Teen Wolf: “A Promise To The Dead”
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Arden Cho (left), Tyler Posey
Arden Cho (left), Tyler Posey

Teen Wolf: “A Promise To The Dead”

A promise to be directionless

“A Promise To The Dead” is the penultimate episode of Teen Wolf’s fourth season, a season that has been wholly uneven; it’s been full of concepts of varying levels of intrigue, with almost all of them being weighed down by poor execution. This is a set-up episode for next week’s finale, but what it really is is another stalling tactic in a season full of such tactics. Instant gratification is never the tell-tale sign of a quality television program, but the problem with the fourth season of Teen Wolf is that it keeps giving the audience questions, only to avoid answers or closure.

This is the rare time where a shortened season hasn’t done anything to help a show’s plotting and pacing issues. In fact, it’s as if the writers have chosen to wait until the very last minute to get to the true story of the season, in hopes that no one would realize the lack of focus or direction.

What is it that Teen Wolf wants to be anymore, and is it even achieving it? What story is it trying to tell? What does it expect of its characters? Of its audience? Teen Wolf is a teen genre show on MTV—based on an ‘80s movie with some questionable decisions with regards to its portrayal of werewolves—but the show has been so much more than that for a very long time. Now, it just feels aimless, with nothing about it having any true rhyme or reason. The entire cast of Teen Wolf, at this point, could do all of this in their sleep, and with this season, that appears to be what they’re doing. Everything about Teen Wolf right now is on auto pilot right now, only no one is paying attention to the road at the same time.

The first two episodes of the season, “The Dark Moon” and “117,” really suffered from the early lack of direction for the season. As soon as the assassins and The Benefactor showed up, however, it felt like everything would finally be all right. Like there was in fact a direction for the season. Then the two episodes before this week’s, “Perishable” and “Monstrous,” happened, essentially toppling over everything the season had built. None of it even mattered any more, because the rest of the season would be going back to the concepts introduced in those first two episodes. The show introduced this Aztec mythology in the season premiere, and even changed the opening credits accordingly, and now, 10 episodes later, it finally addresses all of that. That’s not a good thing.

Does anyone (in the show or even creatively involved in the show) even care that The Benefactor and dead pool storyline were ultimately pointless? Everything that is currently happening in the plot right now is aftermath based on the events from the “main” arc, not the Benefactor arc. Liam’s PTSD is manifesting itself as the the product of his confrontation with a Berserker. Derek’s humanity (and potential death) is the result of whatever Kate did to him. Malia’s mother, the Desert wolf, comes from all of this Aztec mythology. And now there’s Scott’s inevitable manifestation as a true monster.

With the ending of this week’s episode, it looks like Scott is finally becoming the monster he never wanted to be, only without anything resembling a say in the matter. This season has toyed with the idea of Scott going full wolf, becoming the monstrous sort of monster, but it has always looked like it would be the type of thing that would be based on Scott’s own animal, primal nature making its way to the surface. Removing the choice (even on a subconscious level) from Scott to become a monster also removes the interest in the storyline. At this point, it feels like Teen Wolf is intentionally shooting itself in the foot.

It’s a sad thing to be pessimistic in Teen Wolf, because when it does things well, it does them extremely well. Liam’s PTSD is a fascinating aspect of the series partially because it’s amazing that the show has taken this long to even examine the effects of this type of life on a teenage psyche. This is so much more than the standard “I just want a normal life” riff that plagues so many genre programs—even though it’s not necessarily a problem that those characters strive for a sense of normalcy in a world chaos, it just becomes repetitive. It’s strange to admit it, but Liam’s issues kind of save this episode.

The idea of a super powered being having complete and utter fear isn’t often explored outside of that “normal life” style. At this point in the game, Liam is literally paralyzed with fear and it affects the way he acts in every single situation. He can barely sleep without a light on at night. He can’t exist without seeing a Berserker around. He doesn’t know how to stop any of this. He can bench press 300 pounds, but he’s afraid of everything around him. That’s something worth exploring. That’s something worth focusing on.

