Teen Wolf 4×12 Review: Smoke and Mirrors

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The problem with Teen Wolf is that every time I tell myself I’m done with this show, every time I swear that this is the last season I will watch, it goes and reminds me why I fell in love with it to start with. Because I am so in love with these characters (the original cast, I can take or leave the new ones). This episode was fun and exciting and it was genuinely the first time I was actually invested in what was happening since the beginning of the season. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? One episode isn’t enough to make up for and entire season that can best be described as ‘meh’.

Now I know a lot of you – and my fellow Geekiary writers – will probably disagree with my assessment of this episode. I’m aware that my love for this show makes me a little biased and honestly I don’t hold it to the same standards as a lot of others (if the people that make it don’t take it seriously, then I don’t either) but I am very aware of it’s issues.

Don’t get me wrong, this episode made about as much sense as – well, every other episode of Teen Wolf, but “Smoke and Mirrors” was well-paced, it focused heavily on the core cast, and actually summed the season up pretty well if you ignore the entire Benefactor storyline. Actually the ‘previously on Teen Wolf’ recap was a good reminder of just how much of this season was a waste. Basically everything that happened between Episode 2 and Episode 12 has absolutely no connection to the final. As long as you saw a clip of jailbait Beta getting bit you could skip eight episodes in the middle of this season without even noticing.

Now I know you all love it when we trash Teen Wolf, but I do want to say why I liked this episode. Scott turning into a monster, particularly one that his baby Beta feared most, was beautifully symbolic, especially because baby Beta was the one that brought him back to the light side of the force – that’s a Star Wars reference for anyone that is as unfortunate as Scott and Liam – who hasn’t seen Star Wars???? It’s a travesty!

tw5Also: Kira got some character development although it made me sad about how much she was wasted this season. Scott finally fought like an Alpha. Peter’s true colour’s were revealed and it was just as beautifully melodramatic as I imagined. Kate and Chris talked about Allison. Stiles and Derek were not only in the same room but they interacted with each other. It remind me that I am Sterek shipping trash and I will be for the rest of eternity. And Derek, I don’t even know how to talk about Derek because he died and evolved like a Pokemon for reasons that do not make any sense but who cares? Derek transformed into a full wolf like his mother, he got to attack the woman that ruined his life AND he finally won a fight. The whole season was almost worth it just for that.

On the other side, there were parts of this episode that really annoyed me. Like: why was Lydia left behind? Okay, understand why she was left behind narratively, so please don’t comment to explain that. I’m being hyperbolic because Lydia has been separated from the pack for much of this season for superficial and unnecessary reasons. While Mason is the only new character introduced this season that I am genuinely attached to, this episode could have been done without separating Lydia from the rest of the cast.

tw2Lydia and Mason being stuck in the high school is an example everything I hate about this show. They have so many ideas but they don’t seem to care about whether or not it fits with the characters or the storyline. Take Malia for instance, I know a lot of you aren’t fond of her for whatever reason but, personally, I like her, and she definitely had one of the better developed character arcs for this season. But, apart from her name and the fact that she’s a were coyote she doesn’t really have anything in common with the Malia from 3B. They are completely different characters. Because Teen Wolf doesn’t care about integration or consistency. It just jumps from moment to moment without much thought or consideration as to how it got there.

That’s what makes this show so frustrating, when it does something right it makes me so happy but to get to those moments I have to wade through A LOT of muck. Sure, it’s not the paradigm of queer representation that we thought it was going to be (and it REALLY needs to stop trying to present itself as one) but it’s still entertaining when it doesn’t get too bogged down by pointless tangents and unnecessary new characters. Every so often the show I fell in love with shines through the hot mess it’s become and it’s almost worth the frustration. I understand why a lot of people have decided that Teen Wolf is not worth the effort. If I wasn’t so attached to these characters I would have given up after 3A, but, alas, I do love them. So I suffer through the plot holes and character inconsistencies for the brief moments – like “Smoke and Mirrors” – when I genuinely enjoy the experience of watching Teen Wolf again.

Now, before I go re-watch Derek’s Pokemon moment over and over again I want to talk about Sterek and queerbaiting because I know a lot of you are going to ask about it. Was the lingering look between Stiles and Derek queerbaiting? I guess you could make a case for it. After all, this is the second time they have avoided contact between Stiles and Derek for an entire season only to put a meaningful moment in the finale in an effort to entice shippers back for another season. But I would call that ship teasing more than queerbaiting because Teen Wolf has been pretty clear about the possibility of Sterek since the first trailer for Season 3 began with both Stiles and Derek with their respective female love interests (not that I think this was the right way to go about it, but the message was pretty clear).

