Teen Wolf recap: A Promise to the Dead
A frenzied episode delivers plenty of questions for next week's finale, most of them about story lines we've hardly visited since the premiere.
“What the hell is so special about Scott McCall?” –Kate Argent, were-jaguar/terrible aunt
Well… forget everything you learned in the past 10 episodes, it’s Mythology Corner time over on Teen Wolf, and you will sit nicely while your crazy aunt gets her kicks off with the Mayan, Norse, and Greek varieties, and your even crazier uncle tells you his evil schemes in his classic American Werewolf in London accent while jamming metal rods through your liver. Family! I speak of course of Aunt Kate and Uncle Peter, and not of the Benefactor, who even though he is technically Peter, seems to have simply been a life-threatening thorn in our character’s side, distracting them until their black sheep family members were ready to attack.
In a 12-episode season, it seems that the first two and last two episode bookends hold the main storyline of the season, or at least the more favored narrative of the Teen Wolf writers. Why else would they end on the importance of figuring out what Peter and Kate are up to with their skull-faced pals, when it’s the Benefactor we had been tracking all season? The small aspects of this episode were great, and at times, fascinating: Derek and Scott bro-ing out, Deaton being mysterious with weird new characters, romantic kitsune-lit dates, Liam working through his PTSD with Mason, etc. But as a whole, “A Promise to the Dead” felt not like filler, just entirely too full, with never enough time to dwell on any one of its promises to the dead.
Tonight’s saving grace is that although the episode seemed a little scattered, it also seemed to be trying to represent that feeling for its characters, I think, intentionally. At least three-quarters of the episode are spent almost entirely in the dark, with Kira occasionally lighting up a light bulb, a power which she seems to have no real control over. It’s a heavy metaphor to be sure, but physically placing these characters in the dark is a reminder of just how little they know about the situation they’re now in, if they even know they’re in a new situation at all. Everyone keeps reminding each other that the Benefactor is done, and while that’s a bit frustrating for an audience looking for closure, it’s a comfort to a group of kids who don’t know that their peril-o-meter ramped up about 60 percent when Kate and Peter reviewed the minutes from their last Sewer Council meeting:
- Kill Scott McCall
- Create new berserkers (Scott?)
- Distract Chris Argent (need to find metal rod)
- Send berserkers after McCall pack, if time permits
Kira might be able to reassure Lydia that they’re in the clear now, but Lydia has been around the Beacon Hills block a few more times than Kira; there’s always something else lurking, and Lydia stills feels deaths in her vocal cords. This season has dealt well with the question of what makes a monster a monster, without yet steering us toward an answer, either through its good guys, bad guys, or interesting side characters we’ll never see again. This episode opened on one such wendigo, Patrick, who seemed to be fully embracing the monstrous side of his supernatural disposition, dragging a young woman into his
meat human locker and telling her all about how excited he is to eat her up—the more fear in her bones, the better. Luckily Doctor Deaton the True Veterinarian shows up with his freaky druid skills, and takes Patrick back to the wing of Eichen House where they apparently know all about cannibal wendigos, and other glowing-eyed supernaturals we’ve never even met.
Deaton hands Patrick over specifically so that he can talk to a Dr. Valeck, some genius seer who will help him figure out how Kate turned Derek human. You see, Dr. Valeck has a third eye (that he might have actually drilled into his forehead himself), that when glanced at, puts its viewer into a trance where they… see stuff, and sometimes disappear. And while the reveal of Patrick and Valeck could have taken us somewhere interesting in regard to the McCall pack’s mass protection of all supernaturals, no screening process required, it doesn’t. The ultimate question in this penultimate episode isn’t about qualifying monsters, it’s about the question this season has struggled much more to address, the one Kate asks, above: Just what it so special about Scott McCall?
