So far this season, Teen Wolf is having trouble holding onto my attention for the length of an episode, but the show does seem to know how to hook the viewer at the start. There’s something canny in this: After all, if you simply don’t have the material or the drive to keep a viewer enthralled for an hour, but you can get them to sit up and stop blinking for five or 10 minutes, it makes sense to do it right at the beginning. Wait until the end so you can go out with a big finish, and you’ll be setting off your fireworks in front of an empty room.
Tonight’s episode begins with a really striking shot of a 24-hour gas-‘n-groceries joint at night, with lightning bolts silently cutting across the black sky, and a single motorcycle in the parking lot. Allison pulls in, gets out of her car, and someone throws a bag over her head; she comes to in a small room, gagged and tied to a chair, being taunted by a voice asking her the $64,000 question: What do you think your werewolf-hating, werewolf-hunting, werewolf-killing family would do you if you happened to get bitten and became a werewolf? The revelation that her werewolf family is behind her abduction, or intervention, and the whole thing is staged to get her to wake up and smell the wolfsbane, pretty much answers the question, though it isn’t that surprising. Nobody else on this show is as crazy as these people.
That includes Jackson, who continues to wig out over his inability to join the ranks of the lycanthropic. In the funniest scene, which may not be meant to be as funny as it plays, he has a dark afternoon of the soul while sitting through a lecture on infectious diseases in science class and confronts Lydia, apparently bawling her out because he thinks that something he picked up from close contact with her is standing between him and his Lon Chaney, Jr. destiny. It’s easy to understand his frustration. Just about everyone else in the school is sprouting switchblade claws, patchy sideburns, and widow’s peaks that start at the bridge of the nose. Derek has committed himself to a full-force recruiting drive and, in addition to Isaac, has brought the school loser Erica into the fold, indoctrinating her as a member of his new teen wolf army.
Erica is introduced trying to climb a rope in gym class, a failed effort that gives Scott the chance to jump in and save her when she falls, and Allison the chance to pipe up and inform the room, and us, that she suffers from epilepsy. (Why, the coach expostulates, doesn’t anyone tell me these things!? I’m guessing it has something to do with the fact that nobody wants you on this show, let alone wants to talk to you.) It’s pretty well established that Erica is a ruddy-faced, friendless mess, self-conscious about her medical condition and yoked to her pill bottle. Once Derek brings her over to the hairy side, she grows self-confidence the way the Grinch’s heart expanded upon processing the real meaning of Christmas, and she begins to sashay through the cafeteria, brazenly stealing bites of other people’s apples while looking, as Joe Bob Briggs used to say, as if she’d recently survived a head-on collision with a Max Factor truck. Gage Golightly, who played Sarah Michelle Gellar’s stepdaughter’s sidekick on the defunct Ringer, and whose name takes us back to the lost golden age of Tiffani Amber Thiessens and Calista Flockharts, is much more entertaining when she has rat’s-nest hair and low self-esteem than she is when she’s meant to have blossomed as her natural werewolf self. Maybe she decided that, when her character is meant to be sexy and bad-ass, that meant that she could stop acting.
Stiles’ major contribution to the story is to hector Scott about how they never get to have any fun. (With this end in mind, he tries to arrange for some, and winds up missing the big fight because he’s unconscious in a dumpster.) He has a point, and it could be extended to much of the series itself; the thrilling climax involves a battle on an skating rink between Scott and Derek and his new lap dogs, a scene that’s meant to be extra-thrilling because an earlier scene has already established that Scott doesn’t do his best work on icy surfaces. It’s only about a million times less exciting than the earlier throwaway scene—after the fake abduction, before Erica takes her tumble—when Allison is challenging Scott and flirting with him during gym class, or the moment when the two of them take a break from skidding around on the ice to goof around together with a photo booth. In terms of the series’ narrative, the big news is that Derek, who was treated ambiguously as a possible nemesis for the hero for much of the first season but finally seemed to have been defined as a complicated by basically good guy, seems to be shifting back into an enemy, a rock that Scott will be trapped by, with the Argent family on the other side, when the big showdown arrives. While we’re waiting for it, the show could use a little less fighting and a lot more flirting.
- I may be cranky because Michael Hogan’s Gerard is absent this week. In his place, we get our first appearance this season by Seth Gilliam’s mystery vet. Is there some contractual stipulation that veterans of Battlestar Galactica and The Wire cannot appear in the same episode? Is the assumption that our hearts can’t take that level of combined awesomeness-by-association?