‘Tis the month of Halloween, so I’m gonna try and talk about creepy things for most of my posts this month. What’s creepier than wailing spirits keening out warnings of imminent death? Teen Wolf formally introduced banshees into their expansive mythos in Season 3 (though they hinted at it in Season 2). However, as is wont to happen in Beacon Hills, consistency and continuity got a little wacky. Join me on a mad-camp romp through the world of Teen Wolf banshees. Major spoilers for Seasons 3 and 4 below.
Lydia Martin is probably my favorite character on my beloved Teen Wolf; she’s sassy, she’s brilliant, she’s psychic… well, she’s something. After Lydia keeps finding herself unknowingly drawn to dead bodies in the first half of Season 3A, the evil dark druid, or Darach, informs us that Lydia isn’t psychic—she is in fact a banshee, “the wailing woman”. This makes sense of the show’s penchant for random Lydia screaming scenes and her recent unconscious pull toward death. But soon we discover Lydia does much more scream when someone is about to die.
When no one knew what Lydia was, they half-seriously/half-jokingly would say she was a psychic. This isn’t too inaccurate. Lydia hears things no one else can hear, a form of clairaudience, the lesser-known cousin of clairvoyance. Generally they are vague noises that merely function as a clue. A good example is in the episode “Galvanized”; she hears flies buzzing… only it’s actually the sound of electricity crackling, which helps them track Kira to an electrical power substation where a homicidal maniac is trying to electrocute her. But sometimes it’s not just noises she hears, it’s actual voices. In “Riddled”, she hears voices whispering within the sounds made by plucking a series of taut strings of yarn—she can’t make out everything their saying, but enough to know they’re talking about a house: Eichen House, to be exact. Now that specificity was much more helpful than just electricity buzzing! In an unprecedented level of banshee clarity, when Peter gave her the claws of his dead sister, Talia, (just go with it) the voices she heard were clear enough to basically say, “Oh yes, Peter has a daughter he never knew about, that Malia girl you all encountered a few weeks ago!”
Her powers also occasionally seem to be visual—most notably, her incessant drawing of the Nemeton in Season 3. She also at times sees creepy, screaming visages, most in woodgrain in doorways, which could be ascribed to pareidolia, a phenomenon she herself mentions once (it’s the reason some people claim to see the Virgin Mary on their grilled cheese sandwich). It’s also worthy to note that in Season 2 when she was being haunted by Peter as he was using her to resurrect himself, her experiences of him were equally visual as well as auditory. Why she has these occasional visual manifestations of a primarily auditory power is never explained.
As you can see, Lydia’s powers don’t seem to make a lot of sense; maybe if we met some more banshees, they could help clarify the demarcations of banshee powers. Wrong! We eventually meet another banshee and learn about a third, yet they only seem to make things more confusing. Meredith, a patient at Eichen House, is a banshee introduced at the tail end of Season 3, and her powers seem to have little to nothing to do with Lydia’s. For one, she seems to often focus her powers through telephones, having “conversations” with unheard voices that tell her things, though she is once seen plucking piano strings in an attempt to hear something within the noise, like Lydia did with the yarn. Her powers seem more conversational/communicative in general: when Lydia is kidnapped by the nogitsune at the end of Season 3 and doesn’t want the others following her into a trap, Meredith says Lydia has told her that she doesn’t want to be found. We never see this from Lydia’s side, nor does she ever mention “sending” this message to Meredith in any way—she doesn’t even know who Meredith is at this point! How did Meredith pick up on Lydia’s signal?
This kind of fits into the main plot of Season 4: Meredith starts a hit list of supernatural beings due to hearing and being influenced by Peter’s subconscious thoughts he had while in a coma. This really borders more on telepathy than clairaudience, and had some fans up in arms about how unbanshee-like Meredith’s powers seemed to be. One could argue that while in a coma, his spirit was separated from his body and she was sensing his spirit, not unlike how Lydia was interacting with his spirit in Season 2. A stretch, but plausible. The final banshee we know of is Lydia’s grandmother, Lorraine. Lorraine presciently heard a storm that would cause her girlfriend’s death, but it turns out that was the one and only auditory manifestation of her powers. She later, through a process somewhat like automatic writing, compiled an encoded list of people who were going to die many years later—due to Meredith taking the list and turning it into the supernatural deadpool (kinda self-fulfilling prophecy there). Strangely, it seems this exhausted Lorraine’s banshee powers. As you can see, these additional banshees merely broadened what banshees can do and how they operate.
What does our dear creator have to say about the subject? In this interview, Jeff Davis lays out a few important key points… which were never really followed through on the show. He confirms her power is more in her hearing than her scream, something mentioned on screen when Peter once told Lydia that her scream’s main purpose is to “drown out” other noises so she can focus on what she’s supernaturally hearing. Davis also offers this quote in explanation of Lydia’s powers: “So she hears the whispers and maybe the wailings of other Banshees [sic] that are warning her that someone is going to die.” As random as this seems, it sounds like the definitive explanation for the ultimate base of banshee powers—except for the fact nothing even remotely like this is ever mentioned on screen (except potentially Meredith hearing Lydia’s desire for the others not to go looking for her). Nor does it really make sense given what we are shown on the show. Other banshees telling Lydia about Eichen House and Malia, okay, maybe, but are we supposed to believe other banshees are making electrical buzzing and metallic clanking noises in her ear?! And if banshee powers are based on hearing other banshees, the ones Lydia is hearing must have heard the information from some other banshees, and who told those banshees? The whole thing creates a scenario of an implausible chain reaction effect with an impossible starting point.
If your mind isn’t reeling enough from that quandary, I have a final tantalizing question: where do banshees come from? There seems to at least be some level of heredity involved, since both Lydia and her grandmother are banshees. However, Peter claims that it was his bite that activated Lydia’s latent powers. This seems to imply that he knew she was a banshee (or I guess potential banshee) all along; I doubt Peter would have a Plan B in place for his resurrection if he didn’t really think it would work. Does every banshee come into her powers because of a traumatic incident? Lorraine didn’t seem to experience tragedy until after her first prediction of death, and while Meredith experience some sort of trauma while Lorraine and parapsychologists tested her, her powers must have already manifested by then: the whole reason they were testing her was because they thought she was paranormal.
All in all, what we have here is a sad case of “no-rules” magic. Psychic-like characters such as Lydia in sci-fi/fantasy shows often function to provide necessary plot information that would be difficult or impossible to find out otherwise (think Doyle on Angel or Phoebe in Charmed). Since their powers become plot devices, they end up bending to fit whatever would be most useful to the particular episode. Teen Wolf unfortunately is no stranger to sloppy worldbuilding, but at the same time, I know they have potential to do better. The hierarchy of alpha, beta, omega in the werewolf world is something the writers have pretty clearly and consistently delineated; they have even specified why certain werewolves have certain eye colors. To create a category that is as seemingly specific as “banshee” would imply, and then let them do whatever, is beyond disappointing. They probably should have just said Lydia is “psychic” and left it at that. The vaguer the title, the more leeway you’d have with the exact specifics and mechanics of power. Better luck next time, Teen Wolf.