of the season, they seemed unbeatable by any means at the disposal of the pack. When the party was attacked, the entire sophomore pack wasn’t able to handle one rider, and they needed Parrish to arrive to (temporarily) save them.

A few episodes later, Liam was wrestling with them like nobody’s business.

So the only menacing thing about them remained that their bullets worked on werewolves as well as humans, but then again, the Riders forgot they had the guns half of the time – as the plot demanded it – so it wasn’t that much of an issue.

Given that the Hunt was presented to us as something almost akin to a force of nature at the beginning, that’s quite a downgrade. In addition, the potential terror of them gradually taking away everyone in Beacon Hills was pretty much entirely missed because there was no gradual danger. Instead, one day we just learned that everyone was gone. Completely out of the blue. Instead of creeping horror, there is just a surprise because of the suddenness.

The Riders were not bad antagonists exactly, but they could have, and should have, been so much more.

This goes for the entire business with Claudia Stilinski, too, both her original apparition and the Rider pretending to be her at the end. Regardless of the inconsistency of her depiction I kept complaining about, more should have been done with that storyline. The Sheriff was over her death in seconds, effectively, and Stiles barely seemed slightly bothered by her apparition at the end, because he did not have enough time to be.

This was a storyline that had even more heartwrenching potential than the Riders themselves, and even less was done with it.

Heroes and Villains…

Then there were the redemption arcs. And I use the word arc very loosely.

Peter was first, so let’s look at him.

Let me do a brief overview. We know very little about Peter Hale before the Hale fire. He slept with the Desert Wolf at some point, and his sister took the memory of his daughter out of that union from him. We don’t know why. Then he was in rather agonizing pain for a few years, and pretty much out of his mind for at least some of them. This ended when he killed his niece. There are differing opinions about his lucidity when he did that, so I’ll treat it as an unknown factor.

He became an alpha, and started to kill people responsible for the fire. Plus, apparently, Scott’s friends – or he wanted Scott to kill them, anyway. At that point, he was certainly at least partly in control of himself, though whether we’d term him in his right mind is another question.

He was killed by his own nephew, and resurrected. After the resurrection, he managed to pretend to be a mostly sane person and give help to the pack on occasion, and take care of his other niece. But it was also revealed he had issues about not being an alpha anymore. He decided to resolve the issues by tricking Scott into getting killed, and have Kate Argent, the last surviving perpetrator of the Hale fire, killed as well. He failed, and was locked up in Eichen House without a trial to face perpetual mental torture.

So stood the story before season six. It hardly makes Peter a hero, but it does contain some legitimate reasons for compassion, which make me understand why Peter might seem like a character worthy of a redemption arc.

Now when building a redemption arc, it’s good practice to start with the morally good side of the character in question and have that lead them to redemption. Another option is having them see the consequences of their actions, but even that often ties into the first – they need to have some good side to be moved.

In the past seasons, Peter definitely showed that he cared for Cora, and that he was at least interested in Malia. I hesitate to say that he loves his family in general, because of what happened to Laura and Derek, but there is the doubt about his sanity. So he loves some of his family at least and doesn’t feel completely indifferent to the rest, given that he never tried to kill Derek to gain alphahood. I know, a low bar to clear, but still. Peter was absolutely willing to kill for alphahood, so it’s relevant to know he wasn’t willing to kill Derek.

In any case, his love for his family was a good point to start, and given that Malia is the only Hale left in Beacon Hills beside him, it was obvious it should be her.

So that’s why we opened this arc with a scene that had Stiles and Peter together.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved that episode. It was my favorite this half-season. But given the lack of time they apparently had to devote to Peter, I question whether this was the most logical point to start. Because we had Peter decide to risk his life and incredible pain to get back to Beacon Hills when he realized the Hunt would take everyone one by one. He wanted to save his daughter.

That is a storyline that had much potential. Really, it did, though it would have worked better if they had more than three scenes together two seasons ago.

Put fine, Peter’s interest in Malia and his desire to be at least on tolerable terms with her was established in those scenes. So let’s say it’s enough to be going on. Enough to make Peter’s decision to risk himself work.

The problem is that the only thing we see from him for the rest of the season is making this very same decision again, three more times.

He gets points for perseverance, I guess?

Beginning his story at the point where he was willing to sacrifice himself for Malia meant we didn’t need to see that story anymore. On the contrary, that was the point of departure. From there, there were two things of interest to depict. One, Peter’s gradual coming to terms with the idea that Malia will not leave her friends, and that if he wants to save her, he has to honestly work with them and help save Beacon Hills. Two, Malia coming to gain some respect and affection for her father. The two, naturally, would be interconnected.

We saw neither.

Well, no, to be fair, there was the smallest glimpse of Malia coming to appreciate Peter when she went to fight for him in the final episode. I loved that. But it was simply too little too late, and there was nothing of Peter’s journey. He just did the same thing over and over again, with no development, until Malia finally decided it was worth her notice.

This is not a way to make any story compelling, let alone a redemption arc of sorts, which should be very character-centric.

The thought of what this storyline could have been, if it had been done well, makes me want to scream in frustration.

…Er, Sorry, Heroes As Well

Now to Theo.

There I find it more difficult to understand why anyone felt the need to give him a redemption arc. Unlike Peter, he wasn’t one of the show’s constants. He was a one-season villain. Not even a particularly memorable one, at least not compared to the repulsiveness of Kate, Gerard, or even the sociopathic charms of Peter.

