The best news about the third season premiere of Teen Wolf is that it wastes no time in getting crazy. The makers of the series may have realized they had no choice: They have to include the usual “previously on Teen Wolf…” catch-up montage at the start, which means that anything that follows it has to meet the challenge of not being overshadowed by year-old footage of Michael Hogan, whose performance as the chief villain in season two would have looked especially unhinged even if he’d been giving it in a production of Marat/Sade. He did such a job on the scenery that it’s a wonder he left anything behind but a bare set covered with sawdust, but he was a lot of fun to watch, and gave the proceedings an electric charge that was often missing when he was off-screen.
The episode opens with a beautiful woman dragging a wounded, semi-conscious Isaac through the misty, moonlit streets, reviving him with jumper cables, and then taking him for a high-speed ride on her motorcycle. Isaac isn’t sure what’s happened to him. The woman explains that “they” slashed him with their claws: “It’s how they share memories.” “I don’t remember anything,” says Isaac. “It’s also how they steal them,” she says. It’s the perfect exchange for this show, which at its best has a hallucinatory, fever-dream quality that can mess with your head even if you suspect that part of it’s not always fully intentional. Isaac looks behind him and sees a couple of guys running after them; soon, he’s leaning close to the woman’s ear and shouting “Faster!”, which is high on the list of things you neither expect or want to hear when someone is chasing is you on foot and you’re on a motorcycle.
After a crash and a scene in which the two guys, with much growling and to the accompaniment of cracking and clanking noises on the soundtrack, merge into one super-sized being, only to beaten back with a modified Taser, Isaac lands in the hospital. He’s scheduled for surgery, but his healing powers kick in, and when he’s wheeled into the operating room, the surgeon goes into a petty, pissed-off snit that earns him the coveted Guy On The Stairs Memorial Douchebag Award as the most overly conspicuous bit player of the night. “Someone want to explain this to me!?” he expostulates. “Here’s an idea: Why don’t you wheel this joker out of here and bring me somebody that actually needs to be operated on, now! I’m gonna go smoke.” You hope for the camera to follow him outside and show him accidentally setting himself on fire.
Three months have passed since the end of the last season, but we haven’t missed anything: Derek has been laying low, the members of his pack have gone missing, and Scott, Allison, Stiles, and Lydia have all put their love lives on the shelf, though Lydia, that dependable spark plug and source of entertainment value, has a rock-ribbed boy toy she’s hiding from public view. (He sits up in bed watching her get ready for school, smirking and asking if they can start officially dating yet, or, if not, if she wants seconds. She leaves, and he’ll probably still be there when she comes back. He doesn’t look as if he could figure out how to operate a door knob without written instructions.) Meanwhile, the fearsome alpha pack that we were teased about in last year’s season finale has hit town with their stuff down. This menace is comprised of an adult CEO with a British accent, the aforementioned Wonder Twins, and a woman who slinks around barefoot with long, black toenail-claws that look like what Howard Hughes’ toenails would have have looked like if he’d gone through a Goth phase in his later years. She jumps high in the air and executes wide, arcing kung-fu kicks, slashing at her enemies with her tootsies. I’m sure the directors on this show will all happily embrace the challenge of making this not look really silly.
After a couple of years of doing this, the actors on this show have gotten pretty assured in their roles; the ones who were always good are still good, and the ones who maybe lucked out a little during the casting process have grown comfortably into their characters. When it’s mostly working, the silly moments—such as a scene in which Derek helpfully applies a blow torch to Scott’s arms while Stiles, who’s supposed to be holding Scott down, just looks as if he’s tentatively giving him a neck massage—only add to the charm. The premiere mostly works pretty well. I like the way the show uses animal imagery and ties the theme of nature going nuts in with its werewolf mythology, and at times, it even achieves a certain cheeseball horror poetry, as in an image of the hot new literature teacher, standing in front of the classroom window, frozen by the sight of a sky full of ravens flying straight toward her.
Sometimes, it’s even funny on purpose: Everyone from that teacher to Derek finds an excuse to tweak Scott about the fact that, with his busy world-saving schedule, he doesn’t spend much time at school. Incidentally, the reason Derek has to pull out that blowtorch is that Scott has gotten a tattoo—two thick black lines, which makes him look as if he’d started to get the Black Flag logo and wimped out when it halfway done—and it’s gotten infected in some ominous, sinister, occult way. As those who watched the post-finale chat show last year will remember, the tattoo, which has its own subplot, actually had to be written into the show, because Tyler Posey went and got himself inked in real life, thus probably inspiring a future clause in the contracts of all MTV scripted shows that prohibits the actors from willingly getting any disfiguring marks on their bodies in hard-to-miss places until their series are canceled. Did Jeff Davis think about reaching for an open flame when he first saw his leading man’s new tat? If so, way to roll with the punches, Jeff!