Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Teen Wolf: “A Novel Approach”

Illustration for article titled Teen Wolf: “A Novel Approach”

Theo: “You guys do this a lot, huh?”
Scott: “Do what?”
Theo: “Get involved.”

If Liam (notably absent but not all that missed from this episode) is the Scrappy-Doo of Teen Wolf, then Theo just might be Scooby-Doo’s contrived “monster”-of-the-week in this universe. Actually, the more I think about it, the more it just feels right. The Dread Doctors already look like the Ghost Diver from Scooby-Doo, so it might even be intentional. Every chimera probably would have gotten away with it, if it weren’t for those meddling kids and Scott McCall. (Scott is definitely Scooby to Stiles’ Shaggy. I’ve thought about this a lot.)


Continuing where last week’s episode left off, “A Novel Approach” opens with an extended one-on-one chase scene between Stiles and Donovan. The scene is filled to the brim with a combination of Donovan’s mad man ramblings and Stiles’ breath. Yes, simply his breath, as Stiles doesn’t say an entire word for the whole opening teaser. It even gets to a point where once that silence continues into act one, it’s easy to believe that Dylan O’Brien might just pull off his own one-man version of “Hush” in this episode. And you know what? That actually would be pretty cool.

Instead, a more typical episode of Teen Wolf happens, but in those few opening moments, there are possibilities. The possibilities, however, aren’t so much squandered by the rest of the episode as they are by Stiles’/Dylan’s scene partner (Donovan/Ashton) and the fact that Stiles is probably the most untouchable character on the show alongside Scott. Because of the latter, there’s really no suspense. Given the chimeras’ track records as absolute failures, it makes it even more of a matter of when—not if—Donovan will die so the episode can get to the actually important things. With the former, it becomes mighty clear early on that this is a scene that could have easily happened with a human Donovan, as unlike the other chimeras (except for the one from the premiere that the show is just content with ignoring), he’s not any different (or even as out of control) as a newly-formed monster.

Really, from the few episodes he’s been in, Donovan has been a waste of a character, one-note enough where most of his dialogue is just a variation of “I’m going to kill you, Stilinski.” Nothing about him changes in chimera form, except for him now having more of a backstory, one that makes slightly less sense when you consider he supposedly wanted to be a deputy and work with/for the sheriff. A large part of the problem with Donovan is the fact that Ashton Moio was just recently a star on a teen thriller himself (ABC Family’s Twisted), as a teen, and his baby face doesn’t read as adult. It barely reads “older than 12 years old,” which is something that makes both his dreams of deputy-hood and his intimidation factor absolutely unbelievable. Even the characters in the show barely take Donovan—who, by all accounts, is certifiably insane—seriously, until the opening of this very episode. Donovan’s “bitch”-filled backstory of his father being Stilinski’s partner and becoming paralyzed doesn’t quite track with the very little we know about him, but then again, it making sense wouldn’t make him any more interesting at this point before he dies.

Plus, when Scott talks about how these chimeras are the victims of the Dread Doctors, it absolutely makes sense for people like Tracy and last week’s Lucas. The audience saw firsthand just how screwed up Tracy was by all of this. Donovan is himself, only with teeth in his hand. Why? Well, in what has become Teen Wolf fashion, the show makes up rules only to quickly break said rules. See: Everything about last season’s Berserkers’ existence… until Scott McCall became one.

But speaking of Scott’s stance on victims and innocents, this episode is a strange one for Stiles, because he spends a good portion of it feeling unnecessarily (and perhaps uncharacteristically) guilty and making bad decisions because of that. In an act of self-defense, Stiles kills Donovan and is immediately thrust into a whirlwind of confusing choices. He calls 911, instead of his father, Deaton, or even Scott, though Scott is the one he wants to avoid. He doesn’t tell anyone about this, but it’s mostly unbelievable he would call 911, when the only thing the cops would find (had Parrish not been the one to clean it up, which is what he’s been doing with chimera bodies) if they had found a body is another supernatural being, something that someone would have to explain somehow. That would only make things more complicated.

