Teen Wolf Round Table: Echo House

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The most recent Teen Wolf episode, “Echo House”, stirred up a lot of controversy, which is hardly surprising considering it came with a warning. It certainly got everyone talking, and we were not an exception. There was so much to talk about after this episode, we figured five heads were better than one. So Angel, Kerry, Sarah, Farid and I (Undie Girl) got together to discuss a couple of the more prominent issues that “Echo House” presented.

Trigger Warning: Discussions of Mental Illness, Suicide, Dubious Consent.

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Question: Echo House was a controversial episode that seems to have divided the fandom.  Leaving the issues aside for a moment, what did you think about the episode overall?

Angel:  For me it’s very hard to separate the issues from the core of what the episode was about.  Strip away the scenes that I had problems with and you have maybe five minutes of show.  I’m coming at this from a unique perspective, though, because I waited almost a full day to watch it, and saw the fallout across the fandom.  I went into it knowing that it was highly problematic and I didn’t have much of a chance to appreciate it beyond that.  It makes it very hard for me to have given this episode much of a chance.  I will say that Kira continues to impress me.  If I were to pick one moment from this episode that went above and beyond my expectations, it was her showing off her skills.  I think Kira is the best part of 3B so far.  She was certainly the best part of the episode for me.

Kerry: Structurally speaking, it did very little for the narrative except prove what we already know: possessed!Stiles is capable of great evil and regular!Stiles is guilt-ridden. The storyline with the rest of the pack was also a bit of filler except for enhancing Kira’s role. The entire episode felt like a melodramatic bit of fan manipulation by squeezing all of the sadness they could get out of Stiles, aka the fan favorite character. I’m not surprised by this because it’s pretty well-known within fandom that Jeff Davis seems to favor Dylan O’Brien, and Teen Wolf is notorious for catering to fans and then ripping the rug out from underneath them. Personally, I felt nothing for the storyline and was too disgusted by the portrayal of mental health facilities and issues of consent to feel anything even akin to enjoyment.

Sarah: I got a bit bored (and then a bit disgusted) with this episode.  What I dubbed on Twitter the ‘Ocean’s Wolf Pack’ subplot was the only thing that I found interesting, but ultimately that only gave us information that we already figured out an episode or two ago.  Stiles’ storyline felt listless at times and forced at others.  I was beyond furious that Morrell handed over narcotics like they were candy and pretty much told Stiles, “And if all else fails, I can just kill you.”  Really, the only things that I liked were the beginning and the ending of the episode.

Farid: I did not enjoy the episode. As Kerry said, it only showed how bad possessed Stiles can be. As if we didn’t know that already. There were so many scenes that were mishandled that I just couldn’t ignore them. I also agree with Angel, the only thing enjoyable about the episode was Kira. Even though we don’t know much about her or her family, she has been the best part of 3B so far. The whole thing came across as filler in order to get a reaction from the fans regarding the things happening to Stiles. Maybe we will see in future episodes that going to the Eichen house was a well thought out plan by the Nogitsune. However, even if such a thing is confirmed, the way they made the episode still has problems.

Undie: So, this episode wasn’t great. It was clunky and confusing and not in a good way, but it did give us Stiles in sweatpants so it wasn’t all bad. I liked the opening with Stiles, Scott, and the Sheriff but it kind of went downhill after that (apart from the sweatpants). The heist subplot was almost completely pointless (although Kira is totally badass) and the tone was really jarring next to the Eichen House stuff. The few moments we got of Chris and Derek were great, but that wasn’t really enough to save an overwhelmingly disappointing episode. I just really hope that it wasn’t all sloppy writing and that some of the obvious plot holes were deliberate.

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Question: Much of Echo House takes place in a mental health facility, and the episode came with a trigger warning. What do you have to say about this episode’s depiction of mental health issues?

Kerry: Ok, I’m going to qualify this response with the acknowledgement that I personally have never worked in or entered a mental health facility. My real-life knowledge comes from my own personal research, my social worker aunt who works in facilities that deal with mental illness, addiction, etc., and my nurse sister who has experience on psych wards.

