Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Best and Worst of Teen Wolf Season 3a

Before this season started I was planning on writing a top ten list of the best moments. But now we have come to the end of 3a I feel like just writing about the seasons best moments would not be an accurate representation of the season as a whole. These 12 episodes gave us some of the best Teen Wolf moments ever, but the thing is, it also gave us some of the worst. This season is difficult because when it was good it was brilliant but when it was bad it was terrible. For that reason I have decided that instead of the top ten best moments I would give you the best and worst of the most polarizing season (or half season) of Teen Wolf yet.

Worst: The opening sequence of the premiere (301)

This is strange because I actually admire the sheer ambition behind this sequence but it also just kind of sucked. It was certainly ambitious to start the series with a motorcycle chase sequence, especially when they really didn’t have the budget to pull it off. It’s the first moment of the season and it is supposed to set the tone for the next 12 episodes and in a way it does because this season is full of ambitious experimentation that fails most of the time.   

After I first saw this moment I wanted to give everyone involved a big “You Tried” sticker but as the season progressed and continued to give us these over the top and ineffective action sequences I lost patience. They were trying, but they were trying the wrong thing consistently and it all started with Isaac and The Girl on that motorbike.

Best: The opening sequence of the final (312)

This sequence was beautiful, I could probably go on for hours about how fantastic it was but the point is that it’s just a perfect example of what this season could have been. The cinematography is brilliant, the use of location and music is phenomenal. The Season 1 footage is seamlessly integrated into the sequence and despite the lack of dialogue and action it is still incredibly gripping.

The thing that distinguishes this moment is that it’s grounded by the characters emotional journeys. Yes, this sequence is visually stunning and technically great but really it’s all about the characters. It might look epic but it’s really a simple moment that is essentially about three of the main characters and how far they have come since we first met them. This is all I wanted all season – ambition and experimentation grounded in coherent emotional character arcs.

Worst: Deucalion

Deucalion is one of the most benign big bads I have ever seen. For the entire season we are told repeatedly that he is the baddest guy around. Most of this season’s narrative revolves around the fact that everyone is terrified of Deucalion. In fact the other big bad Jennifer/Julia’s motivation is essentially fear of Deucalion.

The problem is Deucalion isn’t all that terrifying. All he really does is stand around making dramatic speeches while Kali beats people up. He didn’t really do anything. His motivations were confusing and he had the most generic backstory ever (he was a pure soul until tragedy struck sending him down the path of evil). And in the end they just let him go and I was left wondering what was the point.

Best: Jennifer Blake

I may have a weakness for female villains but Jennifer/Julia was without a doubt the most interesting character introduced this season. Unlike Deucalion her motivations were clear and there is nothing more terrifying than a righteous villain. Fear and revenge might not be the most original motivators for murder but they’re classics for a reason and the Darach mystery was incredibly engaging and made for great watercooler TV.

While the romance between Derek and Jennifer was poorly executed Jennifer was always an incredibly intriguing character. She was likable yet mysterious and although it wasn’t particularly shocking when she was revealed as the Darach it was still somewhat satisfying. She wasn’t a perfect character but she was genuinely threatening and a hell of a lot more entertaining than the entire Alpha pack combined.

Worst: “Visionary” (308)

“Visionary” is basically a demonstration of everything I hate about flashback episodes. As I always say flashbacks are an excuse for lazy writing and this episode was lazy and pointless. It added nothing to the story (in fact parts of it were actually detrimental to the overall narrative), it disrupted the flow of the season and it just was generally boring.

I will forever be wondering why this episode happened because there is no reason for it to exist. Derek already had a tragic past and Deucalion’s generic backstory added nothing to his character. The timeline was confusing because Peter Hale was about 10 years younger than everyone else. To top it all off it included a textbook manic pixie fridging. I’m not sure I can accurately demonstrate how much I hated this episode but I would like to know if everyone is okay if we just eternal sunshine this crap pile.

Best: “Frayed” (305)

I know I said I hate flashback episodes but that’s because they are very rarely done well, “Frayed” is the exception that proves the rule. This is a great episode that uses this technique in a way that enhances the drama and increases the suspense. The flashbacks work to inform the story as it progresses in real time – which is how flashbacks should be used – proving this show can use flashbacks well if it makes the effort.