But as for Stiles’ reaction to everything as a whole, it barely tracks with the Stiles we know, the kid who has always been the pragmatic one of the bunch and has on more than one occasion pushed for Scott to, at the very least, let a bad guy die. In a way, his worrying about how Scott will handle the truth makes some sense, as Scott’s approach has always been—somewhat blindly—to let those who will only cause more chaos live (again, see the chimera from the premiere).


However, nothing about Donovan ever read as “victim,” and in a scenario where the only other way Stiles was going to get out of it was dead, there are no shades of gray. This is the same episode where Scott talks about how much he admires Stiles (and Lydia) for basically being a civilian who still more than holds his own in this world, and that’s exactly what he does here. Stiles kills a monster, on a show where plenty of monsters have been killed, and it isn’t as though he was out for blood and the predator in this scenario. So why does he hide it, other than to prolong the inevitable (for a storytelling point of view)? It’s hard to argue that it’s just a dumb kid decision, because the show, especially at this point, goes out of its way to prove how mature its heroes are. But “A Novel Approach” treats maturity as a different thing from honesty, which is why we get conflicted Stiles, expertly played by Dylan O’Brien but extremely unnecessary. It’s also Teen Wolf entering Friday Night Lights territory (not in the good way), with Stiles as the Landry of the piece, complete with a lead pipe (though used in a different way with this death).

This episode’s stance on the truth is also why we get Scott lying to Kira about what he sees when he looks at her in wolf vision and talking to Stiles behind her back about what might be “wrong” with her. I would say that, at this point, there’s no reason for any of the main characters to lie to each other about such important things, but Supernatural has been doing that consistently for 10 seasons, so it’s clearly a formula that has staying power.


“A Novel Approach” is a pretty exposition-heavy episode, and it finally puts some of the pieces together: Namely, the fact that Dr. Valack from Eichen House wrote the book The Dread Doctors, and that they (the Doctors) have been to Beacon Hills before. Their reason for coming back was Beacon Hills becoming a literal beacon for monsters (which is really not a great thing for Parrish right now), and while Lydia and Stiles decided to shoulder the responsibility of that, it needs to be mentioned that the whole pack knew this (well, not exactly this) would happen, so they can’t always be surprised and guilt-ridden when things like this happen. That’s just a note. According to Valack, reading the book triggers memories of the Dread Doctors, just in case they happened to mess with your mind (an ability they apparently have):

Lydia: “What are they?”
Valack: “Not entirely human. As least not anymore. They were scientists once. Scientists who worshiped the supernatural. Tesla said if you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency, and vibration. They found their secrets in electromagnetic forces. Ways to prolong their lives, give them power, and most importantly, making you forget you ever saw them.”


Electromagnetic forces are the key to this arc. While that most likely means that Kira is the key to saving the day this time (or at least it should), that’s also… It’s hard to properly describe it except to say that it’s lame. It’s supernatural, but it’s also science, and you know what? Mad scientists just aren’t what they used to be. This story relies greatly on the idea that the mad scientist trope is still scary, but just based on the brief snippet of the future (or the present, depending on your perspective), the scary part isn’t that Valack, another mad scientist, was out and about (thanks to this episode)—it was that Eichen House and its wholly unprofessional nursing staff were still allowed to practice any sort of “care” or “medicine.” Teen Wolf has been having trouble for seasons with finding a way to make its more “epic” Big Bads actually come across as epic and anything other than boring, but it’s at its worst when it thinks the audience should really care about these omnipotent beings who are using others as their puppets. That’s the Dread Doctors. That was the Benefactor. And in a different sort of way, that was also the nogitsune, which mostly worked half as well as it did because of Dylan O’Brien’s acting. (Season three is nowhere near the lows of present day Teen Wolf, but it’s also much more flawed than it’s given credit for at this point.)