From these three areas, I was able to see right away how inaccurate Echo House was in its portrayal of a mental health facility. It was like the writers, set designers, and the rest of the crew gleaned all their knowledge of mental health facilities from horror films and Batman comics (the place had a distinct Arkham Asylum feel to it). From a visual storytelling perspective, I understand why they did this. HOWEVER, this sort of creepy, isolated, ‘us against them’ depiction of a mental health institution filled with Nurse Ratcheds and sinister orderlies only strengthens society’s taboo against mental illness.

We are making some slow but wonderful progress in understanding and accepting mental illness and those suffering from it. Yet pop culture insists on thrusting us back to horror stories of corrupt insane asylums and their creepy patients (with the one sane hero who fights to be free).

Just the mere fact that the room doors didn’t have windows on them set off so many alarm bells that pointed out that the producers of Echo House just didn’t care enough to even do the tiniest amount of research into portraying a modern mental health facility remotely accurately.

Sarah: Being that this is an MTV show about werewolves, I shouldn’t be surprised that the writers would resort to horror and dated mental health movie cliches when portraying Echo House…but I am.  I have several family members that are involved in the healthcare field, my mom having worked in this kind of facility.  I’m fairly certain she would have been like, “Seriously?  This is just ridiculous.”  It’s like the writers watched Girl, Interrupted or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on repeat and said, “Eh, that will do.”

Farid: I have actually worked in mental institutions and I couldn’t believe what Teen Wolf was showing. Is Beacon Hills in the 21st Century or not? Maybe Jeff was inspired by AHS: Asylum, but that show took place years ago, so what they showed was kind of justified. Isn’t Teen Wolf’s timeline set in 2013 (going by the report Danny wrote in 3A)? I was expecting The Joker to pop up on my screen during the episode. It was not a healthy nor ‘close’ to the true depiction of mental institutions. Yes, Teen Wolf has done creepy stuff (Motel California), but as Kerry said, we still have a lot progress to make. Mental illness is still a stigma in society and TV shows playing up the scares isn’t doing anyone any good. If they wanted to show Stiles facing trouble, they could’ve had one of the doctors possessed by the Nogitsune who locks him up in isolation and makes his life hell, rather than making the whole staff and the premises feel like Arkham Asylum.

Angel: Mental illness is something that needs to be handled delicately.  I’ve never been in an institution, but I did get the odd feeling that this show was sensationalizing mental illness instead of making an effort to portray it in a positive way.  I got a “hey look at all these crazy people!” vibe from it instead of showing that it’s a group of young people with problems that they are actively getting help for.  The whole thing made me uncomfortable.

Undie: Okay, so it was probably one of the most offensive and problematic depictions of mental health facilities we’ve seen in quite some time. Look, I understand that it was playing into an established horror trope, but they didn’t use the trope particularly well, so the problematic aspects can’t really be forgiven. Like Farid said, AHS: Asylum was a period piece, and Teen Wolf is not. It was just a cheap gimmick, and using serious medical conditions as a gimmick is all kinds of not cool. I just wish they hadn’t gone there, or if they had to, I wish they had actually done it well.

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Question: What do you think are the implications of the “hook up” scene between Stiles and Malia?

Kerry: It’s been pointed out many times within fandom that Malia spent eight years in the woods as a coyote, during which she had no social interaction or any chance to grow into a well-adjusted, functioning adolescent. Davis’ insistence that wolves age different is just sloppy writing to me, and does not negate the fact that this was EIGHT YEARS OF ISOLATION. She may not be at the mental age of 8, but Malia should not be thinking or acting at all like an ordinary 16 year old. Therefore, viewing her as a sexual object was disgusting.

It’s as if she was introduced and set up merely to become an object of desire. Even if she and Stiles did not have sex, he viewed her in a sexual way. That much was clear and deliberately demonstrated through the kissing, looks of longing, and music choices during that infamous scene in the basement.

