While many fans dislike Teen Wolf‘s Braeden and Malia for being female love interests, I think that these two characters are fantastically written and are far more than their romantic storylines would imply. Today I want to defend Malia and Braeden against the most common criticism these two characters receive, which is that Malia and Braeden are just “girlfriend characters”.
Now, admittedly, having female characters who are only girlfriend characters is a problem. So what is a girlfriend character? A girlfriend character is a female character who has little to no personality, involvement in the plot, or character development. They are entirely defined by the male protagonist, who is in love with them, and they exist solely to help develop the male character’s plotline.
Let’s give an actual example of what this type of character is like, and to find that example I will also look at Teen Wolf. Paige, Derek’s high school sweetheart introduced in Season 3, was there solely for Derek to fall in love with and then tragically died in order to further Derek’s manpain. There was no point or purpose to Paige’s character other than being a love interest who tragically dies.
Malia is actually a very well developed character. Yes, I have some issues with how her character was introduced and even some of the directions the writers decided to take her in, but for the most part I love Malia’s character and how she has developed. Malia’s character has and is going through a lot. She tragically killed her adopted mother and sister when she first shifted into a coyote and lost control. After that, she was stuck in her coyote form and lived in the wild. Because of this, she tends to be more socially awkward and has difficulty empathizing with or sympathizing with people she doesn’t care about (she’s very much still in survival of the fittest mode). She has a difficult time in school, and still has difficulty shifting and controlling herself when she does shift. And those are just the problems Malia has had because she became human after being a coyote for so long. On top of that she is also dealing with learning to be part of Scott’s pack, relationship issues between her and Stiles, and her budding sort of friendship with Lydia and Kira. And oh yeah, she just found out she was adopted, that she is Peter’s daughter, and that her real mother is probably an assassin were-coyote going by the name The Desert Wolf.
I would say that is enough to designate Malia as her own character with her own plotline separate from her boyfriend, Stiles. Speaking of Stiles, though he has been very well developed over the course of these past three seasons, this season Stiles had very little to do. The most Stiles did this season was help Malia adapt to being a normal human girl and try to figure out who the Benefactor was, and even the Benefactor storyline was really more Lydia’s than Stiles. So really, if any character this season was there just to develop the storyline of their love interest it was Stiles, not Malia.
Now on to Braeden! Granted, Braeden wasn’t as developed this season as Malia was, mostly because Malia is one of the title characters and Braeden isn’t. But considering how the season finale ended, I think we can look forward to seeing more of Braeden in the future. I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Let’s start at the beginning; Braeden was first introduced in the first half of Season 3 as the mysterious girl who rescued Isaac, only to be killed by Deucalion. She was then revealed to be miraculously alive in the second half of Season 3 when she rescued Derek and Peter at the behest of Deucalion. Braeden explains that she is human, and she’s a mercenary who doesn’t really care who she works for or what she is asked to do. So even before Braeden and Derek start making eyes at each other, Braeden has a lot going on outside of him. When Braeden returns in Season 4, we don’t get much more about her. We find out she can be (or at least tries to be) pretty merciless. She tells Scott that she would kill him if she were paid enough. Yikes! But after she is hired by Peter and Derek to find out who the Benefactor is, she starts to fall for Derek. As Derek and Braeden’s relationship develops, we see Braeden become less and less concerned with doing her job and she simply starts just protecting Derek and the pack. By the end of the season we get a bit more character development when Braeden reveals that she used to be a U.S. Marshal who became obsessed with hunting down The Desert Wolf. Which of course means Braeden is hellbent on catching Malia’s mother, and let’s not forget that Malia is Derek’s cousin. I’m sensing some awkward family dinners in the future.
So clearly Braeden has a ton going on in her storyline outside of Derek. Had Braeden been used as some sort of catalyst for Derek’s character development at the end of the season, then I could see the argument that Braeden is just a girlfriend character. But Derek does not develop his powers to turn into a full wolf because of Braeden. She doesn’t get hurt, or die, or in any way cause Derek to transform. The most I can say Braeden did to develop Derek’s character this season is that she helped him gain confidence by training him and simply by not being the serial killer woman that Derek usually dates.
Braeden is not defined by Derek and her love for him. Derek actually is the one who is more often defined by his love interests. Whether it’s Kate, Jennifer, and now Braeden, Derek tends to fall in love quickly and his later character arcs are almost entirely dependent on how he reacts to those relationships. While Derek doesn’t become a male version of the “girlfriend” character, he is probably the one character on Teen Wolf most defined by his relationships. Which makes sense: after what Kate did to his family, Derek is desperate for a new one. So he tends to fall in love quickly and put all his hopes and dreams into a relationship. If anything, the one way Braeden has shaped Derek’s character is that she has given him the strength to be a bit more independent and confident in himself.
There are a lot of female characters that are created solely to be love interests with no story arc of their own (I’m looking at you, Supernatural), but the Teen Wolf writers, while not perfect, have usually been pretty good at writing female characters. In this way, the writers are doing for Malia and Braeden what they have usually done for characters like Allison and Lydia: they are giving them romances, but also other storylines outside of those romances. Women can have romances with hot guys and they can kick ass and have a ton of life issues outside of their partner, and that is exactly how Malia and Braeden are written. I, for one, and pretty pleased with how their characters have been developed.
Braeden and Malia are great, well rounded, and interesting characters that many female fans can and should appreciate. Other shows (looking at you again, Supernatural) should take a look at how Braeden and Malia are written before fridging another girl for manpain.