I’ve long been a supporter of MTV’s Teen Wolf. Even when a lot of fans were calling it “that cheesy show they love” I didn’t see it as anything other than a good show. Now, even for me, it did eventually start to feel a little nacho-flavored, but I still liked it. And I still like it, but three episodes into season five, and I’ve realized 90 percent of the reason I like it, is because of the core actors in it.
The other 10 percent is an intriguing story undermined by some awful storytelling. It’s a problem that’s carrying over from season four, and I think to really understand it, you have to compare it to season one. Here’s a rough breakdown of what happens in the first three episodes of that season:
1. Scott gets bitten by an alpha that wants him in its pack (which apparently requires some killing), and can neither understand nor control his newfound powers.
2. Derek Hale, another werewolf, shows up and is cagey but helpful, once he’s cleared of murdering a mystery girl who ends up being his sister and of being the one who bit Scott.
3. Werewolf hunters show up with goals that are pretty much spelled out in their title, and one of them is the father of Scott’s new girlfriend.
4. High school stuff.
In those three episodes, there are four threads that all weave together and get forward motion. With each episode, the audience learns a little bit more about everything. Now let’s take a look at the first three episodes of season five:
1. In a flashforward, Lydia is being held at Eichen House by a creepy doctor who wants her to remember the badness that happened over the course of the season.
2. In “normal time,” Some sort of weird eagle-wolf creature thing attacks Parrish and then Scott. But after getting a smackdown, he runs away and is killed by steampunkers, who exist with no explanation, for failing them. Presumably at killing Scott?
3. Theo, a new character who has history with Scott and Stiles, appears and is cagey but helpful. Stiles doesn’t trust him and the audience gets some inklings that distrust is warranted.
4. Tracy (new?) has night terrors. The steampunkers do something to her, I guess turning her into a kanima-type creature who then sleepwalks her way through a bunch of murders before failing to kill Scott and Co. The Steampunkers kill her.
5. Donovan, a new character with a history of run-ins with the law, is arrested and threatens to kill Stilinski. Then he’s captured by the Steampunkers, who turn him into something. We don’t know what yet.
6. Normal life stuff (High school stuff for the kids, dates for the adults, and Malia expositions about trying to find her mom.)
The problem isn’t that there’s a lot going on. The main characters of this show were introduced four seasons ago, and the newer ones 1-2 seasons ago. There’s less to learn about them, so there’s room to jump straight into the big mystery and run with it. The problem, is that Teen Wolf is failing to run with it. We’re three episodes in, and I don’t know what the steampunkers want. The internet tells me they’re “the dread doctors” but I don’t want — and shouldn’t have — to turn to the supplementary interviews and articles to learn pertinent details about the story on my screen.
Who are they? What do they want? Why are they going after Scott in roundabout ways? Sure, three episodes into season one, we still didn’t know who the alpha was. But we knew WHAT it was. We knew WHAT it wanted. And hunters don’t really need an explanation. With the Steampunkers (which I will continue to call them, until they get a name in-show), we don’t know anything, except that they can manufacture creatures who fail them.
And that’s not enough. Constantly giving us a string of new one-shot monsters doesn’t give us an arc. It doesn’t move the story forward. It doesn’t give us a reason to care beyond immediate threats.
RIght now, of all the bad guys, Donovan’s arc is the only one that inspires any sense of dread, and that’s because he’s a threat to Sheriff Stilinski, which he was long before the Steampunkers ever found him. And of the good guys? The most interesting things there are also the things that don’t deal with the Steampunkers or whatever’s going on with Theo. It’s Stiles worrying about whether any of them will be friends after high school. It’s Malia’s fearful search for mother, who seems very much not the hero. It’s Stilinski finally moving on after his wife’s decade-ago death. It’s Scott realizing what he wants out of life and Liam’s fear of telling people his secret.
Basically, it’s all the things that don’t get a ton of play when your show is called Teen Wolf and 83 percent of your main cast is supernatural in some way. And I wouldn’t mind if the more mundane aspects of the story took a back seat if the driving force was still satisfying and felt like part of a whole, not a bunch of random little nothings. But it’s not.
To put it in a belated Fourth of July perspective, I want Teen Wolf to be the big show with rockets and shells.
It’s giving me snakes and smoke bombs.
Teen Wolf airs Mondays on MTV.
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