Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Checking in on Teen Wolf (Almost Feminist, But Not Quite)

In May I wrote an article about season one of Teen Wolf. You can read it here. Welp, season two just ended, and I’m having feelings. So we’re going to check back in on the show and see how it’s done.

Not all that bad, as it turns out. But also not all that great. Allow me to explain.

Teen Wolf is a fun show. Teen Wolf is a silly show. Teen Wolf is a freaking depressing show that will make you question the life choices that led you to wasting hours and hours of your life caring about angsty teenage werewolves.


Anyway, I lamented in season one that there was a dearth of female werewolves, and really of active female roles on the show. Both of those problems have been rectified, but the way it’s been done doesn’t really leave me feeling all warm and fuzzy about this.

Still the HBIC.
If you don’t remember or know the premise of the show, it’s basically your typical coming of age story, with werewolves. Scott McCall is a nerdy high schooler, who gets bitten by a werewolf and suddenly gets werewolfy powers. But instead of just making him suddenly awesome at lacrosse, they embroil him in age old feuds and intrigue. His girlfriend, Allison, is the scion of a hunting family devoted to wiping out his kind, and his friends start dropping like flies.

So, how is this a feminist show and how is this not?

One. The female characters are active participants in the plot. It passes the Bechdel Test, and even has entire storylines that revolve around female characters taking action.

Two. The female characters are stuck in sexualized plotlines and stigmatized when they become active participants in their own lives.



In season two, everyone starts to come into their own. This means that Scott, who was an adorable puppy trying to find two brain cells to rub together in season one, becomes a budding leader and faithful friend in season two. His best friend Stiles becomes a figure of wisdom and good advice, and their looming stalker Derek becomes the pack Alpha.

Allison comes into her own too. Now that she knows about her family’s traditions (murdering traditions), her father is eager for her to take her place in their ranks. She’s being groomed to lead, and that’s pretty cool in its own right. But for most of the season she’s support staff. She helps Scott to work his plans, and she quietly defies her parents. She’s stalked and deals with her stalker in a cool no nonsense way that had me cheering for her. But it’s the end of the season where things get interesting.

Allison’s mother is bitten by Derek, and kills herself in order to avoid becoming a werewolf. That’s pretty traumatic in and of itself. But when you factor in a manipulative grandfather and a werewolf boyfriend, you’ve got a pretty good recipe for murder.

Allison goes a little nuts.

She decides to take out Derek and anyone who gets in her way. She goes way off the deep end, and finds her inner homicidal maniac. Eventually, of course, she is shown the error of her ways, but the fact remains that she went nuts. Absolutely hunting down her classmates with a crossbow nuts.

And I am okay with that.

It’s important to have characters that can make leaps like that, and Allison’s arc was both important and interesting from a writing standpoint. She didn’t just stand by her man, she mourned her mother by wanting to get even. She’s afforded the courtesy of getting her own storyline, even if her storyline does involve, you know, murder.

On the down side, it does seem like the only way Allison can be a strong, independent character is if she’s batshit crazy. Potayto, potahto.

There are, of course, other girls too. And most of them fall into this same problem. Erica Reyes, who presumably went to the school but we never met last season, is a mercilessly teased epileptic girl in their class. Scott saves her from falling off a climbing wall when she has a seizure, and she apparently used to have a painful crush on Stiles. In her “normal” state, Erica is a weak girl who needs to be saved.

She becomes a werewolf, and then goes the way of Allison. Now Erica is powerful. She’s cool. She’s not epileptic anymore. She takes charge of her own life. She also, though, is mean, a bully, and takes great delight in hitting Stiles with a car part. She relishes her physical enhancements, and her love of her own agency is considered a bad thing. Sigh. So Erica needs to be taught about dependence, and it’s only when she’s running away with Boyd, a nice boy from the pack, that we’re supposed to sympathize with her. We only get to like her when she’s hurt.

