The series Teen Wolf—based very loosely on a comedy movie from the eighties by the same name—has had two fairly successful seasons thus far. Between the rise of stories like Twilight and The Vampire Diaries, it seems to be riding on the success of its predecessors. At the very least it started out that way, before moving on to become its own story. And one of its goals was clearly to be as far away from Twilight as humanly possible. Of course there’s still the shitty romance, but unlike Bella and Edward, Scott and Allison—our new star-crossed lovers—are surprisingly well-thought out characters. When they’re not together.
It is still based around the forbidden-romance trope, though, which I find annoying. Oftentimes, the forbidden romance presents itself but does little to justify the relationship. It can—and often does—involve stalking and emotional abuse and then calling that love, but usually all this trope does is show why the relationship should be forbidden in the first place before asking the audience to agree with it. Twilight, being one of the more prominent examples, is my case in point. And all the newer shows, movies, and books riding on its success like to copy that formula, mistaking the difference between stakes and an unhealthy relationship.
Fortunately, we can thank Teen Wolf for not doing that. As annoying as the love story can be, it is one of the healthier relationships I’ve seen in the forbidden-romance trope. And even though Teen Wolf is marketed toward a female audience and that’s probably the main reason the romance between Scott and Allison is played out the way it is, it is not handled the way I would expect it to be in a love story. While a relationship with Allison may be Scott’s driving motivation, it is not what’s driving the plot.
We can give Teen Wolf credit in that it doesn’t forget to tell a story in light of the romance.
Our story begins when Scott is called out by his best friend, Stiles, to go traversing through the woods at night. Part of a girl’s body has been found and the police, led by Stiles’s dad, the Sheriff, are out looking for the other half. Stiles wants to find it first, and so he drags Scott with him. Along the way, the two get split up when the Sheriff finds Stiles, which leaves Scott wandering the woods alone at night. His short-lived solo adventure includes being attack by a bunch of deer, finding the remains of the dead girl, and being bitten by a werewolf. All in all, it’s an odd yet eventful night that would haunt any sane person’s nightmares for weeks to come.
The next day, Scott’s bite is completely healed, he’s suddenly the best person on the lacrosse team, and he has super-hearing. In walks Allison, the new girl, and sparks fly between the two. Bam! Love at first sight. But there’s a problem. There are werewolf hunters in town, and one just so happens to be Allison’s dad. Oh, no!
If Teen Wolf sounds like an overused, clichéd story that’s been done before, that’s because it is an overused, clichéd story that’s been done before. Oddly enough, that is one of Teen Wolf’s strengths. Let me explain. There is no way a company could go out and make a werewolf-filled love story nowadays and not have someone say they’re just jumping on the bandwagon of paranormal romance. And yes, I think that that’s one of the reasons this show got made.
Now, that’s not to say the story isn’t being told because no one actually cared for it and they’re all just looking for money. I think a lot of care went into the production of Teen Wolf. But that doesn’t change the fact that, not only is it a remake, it’s being produced at a time when a lot of other stories like it are coming out. There’s only so many ways a paranormal romance can go before it becomes a trope based on other tropes. Teen Wolf is very aware of that, and so it fights against it. It does that by purposefully starting off all the characters—all of them—as stereotypes, and then it slowly breaks them out of that mold throughout the course of the first season. And in the process, Teen Wolf isn’t afraid to poke fun at the stereotypes it’s based on.
Scott starts off as the loveable, asthmatic dork who can’t catch a break. Stiles is the quirky friend with a case of ADHD and the resident sidekick. Allison’s the generic love interest/new girl on the block. Lydia’s the vapid ditz and the popular girl in school. Jackson’s the jerk jock on the lacrosse team. And Derek’s the mysterious angsty loner. These are the beginning stereotypes. While some of these stereotypes do help define the characters, some of them are merely a first and purposefully inaccurate impression of the characters. The only reason Scott even has asthma, for example, is so we can later watch his lycanthropy cure it.
Scott is a fairly interesting character. He’s a teenager, and so he does stupid teenage stuff. And it is enjoyable watching him mess up time and time again, only to try and fix his mistakes. His relationship with Allison, while still annoying, is something he screws up all the time. But it is not because the relationship is damaging, but because both he and Allison are inexperienced. Scott also has to deal with the fact that his dad walked out on him and he’s being raised by a single mom. The lycanthropy and the problems it causes him start to affect his schoolwork, and throughout almost the entire show thus far, he’s been in danger of flunking and being held back. He has to worry about people discovering his lycanthropy all the time, and if anyone figures it out, the hunters will be after him. We have to watch him learn to accept being a werewolf and even come to terms with the fact that werewolves exist. Before going into the woods, he was just the normal high school nerd, and now he’s flung into a world he didn’t even know about.
Another thing I like about Scott, though it has little to do with his personality, is that he is not Caucasian. Scott’s ethnicity is never mentioned in the show and thankfully doesn’t define him. His actor is Mexican. He’s also Irish and English, but he is not completely white, which is good for minority visibility. Not to mention that characters of color are not often main characters to begin with.
Stiles is quite possibility the most useful character in the show, although it takes him a little while longer to break away from his stereotype than the other characters. For the longest time, his being the Sheriff’s son is used only for him to gather vital information that the police found for plot convenience.