Then there’s Malia and her continued struggles with the human world, which also remain one of the lower-key bright spots of the season. These are the real world problems that the show succeeds in focusing on, not everyone having financial trouble all of a sudden. If Malia is able to become a senior with the rest of her friends, it might be a nice emotional moment for the character. But at the same time, it will ring slightly false—she is simply struggling too much for all of this to be tied up as neatly as the Stilinski money issues. It’s amazing what the cast on this show can do with the material they’re giving, because Shelley Hennig has sold Malia’s academic struggles in these brief moments, better than the writers have sold the monetary troubles of every other person in Beacon Hills this entire season. It’s something worth exploring. It’s something worth focusing on.

Jill Wagner also sells Kate’s insanity and frustration extremely well the rare times she’s actually allowed to be onscreen. Kate actually probably suffers the most in some ways from the main arc being so sidelined, because in a season that would have presumably been All About Kate, she’s barely been featured, and her motivations are truly unknown in a way that doesn’t come across as mysterious—they come across as not fully-formed. “A Promise To The Dead” tries its best to pick up the slack with Kate’s motivation, but like most of this season’s “mysteries,” there’s still no direct answer to the question of why.

Her question is, in fact, simple: “What in the hell is so special about Scott McCall?” How is it that his presence in the Argent family’s life has tangentially led to their demise? Surely the death of Kate’s niece and sister-in-law and her brother’s weakness aren’t Scott’s fault, but in Kate logic, it all makes sense. With just one question—which is actually answered in a locker room scene by the Devenford Prep wolf when he calls Scott a “true alpha”— Kate articulates what more of this season probably should have been about. The Argents have lost everything, and to have both Kate and Chris be in the background instead of exploring what it means for them to be on complete opposite sides of the fence is such a huge misstep on the writers’ part. Their relationship is something worth exploring. Their relationship is something worth focusing on.

Still, the show understands how to do horror consistently better than anything else. The Hannibal Lecter nature of Dr. Valack (Steven Brand, Magic City) and his third eye-inducing trepanation is one of the more gruesome moments in this season. Plus, the teaser with the psychotic wendigo is truly frightening, even though Deaton’s interference cuts it short and leads the episode in an entirely different direction. But the assassins earlier in the season really did bring up thoughts of what the show would be like with a monster of the week format, and maybe with the show in its current state, that woudn’t be too bad of a format to really try and commit to. However, that’s not going to happen any time this season.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth exploring.

Stray observations:

  • Derek Hale Farewell Tour Update: Besides Lydia coming over to Derek’s house to scream in his and Braeden’s faces, there’s also this: Derek’s entire personality this whole season. Simply put, he’s the most enjoyable he’s ever been. But that’s only because nothing about the writing or character screams “Derek Hale.” Deaton may be risking his life to find out what happened to Derek, but it’s pretty safe to say Derek couldn’t care less.
  • The way things are going with Teen Wolf, if Parrish is in fact a phoenix (he even had the Jean Grey glowing eyes thing going on in this episode), let us all hope that his storyline doesn’t end up going a little something like X-Men: The Last Stand.
  • I’m sure there is an audience for it, but I found the Scott/Kira make out scene to go on for an extremely long time, to the point where I looked at the imaginary watch on my wrist. The rest of the date before that was adorable though, especially with Scott’s confusion over the Star Wars naming and order process.
  • Nice touch having Eichen House drop all of the bills after that whole incident where a staff member tried to kill Stiles and Lydia.
  • You know, I bet Scott is really going to regret giving Peter back his money soon.
  • Scott: “Where’s your money?” Derek: “You’re standing on it.” Scott (looks down): “There’s another vault?!” Dear, sweet Scott McCall. You’ll be the most adorable Berserker ever.
  • While Scott is getting turned into a Berserker, Kira is trapped in a cell littered with bones. 1. That’s how you get ants. 2. That’s still better than being stuck in a well.
  • 11 episodes in, and there is still no explanation as to what Norse Berserkers have to do with Aztec mythology.
  • Malia (to Lydia): “Your notes are great, when they’re not written in code.”
  • Sheriff: “Malia, what’s your favorite food?” Malia: “Deer.” It’s been a while since I’ve compared Malia to Anya Jenkins, but with so many quotable one-liners every episode, it’s practically impossible not to do it.
  • Eichen House has an unlisted floor for the supernatural, so now Teen Wolf has something akin to Smallville’s version of Belle Reve.

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