Please don’t mistake my meaning. I am not trying to make excuses because Teen Wolf is very much guilty of queerbaiting. The way the PR department used Sterek during after Season 2 to raise the profile of the show and keep people talking without any intention of following through, that was queerbaiting. Teasing Stiles bisexuality – particularly the scene with Caitlin in 3B – that was queerbaiting. Selling itself as some kind of haven of LGBTQ+ representation without actually providing any meaningful representation, that is queerbaiting. But Stiles giving dying Derek a meaningful look as he runs off to save his best friend is at worst fan service. And hey, if it gives the fandom something to work with during the hiatus, then I am all for it. Bring on the fic season! To be honest, I have reached the point where I just don’t care.

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Teen Wolf is what it is. It’s probably never going to fill in the plot holes or have a cohesive season arc. It’s not likely that any of the main characters will come out as queer and we’re probably not going to get much more than background LGBTQ+ representation. They will probably continue to bring in way too many new characters and start way too many new story lines without any idea how to conclude them. And you know what? It’s perfectly understandable if you’re not here for that. Personally, this episode did enough for me to give Season 5 a chance, but maybe I’m just a sucker for punishment.

All in all “Smoke and Mirrors” was a surprisingly entertaining end to an underwhelming season. What did you think?

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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About the author

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.

Comments

  1. I completely agree with you. I really have disliked this season but stuck through it because I’m still in love with the characters from the beginning. And truthfully I wasn’t excited to watch this seasons finale like I normally am. But I agree that there were moments in there where I found myself interested again. With Derek’s whole transformation and Peter finally being beat up I was excited to see how they would end it. I’ve also realized that even if I hate next season, and the season after that, I will probably still stick with the show just so I know what happens to the characters I’ve grown to love. (Ps I totally squealed with the sterek gazing moment)

  2. I understand your point of view and you’re entitled to it. I’m just not as forgiving as you are. I stopped watching after Eichen House and haven’t watched since. I read fan fiction like an addict and read the recaps to stay updated on what is happening in canon, but that’s it. At this point the show is just a cinematic fan fic with a big budget. Nothing that happens in it matters to me anymore– it’s just one AU among thousands.

    And Jeff Davis can bite me. Although he’d probably only do it as a queerbait.

    1. I’m laughing at your queerbaiting comment omg. And I completely understand what you’re coming from. When they were playing the marathons before the finale I refused to watch it. And fan fiction is better then canon

  3. I don’t like trashing the show. I don’t like that the show has gotten so bad it can be trashed, or that any of its fans might be happy to see it trashed. But I am so frustrated at the difference between what this show could be, what it claims to be, and what it has become.

    I liked the episode for the most part. I probably would have liked it more if it hadn’t been the cap to a season that was a total mess (plot-wise and PR wise), and if some of it had made more sense. I did love the Sterek interactions, won’t lie. And no, I don’t think that one longing look counts as queerbaiting (the show’s history is littered with better examples of that), but I don’t know that I consider it fan-service, either. It’s more like a quasi-obligatory bone tossed in our direction to make sure we come back again next season. And I don’t know if it’s enough to make sure I will.

  4. I don’t like trashing the show but this season has been bad to the point that I’ve only been watching it to understand references in fanfic. (And the eye candy!)

    However, I think most of the TW trashing is a result of MTV’s queerbaiting which (seems to me) to be the indirect cause of Posey having a diva-lost-her-spotlight moment or three and bashing Sterek fans. If MTV’s PR hadn’t been greedy and Posey had kept his mouth shut (or if he had apologized and proclaimed gratitude for all the fans who watch the show), most of the Sterek fans would still be happily consuming official Teen Wolf products while MORE happily contributing and consuming gifts from the fandom.

    The saddest thing is this:

    If either Tyler Hoechlin or Dylan O’brien said, “I don’t want Sterek to go cannon because I/my family/my SO would be uncomfortable with any intimate scenes” I think most of the Sterek fandom would be okay with that and would just keep being grateful for little fan service moments in the dialogue (such as you see every season in Supernatural). After all, a large percentage of slashers are female and understand that forcing the people (yes, even actors) into intimate or sexual scens is to akin to sexual harassment. Especially if we’ve dealt with sexual harassment ourselves.

