In recent years, MTV has used its mandate to educate young viewers about the difficulties faced by teen mothers and the mutating, radioactive properties of the New Jersey coastline. Tonight, Teen Wolf manages to incorporate into its sprawlingly ambitious Nogitsune story line flashbacks to a Japanese-American internment camp in 1943. Is it wrong of me to think that there are many people in this show’s viewing demographic who didn’t know before tonight that the U.S. government rounded up people of Japanese descent and forcibly interred them in camps during World War II? I’ll bet there are people in the show’s viewing demographic who, if asked to name something important that happened in 1943, would have said that it was the year that the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.
The history of the internment camp at Oak Creek is personal for Allison’s history-teacher father, who’s obsessed with proving that the camp, whose corrupt and murderous administration has been covered up by the authorities for decades, really did exist. It’s even more personal for Kira’s mother (Tamlyn Tomita): She was one of the people housed there. “You’d have to be, like, 90 years old!” says Scott, when she spills the beans. “Closer to 900,” says Mom, making it clear that she’s prepared to out herself age-wise if it’ll make this shady dude who’s been sniffing around her daughter look like an idiot. It’s Kira who shows how well she’s gotten into the swing of things when she reacts to her mother’s news in the most Teen Wolf way possible: “Okay, sure,” she says, looking as if Mom just announced that she’s volunteered to play chaperone at the big dance and has picked out matching mother/daughter dresses for the occasion. “Why not.”
Mom’s story is an ugly one, involving a scheme by the camp’s head doctor to sell off supplies intended for the internees, with the understanding that there’s nothing the Japanese-Americans can do about it, and nobody outside the camp gives a damn. Because of her status as a supernatural being, Mom doesn’t get sick—nor, as we discover after the camp’s guards simply open fire on a yard full of people when order is violently breaking down, can she be easily killed. Not everyone is so lucky. The bad guys don’t rethink what they’re doing even after a little boy stricken with pneumonia dies in his bed. As he dies, he lets go of the soiled baseball—ready symbol of the American dream that has been torn from his family and stomped on—that he’s been clinging to. The baseball may be a bit much. If anyone in the audience is still failing to appreciate the full awfulness of what’s being done to these people even after the kid croaks, I doubt that the symbolic image of the falling baseball will do the trick. Besides, judging from the look of the camp scenes, the baseball must have eaten up at least half of the production budget.
Mom has a boyfriend among the medics who work at the camp, and the two of them are plotting to run off together. But when a riot breaks out—with a big push from an older, female internee who’s a werewolf (and who has been keeping her ferocious tendencies at bay through a therapeutic regimen of nagging and compulsively playing Go)—the boyfriend is caught in a fireball and suffers ruinous burns. (The CGI in this scene is pretty bad, but I hesitate to complain about it; it’s not as if I’m really psyched to see an incredibly realistic-looking depiction of a guy having all his skin burned off.) He dies in the hospital, wrapped head to toe in bandages, screaming his head off because that irrepressible doctor “also sold the morphine.”
The boyfriend’s dead body, the dead bodies of the internees who’ve been shot dead, and Mom’s bullet-riddled but still living body are loaded into a truck and driven off to be dumped somewhere; Mom’s healing power kicks in, she prays for a Nogitsune to come so that she can use its powers to seek justice, the spirit prankishly takes charge of her boyfriend’s body, and the Fluke-Mummy is born. In the end, Mom defeats the monster she’s created by combining forces with the old werewolf lady—a precedent that has obvious relevance concerning Scott and Kira, except that they are also used to illustrate the concept of “love at first sight,” and Mom and the old werewolf lady don’t even neck. Or if they do, the footage is being held back for use as a bonus feature on the DVD set.
As you might have figured out by now, most of this episode is a backstory exposition-fest, and it’s not over yet: Mom also reveals that she captured the Nogitsune’s spirit, in the form of a fly, sealed it inside a jar, and buried it near the cursed tree that played such a big role in the preceding half of this season, and the heroics that Scott and his friends performed last year unleashed the spirit. It really is impressive how thoroughly the writers have linked all this stuff together, in a way that a viewer might well not have seen coming. (I sure as hell didn’t.) Now that we’re all dazzled by their craftsmanship, maybe the remaining episodes of this season can take advantage of all that solid floorboarding and deliver some equally solid, present-day action.
- Derek O’Brien makes only brief appearances at the beginning and end of the episode, but he continues to crush the Evil Stiles role. I like the anxious movement of his hand in his first scene, threatening Kira’s father and allowing his hand to fidget and twitch as if it were trying to wield some dangerous implement to fly into his grasp. It’s just too bad that he’s being made up to look as if he hasn’t slept in a week; the dark makeup around his eyes is more distracting than unsettling.
- The dialogue tonight is very long on proverbs and deep thoughts and riddles within riddles: Stiles’ dad explains that the Nogitsune, being a “trickster” demon, mainly wants a joke, some irony, “a new punchline;” the killings are just a byproduct of that, like with the Joker. (For his part, one of the doctor’s henchmen is a regular Eddie Nigma.) However, the best lines of the night belong to Deputy Parrish, arguing with Daddy Argent over whether he should be able to get his Taser back when he’s released from jail: “This thing’s a few watts from being a lightsaber,” he says. Argent protests that he just uses it for hunting. “I’m pretty sure,” says the deputy, “that you could use it to jump-start a 747.”