Monday, July 27, 2015

Five Things About Teen Wolf 5x06, "Required Reading"

  1. Teen Wolf needs to stop it with the cold opens. I think every episode this season except “A Novel Approach” has opened with five minutes of nonlinear or zero-context storytelling. It’s one thing to use confusing, apropos-of-nothing cold opens to introduce important characters for the week, or establish an important event, but there was no reason that we needed to see the full scene of Malia fighting off the Dread Doctor twice. Listen up, show: Cut the in media res bullshit and use the three extra minutes you just gained to explain more clearly what’s going on. Then you won’t need out-of-context teaser lines like “We never should have read those books” to create a sense of urgency!

  2. I don’t really understand what’s going on with the book-related hallucinations in this episode—as Lydia pointed out, they had nothing to do with the Dread Doctors, and they seem a whole lot like Malia’s Desert Wolf flashbacks, which started a couple episodes before she read the book—but they did give us a chance to revisit one of Teen Wolf’s favorite tropes: Our Three Main Characters Hallucinate, Giving Us Insight Into Their Individual Hopes, Fears, and Histories. Traditionally, this was done with Scott, Stiles, and Allison (see: “Party Guessed,” “Lunar Ellipse,” and “Anchors”) though “De-Void” gave us a rare two-person example with Scott and Lydia. In “Required Reading,” Lydia fills the lead character role vacated by Allison, but the hallucinations otherwise follow the pattern established by “Party Guessed”: Stiles’ is ludicrously painful but incredibly illuminating; Lydia’s provides a glimpse into her relationship with her family’s troubled history; and Scott’s is kinda dumb. Scott’s inhaler does have a certain symbolic weight on Teen Wolf, as a reminder of his humanity and as a piece of the show’s origin story. But Lydia spent the episode remembering the time her grandmother trepanned herself, and Stiles spent it remembering how his dying mother had delusions that he was trying to murder her. Asthma attacks can’t really compete.

  3. Scott’s induced memory will presumably turn out to be either straightforwardly plot-relevant or pure symbolism, but Lydia’s and Stiles’ are worth considering in terms of what they tell us about the characters. (NB: I’m assuming these are hallucinations of events that really happened, since that’s how the characters talk about them, but it is, I guess, theoretically possible that they’re entirely made-up, in which case… psych?) Stiles’ mother’s paranoia is the latest in a chain of moments reaching back to first season, each of which revealed a little bit more about the events that shaped the Stiles we know today. It’s remarkably subtle storytelling, for a show that color-codes its characters’ eyes so that you can pick out the murderers. Each individual scene contains only a little bit—sometimes nothing overt at all—in the way of exposition, but strung together, they tell a cohesive story. Stiles’ mom died, triggering a life-long anxiety problem. Then Stiles’ dad fell apart, and the ten-year-old had to step up and hold things together, and by the time the Sheriff got his shit together, it was too late to go back; Stiles had become this obsessively overprotective person. Stripped of context, Stiles’ hallucinations of his mom in “Required Reading” are pretty melodramatic—like, dear Lord, he just escaped a murderous chimera, how terrible can the show possibly make this kid’s life? Viewed in light of the history that Teen Wolf has gradually built for Stiles, however, the scene makes a great deal of sense. It answers one of the few longstanding questions left about Stiles: Why does he feel so guilty over his mother’s death? We know from his “Party Guessed” hallucination that he does, and it’s a character trait that Teen Wolf has silently reinforced over the seasons. But Claudia Stilinski died of a genetic disease, and while kids can certainly internalize guilt over things they had no fault in, it was hard to see the causation. The reveal in “Required Reading” solves that puzzle. It’s still not logical, but it makes sense that Claudia’s fear and blame would work their way into Stiles’ head.

    Lydia’s memory similarly explores an area of her past that we’ve seen hinted at, but whereas Stiles’ memory answered questions, Lydia’s mostly raises them. The biggest question floating around Lydia at the moment—and it’s a doozy—is how much her mother knows about the supernatural. Mayor Lockwood (she’ll always be Mayor Lockwood to me) was the one who revealed, last season, that Lydia’s grandmother was a banshee. At the time, she seemed to have a kind of hunch about the supernatural, but no strong knowledge. This season, she saw a kanima attack her daughter, and she hasn’t said anything about it since. In “Required Reading,” she rushes to Lydia’s side and asks if she blacked out. Was that a reference to Lydia’s miraculously-healed wound? Was it a veiled reference to banshee powers? If it wasn’t, shouldn’t it have been, given that Lydia’s banshee powers are an open secret now? Does Mayor Lockwood’s presence in Lydia’s hallucination—and her increased presence in season five, generally—mean that there’s more going on with her than meets the eye? I wish I could be sure that all of this confusion was going to resolve into something important, because as I’ve mentioned before, Lydia and her mother have a lovely and fascinating relationship, and it would be great if the tension and love there took a central role in the story. But Teen Wolf doesn’t have nearly so consistent a track record with Lydia’s backstory as it does with Stiles’, in part because Lydia’s backstory is supernatural, and Teen Wolf has a hard time nailing down a sensible supernatural mythology. Anyway, mark me down as “eternally optimistic, but doomed to be disappointed.”

  4. Where the fuck is this show going with the Malia/Evil Mike Montgomery thing? Assuming Teen Wolf is plotting competently (always a big assumption), Evil Mike Montgomery’s role in the rest of the season seems clear. He’s trying to get close to Scott, possibly to steal his True Alfalfa powers or possibly for some other nefarious purpose. One of the ways he’s doing so is to remove/discredit Stiles; it’s unclear whether or not he really meant Donovan to kill Stiles, but Stiles hates Evil Mike Montgomery and has Scott’s implicit trust, so he has to be dealt with. At some point, presumably, this will come to a head, with Evil Mike Montgomery using Stiles’ recent kill to drive a wedge between him and Scott. Malia’s role in all this, however, is a lot less clear. Evil Mike Montgomery could just be manipulating her, but to what end? And wherefore all the over-the-top sexual tension? If the show were setting him up as a legitimate new love interest, that would be one thing—it wouldn’t be a well-conceived plotline, but it would at least make sense. But he’s evil! It’s right there in his name! You can’t build a believable love triangle with him, because he sent a freaking chimera to kill Stiles. There have been a few villain/good guy love stories on Teen Wolf, but none of the lasting ones have involved the sole mastermind of a plot to kill one of the main characters. Obviously, the show is going somewhere with this, but it’s going there slowly, and the ride is more frustrating than thrilling. Long-term mysteries work on TV shows when events and character motivations make sense on an episodic basis, and when the show paces out its answers to keep the viewers' interest. Lost, for instance, excelled at both of these things. Teen Wolf, on the other hand, seems to model its story structure off of The Killing. MTV gave Teen Wolf 20 episodes to tell a story, and instead of creating 20 episodes worth of story, the show seems to have stretched out 12 episodes to fill the time.

  5. Calling it now: The chimeras have all had some kind of operation at Beacon Hills Memorial. This has the benefit of making both Sixth Grade Girl and Scott’s inhaler plot-relevant!

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