    1. I agree with you, especially about being willing to accept the actors’ preferences about Sterek. Both Dylan O’Brien and Tyler Hoechlin seem ill at ease when Sterek or GLBT issues are discussed in interviews or conventions. It’s understandable, really– Dylan has a movie career about to burst into the stratosphere, and Tyler seems determined to never offend anyone’s sensibilities if possible. I get it, and never really expected Sterek to be canon as a result– it’s the whole “no homo”, “no scenes together unless it’s required” attempts to quash the interest that takes it into the Land of the Ladies Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks.

      I think the best thing Teen Wolf could do right now is to have Dylan and Tyler acknowledge their roles in playing it up at first, apologize for hurting any hurt feelings along the way, and explain that it won’t be happening because (insert personal reasons here that we will totally accept because they are adorable and we love them and forgive all their sins). Like you said, if it’s a personal discomfort people will likely accept it (even if professional actors should be able to recognize the separation between themselves and their roles– no one ever uses ‘my mom wouldn’t like it’ when hired to play a murderer, after all).

      Having Jeff put in the stocks so fangirls can throw rotten tomatoes at him wouldn’t hurt, either.

      1. Well, the US has strange standards and morals on TV and movies. One man killing men and cooking the remains is fine television. The idea that two consenting adult men are in love and having sex? *gasp* The horror!

        I think Jeff Davis (as executive producer for allowing the baiting for ratings) and Tyler Posey (for foot-in-mouth issues) issuing formal apologies is a little more important than the Sterek actors saying “please no, personal reasons” at this point. It would help though.

        1. Well, Derek is 25, Stiles is 17. Its illegal. Stiles isn’t an adult. And they have no chemistry, they don’t like eachother. And lmao, sorry that your sensitive fee fees have been hurt because there’s no sterek/”queer bating”

          1. You’re the same guy who trolled something similar at the Backlot last week, aren’t you? Begone back to your bridge. Everybody is entitled to their own interpretation of what they see. If you don’t see it when so many others do, that’s fine but your rudeness is still out of order no matter which site you spew it at.

            1. But … “Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.” 😉

              Stiles and Derek live in a fictional world. They don’t have to obey real laws. Strange how that works, eh?

              Regardless, of Sterek’s legal status on the show, Jeff Davis lives in the real world where he let his top credited actor “hurt the sensitive feelings” of the show’s most vocal fandom and after baiting for ratings the prior seasons. Between those huge mistakes in PR, plot holes you can drive trucks through, an onslaught of new characters, poor characterizations (especially in characters response to death of friends), characters that just went missing with barely a reference to them in season 4… Sheesh, the age of consent in the fictional world of Beacon Hills is a pretty minor concern.

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  5. I’m sorry but I do not see the glance that Stiles gives to a wounded Derek – a queer-baiting moment or an effort to promote Sterek. I view the moment as simply an expression of Stiles’ humanity and caring for a comrade. In both film and other media – such a cinematic moment has been created hundred’s of time without tomes being written of a hidden gay relationship among the characters – take the time and watch some war movies.

    I agree that Teen Wolf could and should do so many things better! For example, what sane person would ever choose to remain in that town, considering what has gone on for the past 4 seasons? From plot holes big enough to lose a car inside of, to cast changes, whole story-lines and characters both added and dropped in ways that make little sense – Teen Wolf can be a mess. The fantastical of Teen Wolf has basically lost whatever attachments to even its own in-universe normal logic, limping from one bad idea to another. Like the TV-show LOST, Teen Wolf started off pretty decently but is turning into a complete mess. The issues of gay representation, while important, are not the only problems with this show. Once I take this show off my DVR taping list I won’t care anymore.

    1. Mike, you know, I’m one of the people calling loudly for Sterek, but I happen to agree with you. The problems of this show go way beyond that ship. What you might have noticed, however, is that the fans of that ship are legion. That’s power to keep the show alive that MTV is squandering.

      They need to write better stories. They need to stop looking ahead to Teen Wolf: The Next Generation and focus on keeping their current fanbase interested. They need to think about what might have worked before to bring them ever increasing ratings. They need a streamlined cast and story, one that plays to the fan favorites together.

      This article and many of the responses are not so much about what you COULD see in the long look that Stiles gives. It could well be nothing but Stiles caring for a comrade at arms. His hesitation is poignant though, given his earlier rant to his dad about going to Scott no matter what. But the romantic possiblity has the power to keep people watching. Myself. The Author. And most of the responding fans here.

      It is true that there are other interpretations and that’s the problem with TW right now. If you ask me, the writers are scared. They have abdicated their role, leaving too much open to interpretation and creating plotholes. TW is like the show that is afraid to offend anyone and so offends everyone.

