S1: Normal teenager Scott gets turned into a werewolf, and has to learn about what he is while trying to figure out who turned him into a wolf in the first place, and why.
S2: Things come to a head as the fanatical head of a werewolf hunting family–also the grandfather of Scott’s girlfriend–arrives in town with a vendetta.
S3A: A pack of Alphas comes to town with the intent of recruiting the new Alpha from Scott’s pack–by getting that Alpha to kill his own people. If that weren’t enough, innocent people are turning up dead, and Scott’s pack has to figure out how this is related to the Alpha pack.
S3B: The steps Scott’s pack took to win the day in S3A come back to haunt them. They’ve awakened something dark and powerful, something that feeds on chaos and pain. And now they have to figure out how to stop it, without harming the innocent person whose body it possesses.
S4: An old enemy makes a return, and Scott’s pack realizes all the supernaturals in town are on a hit list.
Series: Four seasons, fifth forthcoming.
I’ve Watched: All of it. Somehow.
Verdict: S1 – Bad. S2 – Meh. S3A – Decent. S3B – Good. S4 – Good.
I remember hearing about this show when it first came out, and deciding that it wasn’t worth checking out. It wasn’t my thing, and had a decent chance of just not being that good. That was a good decision, because if I had tried to watch the show when it was first coming out, I would never have gotten past the first episode.
Fast forward four years, and I came across several posts at Kiss My Wonder Woman about the show: The Inescapable Goodness of Teen Wolf’s Scott McCall, Strong Female Character Friday: Malia Tate (Teen Wolf), Strong Female Character Friday: Melissa McCall (Teen Wolf). And a bunch of other posts from before I discovered the blog.
Then recently, I came across Teen Wolf: Subversion, Masculinity and Gender.
Granted, I only skimmed these posts, because I hadn’t watched the show they were talking about. And going back at these posts to actually read them, they were not as positive as I remembered–I guess I missed the criticism while skimming. But still, I got to wondering. What is this strange utopia of equality on television that I’m hearing about?
That impression definitely set my standards too high. The show does do better than average in terms of diversity. As much as that deserves to be recognized, however, I don’t exactly believe in settling when it comes to equality. So let me point out some of the things I liked and didn’t like on this topic. There’s more where this came from, but here’s what I can think of off the top of my head.
Diversity, the good:
- Scott is our main protagonist. He’s mixed race, with a (presumably) hispanic mother and a white father–notably, his mother is the responsible one, raising Scott on her own, and his father is the deadbeat former-drunk who isn’t around. Scott himself is interesting as the lead because of how strongly he believes in being a good person. He takes it on himself to protect the people in his life without becoming a killer. The show even makes a point of saying that he’s one of the rare few werewolves who gain power through their own merits instead of by taking it from someone else.
- Speaking of Scott’s mother, she’s awesome. She’s a nurse at a hospital, competent at her job. She’s also a poor, single mother raising a good kid who’s suddenly got all of these problems, out of nowhere. Despite all that, she remains grounded and compassionate. She’s easily one of the best things about the first season, and I like her even more when she’s finally let in on Scott’s new supernatural status.
- Scott’s mentor figure (the one who isn’t Derek, because Derek sucks at being a mentor) is a) black, b) really nice and cool, and c) still alive.
- Danny is the best friend of our resident jock, Jackson–Scott’s rival. He’s gay, and it’s really not treated like a big deal. Also cool is that Danny is not Jackson’s lackey. When Jackson gets too wrapped up in his rivalry with Scott, Danny flat-out tells him to get over it.
- The cast is pretty evenly split gender-wise–in season four, it’s finally 50/50. I’m very happy to see both a socially savvy yet also intellectually brilliant female character, and an adorkable female character in the show. Actually, I’m pretty happy with the range of characterization in general. Allison, Kira, and Malia all get to contribute to the action, and their skills sets and talents are all different.
- It’s also good to see an Asian female lead who’s portrayed as competent, awkward, expressive, and desirable, all in one.
- There is both a male and female non-action character among the cast, whose main contributions are planning and ingenuity. And these non-action roles are just as integral and useful as the action roles.
Diversity, the not-so-good:
- Scott was originally asthmatic, a condition absolutely cured by his transition to werewolf-dom. Unfortunately, this means his becoming strong, capable, and efficient is mirrored by him losing his asthma. That’s…a bit of an awkward connotation.
- Likewise, Erica, a girl who had epilepsy, becomes a werewolf (which immensely reduces her symptoms). And immediately turns into a sensual and sexy person. Like, overnight. Most of this is accomplished by her changing her clothes, makeup, and personality–all things that have absolutely nothing to do with her condition. If she had the skills and resources to dress up and wear make-up, she could have used them before. She could have been both epileptic and pretty, and her peers probably would have been just as awful to her because she was different. I imagine the show wanted to use her appearance as a substitute for showing the changes that losing her epilepsy would have on her life, but it’s a bad substitute. Because Erica is only shown as confident or desirable or interesting after she doesn’t have epilepsy anymore.
- The women of the werewolf-hunting Argent family are its leaders, because of the entirely nonsensical idea that all the previous wars in the world had been caused by men. I could probably write an essay on how bad this logic is. For one, since most of history is written for men and by men, it’s impossible to gauge women’s contribution or lack thereof to these kinds of things. And even if it wasn’t, this in absolutely no way proves that any one gender is better at decision-making than the other. But I’ll just stick with this: By now, we’ve all learned to at least pretend to see people based on their individual merits instead of their demographics. The Argents aren’t even pretending. Also, the Argent’s ‘women are the leaders’ rhetoric is all talk anyway. It doesn’t see much actual practice.
