My wife (man that’s still weird to type) got me to watch Teen Wolf with her. Not the movie from the 80s but the “edgy, sexy, totally not Vampire Diaries but with Werewolves” MTV reboot. Okay, that was a little facetious. Despite some misgivings, I have to say that I walked away from the three seasons mostly impressed. There’s a few things that stuck with me that the series got right*, but then there are others that the show gets very, very wrong.**
*Note: I’m looking at this show from the perspective of a straight, white, cis male. It’s entirely possible that some of the things I liked about the series are extremely troubling, problematic, triggering, etc. to somebody else from a different background and I didn’t catch it because of my privileges. If that is the case, please let me know. And then there are the things I think the show gets wrong: if it appears that there are some problems I missed, or that my abbreviated analysis in this post doesn’t go far enough, please let me know.
**Another note: Also, there will be spoilers for all three seasons of Teen Wolf.
Things I Liked
At first I was unsure about Allison and Lydia. Not because they were “bad” characters, but I really hoped that they wouldn’t become just “the love interests.” I was wrong.
While Lydia starts off as one of the stereotypical “mean girls” similar to Cordelia in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it soon becomes apparent that she’s also the smartest person around. I can’t find the exact quote online, but it’s clear that she maintains her ditzy demeanor because of the way gender roles are policed and enforced in a high school social setting.
Ambitious and possessing a genius-level intellect, these things make Lydia an important part of the show, and allow her to help out main character Scott time and time again. Oh, and she’s also a Banshee (though the extent of her powers according to the show’s mythology remains to be seen). Too bad she, Allison, and Stiles aren’t the main characters.
Allison is basically the Hawkeye of the show. She starts out more as the conventional love interest for Teen Wolf Scott (yeah I called him Teen Wolf for most of my time watching the show). Her family belongs to a long line of werewolf hunters, but of course she’s been left in the dark so she can have a normal childhood “until she’s ready.” One of those kind of deals.
But as soon as she becomes immersed in the world of the supernatural, her badassery comes into play. Time after time she tells Scott that she can take care of herself. Typical for this kind of show, right? ‘Cause of course she’d say that, but in reality she’d need saving, right? Not this time! Remember how I called her Hawkeye? Yeah. Allison is an extremely skilled archer, and she ends up saving her friends’ lives with her marksmanship and fighting skills.
Also, according to her family’s traditions, the women are the strategic leaders while the men Hunters are trained to follow their plans. So by the end of season three, Allison is basically in charge of the Argent family (though greatly diminished by death, suicide, and failed werewolf-ification). She’s seemingly portrayed as the hero’s love interest at the beginning, but ends up a fully fledged Hunter, leader, and expert archer by the end of season three. Oh yeah. She also breaks up with Scott partially because he keeps trying to control her in order to “keep her safe.”
Scott’s mom, Melissa McCall, also deserves a special mention. Single mother, loves her son, works hard to provide for her family, and she even accepts Scott’s werewolfitude fairly quickly once she finds out. Too bad she doesn’t get more screen time or is used as bait by the Big Bads to get Scott’s attention.
Others posts disagree have issues with the characterization of Lydia, Allison, and the other women on the show. They raise good points that I agree with. However, I wanted to focus on aspects of these two characters that I enjoyed. That does not mean that they are perfectly characterized or that the writers of the show can’t improve.
Speaking of Scott and Allison, here’s the second thing I was impressed with: consent (at least in regards to sexual intimacy between Scott and Allison). In season one, there’s the first big “Make Out, Take Off Each Other’s Clothes” type scene between Scott and Allison. As they’re making out, Scott stops and asks if she wants to continue. She looks him in the eye, and even though she turns the question back on him, it’s clear she’s in control of the situation and it’s what she wants.***
***A third note: However, this post brings up something I completely didn’t think about. Allison says yes to sexual intimacy with Scott under the impression that he’s human and not a werewolf. When looked at that way, she says yes without having important information disclosed to her. While I contend that her breaking up with Scott because “he continues not to talk to her about things because he decides it’s better for her” is a nice bit of characterization in her favor, I can see how it’s problematic from a consent standpoint. My points here also don’t address Teen Wolf’s other issues with consent (i.e. werewolf bites, Peter’s actions towards Lydia). I’m only focusing on something I noticed on my first watch of the series.