NEXT: Little Liam and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day…
Even with the question of Scott’s True Alpha status looming, it’s his Littlest Beta, Liam, who is the most realized this week; his story line may not be the most dazzling, but actually becoming a werewolf doesn’t seem all that glamorous, and Liam’s harsh introduction to Beacon Hills’ dark underbelly is turning out to be a fresh and welcome take on the transformation process: a teenager suddenly faced with a value pack combo of grandiose power and crippling fear, and no real control over when he experiences which one. The Teen Wolf Plausibility Department doesn’t always nail it, but the Casting Department is pretty stellar. I wasn’t so sure about the Littlest Beta at first, as most of Dylan Sprayberry’s emotions simply read petulant when they literally stuck him in a well. But Liam’s simultaneous frustration and refusal to acknowledge his complete lack of control could only come from a real teenager. Liam is going through PTSD after his fight with the berserkers and can hardly go to sleep/play lacrosse/have a conversation without imagining one attacking him. In a world where Stiles is already “better” post-possession, it’s startling to see a teenager actually, you know, dealing with something in real time.
But, as Brett reminds Liam (and everyone reminds everyone, all the time), Scott is a True Alpha, and he isn’t fearful or out of control like his Beta; though he struggled with control early on, his ability to exert it now, at any cost, just might be his downfall. Last episode, we finally saw Scott briefly give into his Alpha nature and almost punch a (bad) guy to death; but he got a hold of himself just in time to check his email. All season, it’s felt like we’ve been leading up to Scott losing control, or at least doing something to challenge his One True Alpha status. But now, he’s so determined to not lose control, he can’t even turn his eyes on when his girlfriend is getting ripped around by a berserker. (Don’t even ask why Kira can turn on 30 light bulbs, but not send at least a little jolt through a metal chain… you can’t put a pin in teenage kitsunes.) If a True Alpha is defined by his ability to master his Alpha-ness, then when exactly does being a True Alpha benefit the Alpha?
Kate seems to think that Scott has been the key to the downfall of her once great hunter family—many an Argent has met his or her demise within the near vicinity of Scott McCall, after all. But for all his control over the shift, Scott is often given very little agency in his own development. He became a True Alpha because of the strength of his character, yes, but much of the good he’s done has been incidental, and it seems, any of the bad he does in the future may be, as well.
After Kate captures Scott and Kira on their steamy date in Derek’s hormone-riddled loft, she “takes them to church,” and not in the way Usher is always talking about on The Voice. No, they’re going back to La Iglesia, the church built on Mayan ruins where the gang originally found Baby Derek in the premiere. It seems that Kate has more than just de-aging tricks up her sleeve, and those two berserkers follow her so closely because she made them… mostly by putting an animal’s skull on their heads. Or, at least, that’s what she’s doing to Scott while she has him wrapped up on wolfsbane. Is it control that keeps him from fighting back? His screams don’t sound like that of a teen submitting to his fate. Surely overcoming wolfsbane isn’t much different than breaking through a mountain ash border. Just turn on those laser eyes, kiddo; the moment some crazy woman starts turning you into a Norse warrior slave is around the time you start tapping into the True Alpha stock. Also, your girlfriend is bleeding a lot.
NEXT: Honestly, how do you even get inside a sewer?
It’s unclear what’s going on with Scott, and it’s definitely unclear what Kate’s plan is. Is she doing this for Peter? If she’s got Scott trapped in purple flowers, why not just kill him then. What does Kate really need with another berserker if her ultimate goal has always been to control her shift and return the Argents to their former glory? And if she and Peter are working together, then why exactly does her brother have a metal rod driven through his torso in the sewers?
After Chris tracks Kate to the sewer to find that she’s already gone, Peter traps him and tells him he can’t risk letting him go. But instead of keeping a watchful eye, he turns Chris’ body into its own cage and leaves him staked to the wall. Luckily, there was either a meeting of the Handsome Men’s Club, or there’s a real open-manhole situation in this city, because Deputy Parrish finds Chris in the sewer and helps him harness the anger Allison would have felt at knowing Peter and Kate had gotten to Scott, to help him get the rod loose… from where it is driven all the way though his body. Also, even though it looks like Argent himself is about to wolf out while they struggle to bend the rod back, it’s Parrish’s eyes that suddenly turn the color of fire, because, phoenix.