Lydia ended last season in a coma, and starts this one recovering from a mild psychotic episode. She was mauled by a werewolf, but no one will admit to her that werewolves exist, and to top it all off, she’s being haunted by a dead psychopath. It’s all very Harry Potter (and The Chamber of Secrets, to be specific). Lydia spends most of the season sympathetic, but nuts. Until the end, when, after raising her near-murderer from the dead, she proceeds to save her ex-boyfriend’s life, and be generally awesome.

Except for the part where apparently Lydia’s main power is the power of love, of course. Her curse is that she’s only an active character when someone (some man) needs her womanly ways to bring them back. She brings back Peter with her mind, and Jackson with her heart. It’s nice, and at the same time, it’s not.

Honestly, finally, we have Victoria Argent, Allison’s mom, on this list. We could have added Melissa McCall, Scott’s mother, here too, but she’s pretty one note. She’s not insane, just an average mom trying to support her supernatural son. She only ever takes momentary breaks from being awesome to freak out a little, and she never gets her own storyline. I’m holding out for season three.  

Victoria, though, she’s a strong character. She’s a crazy bitch until she gets bit and we’re supposed to sympathize with her. Then she kills herself. Awkward. But fundamentally what you remember about her, other than her aura of terrifyingness, is that she was a strong character who was bad and crazy. Which is unfortunate.

Mama Argent is awesome and terrifying.
Ultimately, Teen Wolf can’t be called either way. Sure, it has a lot of female characters doing cool impressive things, and taking more responsibility for their lives. Right on! But at the same time, these women are punished when they step out of line, with insanity or injury or death, and their agency is always seen with a side badness. Unless they are Lydia, of course, and heal people with the power of love.

I kid because I love. Lydia’s awesome.

But the show needs some consistency. It needs to stop punishing its female characters, and it needs to buck up about challenging gender stereotypes. Female agency does not have to be crazy or evil. And it can be very helpful to a story.

Just keep that in mind.

Still waiting for this to be canon. Because platonic relationships don't involve nearly as much pillowtalk as this one.


  1. It's depressing that when Allison gets so proactive, after such a long time of kind of umming and ahhing and following other people in the (HA!) Matriarchal Argents, it's to make decisions that make us all cringe. She takes the reigns - but only when manipulated by Gerard and then to do things that, frankly, makes her rather irredeemably the villain. It's be nice to see her make decisions that don't make us want to lock her in a cage. Of course, the only other female Argent we've seen in the "matriarchy" is her mother - similarly evil, obsessed with policing her daughter's sex life and eventually is bitten and commits suicide as a result of said policing

    Ugh and Erica, oh Erica. And Lydia the eternal traumatised victim (with great friends - I'll always remember her waiting 2 hours for Allison to arrive and HELP her with her problems and instead be conned into doing translation work)

    1. Well, there's also Kate, who is so bonkers that she's almost a cartoon villain. Not really a good recommendation, especially when we find out that Gerard made her that way too. Urgh.

      Lydia's victim status was really frustrating to me, because I loved her HBIC-ness in season one, and it seemed like a really cheap blow to push her out so much in season two.

      Erica...I had feelings, let's leave it at that. I love this show, I just wish it loved the girls too!

    2. I think we've probably seen 3 examples of pro-active female characters making their own decisions (kinda) in the show:

      Victoria Argent - threatening and ultimately trying to kill Scott for the crime of having sex with her daughter - results in her death

      Kate - threatening and killing werewolves for funsies because she's a violent loose canon - results in her death

      Allison - threatening and torturing werewolves after being manipulated, results in her being the clueless side-kick of the archvillain.

      It's almost a CAUTIONARY tale! BEWARE the danger of women making choices!

      That's my take on Erica... feelings ugh

    3. Agreed. The Argent women are a well of bad choices and murder thoughts, which doesn't speak well of a "matriarchal" society. And of course the instant we're supposed to like Allison again is when she's crying and nearly being killed by the Kanima. Oy vey.

      I do hold out hope that Laura Hale is going to show back up and be badass, though. Pretty sure she was supposed to be there in that dream Lydia had about being mauled on the lacrosse field.