Although it was pretty clear that Derek wasn’t dead the use of flashbacks helped the audience understand Scott’s emotional state and despite the non-linear structure it was actually fairly easy to follow. This episode was not perfect (the excessive use of slow-mo is strong with this one) but it was intriguing and exciting and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Worst: Derek and Jennifer

People come up with all kinds of excuses for why this romance fell short and I’m aware that the romantic relationships were pushed into the background this season (I actually liked that). The thing is, the relationship between Derek and Jennifer wasn’t in the background it was one of the key storylines for the season (and it played an important role in the epic conclusion). There was no excuse for not taking the time and effort to make this romance believable.

Just piling romantic clichés on top of each other does not make for a believable romance and love at first sight only works for teenagers (not adults with severe trust issues). It doesn’t matter that Jennifer turned out to be the bad guy, we still needed to care about this relationship. If I were at all invested it would have made the conclusion of this narrative so much more emotionally gripping.

Best: Lydia and Allison’s friendship

This wasn’t a particularly good season for female characters. Three regular female characters were introduced and only one survived (and she was an incredibly underdeveloped character). So yeah it was not a great time for the ladies but I will give credit where credit is due because the relationship between Lydia and Allison was great.

There aren’t that many depictions of real female friendships so the fact that Allison and Lydia’s relationship exists at all is a pretty big deal. In the first two seasons it was slightly iffy but this year it was the relationship I always wanted it to be. They spend all their time together, they trust each other, they openly admit that they care about each other and when Deaton said they had to be paired with someone they had a deep emotional connection with they instinctually moved towards each other.

Worst: Boyd’s Death (307)

Sighs, we were promised a death so they gave us a death. By killing off a semi-regular background character they are trying to suggest that anyone can be killed but most of the audience is genre savvy enough to know that if they’re in the opening credits they are pretty safe. That doesn’t mean that the death of a background character has to be meaningless as long as it has an emotional impact on the main characters.

Boyd’s death is basically meaningless. There was no build up, we knew next to nothing about the connection between Boyd and Derek and his death doesn’t add anything to the season narrative. As far as we saw there was no impact, which suggests that it held no meaning beyond the event itself and that makes his death kind of exploitative and definitely emotionally unsatisfying.

Best: Scott and Stiles Yellow Crayon Moment (306)

For those of you that don’t know the term yellow-crayon-moment comes from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and refers to the speech Xander makes to Willow in the Season 6 finale. Because Scott and Stiles friendship is the heart of this show they were perfect candidates for a yellow-crayon-moment and it doesn’t disappoint.

A few people have argued against my unapologetic love for this moment. And yes I am aware that there is no way Scott could hold a lit flair without exploding but it doesn’t matter because it felt real. These kids love each other and it’s nice to see their relationship cemented in such a beautiful way. The performances were brilliant and apart from the fact that they cut away to the most boring sex scene ever a couple of times I thought the direction was solid. It was a fantastic moment that I continue to love every time I watch it… and I’m crying again.

Worst: Cora Hale

For me Cora Hale was the most disappointing part of this season because she should have been fantastic.  The Hales are such a huge part of Teen Wolf’s history but we know almost nothing about them. Introducing Cora was a great opportunity to explore the history of the Hales and gain important insight into Derek’s character… but we saw none of this. 

Cora did two things all season – she flirted with Stiles and then she almost died of some unknown illness so that Derek was forced to give up his Alpha status. The rest of the time she just kind of stands awkwardly in the background. We learn nothing about her or anything that happened to her. We don’t see her relationship with Derek and now that Adelaide Kane has been poached by the CW, Cora will never be anything more than a shell of wasted potential.

Best: The introduction of Agent McCall (311)

Although I have no real desire to get to know Scott’s absentee father (as far as I am concerned Melissa is the only parent he needs) I did like the way they introduced him. When the FBI agent first entered it was pretty clear he was being set up as an antagonist for the second half of the season. His interactions with Stiles suggested that he had a past with the Sheriff but then it might have just been Stiles being a dick.

It was a great reveal when Stiles said to Scott that his father was in town and suddenly it all made sense. I know fandom has been set on the idea that Scott’s dad was at worst abusive or at best a deadbeat but I actually really like the idea that he is just a regular person that is a terrible father. Bad parents are not always abusive.

