Beacon Hills High School and the surrounding area has been dealing with the signs of a werewolf infestation dense enough to seriously affect property values for so long that people barely notice all the baying at the moon and the occasional half-masticated corpse anymore. Now, the people who do care about such things—such as Seth Gilliam’s mysterious cryptozoologist veterinarian—are much more concerned about the hissing reptilian creature that’s slithering all over the place at night, turning people to mincemeat after slashing them and infecting them with a toxin that leaves them temporarily paralyzed so they can’t fight back.
Groups of conspirators slink around on dark errands, plotting against monsters of every kind, while Derek, the local werewolf scoutmaster and hunk in a wifebeater, hangs out in his enormous basement with his new recruits, staging practice sessions that look like outtakes from Flashdance with more martial arts and better lighting. With all this murderous intrigue going on, the paranoia and sense of danger hanging in the air still isn’t enough to dampen the embers of teen romance, and smoking hot girls can frequently be seen running through the woods in the middle of the night, looking for the boyfriends they’re not supposed to be seeing, because if their parents knew they were, they’d put a silver cap in his ass. Also, I’m pretty sure that the coach of the lacrosse team, or maybe the actor who plays him, is on something.
The point is, no matter how weird things were at your small town high school, they’re much weirder here. And yet there’s no question what the single weirdest thing in town might be. It’s the school principal, Gerard Argent, who parachuted into his job overnight when the previous principal Vanished Mysteriously. He is also the grandfather of the hottest of the hot girls running through the woods, Allison, which doesn’t make life any easier for our hero, Scott, her secret werewolf squeeze. When Scott isn’t trying to arrange a rendezvous so he and the principal’s granddaughter can trade smoochies, he and his sidekick and butt-monkey, Stiles, are plotting a midnight break-in into Argent’s office so that they can steal his werewolf-hunter’s journals. Between this, that, and the other thing—one typical other thing being Scott using his healing power to mend a freshly broken leg while Argent looks is looking on—it’s very hard for Scott to stay off this authority figure’s radar. It’s as if Archie and Jughead had regularly exchanged mortar fire with Mr. Weatherbee.
As Argent, Michael Hogan is giving what promises to blossom into one of the great weird performances of the summer TV season. Hogan was absent from last week’s episode, but he’s back this week and eager to make up for lost time. Hogan looks quite a bit older than he did just a few years ago, at the end of Battlestar Galactica, and Teen Wolf is learning how to use that to its advantage. This episode has plenty of CGI-and-makeup creature effects and acrobatic feats and corpses with deep trenches dug into their torsos, but none of them is as out-of-the-blue startling as the moment when Allison answers a question with what her grandfather judges to be insufficient conviction and Hogan angrily parrots back her “Yeah!?” in his deep, gravelly voice. (He sounds as if he gargles with anthrax spores.) For a second, he lets his mask drop; then he goes right back to being sweet and solicitous, making him the creepiest grandparent figure since the nice old lady silhouetted in the window at the Bates Motel.
Most of the action pales next to the shivers generated by Hogan’s crazy eyes and deeply uncomforting smiles, but the big climactic set piece isn’t half bad: The monster crashes a face-off between Stiles and Derek’s posse, and Stiles winds up in a swimming pool, holding a paralyzed Derek to keep his head above the water line, while the creature continues to stalk them while remaining out of the water. It’s a little reminiscent of a famous scene from the original Val Lewton-Jacques Tourneur Cat People. The lesson here is, if you’re going to try to generate atmosphere and suspense on an MTV budget, don’t be afraid to swipe from the best.
- The show is now implying so strongly that Lydia and the monster are one and the same that it must be that the writers are planning a big twist that carries the reveal in a different direction. Otherwise, it’s going to be awfully anticlimactic. That said, Holland Roden is taking advantage of Lydia’s distressed condition to make her more touching with every scene. There are hints that Stiles is on the verge of doing something heroic for her that may win her love, but I’m not sure she doesn’t deserve better.
- I’d almost forgotten that Scott has a mother until she checked in at the end of this episode, silently and from a distance; she’s there just so that Gerard Argent had someone to threaten when he reveals to Scott that he knows his secret. I feel for the actress, Melissa McCall; she’s never going to be central to the series, any more than Buffy Summers’ mother was central to hers, but it would still be nice if she could have something to do besides give her son someone to worry about.
- If this episode has a hidden theme, it’s the difficulties of thriller writers in the modern age, always having to include an explanation for why people in jeopardy don’t call for help on a cell phone. Stiles gets to perform a little slapstick ballet in the scene in the pool, forced to choose between rescuing Derek or saving a phone, and he’s also required (in a scene that tries way too hard to be funny, and doesn’t make it) to race back and forth facilitating a conversation between Scott and Allison, who can’t risk being seen together or leaving an electronic message trail for her parents to detect. “You know,” he tells Allison at one point, “drug dealers have been using disposable cell phones pretty successfully for years.” Assuming he read the whole script, Seth Gilliam must have gotten a chuckle out of that.