Bad genre TV seldom gets as ambitious as current Teen Wolf, straining to reach for the heavens as it staggers toward the finish line of its second season. Tellingly, it’s ambitious not in the way that a show like Breaking Bad or Community is ambitious—i.e., in terms of experimenting with the pace and tone of weekly series and exploring new avenues of comedy and methods of exploring character. It’s ambitious in a cornier, more old-fashioned way, best summed up by the names it drops and the references it throws in. In tonight’s episode, Matt, the loser who’s been controlling the Jackson in his Kanima form, talks about how it felt to see people he’s wanted revenge against actually turn up dead: “It was out of some Greek mythology,” he says, “like the Furies coming down to pursue Orestes. You have no idea what I’m talking about. Do you?” Uh, sure, says Scott, it’s like that guy who tore his own eyes out… “ Matt explodes, “That’s Oedipus, you dumbass!”
At a point in history when popular culture has become confident enough of its own self-worth that its creators don’t often demand respect by flaunting their knowledge of the classics, this sort of thing has a certain old-school charm, like one of those low-budget gangster movies where the gangsters are self-consciously modeled on the characters in Macbeth. In Teen Wolf, the character most likely to quote the immortal bard is Michael Hogan’s Gerard, who takes part in a raid on the sheriff’s station where Matt is holding practically every other member of the cast hostage. “Shakespeare wrote that love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs,” Hogan intones to no one in particular. “Let’s give them some love!”
Hogan has sunk his teeth into the part as if he’s decided that, whatever is driving Gerard and wherever he’s going, this is the closest he’ll ever get to playing Ahab and he might as well make the most of it. In one scene, he informs his granddaughter, Allison, that he has a letter for her from her mother, who had to be put down after she became infected with the werewolf’s bite. First, he has to make it all about him: “I don’t know what you’re going through. I wasn’t close to my own mother.” Then he gets to deliver his aria: Having read the letter, he says, “I don’t know how I could sit still until someone paid for her death. Any pity I’d had for Derek and his pack would be burned down by a white-hot desire for retribution, a kind of blood and destruction that would have Derek and his wolves howling, not for mercy, but for their own sweet death.” So, anyway, Arby’s sound good?
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Gerard has to get Allison’s head in the game because, if I understand the rules concerning the structure of werewolf-hunter families, the men do the killing but the women are key to the planning and are needed to give the green light to any ambitious shows of force. With her mother dead, Allison has inherited her place at the table. Having wound her up, Gerard says of the situation at the sheriff’s station, “This just might be the confluence of events we’ve been waiting for.” “Confluence or conflagration?” asks his son. “I’m open to both,” says Gerard. By now, Allison is ready to lead the march into whatever dangerous territory Gerard has in mind, and happily, Crystal Reed is just as energized as Hogan. She gets the sexy-scary crazy eyeball thing going as she assents to get all Assault On Precinct 13 for their next family outing. The funniest line of the night—made all the funnier by the fact that, as is often the case with this show, there’s scarcely any indication that the show itself sees the funny side to it—comes when she runs into her werewolf boyfriend in the middle of a search-and-destroy mission and, pleading for some personal space, tells him, “Scott, you need to stay away from me right now.” It’s a pretty persuasive request, considering that she’s pointing a crossbow at him when she says it.
Fun pretensions are the rarest kind, and I’d be all on board with Teen Wolf if it weren’t for things like Stephen Lundsford’s performance as Matt, a farewell-bow showpiece that’s probably the most gratuitously obnoxious display by an actor in charge of a hostage situation since Marjoe Gortner in When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder? He somehow manages to be limp and shrill at the same time, to the point that the crazy, high-strung Gerard automatically becomes the audience surrogate figure by drowning him in a creek. Then there are such brilliant moves as having a couple of key characters temporarily paralyzed and laid out like cord wood, to explain why one of them isn’t running around snapping necks, until such time as the plot has need of him to do it. (The second coming of Alfred Hitchcock might conceivably be able to milk this set-up for suspense, but since that worthy, whoever he might be, does not work for this show, all you see are two guys lying on the floor, waiting for their cue to get up and do something.)
Tonight’s episode also features at least a couple of images—a hallway strewn with corpses, Jackson standing alone and looking anguished as he begins to transform—that actually work, very effectively, on a scary-image horror level. The climax features a full-in monster fight between Derek the werewolf and Jackson the shapeshifter; I’ve more or less made my peace with the werewolf makeup on the show, but now that they’ve started providing haunting glimpses of Jackson in a state of partial transformation, it makes it that much harder to ignore how, when fully transformed, he sometimes looks like he escaped from the set of Land Of The Lost. Teen Wolf has real consistency problems, but if Hogan’s Gerard is about to fully displace Matt as the season’s Big Bad for the last couple of episodes, then maybe if it can’t be consistently good, it can at least get through the next two weeks being consistently good-bad.
- My favorite cultural reference tonight, which I'm also not sure was intentional, came in the opening scene, showing Matt sitting in a parked car at night, looking lonely and moody while electronic music played, and then seeing the reptilian shapeshifter begin to slither around his tires. It all had the damndest '80s-Michael-Mann vibe, as if someone had shrunk down the monster from The Keep and CGI'ed it into a copy of Manhunter.