- After Erica kisses Derek, he tells her not to do that again because he has someone else in mind for her. What? Ew, that’s disgusting. She’s a teenage girl, Derek. You don’t give her to guys like she’s candy.
- The sheer unadulterated focus on ‘getting the girl’ in the first season really creeps me out. No surprise that I like both characters way more when they’re not together.
- While Danny himself is a great character, having him be a supporting character to a secondary character means he’s a small part of the show. And as soon as he leaves, a new gay supporting character to a secondary character is introduced, seemingly to replace him. That smacks of tokenism. Tokenism is a step up from no diversity, but it would be better if it didn’t feel like the show was checking off a box.
- Of a certain trio, the last remaining survivor is the white guy. He’s also the one who got the best story lines and character development–and I really do like him, but the show could have put in the work to make me like the other characters, too. It chose not to.
- The Alpha pack of season 3 had one token woman and one token non-white member (the same character, incidentally).
If there’s anything I got wrong or missed, please feel free to let me know in the comments.
As for Scott’s no-killing policy, I’m of two minds here. There are times when Scott being unwilling to take out one person has led to more subsequent deaths. Yet, there is something to what the show is saying. Killing someone, and maybe even just allowing someone to die, changes you. In-show, there’s a physical representation for this–a werewolf’s eye glow color changes to a bright blue if they take the life of an innocent. Would Scott be the same person, or the same leader, if he didn’t make every effort to keep everyone alive? I don’t know. And being who he is has lead to more good than anything else. As he is, he protects others, respects others, and does it as if it’s the only thing to do.
With respect to the quality of the show overall, it gets progressively better with each season (from pretty bad to really good).
Season one was not good. There were a couple of cool moments here and there. But honestly, without those good reviews, without me going into the show searching for something to like, I wouldn’t have made it past the first few episodes. I certainly never would have finished the first season. There is just way too much teen drama and artificial focus on romance. The stakes for one episode was a lacrosse game. Seriously, there were a lot of life-or-death problems around, and yet much of the tension was derived from things that didn’t matter as much. Will Scott get to date this girl he’s just met, or will he have to focus on controlling his wolf? Will Scott be able to play at this lacrosse game to finally show his classmates what he can do, or will he be benched for the whole season? Who cares?
Every time Scott said his girlfriend’s name in that breathless way, I wanted to scream. Everything was about her for him. Thinking about her–even though he’d just met her–helped him control his werewolf powers. He never lost control and attacked her the way he did to his best friend. I refuse to believe that attraction to a girl you’ve just met wins out over a lifetime of friendship. It was details like that really frustrated me, along with the predictably boring mental gymnastics Scott and Stiles had to do to explain supernatural occurrences to those unaware of them. It probably isn’t entirely a coincidence that I enjoy the show more as more people find out about the supernatural.
It is possible to have teenagers in a supernatural show want normal teenager things and not suck. But that can’t be the main source of tension in an episode. I don’t watch fantasy/sci-fi to find out if a teenage werewolf makes it on a sports team or gets a date. I want the stakes to be higher–and in later seasons, they are. The forth season even revisits the idea of regular stuff being important when you’ve got other life and death things to worry about, but Scott has a little more perspective at that point. When he gets too into his status as captain of the lacrosse team and hurts someone, he takes a moment to question his priorities.
Season two was better, but still very frustrating. I could tell that there was a good show hiding somewhere within the plot and characters, but it wasn’t revealing itself very frequently.
I liked the idea that Allison’s grandfather was emotionally manipulating her to become a brutal werewolf hunter, using the death of her mother to push her over the edge. But I didn’t like the execution. He was too unsubtle about it, and I had a hard time believing anyone would buy it. Since when do teenagers like it when people tell them what to think?
I didn’t like the resolution, either. Making Gerard reveal that he was after something all along–something that betrayed everything he stood for and everything he’d taught Allison–was a cop out. It was a way to avoid dealing with the actual arguments that he had been making by discrediting him instead. And Allison had been believing those arguments. They weren’t magically invalidated when it turned out Gerard was willing to overlook them for his own reasons.
By season three, the show is a lot better. Especially the second half of it. It’s not perfect, but it’s evolved to the point where it’s a good show with hiccups instead of a bad show with good moments.
In both parts of the season (each of which could be considered their own season), the villains were more engaging. A pack of alphas trying to forcibly recruit one of the protagonists, by manipulating him into a position where he would kill his own pack. And a demonic trickster spirit possessing a character we care about. The stakes were higher–no more of, will Scott get to go on a date? Instead we wonder, who’s responsible for these mystery killings? Which of the characters will survive? And this time we know that many of the secondary characters are genuinely at risk.
Teen Wolf has stopped leaning quite so much shallow questions, while retaining at its core the concept that people matter. Scott and his pack are about protecting people, and about looking out for each other. They’re not about killing. And now they’re up against these strong, brutal enemies with a totally different worldview. And they have to take on these people while remaining true to themselves and each other.
It took a long time to get to the point where I like the show (and I’m fervently trying to forget the first two seasons exist), but it got there. So even though I would never have made it past the first episode if I were watching the show when it was new, I’m glad I got here. But I can’t really recommend the first two seasons. Personally, I wish I had just started with the third season and skipped the first two.
So if you want a decent show with better than average diversity, maybe consider skipping straight to the third season.
“Sometimes history does repeat itself, Scott.”
“Only if you don’t learn.”