Teen Wolf returns to what it does best: incorporating classic Hollywood horror with classic MTV humor

By Jodi Walker
March 11, 2015 at 05:21 PM EDT
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S4 E3
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Has there been anything more immediately gratifying on Teen Wolf in such a long time than feasting your eyes on that lacrosse field tonight? For at least a few scenes, everything seemed as it should be at Beacon Hills High School. The actors aren’t exactly passing for 16 or 17 anymore, especially in their Teen Wolf-sponsored-by-Nike dry fits, but the kids are getting to be kids again. You know, when they’re not fighting off wendigos who are fighting off a mouthless mutant man, who’s fighting for… well, that guy is definitely fighting on behalf of something.

Before he sends them out on the field for lacrosse tryouts, Coach tells the boys that this is a rebuilding season. They’ve lost Jackson; they’ve lost Lahey. We’ve lost Jackson; we’ve lost Lahey. We’ve lost Allison. These kids have lost their innocence, and friends, and time non-stop for the latter half of Teen Wolf’s three seasons. They’re the kinds of things they can’t replace, but they can work on rebuilding. Teen Wolf is in a rebuilding season. The writers can’t bring back the lightheartedness of a sophomore trying not to grow claws on the lacrosse field because now that kid has seen what his claws can really do. They can’t recreate what Teen Wolf first was, not even with new characters; but then, why would they?

Rebuilding Teen Wolf to the best version of itself means taking the winning components of the past three seasons and balancing this show the hell out. What began as a campy, funny series about kids whose eyebrows disappear on the full moon, turned into a show about kids getting tortured and terrorized… “to death.” But there’s no reason it can’t be both (I mean, maybe lose the torture). These kids face terror every day; the audience can still be losing its collective mind out of fear at home, while Stiles stares at a text from his father that reads “TRIPLE HOMICIDE DEVELOPING,” and at this point simply thinks, “glad it’s not me this time.” They’ve reached the fear threshold, and it’s time to live a little lighter again. Stiles can figure out who’s out there killing wendigo families without having to stop caring about the lacrosse team or his ever developing relationship with a were-coyote.

While the sepia tones and sweet, sweet accordion stylings of Stiles ‘n Lydia’s Mexican Mobster Adventure were a bit of a stylistic miss in the premiere, the mini horror film that starts episode three is a much more fitting vignette. It’s so cliché it edges on silly, but then again, a show about werewolves has earned the right to be both terrifying and silly. And with the whistling wind, the creaky old house, and the found pet covered in blood, the “family murdering ax murder,” is the perfect introduction to what will likely be the structure of this season: ole shiny shoes taking out one supernatural creature at a time until he gets down to our favorite heart of gold supernaturals. As long as it’s not a new creature every episode, and things don’t turn into Saw around here, this structure could work.

At this point it’s almost futile to keep a supernatural count, but Beacon Hills’ scary population is growing rapidly in Season 4, and we have to be able to remember that apparently, just because something looks exactly like that Nogitsune from the Argent flashback in 3-b, does not mean it’s that the evil fly has escaped it’s mason jar; no, this time the white-eyed, sharp-toothed monster is a wendigo, a demonic cannibal spirit. If you’re counting, that’s a wendigo, were-coyote, kitsune, banshee, were-jaguar, berserkers, a speculated, but ultimately unfounded were-cheetah, a couple of werewolves, and whatever the mouthless man is. Because he has to be supernatural, right? HE DOESN’T HAVE A MOUTH. Also, there’s his new age Frankenstein WiFi neck plug… but we’ll get to that.

After poor Sean (a very impressive guest performance from Glenn McCuen, whose inner fight or flight battle is etched on his face at every moment) has his whole family tomahawked down by the mouthless man, he escapes to the hospital where Mama McCall and Sheriff Stilinski are immediately on the case, but not wanting to “involve the boys.” You’ve really got to love Stilinski’s hope for an everyday ax murderer, rather than the supernatural fare he’s becoming accustomed to.