The worst part of the episode is that it’s all in service of a less-than-compelling bigger picture. The episode really is held up by the performances of the main cast, and if nothing else, it serves as a reminder that the core five is the glue that keeps this show afloat and makes mixing metaphors worthwhile. This episode has a lot to like from its main cast, as the heavy lifting is truly from them, not the writing or story itself. Though the show has one really shining moment, as the 911 call early on is one of the rare actually risky, different style choices Teen Wolf even has any more, head and shoulders above any and all of the slow motion the show continues to abuse. In fact, slow motion is so overused that, as the Dread Doctors walk in slow motion—while everyone else appears to be in real time—the power and intimidation factor becomes less and less believable.


That’s because while “A Novel Approach” is a necessary episode for this season of Teen Wolf, what’s it’s laying down isn’t exactly something the show needs to be picking up, in terms of actual interest. The episode really is bogged down by what appears to be symptomatic of the entire season: The villains are absolutely terrible, boring at the very least. For all of Teen Wolf’s season four problems, there is an argument to be made that the season could have been so much better had it been split into half seasons like Teen Wolf is known for (which this season will be). The Big Bad for one half should have been the far more compelling Kate Argent story, while the Benefactor storyline possibly could have come together if another half season had been solely about it. Here, the villains don’t have that benefit. Valack was introduced last season too, and for all of season four’s maddening situations and characters, Valack’s crime was that of being the most forgettable and useless of the bunch. It didn’t help that he was (and still is, as of this episode) a bargain brand Hannibal Lecter on a series that already has problems when it comes to its own self-identity.

By the way, other villain Theo sucks Malia into his black hole of entertainment this week, continuing the show’s habit of giving a character who has no good reason (PTSD trumps cultural driving norms!) to be behind the wheel in the first place a driving lesson at night. As we all already know Theo is evil (though, surely he could be under the Dread Doctors’ control in some form), there are no stakes to his scenes with the good guys. In fact, the audience knowing for sure—instead of there being any ambiguity—makes all of our protagonists (except for maybe Stiles) look dumb for not being able to figure it out. It actually makes Scott’s role as a leader even more questionable, as he completely shot down Stiles’ desire to look into Theo in the fist place. As for Malia, Shelley Hennig is able to elevate the character despite the material, but at this point, it needs to be said again and again: Malia needs so much therapy (and home-schooling) that her entire life situation is the most unrealistic part of the show. A show named Teen Wolf. Out of touch Malia becomes less and less amusing with every instance, because she is clearly a person in need of a lot of help that no one is giving her. Won’t somebody give her some help?


As for the other bad guys, what do the Dread Doctors want? Ah, that part’s being stretched out even more.

Stray observations

  • I was obviously not a fan of last week’s episode. But anyone who thinks I hate Teen Wolf either hasn’t read anything I’ve written about the show or, actually, that’s about it. Hating Teen Wolf has never once been my problem with the show.
  • Valack telling them they have to read the book is ridiculous, because the fact that they (at least Lydia and Stiles) went to see him in the first place without reading the book is just poor planning.
  • If Eichen House was created specifically to house all the creepy crawlies and literal demons, then the fact that it is a cesspool means it’s even more negligent and unprofessional than once thought. An electromagnetic burial ground may explain away some things, but it doesn’t excuse the torturous and downright disappointing staff.
  • Speaking of that staff, this episode introduces the perverted nurse from the premiere. His introduction has him leering at Lydia, and my stomach drops.
  • To those of you who were still rooting for the “kind of obsessive” Stiles/Lydia relationship, this episode sure did put the nail in that coffin, didn’t it?
  • “First edition, of course. There was only one printing.” That is almost some “first edition” of The Odyssey level dialogue. Almost.
  • I’ll give it up to Theo and the Dread Doctors for getting the gang (with Kira) to Eichen House and all the electromagnetic junk that went with that.
  • Scott reaffirms he loves Kira (though she still doesn’t actually say it back), and while that’s great, Scott and Kira could have focused less on that and more on the fact that Stiles and Lydia were basically left behind to die. Yes, Scott and Kira were both extremely weakened, but a little care goes a long way. Stiles and Lydia could have been dying. Not the time to confirm “I love you.”
  • Also, Kira and Scott are spending nights together now? Based on everything I know about their respective parental units, I don’t see that being something that will go over well.
  • But how is Scott doing in AP Bio?