When I was in high school, trying to make it through the day as an imaginative but creatively frustrated (read: bored of his skull) teenager, I sometimes tried to liven up my environment by imagining a movie that took place in the hallways and classrooms, with the faculty and other students as the cast members. Because I was trying to stay awake, the movie in my daydreams was less Ordinary People, or even Fast Times At Ridgemont High, than something akin to The Bourne Curriculum, with lots of shootouts and chases and fistfights, and the occasional romantic interlude when the heroine (whoever I had a crush on that week) and the hero (three guesses) had to do something to kill the time while hiding from ninja assassins in the janitor’s office.
I had actually forgotten that I used to burn off my brain cells in such an embarrassing way, and I’m not sure that I’d ever have remembered if it weren’t for Teen Wolf. The show reminded me of this because sometimes, watching the heroes racing through the school a few steps ahead of a werewolf hit squad ambling smugly down the hall, I sometimes catch myself thinking, “This reminds me of something…” I finally realized that it reminds me of those movies I used to stage, shoot, and compulsively re-edit inside the protective confines of my own head, and once I made the connection, I was a little bowled over by just how faithful the show is to that particular cheeseball vision, which for all I know closely resembles a similar series of movies that the series creators made inside their heads when they were trapped at high school. Sometimes, that’s enough to give the show a certain charm even when—or maybe especially when—it’s at its slackest and most cheap-looking. The there are those other moments, such as the long suspense set piece in the first half of tonight’s episode, which tries to get the viewers’ pulses pounded with a deadly game of cat and mouse—or, at least, an annoying exchange of smirks and insinuating whispers—played out against the picturesque backdrop of science lab on musical-chairs day.
As usual, the opening sequence is terrific. Jackson, who is growing increasingly unhinged with frustration and disappointment over his failure to become a werewolf, is pounding away in the gym after hours, as if in hope that a massive blast of adrenaline will break up the internal log jam preventing the lupine horror within from getting out. “I’m hitting the shower,” his spotting partner finally tells him. “If I come back and you’re lying dead under a pile of weights, I’m taking the Porsche.” Instead of accidentally garroting himself with a barbell, Jackson is captured by Derek’s minions, who deliver him to the big boy himself, who is eager to determine whether Jackson might be the shape-shifting reptilian killing machine—the Kanima it’s called, if the closed-captioning function on my TV is to be trusted—that’s been running amok. “You know,” Derek says, sounding more like Ernst Stavro Blofeld than usual, “you’ve always been kind of a snake, and everyone knows a snake can’t be poisoned by its own venom.” This is the cue to dose Jackson with Kanima venom: It temporarily paralyzes him, so we go into the hour knowing that Jackson isn’t the lizard shape-shifter, that’s for sure. Unless the show is planning to pull something fancy out of its hat, that all but confirms that Lydia is the culprit. Official confirmation comes in the big science lab scene, when Erica and Isaac combine forces to slip Lydia the venom, and she takes it in without even smudging her makeup.
Now that that’s straight, Scott, Allison, Stiles, and Jackson all set about getting Lydia to a safe house where they can shield her from Derek and his goons. Their chief tactic is subterfuge, so as to keep Lydia in the dark about what they’re doing and why. I’m not clear about their thinking on this; Lydia has been acting more and more strangely, writing “SOMEONE HELP ME” backwards on a blackboard, “REDRUM” style, but she’s still supposed to be smarter than at least three of these characters put together, so it might not be such a bad idea to bring her up to speed and invite her to join in on the brainstorming. But at least when Erica and Isaac sneak into the house, the star of the hand-to-hand combat portion of the program is Allison, who’s always a treat when she breaks out the bow and arrows. (In the big climax, she gets to outsmart Erica, which is almost as much fun to watch as it looks to be easy to do.) In the final seconds of the episode—which I would have missed myself, if past experience with MTV and its loose approach to timing its schedule hadn’t taught me to be sure to set the DVR for both this show’s time slot and the hour that follows it—it’s revealed that, despite all that business about what everyone knows you can’t do to a snake, Jackson really is the Kanima after all. I look forward to some fast and fancy talking next week to explain why the show wasted so much of our time lecturing us with hard-and-fast rules about the science of monster detection that turn out to amount to diddly-squat.
The fact that a lot of this is fairly compelling anyway can be credited to Holland Roden and Colton Haynes. The show has been asking a lot of them these last few episodes, more than it's asked of Tyler Posey in a while. As Lydia has become more and more alienated and painfully confused this season, Roden has been asked to shoulder a lot of melodramatic lumber while remaining true to a character who seemed to be conceived as comic relief, and I think she’s done a remarkable job, especially since she’s been asked to communicate a maximum degree of inner turmoil with a minimum of dialogue. In some scenes, she's done at least as much to bring back the art of silent film acting as anyone connected with The Artist. And Haynes’ performance as Jackson seems to take its cues from a line of Derek’s: “Sometimes the shape you takes reflects the person that you are.” Whether Jackson is trying to will himself to turn lupine or recoiling from his reflected image when he’s in his Kamina form, he’s miserable in his own body, which is one definition of adolescence, for damn sure.