What we know about him amounts to relatively little: as a child, he was dying, and to save himself, he cold-bloodedly murdered his own sister (standing on the bridge and watching her slowly drown and do nothing – it doesn’t get much more cold-blooded). Then he entered into the service of the Dread Doctors, and on their payroll infiltrated Scot’s pack with the intention of breaking it apart. He rather cruelly emotionally manipulated everyone involved to that end. He also killed people who considered him their friend in order to increase his own power.

Where exactly are the redeeming points about him that made someone want to write a redemption arc?

But, to be fair, there are at least some reasons for compassion. Learning that you’re dying when still a child sucks, and the years he worked for the Doctors were probably no nice gig either. Still, there was no indication anywhere in season five that Theo was anything but a wholly repulsive human being. Even those can suffer, and we might not wish it on them, but it doesn’t mean they’d be better people if they only got a chance.

Still, the showrunners clearly thought he deserved one. But not too much of it, or that’s how I interpret the complete lack of care or consistency.

The only sign Theo shows in season six of having changed in any way since the jerk he used to be is his trauma from the time he spent underground, tortured by visions of his sister killing him over and over again. And that bit was well done. But…nothing tied into it in any way, until he suddenly decided to sacrifice himself in an over the top situation when it wasn’t even necessarily called for. (And we still don’t know how he beat those impossible odds, by the way.) That’s not character development, that’s two separate points on the show doing something with his character.

His flashbacks were powerful and had potential, too. I understand they didn’t have enough space to develop them into something more, but then why include his redemption arc in the first place? Why resurrect him at all, if you can’t give us an interesting story? Or even a story at all, really?

Love Is in the Air…

To make matters clear: I’m not a Stydia shipper, but I absolutely see the attraction.

The only reason I don’t ship them is the uncomfortable dynamic that results from Stiles clearly being interested in Lydia and Lydia equally clearly not reciprocating in early seasons. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth to say they should be together in spite of her wishes. But otherwise, yes, absolutely. Their scene at the end of season one – the “Field’s medal” one – was awesome. That is what I find attractive about the notion of their relationship. They are both very smart, Lydia more so. Just like she and Jackson were a social power couple, she and Stiles could be an intellectual power couple. She would enjoy that, I think. Stiles would enjoy that. I would definitely enjoy watching that.

So of course, we saw nothing of that dynamics and everything of what is problematic about it.

I’ve complained about this already in my review of the first episode of his season, but I will shamelessly repeat myself. Because context really is everything. Yes, it’s a pity they haven’t seeded Stydia better in the previous season at least, but it could have been salvaged. If Stiles and Lydia acted differently towards each other from the very beginning of this season, if we saw the chemistry between them, if we saw more of that “intellectual power couple” dynamics, leaving everyone else (except for Mason) in the dust and people looking at them and rolling their eyes, clearly thinking of them as a couple in some ways already…yes, I can see that. And then the panicked realization that they thought they had all the time in the world, but now Stiles was going to be taken and they had none and the last-minute confession.

That would have been a moving story.

Instead, we got the identical friendly dynamics from previous seasons. We got Stiles kissing Lydia against her explicit wishes (how did they shoot that? I will never get over that), reinforcing the uncomfortable dynamics. We had Stiles saying he never stopped obsessing about Lydia, so instead of separating their mature mutual love from his teenage unhealthy obsession, they reinforced the connection.

Honestly, were they trying to hit all the wrong notes?

Their meeting again in the final fared better, and if it wasn’t for the unfortunate intro, there would have bene nothing to complain about. But the first episode cannot be unseen, and it makes it hard to be happy for them when Stiles sappily says that everything has changed.

…And It’s Quick-Acting

Stiles and Lydia weren’t the only ones to get lucky this season. There was Melissa, too, and her whirlwind romance with Chris.

And by whirlwind, I don’t mean passionate. I mostly mean it came out of nowhere and nobody knows where it is headed.

I quite like the idea of the pairing, really. It has potential. But, as per the theme, it was not even tapped.

Instead, we had Melissa randomly decide to go out on an adventure with Chris, contrary to all her previous character tendencies. Looking back, it’s obvious it was forced to get them enough time together. The writers were clearly clueless about how to make their romance natural in any way.

In fact, I struggle to come up with what was even the point of their storyline this half-season, except giving him an opportunity for an out of the blue romance. Chris came with the knowledge that someone was stealing pineal glands. That could have been relevant, but wasn’t. It led nowhere. And the rest of his presence was even more useless.

He gave the pack a bunker for use, where the Hale vault could have been used equally easily (and probably with more success). He then ran around for a while, got whipped, led Hauptmann to Parrish (seriously??) and was taken by the Hunt. His Western moment was nice, but hardly enough to outweigh all this. Except for the bunker, he never worked alongside the pack, always apart, so that he could have private time with Melissa. It went against all plot logic, and didn’t really do much to build intimacy or any kind of rapport between them. Speaking from a Watsonian point of view, I would probably assume Melissa kissing him was just a reaction to all that adrenaline, and that it wasn’t leading anywhere. Because it wasn’t coming from anywhere.

Oh well. At least the Mason/Corey romance was handled well, as far as I can tell. Hopefully, the next half season of Teen Wolf will have fewer missed chances.

All images courtesy of MTV.

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