Look, Teen Wolf is all about the gaze. For the most part, it’s been teenaged boys who have been objects of it (hello shirtless scenes in the locker room) but when it comes to actual sex, the show has had a problematic history.

Like most fans, I’m not 100% clear on the Teen Wolf timeline (Jeff Davis definitely isn’t) but I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to assume that Derek was underage when he met Kate and the Hale house fire happened. I don’t even know if this is considered canon, because it was published sometime before the second season, I believe, but I recently read an official Teen Wolf novel, On Fire (don’t laugh at me; it was a gift from a friend), and that portrayed Derek as definitely being underage when the entire situation with Kate went down. Therefore, I have always been super uncomfortable with people’s insistence that season one Derek was a “bad boy” and in fact, I really hate the famous scene where Derek is chained up and tortured and taunted by Kate. Has everyone honestly forgotten that Derek is the victim of sexual assault and most likely statutory rape? Regardless of how he felt, Derek was underage when he met Kate (who was a legal adult) and therefore, could NOT consent to anything.

The “hook-up” scene with Malia and Stiles brought back all those uncomfortable and gross feelings I had during season one whenever Derek’s background with Kate was brought up and basically ignored for what it actually was: sexual assault.

Malia and Stiles are both underage and mentally ill. Malia is dealing with trauma on a deeply social and critical level. Stiles engaging in any sort of sexual conduct with her is not only inappropriate but, in my opinion, a form of assault as well.

Angel: This is the scene that upset me the most.  When I expressed that it upset me on Twitter I was immediately questioned if it upset me due to shipping purposes.  Let me just get that out of the way.  I don’t ship Sterek or Stydia.  I don’t really ship Stiles with anyone, actually.  I’m not an anti-shipper by any means, but it’s just not my thing.  It seems that people that have a problem with this scene are being painted as “angry shippers,” which is unfair, untrue, and ignores the mountain of problems associated with this scene.  People’s shipping preferences being used to dismiss their opinions is a problem for another rant, however, so let’s get into the heart of the matter here.

The reason this scene is so problematic for me is the implication that two teenagers are having unprotected sex.  In Wolf Watch it’s suggested that they didn’t actually have sex, which is definitely a relief, but the way the scene was framed and the vagueness of their word usage still makes the scene highly questionable and open for interpretation.  And let’s face it, not everyone watches Wolf Watch, anyway, so even if it was spelled out blatantly the message would be lost.  A lot of people are going to walk away from this scene assuming they had sex and a condom wasn’t involved.

I’d like to take this moment to point out that this show is called “TEEN Wolf.”  While I’m beyond my teens myself, a lot of young people watch this show.  If a sex scene is going to be included, they need to do it responsibly.  If they can’t do that, it shouldn’t be included at all.  This generation of teenagers has a lot more access to information than my generation had, so I hope that the message of safe sex has been conveyed to most people through other means, but that doesn’t mean that dropping the ball on this front is remotely okay.  Their options are 1) Depict safe sex. 2) Make it absolutely clear that sex did not occur.  3) Don’t include this scene at all.

Sarah: It shouldn’t have happened.  Plain and simple.  The scene was random and completely bucked against the tone that this season has been built upon. Stiles is slowly and completely losing his mind, and yet he’s gonna stop for a Snickers break and make out with a girl he barely knows?  Kerry brought up the issue of consent, and I believe that this issue can be seen from both sides of the spectrum.  See Kerry’s answer for the issues with Malia, while I am going to concentrate on Stiles.  He has a fragile hold on his consciousness to say the least.  In 3×20, we saw him sliding in and out of awareness, even when we thought it was Stiles in control the entire time.  So who’s to say that it was actually Stiles making out with Malia in the first place?  It could have very well been the Nogitsune.

