Friday, January 17, 2014

Strong Female Character Friday: Erica Reyes (Teen Wolf)

As we set out on another season of Teen Wolf, one where, despite my emotional connection to the show, I feel comfortable predicting that the female villains will die horrible gruesome unnecessarily violent deaths and then stay dead, the minority characters will either be evil or die (or both), and Derek's character will continue to be tortured, raped, abused, and generally degraded, all while everyone tells him what a piece of crap he is (it's getting weird, guys), I think the moment is upon us to look back on a character who had her ups and downs, but is now, definitely, missed.

I'm talking about Erica Reyes.

Now, Erica is kind of a weirdly controversial character. It's weird because she's awesome and I don't understand why more people don't love her unconditionally, but also because her "crimes" are actually quite minor in the scope of the show, and the hatred negotiated towards her seems to be largely female in origin. And I'm not cool with that. But first - who the crap is Erica?

Well, Erica Reyes (Gage Golightly) was the third werewolf that Derek turned upon gaining his Alpha powers. The first was Jackson (Colton Haynes - much better on Arrow, thank you very much), then came Isaac (Daniel Sharman, who is dreamy), and then Erica. Derek's idea of building a pack seemed to revolve around giving people what they need. Using the bite as a gift not a curse. Jackson needed somewhere he could belong, a family, and while it didn't really work out for him (turned into a giant lizard man), the intent was there. Isaac needed to get away from his abusive father and find his own strength. Boyd (Sinqua Walls) needed to connect with people and feel power, since he felt very disenfranchised. And Erica - well, Erica probably had the most compelling reason.

Erica, as we learn very quickly in her story, is epileptic. She's been epileptic her whole life, and it's taken a massive toll. The frequent seizures destroy her quality of life, made all the worse by the fact that she is in high school, where the students would rather film her and put it on the internet than figure out how to help. Erica is pissed off, tired, and ready to die.

When along comes Derek. Now, admittedly, Derek turns Erica in possibly the creepiest way ever - by wheeling her down to the morgue when she's in the hospital, then going all, "Do you want power?" seductive on her, only for you to remember that this chick is definitely underage - but the intent here is actually pretty awesome. Derek seeks out the people who most need the bite, and asks if they want it. Erica most definitely freaking wants it.

Her transformation is extreme. One day she's mousy, at the back of the classroom, frizzy hair, dark circles under her eyes (you know, a normal person), and the next she's a glamazon. Transformed. Strong. Healthy. And dripping with vitality. 

So, obviously, it goes to her head.

And this is the part where a lot of people start to dislike Erica. But not me. I actually love her for this. I love that the power and the makeover, and the presumably hundreds of dollars that Derek spent making a teenage girl feel better about her wardrobe (talk about scenes I wish were included), make Erica kind of a bitch for a while. Because she's not perfect. She's a teenage girl who went from crippling illness to alarming health in about a day. Of freaking course she's gonna be a little wild.

I love this bit because Erica is so much more interesting for it. She's pissed off, now that she has the time and energy to be, and she's perfectly happy to make other people miserable for it. She's mad at Scott (Tyler Posey) for helping her when she fell - because he saw her weakness and she hates her weakness. She's pissed at Stiles (Dylan O'Brien) for ignoring her when she was ordinary and always lusting after the perfect Lydia (Holland Roden). She's pissed at everyone for everything, and it's not hard to see why.

The fans all hate her for one specific thing, though, and that's a bit silly. Yes, she brains Stiles with a part of his own car. But, really, are you that surprised? Stiles is a bit of a twat about her transformation, her Alpha - the guy who gave her perfect health after years of illness - just asked her to make sure he's out of the way, and she's pretty sure Stiles is protecting a monster. Yes, the braining is excessive, but it really does make perfect sense.

The real problem with Erica is that she's so underused, actually. Because while she is a bit oversexualized, she's a really interesting character. She ends up dating Boyd, which is cool, and they run away together, which is even cooler, but then they get caught and she gets killed, which is so totally not cool at all. Actually, it's really offensive. Because it is used as yet another reason why we need to get the big bad this season. Erica's death is a catalyst, but Erica's life? Apparently not worth all that much.