NEXT: Crosse my heart and hope to not wolf out on any freshmen…

The boys have, according to Stiles, smaller fish to fry as it is. A few murders in Beacon Hills are hardly cause to cancel lacrosse tryouts, especially when there’s a transfer student in town with supernatural-like abilities, inside an average human kid: He’s just that good. Stiles’ face reaches new levels of elasticity as he watches Liam (Dylan Sprayberry, an actual 16-year-old) own the field, inching closer and closer to Scott’s captain territory, up for grabs due to his drop in academics while his best friend was possessed by an evil spirit and his first true love was dying. High school is tough!

But Liam isn’t a were-cheetah; no matter why he lied about getting kicked out of his last school, it probably wasn’t because he was trapped in the body of a cheetah for eight years and had trouble assimilating with his peers. That is the case for everyone’s favorite Big Spoon, though. Say what you will about Teen Wolf replacing love interests with more love interests—and you should, you should say all of those things—but they sure do find some charming actresses to play them. I don’t understand exactly how Malia’s human immersion allows for dirty dancing and twin bed make outs, and ends at Pre-Cal, but I know Shelley Hennig is playing the hell out of a confused and annoyed, if not exactly feral, teenage girl. Her expressions as she takes on Kira’s feelings about the lacrosse tryouts while not fully understanding why said far more about her animal instincts than the writing Malia has thus far.

But when we fear for the confused teenage girls of Teen Wolf, might we simply look at the development of Lydia: from former in-the-dark genius human to current genius banshee, wandering around a deserted house in a mini skirt with a grown man. Okay, that last bit is nothing new, but Lydia’s banshee prowess continues to develop, and the mysterious Deputy Parrish finds her wandering around Sean’s family’s house, seemingly a little late on the sensing-a-murder draw. Parrish doesn’t seem concerned with Lydia’s predilection for sniffing out the dead—even more reason to assume that some sort of elongated canine and jewel-tone eye will be adorning his face in the very near future—nor spending this much one-on-one time with a 17-year-old girl inside a murder scene. The risk pays off, however, when Lydia senses something behind a wall that turns out to be a hidden game locker full of rows and rows of frozen human bodies.

Because precious orphaned Sean is, oh yeah, a wendigo, presumably from a family of wendigos, who feast on human flesh because they “can’t help it.” First, Sean can’t help it with the deputy guarding his room in the hospital, then he attempts to snack on Mama McCall, but Scott is having exactly none of that. He’s already at the hospital after going either full alpha or full McCall in practice, and granting Liam a broken leg. After shaking Scott, Sean tracks Liam down to the roof, ready to have a late supper, but once again, the True Alpha shows up just in time… just in time to have to bite Liam to keep him from falling to his death. Judging by how Liam is very much alive and clutching his wrist at the end of the episode, it looks like the rebuilding of the McCall pack betas has officially commenced.

Episode three turned out to be a strong balance of humor and horror, and while it raised more questions than it answered, rebuilding is a slow process. If Teen Wolf can lay a solid early foundation, then Season 4 could certainly build to something worthy of Scott McCall. But the question remains: Can it make something worthy of losing Allison Argent; something that doesn’t just layer over the past, but builds from it? After a thrilling but disorienting last season of chaotic loss, Season 4 stands to be a story of redemption—let’s just hope we don’t have to sacrifice logic and relationships to believe in it.

Lines of the night: Anything on the lacrosse field, but especially Stiles’ “I’m gonna puke, take me somewhere,” and Coach’s declaration of “Those two are like sons to me,” after Scott and Stiles finally act like they’ve done this lacrosse thing before.

And don’t forget: Derek and Peter hiring Braeden the Friendly Mercenary to find Kate and their $117 mil; Derek and Braeden’s faces slowly and angrily inching toward each other over that table of no-way-is-he-ready-for-this-sexual-tension; Stilinski money problems; and, let’s see, how do I put this? Mouthless guy, AKA, definitely The Benefactor, unplugging his neck like a bottle of merlot, running in a tube, pumping up blood/oil/chocolate syrup, and putting out… computer code?

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