Either way you look at it, this scene was wildly inappropriate, and like I said: shouldn’t have happened.  If you want to have a light-hearted teen romance moment, have it be Scott and Kira, where there can be no question of their mental status.  Having Stiles make out/have sex with a girl who is Peter Hale’s daughter just seemed to be the writers baiting the fans and pissing them off, uniting the Stydia and Sterek shippers under a banner of mutual disgust.  I have my issues with this season, but for the most part, I’ve been enjoying it.  “Echo House” is a definitely a black mark on this season, and one can only hope the fans make a big enough fuss to ensure such a mistake in writing doesn’t happen again in the future.

Farid: The whole hook-up thing felt out of place and the awful background music made the matter worse. I was instantly reminded of Derek’s experiences with Kata and Jennifer. I can’t get over the fact that Malia spent eight years as a coyote. How old is she mentally? Do eight-year-olds really think about hot make-outs in basements with a stranger? I don’t buy Malia being all sweet and innocent like a child. When did she have time to pierce her ears (the scene where Stiles walks in while she’s taking a shower)? They introduced her as a ‘sex object’ right from the start. Maybe there was a reason Jeff put in those scenes. But that doesn’t change the fact the hook-up scene implied a lot things. Keeping ‘mental development’ and ‘consent issues’ aside my main problem with the scene is whether or not they had unprotected sex. For a casual viewer (like my siblings) the whole scene played out as if they had sex: The music, Malia being shirtless, Stiles being on top of her, Stiles saying they should try something else ‘other than kissing’, and then the camera focusing on their hands tightly gripping each other. I don’t know what Jeff was thinking, but that’s TV lingo for having sex. If you read reviews on other websites, a lot of them have mentioned they had sex. Whether or not it was really Stiles is another issue.

Angel is right; not everyone watches Wolf Watch so the whole thing is open to interpretation. It’s was weird to see how there was no mention of a condom when it was brought up again and again back in Season 1 for laughs, and when Heather wanted to ‘do it’ with Stiles in 3A. A lot of teenagers watch the show and that’s why Teen Wolf needs to be responsible about such things. Either show a condom (don’t know how Stiles and Malia would have one in trousers with no pockets) or don’t show a scene that implies unprotected sex. I guess it’s my fault, I was expecting better from Teen Wolf.

Undie: While this “hook-up” was massively triggering for me personally, I actually kind of dig the idea in theory. I really love screwed-up relationships, and this is definitely screwed up. Here’s the thing, Malia is quite clearly a fully-functioning teenager despite spending much of her life as a coyote. Sure it doesn’t make any sense, but neither do werewolves, so let’s just wave the magic wand over Malia’s cognitive development and accept that she is mentally able to consent. She’s still got issues, though (and I’m not just talking about the fact that she’s obviously a replacement for Cora – can someone please explain to Jeff that female characters are not interchangeable?) and I definitely think a relationship between her and Stiles would make for entertaining TV. Don’t get me wrong, I trust Malia about as far as I could throw her (which is not very far) but I don’t hate this relationship, I just hate the way it played out.

There are a lot of problems with the way the so-called “hook up” was depicted on screen. It makes sense that two terrified teenagers – one who has obviously been engaging in self-distructive behaviour and the other who thinks he’s about to die – might hook up but it’s not okay to frame it as romantic. If you’re going to show an unhealthy relationship you have to show the audience that it’s not a good idea. And no condom, MTV? What’s that about? Don’t tell me that they didn’t have sex because, like Farid said, what we saw was TV code for sex. So if they didn’t actually do the deed, they wanted us to think they did, which has the same effect. (Also did they seriously give us a Stiles sex scene and he STILL kept his shirt on?)

The worst part about this scene is that, narratively, there is only one reason for it to exist. Stiles had isolated himself from all the Nogitsune’s bargaining chips (his friends and family) so they needed Stiles to bond with someone inside Eichen House to get him to give in. The laziest way to create an instabond is via genital touching. It’s a staple of the ‘damsel in distress’ trope. The hero finally gets to be with the girl only to have her ripped from him moments later, making the loss all the more damaging. Thus Teen Wolf took a potentially awesome new female character and relegated her to the role of damsel by way of love interest. *sighs dejectedly* I don’t know why I expected more from you Teen Wolf.