It was an exciting moment, and there’s a reason we continue to watch this show: I can’t say that I wasn’t entertained tonight, trading between the edge of my seat suspense, giggling, fearing for these poor teenagers, and lusting after various men with beards at any given moment. Teen Wolf can still send a strong message because it creates and often sustains interesting characters, with the performances to back them up—but in Season 4, have those characters been used to tell a strong story? The narrative it has formed almost could have been better served as a series of vignettes; it’s certainly excelled in its cold opens and horror cinematography this season.
Unfortunately, here in the last two episodes, it seems as if we’re being asked to believe that the Kate/Peter storyline, set up in the first two episodes, is somehow better, its lead-up more interesting, than the Benefactor plot we’ve followed all season. Now, berserkers, which have been lurking around the entire time that every citizen in Beacon Hills was also a potential murderer, are supposed to be the number one threat. To drop everything and worry about what Peter is up to—even if that is manipulating Malia into killing Kate for more information on her mother, the Desert Wolf—just because Stiles turned off an old computer with a key he found in a bottle because of a FaceTime call with Lydia feels a little abrupt.
As a true fan of this show, and someone who will always enjoy watching the madness unfold, whether it’s intentional madness or not, I am reminded that conclusions are not Teen Wolf’s strongest point. It often feels as though the writers get so attached to their stories, they don’t want to let them go. So, we say goodbye to the Benefactor without much closure, and hello to Kate and the Rest without much introduction. Malia tells Lydia in math class that her notes are much better when they’re not written in code, and I have to agree. The code is still interesting, it’s a language that we math deprived were-coyotes haven’t been clued in on. I might not totally understand what’s happening right now, but I’m expecting a hell of a lot out of next week’s finale.
Best line, of course, goes to the excellent combination of Malia and Stilinskis Sr. and Jr: “Malia, what’s your favorite food?” “Deer.” “Piiiizza, she likes pizza”
Runner-up: “Where’s your money?” “You’re standing on it.” “There’s another vault?!” Your precious teenage puppy True Alpha, ladies and gentlemen.
A few other plot points and questions:
–Lydia isn’t mentioned much here because her few scenes are the most inexplicably random: first she shows up in the middle of the night at Derek’s loft and Banshee screams in his face when he opens the door; then she finds Deacon at Eichen House under Valeck’s trance and insists on talking to him; and without showing any of that conversation, suddenly Deacon is awake, and they’re both back at the animal clinic, calling to tell Stiles and the rest of the gang that Scott and Kira are in Mexico and they have to get there, stat.
–Speaking of Deaton, after looking into Valeck’s forehead hole, he spend all of the episode in a trance, tracking Kate somehow. He tells the Eichen House doctor he’s trying to figure out what happened to Derek because of a promise he made to a woman he loved… is that Talia, Derek’s mom? Wasn’t he her emissary?
–Derek’s resignation to death is a little sad—especially when he just got a girlfriend who has shared interests—but his humor and the occasional tilting of the corners of his mouth is on a whole different level this season. Don’t die, Scott still needs a big brother!
–So, who exactly is double-crossing who in this Peter/Kate scenario, and to what avail? Peter plans to kill Kate; sure, she killed his whole family and ruined his life. Does Peter know about the “turning Scott into a berserker” thing? I think not, considering that might effect Peter’s ability to steal his Alpha powers. So, can’t these two just battle it out and leave our teen wolves alone? They could really use a nap.
–Theories on Malia’s mother? I’m personally hoping for something totally out there, and not the almost-too-obvious answer that seems to be circling.
–It looks like next week is a full moon. That means anything can happen, and hopefully everything will. What are you most looking forward to?