And that's a damn shame, because there were so many little details that Erica made more interesting in the show, just by being there.

Like, what is it like to suddenly be healthy after years of debilitating illness? What's it like to get your period as a werewolf? How does having an extremely high pain tolerance translate into fighting? What's up with werewolf sexuality - because it looks pretty damn fluid from here? Does turning into a werewolf make you more hungry or hungry for different things or have to shave your legs more or make you care about shaving your legs less?

I want to know. I want to know all the things, and I wanted Erica to be the one to tell me, because she is super duper freaking interesting.

Which is, I can only assume, the reason she is dead.

This gets back to the real problem on Teen Wolf. The female characters, aside from Allison and Lydia, who have love interest plot armor, are disposable, interchangeable, replaceable. We needed another female character in season two, so we got Erica. Erica became too hard to write (I guess?) in season three, so we got a new girl - Cora (Adelaide Kane). Cora's actress gets her own show so she's written out and never referred to again so we can have a new girl - Kira (Arden Cho).

Do you get where I'm going with this? It's like the writers genuinely don't believe that their audience has the capacity to like more than one woman at a time. And, more than that, they seem to believe that killing these women off for the development of the male characters is totally okay. It's really, really not.

Erica is amazing. She's beautiful and smart and damaged and a little power-hungry and ambitious, and it's all great. She's so totally not perfect, and it's an amazing antidote to the rest of the show. She's a screwed up teenager who makes terrible life choices and I love it.

I love Erica because she was true. She was exactly the person she needed to be in that situation, and because the beginning of her story is quite possibly one of the more brilliant starts to a monster story I've seen. I don't hate Erica for the way her story later fell flat. I hate the writers for that. I hate the writers for a lot of things, but I think killing Erica might be one of the biggest.

Don't punish your characters because you don't know how to write. And don't you dare imply that anything about Erica Reyes was less than fantastic, because it wasn't. She was amazing, not because she was perfect, but exactly because she wasn't.

"I have a beautiful everything." Damn straight.

6 comments:

  1. wheeling her down to the morgue when she's in the hospital, then going all, "Do you want power?" seductive on her

    Please tell me there was an "I don't want to be a vampire, don't make me a vampire!" "Oh, no, I'm a werewolf, sorry, I guess doing this in the morgue was a bit misleading." "That's all right then, I'm up for wolf stuff for sure." exchange.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm adding that to the list of scenes that must have happened and that I am devastated not to see, right along with the "Why do I have to wear this leather jacket all the time now? It's summer in California." and "Why do you have a sports car and live in an abandoned subway station?" scenes.

      Delete
  2. I cannot express how much I love the way you have put Erica in your description. She was really a powerful character which would have been so much more if the write would have just let her live.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I would have liked to see more of a sibling dynamic (which we do get to see but only briefly because Erica's scenes are minimal as you said) between her and Isaac and Boyd, I really enjoy the three of them together.
    I'm also just left having so many more things I want to know about Erica: presumably it's her dad who is Hispanic/Latino (I know Scott is meant to be too but really giving us two characters who are meant to be Hispanic/Latino and not showing us what that looks like on screen with either one is pretty unforgivable), does she have siblings?, and scenes I want to see her in: she and Stiles reading comics, she, Isaac, and Boyd having inside jokes, she and Boyd going on a date and then being super annoyed when Derek and Scott interrupt it because of an emergency, she and Lydia bonding over being girls and supernatural and Allison earning her forgiveness and the two becoming friends.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes to all of those things. There were so many Erica scenes that I wanted to see and never got. Especially the pack dynamic. I think the show really crapped out when it forgot to include that, because so many people cite that as their main disappointment. Not enough pack dynamic.

      I'm not sure if Erica is textually Hispanic officially. Scott, however, is a biracial character because the actor is biracial. He wasn't originally written that way, but the actor was so open about his racial background that the writers sort of threw it in there. Which was interesting. And definitely not an excuse for their super annoying lack of any sort of development in that area. Like seriously. Ugh.

      Delete