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Question: Let’s face it, a lot of this episode didn’t make sense. Do you think that it was just a case of bad writing or was it deliberate? How much of this episode was real, and how much was happening inside Stiles’ mind?

Farid: Haha. As much as I want most of the episode to have actually occurred inside Stiles’ head I don’t think that was the case. I think this episode was an example of deliberate (and bad) writing by Teen Wolf. They wanted to up the creep factor and they did just that, along with the scenes with Malia, in order to get a ‘reaction’. I’m not saying there isn’t a reason for those scenes. I still think there’s more to Malia than shown, and how was she just able to walk out the Asylum as soon as Stiles told her about Scott and gave her the picture from the basement? I don’t trust her. And there has to be a link to why Stiles ended up being in Malia’s cave during the bear trap dream sequence. For me, the events weren’t inside Stiles’ head. However, I’m hoping to be proven wrong in the future episodes. Currently I’m sticking to the theory that secluding Stiles to the Eichen House, meeting Malia, finding the photo, etc. was all a plan by the Nogitsune to take full control of Stiles.

Angel: I really like the theory that it was in Stiles’ head, but I’m opting for bad writing.  The whole “they didn’t actually have sex” thing, despite the fact that the scene was framed in a way that implied they did, makes me think this episode was just a minefield of bad writing.  I’d like to be proven wrong, because it’s a really clever theory.

Kerry: I was hoping Stiles was the Nogitsune throughout most of the episode, but at the ending, it had a distinct moment where Stiles disappeared into possessed!Stiles. The idea that the Stiles we have known and loved since season one was acting the way he was and making those incredibly stupid decisions was too much for me to accept. At this point, I’m not sure if it was all in his head because either way it’s a case of bad writing.

The “all in his head” trope is cliched and a cop-out. If it wasn’t all in his head, then the writers don’t know how to handle a possessed Stiles and continue on this narrative in a lucid, appropriate, and clear way. No matter what, I’m disappointed in the writing of Echo House especially since I have been enjoying 3B’s writing so much.

Sarah: Much like the others, I just chalk this episode up to bad writing.  I think this was just the writers’ hamfisted way of saying, “Oooh, looks like there’s more to Malia than we think.”  If/when she turns out to be evil, I foresee her and Peter pairing up to be this demented father/daughter duo, hellbent on taking over Beacon Hills or whatever.  Trying to force an instabond between Stiles and Malia rather than just developing the relationship like they’re doing with Scott and Kira is just lazy writing.

Undie: None of this episode made any sense and I so desperately want it to be deliberate. The only way that works is if Stiles was being manipulated by the Nogitsune in some way. The second half was oh so convenient – there were no consequences for Stiles getting drugged, then Malia just happens to suddenly know about another entrance to the basement? And Oliver being controlled? Talk about obvious. Then there were all these random time jumps that didn’t really fit and it’s so sloppy that I refuse to believe it wasn’t on purpose. I am probably going to get my heart broken, but until proven otherwise I am going to assume that this episode was terrible for a reason. Because if this series of problematic/boring tropes disguised as a narrative was actually for real, I am going to cry and not even the image of Stiles in sweatpants will be able to cheer me up.

So what did you guys think? Were you concerned about the depiction of mental illness? Or did your enjoyment outweigh the problematic aspects? Do you think Stiles and Malia had sex? Was is real or not real? Let us know in the comments.

Author: Undie Girl

Undie Girl (aka Von) has a BA (Hons) Major in Cultural Studies. The title of her honours thesis was “It’s just gay and porn”: Power, Identity and the Fangirl’s Gaze. She’s currently pursuing a Masters of Media Practice at University of Sydney. Von’s a former contributor The Backlot’s column The Shipping News and a current co-host of The Geekiary’s monthly webcast FEELINGS… with The Geekiary.

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