Stiles is Teen Wolf’s Ringo. In Help!, when it’s made clear that Leo McKern is going to take a scimitar to whoever is wearing his cult’s sacrificial ring, there’s not much suspense as to which of the Fab Four is going to get that ring stuck on his finger. More to the point, Stiles is this show’s Willow Rosenberg. He is—sorry, dude—its sacrificial virgin, the one to whom bad things are likely to happen, because when Stiles is hurting, it’s supposed to hit the audience right where we live. This episode jumps in at the deep end where Stiles abuse is concerned, and may spend too much time getting way comfortable there. It begins with Scott receiving an urgent phone call from Stiles, who says that he’s in a cold dark place and he’s pinned to the ground and it’s all heavy and it hurts and stuff. Scott is trying to process this when Isaac barges in, asking, “What’s wrong with Stiles?” Dude, what show have you been watching? What’s right with Stiles?
Stiles is in the basement of the mental hospital where the shrapnel bomber—How’s the search for that guy going, anyway? Did they catch him during commercials and I missed the whole thing?—had been locked up. He is injured, and lapsing into hypothermia, and also engaged in a series of Socratic dialogues with a bandaged-up, razor-toothed creature that talks like Bane and looks like the Flukeman. The creature, like so many mysterious, know-it-all visitors in the annals of pulp fiction who are prone to talk a person’s ear off when they could be helping to lift that heavy object off his leg, is fond of riddles; just to ascertain that he, Stiles, and the audience are all on the same page regarding what riddles are, he asks Stiles, “When is a door not a door?” I already had plenty of respect for Dylan O’Brien as an actor, but I will always be a little in awe of him after seeing him keep a straight face while giving an intense, anguished, Von Sydow-style read of the answer: “When it’s a-jarrrrrr!!”
Lydia, meanwhile, is checking out Stiles’ bedroom—which, as the studly twin with her is only happy to point out, is filled with tokens of Stiles’ love for Lydia, just in case you thought any mercy was going to be extended to the poor boy tonight—and while strumming the network of red string he’s set up as some kind of homemade holographic study database of the latest series of paranormal events to infect the town, she divines that he is at the mental hospital. But is he, really, literally, at the mental hospital? The Flukemummy teasingly points out to Stiles that the object on his leg keeps shifting from leg to the next. It’s Scott’s father, earning his keep for the first time ever on this show, who figures it out: Even as Stiles is sending out calls for help and trying to alert people to his location by means both technological and psychic, he’s actually asleep. Stick with me on this, says Scott’s dad: I once heard about a guy who, while sleepwalking, went into the kitchen and made himself a full breakfast. And I know about this other guy, he says, who, while asleep, mowed his lawn naked. That’s Scott’s mom’s cue to remind her ex that she once caught him, while sleepwalking, pissing in the closet. By this point, I was starting to think that any of these three scenarios would have made for a more entertaining episode.
Things don’t really start popping until the closing moments, but the closing moments do make for a grand finale. Stiles’ new imaginary friend has been hounding him with the puzzler, “Everyone has it, but no one can lose it.” I just assumed the answer was student debt, but then Stiles figures out that it’s one’s shadow, and the creature unwraps his bindings to reveal that he is—Stiles himself! Big whoop, I know. The killer part isn’t the predictable reveal so much as the way O’Brien sells the transformation into a dark entity that the show has been heavily promising for weeks now. His body language and the set of his jaw really do turn into those of a different being, and the effect is complete when elevator doors open, revealing the fearsome, creature-crushing demons who were giving everyone shit last week, and Stiles basically tells them to go piss up a rope. Thus do we enter into Stiles’ Dark Willow period, and O’Brien looks up to the challenge of making it a thing. If the writers don’t let him down, what’s left of this season could be a wild ride.