Worst: Excessive Slow Motion

Considering how many important moments are rushed or ignored entirely it seems bazaar that this season wastes so much time by using the slow motion effect. Everything happens in slow motion: running, growling, fighting, kissing, everything. In fact the third episode of the season, “Fireflies” is at least 40% slow-mo. I don’t know if there was sale on or someone just got over enthusiastic about a shiny new toy but the amount of slow-mo this season is ridiculous.

After re-watching the season to write this list I can say that when you see it all in a row it’s even worse. There is no defense for this, it was entirely gratuitous and everyone involved needs to go sit in the corner and think about what they have done.

Best: Stiles Panic Attack (311)

Stiles slowly losing control of his emotional state was one of the most consistent aspects of this season and it all culminated in this moment. Stiles’ panic attacks have been a huge part of fanon since he mentioned them way back in Season 1, but I was always kind of wary of them actually happening in canon because panic attacks are very rarely portrayed well – especially in teen dramas.

Again Teen Wolf defied my expectations because this was one of the best depictions of a panic attack I have seen. Apart from the way Lydia cured Stiles by kissing him (don’t do that okay) it was pretty much spot on. It’s also one of the only times this season that slow motion is used effectively.

Worst: Death to all Women

The moral of Season 3a is that all women must die (except for a select few). You might think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. In 301 we were introduced to The Girl, then she was killed. In 302 we met Heather, then she was sacrificed for being a virgin. In 303 Erica’s death was revealed and we also met Emily who was sacrificed (her gf survived though so that’s something).

In 307 a nice lady Doctor was killed. The whole point of 308 was to introduce and then kill a girl – Paige no-last-name – for Derek’s mangst. Then in 309 the lovely lady deputy – called Tara Graham – was killed (also an unnamed female teacher). Then in the finale both Jennifer/Julia and Kali died while all the male villains were allowed to live. By the end of the season there are only three (five if you count Cora and Morrell) female characters compared to eleven male characters. I’m not saying this show is sexist, but this show is sexist.

Best: Melissa McCall and Allison Argent

Although I’m upset that most of the female characters died and Cora turned out to be nothing more than a plot device, I don’t want to ignore the few fantastic female characters Teen Wolf has given us. Melissa McCall and Allison Argent were amazing this season (Lydia is more problematic but I won’t go into that here).

Allison was the true hero of the season, constantly showing up to get those silly boys out of whatever mess they got themselves into this week. Melissa McCall’s relationship with Scott is uniquely solid and she was consistently shown using the skills and knowledge she processes to save the day. Melissa and Allison are dynamic characters that continue to grow and I enjoyed everything about them this season.

Worst: Derek Hale’s Manpain Limit

There is a limit to the effectiveness of manpain and Derek Hale reached his limit in Episode 3. Anything that came after this was basically pointless. It added nothing to Derek’s character or the overarching narrative arc and by the end of the season it was just a joke. Everything is Derek’s fault again and it’s hilarious. That’s not really the response you want to what is supposed to be an emotionally traumatizing event.

So much of this season is tied to Derek’s pain, which is why it fails to achieve the necessary emotional impact. But I mean really, Derek’s whole family died in a fire he thinks he’s responsible for and then his uncle killed his sister, it doesn’t get any worse than that. Pain is relative, and compared to his whole family dying killing a beta that he hardly knows doesn’t really rate.

Best: Scott McCall is a True Alpha

In the age of the tragic anti-hero Scott McCall’s unapologetic heroic decency is refreshing. When the idea that Scott might be more than just a werewolf was introduced in the first episode of the season I was worried that Scott would turn out to be the hero of some cliché prophecy quest. So I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Scott’s true Alpha status was something that was earned rather than destined.

Scott McCall is an amazing character that I never expected to love as much as I do (considering how much he annoyed me in Season 1). If anyone is going to become an Alpha by sheer force of will and genuine goodness it’s got to be Scott McCall. While I would have liked to have seen more of Scott struggling to reconcile the supernatural with his everyday life I really enjoyed Scott’s journey towards become a True Alpha.

And there you have it. I was going to do 2 more (just to make it ten each) but this pretty much sums up everything I loved and hated about this season. So what did you guys think? What did you love and/or hate about this season? Will you be coming back for 3b? 

Don't forget you can relive this season through my recaps here