That said, he is one of the most likeable and interesting characters on the show. He’s really smart—he figures out Scott is a werewolf before Scott figures it out—and he does have an as-of-yet unexplained past. He blames himself for his mother passing away, and he used to get panic attacks because of it. Currently, he has a habit of rambling on and on irrelevantly when he gets nervous, and that shows through in a lot of ways. During an economics test, he ended up outlining the entire history of male circumcision for the final question. Also, despite wanting to become a werewolf too, he doesn’t take it when it’s offered by the villain, which does go to show his internal strength.
Allison, the new girl and love interest, is not a damsel-in-distress like most love interests, and like her character is set up to be. She’s a badass who can take care of herself, and is so awesome she can do backflips from a second-story window and land on her feet. And despite not knowing that her family is filled with werewolf hunters, or even that werewolves exist, she was still trained how to fight. She loves composite bows and whatnot and other things seen traditionally as manly, but Allison is also still feminine is many ways. There’s a nice balance there with her character. Allison doesn’t learn about the existence of werewolves until her crazy Aunt Kate starts leaving clues around for her to find about her family’s history. Eventually, Kate just ends up showing Allison a werewolf and starts teaching her to hunt, with the intention of turning Allison into a ruthless werewolf killer like herself. In the end, Allison chooses to not kill Scott, and she accepts him for who he is, despite the reservations of her family.
Lydia, the popular girl, is a big favorite of mine. Even though she acts ditzy, she is quite possibly the most intelligent character on the show. Her IQ has to be through the roof. She speaks classical Latin because regular Latin got to be too boring for her. And Allison and Stiles are the only two in the first season that actually realize how smart she is and that she’s only pretending to be a stereotypical teenager in order to manipulate people into getting her way. She also sacrifices a lot for the sake of her boyfriend Jackson, the jerk jock, and she tries to help him become a better person. Unfortunately, Jackson doesn’t really stop being the jerk jock until late into the second season. And Lydia is the only person to be shown to really care for Jackson and see through his jerk-ness, or to even put up with him. The two of them eventually break up this season, and their relationship remains pretty uneven for quite a while.
There’s more to Jackson as well. He might be my least favorite character, but he’s certainly well-written. He’s obsessive, and he manages to figure out Scott’s lycanthropy before the hunters do and wants to become a werewolf as well. Jackson’s biggest problem is that he views other people as objects in his way, whereas Lydia sees them as people in her way. Despite the both of them acting like terrible people—or rather just being the teenagers that they are—there is some genuine affection between the two, and they both eventually do the right thing in the end. They are both capable of love and kindness and can prove to be quite selfless when needed.
And that leaves Derek, the lone badass. He is also a werewolf like Scott, only he was born as one, not bitten. Derek’s motivation is to figure out who murdered his sister, Laura, the dead girl found in the woods, and seek revenge. Furthermore, he, Laura, and his comatose uncle were the only survivors in their family, as the rest were burned alive by a rogue hunter.
The rest of this post is all spoilers.
Derek does not approve of the relationship between Scott and Allison, because Allison comes from a family of hunters. When Derek had been Scott’s age around six years ago, a hunter had seduced him, gained his trust, and then set his home on fire, murdering his family. Watching Scott with Allison is a painful reminder to Derek. And he has some major trust issues. His past defines most of his actions this season. He seeks revenge for his sister, but the werewolf who killed her is also going around and murdering everyone involved in the fire.
Furthermore, the werewolf who killed Laura is different from a normal werewolf. It’s called an Alpha. It’s bigger, stronger, faster, and it has the ability to turn other people into werewolves. All the other werewolves in a pack are called Betas, and the larger the pack, the stronger it becomes, so it’s imperative to be in a pack if there are hunters in town. Laura had been the Alpha, but a Beta can become an Alpha by killing the Alpha. It turns out that Derek’s and Laura’s Uncle Peter had only been pretending to be comatose. Peter murdered Laura to gain her powers, before going off on a killing spree against everyone involved in setting their house on fire. And the hunter behind seducing Derek and organizing the fire is none other than Allison’s Aunt Kate. Peter manages to kill Kate in the season finale, and after another fight, Derek kills Peter in retribution for Laura, becoming the new Alpha himself.
I don’t want to talk too much about some of the other characters. Lady Geek Girl and I will be going over the series in a lot more depth later on anyway. This show has a lot of value to it, and it has surprised me in many ways. Like I said, the show’s biggest strength is that attempts to turn clichés on their head. Whether or not it succeeds all the time is another matter, but it does a pretty good job.
Even in the very first episode, after it’s heavily implied that the werewolf ripped a girl in half, I honestly thought Scott being bitten and then thrown out of the frame was just a cheap editing gimmick the show used to not kill him and still get him bitten. And I thought the girl was just the generic body in woods used to get the plot going and let the audience know that the supernatural is out there. It turns out that the werewolf killed the girl and turned Scott on purpose. The girl’s death comes up through most of the first season and is the event that not only sets the plot in motion but drives the whole story. If she hadn’t died, none of the following events would have taken place and the first season would have turned out very differently.
Later tonight, Lady Geek Girl will give you a general review of the second season, and then we’ll check back in with you guys tomorrow on a more in-depth look at some of the show’s strengths and weaknesses. And if you haven’t seen the show, there will be a lot of spoilers. Until then.