    1. I like it well enough. Parrish is the only new cast member I can say I really like. I don’t mind Kira and Liam, because I feel they add to the narrative. Braeden is offensive to me. Malia is just in over her head and not that interesting. I have a definite bias against her with Stiles. But I, also, just don’t care much about her anymore. She is very bland for a feral child.

  6. I guess the finale made all the meta about two Dereks and Stiles coming out as bisexual/spark fly out the window….was it just me or when Stiles and Derek were interacting with eachother u were reminded of the Derek we knew from S1 and S2? cos the Derek i see with other characters has grown very different from the one im familiar with….there’s also talk that those ‘glancing’ scenes were the one that were re-shoot, hmmm who knows…Derek suddenly evolving didn’t feel as cool as i think it could’ve been cos it wasn’t handled right…his Pokemon evolution seemed to have come out of no where….Sheriff better adopt Malia at this point cos that girl seems to have no father, maybe he bailed BHills with Danny or something

    So Brae is going to go look for Desert Wolf? going by track record, every other character except her is going to find DWolf 😉

    1. I totally agree. When Stiles and Derek were interacting, I recognized Derek. The real Derek. The rest of the season, he’s just been a very good-looking pod person.

  7. “Derek, I don’t even know how to talk about Derek because he died and evolved like a Pokemon for reasons that do not make any sense but who cares?”
    Who cares? People like me.
    This season ripped off every fanfic trope without a single explanation:
    – de-aged? check
    – memory loss? check
    – becoming human? check
    – wolf!Derek? check
    In the meantime, Derek’s character isn’t even Derek, we’ve had this POD persona going aroud the whole season and he doesn’t even resemble Derek at all.
    In fact, if you replace the actor and change the name you aren’t even able to tell that “that” was Derek, because the writers have no idea of what the word “characterization” means.
    And don’t get me started about Malia, or about how the show, the actors and the PR used the sterek fandom just to insult and censore them after they have done.
    What’s left about my favorite show after 4 seasons?
    Plotholes, bad characterization, censorship, writers that insult my intelligence and critical sense and pretend that I’ll swallow anything.
    That’s it. That’s the show.
    And that’s why I’m out.

    1. I have to agree about seasons 3b-4… Derek came back all “there’s no I in team” happy giving Scott level headed lectures on being a good alpha (half the fun with Derek was he was such a bad alpha)!

      Maybe he went with Cora to join a commune, get deprived of protein and brainwashed? Or maybe he encountered a supernatural body snatcher or shapeshifter that just looks like Derek? That’d explain him hopping into bed with another woman (who is obviously dangerous this time) and his insulting the one person (Stiles) who actually helped or saved his arse through seasons 1-3a

      .

  8. I agree with you, except about Malia. And I’m not a shipper so I don’t care who dates who. She was completely useless in that episode and basically, she’s like an outgrowth on Stiles’ side; you can’t see him without seeing her 90% of the time. I guess the idea was to pair her up with the most popular character and that “if she’s good enough for Stiles, she’s good enough for the viewers” as JD put it. Breadan was not that much useful either and it’s too bad that their basic usuefullness is to serve as LI. I think it’s really frustrating that we get more Derek and Sterek (as a non-romantic relationship) in the finale for the 2nd season in a row then in the whole season; something that is very deliberate and imo,a little crazy since it’s clear now going from the ratings, that viewers want a show revolving around the original cast.

    1. I agree… what’s so frustrating about Malia – a character that I actually like, on the surface – is that she has just sucked the life out of Stiles.

      All of the brilliant discoveries that should have gone to Stiles (or Lydia, even)? Malia got them. What did Stiles actually get to /do/ this season, other than make out with Malia? Not much, until the finale. I mean, I guess he did get to pull a wire out of the wall at Lydia’s house…but only because Malia heard the machine, and wasn’t it even Malia’s idea to go back to the house in the first place?

      I think the best thing for Stiles’ character is to drift away from Malia so that he doesn’t have to “shrink” in favor of Stalia. No one should have to be /less/ because they’re in a relationship.

  9. The season finale was a spotty ending to an entirely disappointing season. There were good parts in this episode, i will admit (Stiles and Derek interaction, Derek in wolf form, Allison being finally mentioned in length, etc), but it does not excuse the rest of the season. There are still too many unanswered questions, too many ignored plot points.

