Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Five Things About Teen Wolf 5x05, "A Novel Approach"


  1. This was probably the best episode of Teen Wolf since… God, “Riddled”? “Insatiable”? Definitely since season 3B. I’d put the jump in quality down to two things. First, none of the Next Gen people were in it. Without Liam, Mason, and Sixth Grade Girl, there were fewer plotlines jostling for space, which allowed for the, you know, interesting plotlines to breathe and develop. This is the first episode of the season that has had a strong throughline, even if it moves at a predictably slow Teen Wolf pace.

    The second thing, of course, is the strong emphasis on Stiles. His plotline wasn’t the only successful one of the episode (we’ll get to that later), but Teen Wolf has always been at its best and most confident when writing for Stiles. And that shows in the semi-experimental opening, a 15-minute long fight scene and fallout in which Stiles never says a word. Centered on any other character, it likely would have been interminable, but between the depth of Stiles’ characterization and the skill of Dylan O’Brien, it became something legitimately gripping. Moreover, all that acting and style was in service of a shockingly well-conceived plot turn. Having Stiles kill Donovan was a smart—perhaps even daring—narrative move. It was the obvious way that confrontation needed to end, in order for Teen Wolf to convincingly tell the story it clearly wants to tell this season. Something truly dramatic has to occur in order to drive a wedge between Scott and Stiles, especially an ideological wedge. But Teen Wolf has backed down, in the past, from letting its main characters kill even when the situation obviously warrants it. Going there with Stiles, even in self-defense, indicates that Teen Wolf is prioritizing sensible plot and consistency of characterization over its weird narrative hang-ups


  2. Lots of relationship discussion in this episode. I don't know where exactly Teen Wolf is going with the Stiles/Lydia and Stiles/Malia stuff; it could be a reformation of the status quo, or it could just be defining the status quo, and I'll reserve judgment until it plays out. Weirdly enough, the angle on Scott and Kira's relationship made me the happiest.I was initially really skeptical of spending the episode’s B-plot on Scott and Kira, because I’m basically skeptical of anything Teen Wolf does that involves Scott. But I forgot that, when the show has time and attention to spend on her, Kira makes Scott a whole lot more bearable. Every one of Kira’s lines in this episode made me like her more, and I’m starting to let myself be won over by the incredibly awkward dynamic between her and Scott. There's something sweet and a little sad about the way their relationship has progressed in fits and starts; sweet, because the two most awkward people on the planet have finally found each other, and sad, because the subtext of season four made it clear that a lot of their relationship's slow pace is because of Allison's death. (On the other hand, fuck you, Scott. Tell Kira about her weird fox thing.)


  3. The third (fully-formed and identifiable!) plot of the episode was Malia’s C-plot, which confirmed my predictions about her weird flashes being flashbacks. (Go me!) On the one hand, I remain really happy that the show is continuing to engage with her history. On the other hand, some of Teen Wolf’s most successful scenes post-3B have relied on the dynamic created by Malia and Stiles’ mirror-image guilt issues; it would be a bit of a let-down if the ultimate reveal of this story is “Malia had nothing to do with her family’s death.” (Also, tangentially: Evil Mike Montgomery really wants to fuck with Stiles, doesn’t he? I wish he’d do it by sending more evil chimeras after him, rather than flirting with Malia.)


  4. “A Novel Approach” was incredibly engaged with Teen Wolf’s continuity, above and beyond even the show’s normal, unexpectedly frequent references to its past. It’s an episode that relies heavily on the show’s history for impact, in ways both spoken and unspoken. Some dialogue caught us up on relevant backstory—the reminder that Lydia and Stiles almost died in Eichen House, and the much more necessary reminder of who the hell Dr. Valack is. Some dialogue examined the show’s emotional history, making text what had only been subtext before—Scott and Kira’s discussion of how Lydia and Stiles’ relationship has changed, for instance. But there were also a lot of scenes in that had no direct mention of the show’s continuity, but that required a detailed memory of the show in order to be fully understood. Take, for instance, the way that Kira’s haywire electricity weakened the Eichen House defenses and allowed the Dread Doctors entrance. It sounds like deus ex machina nonsense, and there’s a sense in which it totally is—but it's a hell of a lot easier to buy if you remember the way electricity has been used to subdue werewolves throughout the series, and in particular Chris Argent’s monologue on the line between science and the supernatural in season two. Or there’s Malia’s subplot, which assumes that you know her backstory. Or there’s the way the characters treat Stiles as they enter Eichen House, and the way Stiles talks about Eichen House, all of which clicks best if you know that Stiles and Malia have both spent time institutionalized there.

    Probably the best example of how “A Novel Approach” hangs on the series’ continuity, though, is the first 15 minutes. O’Brien’s acting carries those scenes, but he has a lot of backstory to draw on: the fact that his character has been forced to kill before, and carries a lot of guilt because of it; the fact that Stiles’ supernatural problems have caused serious issues for his father at work in the past; the fact that Stiles has had issues separating dreams from reality. Best of all is the culmination of the sequence, in which Stiles stands before the red-string theory board and frantically tries to make sense of what he’s just experienced. The red strings have intimate connections to Stiles’ relationship with his father, to the events that put him in Eichen House and made him an unwilling killer, and to Malia, whose relationship with Stiles is founded on those events. They also speak, on a more surface level, to the analytical aspects of Stiles’ personality, built up over seasons, that are trying and failing to process this latest development in light of all of those things. Basically, it’s an incredibly loaded place to stage the end of the opening sequence, but there’s no way to put any of that in the text—remember, Stiles doesn’t speak a word until Scott’s phone call. Scenes like this seem to come from an entirely different show than the one that produced “Condition Terminal.” I wish this Teen Wolf showed up a little more often.


  5. On the other side of the continuity argument, however, we have Lydia’s miraculous recovery. Lydia got sliced open by a freaking kanima two days ago, and it’s Stiles who can’t move without wincing?

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