And the scene continues. However, rather than removing Allison’s shirt to show her in a bra, her bare back, whatever (possibly problematic because I believe the characters are under 18 in that season), the show has her taking off Scott’s shirt. The camera lingers on his abs and bare chest while the two of them continue to make out. There’s a bit where they remove Allison’s bra beneath her shirt, but Scott is the focus of most of the scene’s “gratuitous” nature. It made the scene feel different and not as “male gaze” centric.
The way the scene was shot and written, there was no coercion, no uncertainty, just a strong assertion that yes she wanted to keep making out and move on to more. Because Teen Wolf is on MTV and marketed at teens, it made me happy to see this scene. Trying to change the way our culture views women, sex, and consent needs to start with how we teach our children. And one of the ways to do that is through popular culture. People reproduce what they see and experience. Maybe I’m missing an important part of this scene because of my privileges, but to me, it was a point in Teen Wolf’s favor.
And finally, one of the best things about Teen Wolf is Stiles. He’s Scott’s best friend and pretty much the heart of the show. Think Xander from Buffy the Vampire Slayer but minus the misogyny. Okay, maybe that’s not quite an apt comparison. Considering how much research he does to help Scott fare better against the show’s evil monsters, he’s probably closer to Willow than Xander. Either way, Stiles is funny, irreverent sometimes, and one of the few characters who recognizes Lydia’s intellect, i.e. in “Formality.” But he does it in a way that doesn’t come across as a Nice Guy™.
I can write off part of his years-long crush on Lydia as teenage angst (and this is a show on MTV after all), but for the most part, Stiles treats her with respect. While he does like her in a romantic way, whenever he helps her, it doesn’t feel like (to me) he’s doing it just to put in some kindness tokens into her womanly vending machine**** in order for a sexual payout further down the line. I hope the show keeps them out of a romantic relationship for multiple reasons, the main one being it would feel too much like a “proper reward” for being nice.
****A fourth note for ya: Also read the essay “Toward a Performance Model of Sex” linked in the vending machine article.
Things I Didn’t Like
Fridged Women & PoC? You’re Going to Die
These two issues kind of go hand in hand. Basically if you’re a person of color, especially a woman, on this show your days are numbered.
Every season has at least one woman of color who gets killed, and they’re usually the only women of color on the show. A couple of deputies (that get names posthumously) are murdered. Another woman who helps Isaac (a white male) escape from two Alpha werewolves is killed. We don’t find out her name until many episodes later.
Seriously it got so bad that any time a woman of color appeared on the screen, I’d turn to my wife and say “I bet the show kills her.” I realize that’s a terrible thing to say, and it’s extra, extra terrible when my facetious comment would end up being true! And most of these women are all killed in order to make the male protagonists feel bad.
Of course, it’s not limited to women. Boyd is the token black werewolf. We learn next to nothing about his backstory. And then he gets killed in order to give Derek exquisite man pain.
Erica, a young woman who goes from epilepsy-suffering pariah at school to bombshell after receiving the werewolf bite, gets killed off-screen. Literally in season three the characters find her body after she’s “been missing for months.” Her death is used for Boyd’s man pain, and then when he dies on-screen episodes later, both deaths are only emphasized through the lens of Derek’s man pain and man tears.
So you have women of color dying left and right, including one who’s part of the Big Bad Alpha Pack. You have other women fridged. Danny, a queer PoC character (who for the most part is written well) barely gets screen time. Boyd dies after being thinly written.
Tyler Posey, the actor who plays main character Scott, is part Mexican, and he says that Scott shares his heritage. However, the show never acknowledges his background. If I hadn’t looked up Posey on Wikipedia and saw a gif where he said Scott is Latino, I wouldn’t have known. That’s not to say that Scott needs to act “browner” or some other racist garbage, but it’s important to note that his Latino heritage is never officially acknowledged in the show’s canon. However, the main cast is very white and almost all of the persons of color on the show either support them or end up being thrown to the wolves.
So What’s Next?
Teen Wolf comes back for part two of season three in 2014. I’m going to watch because I found it compelling (and definitely cheesy in parts), but it’s not a perfect show. Who knows, after all the articles I read while writing this post, I feel like the creators, writers, and producers have to know that there are problematic aspects that fans (and not fans too) are picking up on. Maybe pieces like the ones linked to in this article will help the next season be better and emphasize the positive parts that stood out to me and others.