    The actual season aside, i’m a little irked at the sudden focus on the Desert Wolf, who is supposedly Malia’s mother and, in turn, Peter’s baby mama. It’s kind of a let down that, of all the important background stories we could get, TW is leaning towards exploring a character that has been around for one season and one that has had very little development and drive in the plot. I want to learn more about Talia Hale. I want to learn about Derek’s dad, i want to know if Derek had any other younger siblings. I WANT TO KNOW ABOUT CLAUDIA STILISNKI.

    1. More about Claudia and Derek’s family would be great!

      Also, I want to know the sheriff’s first name.

      Of course, I also want Stiles sassing to someone and claiming the sheriff “is Johnny Cage” in homage to the fact that Linden Ashby played Johnny Cage in the MK film.

    2. This! Exactly! We have a cast we know and love. Characters and issues they need to explore. Allison died. Stiles was mind raped. Derek lost his power. And all we are going to explore is Malia’s adoption? Her adopted father hasn’t made on appearance. She hasn’t seemed even slightly torn about this, even given there was a scene with Peter and some paperwork. Sheesh! Talk about writers out of touch with what works on their show.

  10. Malia was a waste in a lot of ways.

    She would have been best employed humanizing Peter while using that process to reveal hints of his Machiavellian machinations.

    If she had a relationship with Stiles it could have been more like that of siblings between Peter socializing with her. More Stilinkski family moments with Stiles, Malia, and the Sheriff with Peter occasionally sassing in a Sheriff advised “time out corner” would have been lovely.

    As a love interest Malia was, at worst, incapable of consent due to her lack of socialization and education. So it is very immoral of Stiles OR HIS DAD to allow them any sort of sexual relationship. At best, her being cast as a love interest of someone like Stiles is insanity. She’d be unable to function in society and her IQ would be very low enough that she’d either bore or frustrate Stiles for years after her reclamation from the wild.

    Her being cast as a student at a high school… No, just laughably sad.

    That being said, I thought the actress did a decent job given the horrid writing. She made me laugh a few times (appropriately) and I bought her anger and feelings for Stiles.

  11. …This show just got so bad. REALLY UTTERLY BAD.

    I partly pity and am partly impressed with people suffering through this mess and still sticking to the show.

    I personally can only recommend to stop watching Teen Wolf (even if you looove the characters) and start watching something new (*cough*IN THE FLESH *COUGH*).
    There are so many AWESOME (new) series out there that need to be watched. I’d rather spend my time there…

    See you Space Cowboy…

  12. It remind me that I am Sterek shipping trash and I will be for the rest of eternity. And Derek, I don’t even know how to talk about Derek because he died and evolved like a Pokemon for reasons that do not make any sense but who cares? Derek transformed into a full wolf like his mother, he got to attack the woman that ruined his life AND he finally won a fight. The whole season was almost worth it just for that.

    Yes! I’m a fool for this show as well. And I enjoyed a lot of this episode, even though it lacked almost any connection to the rest of the show and favored new cast over old a lot. As a writer, myself, I can tell you that in a fictional world like Beacon Hills there, at least, a dozen ways around any objection to Sterek.

    Let me list five things that could be true off the top of my head…
    1) Werewolves might age differently than people and so Derek could also be 17. That would explain Peter’s look changing so radically and Cora fine on her own at 11.
    2) Werewolves could be enough like real wolves that their sexuality is flexible.
    3) Or they only fix on one sexuality when they “mate for life.”
    4) If the world of Teen Wolf is really as open as MTV and Jeff Davis like to claim, then Stiles coming out isn’t a big dramatic even, it is only a matter of mental adjustment for him.
    5) Others might not see this one, but it seems that Dylan O’Brien always plays his hetero-sex scenes with a certain ambivilence that could easily become a path to reconsider his choice in lover if Malia started selling that “Mate for Life” angle that Shelley tossed around at Comic Con.

    The truth is that Teen Wolf got a lot of notice because it was teasing Sterek everywhere. It’s not the only reason people watch the show. Heck, it wasn’t why I watched the show. I liked the entire cast and the humor and the PG-thriller aspect of it. Some obviously hate Sterek. But it is more original and cutting edge than any other option the show has right now. And free press is free press.

    They would be well advised to fall back on their basic formula at this point. Close friends in high school that know there are monsters lurking and fight them, while dealing with some typical teen age stuff like falling in love, sexuality questions and popularity.

  13. This was a great article that pretty much summed up the feels I had spewing out of me when I watched the show at a later date. But the comments…man, the comments are serious gold. Just. The TW FANDOM IS A GIFT. Emphasis on FANDOM, which consists of smart, intelligent, individuals who are pretty vocal with how done they are with the show and the show runner itself.

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