Retrospective: Teen Wolf Season 2 was a Gift
As Teen Wolf is finally ending, I thought it was a good time to look back and reflect on my relationship with the show. While it might have soured with the later seasons, there was a time when I was deeply and unashamedly in love with this show and there’s a reason for that.
The second season of Teen Wolf was a masterpiece of accidental camp and loveable sincerity, just because the show went in a direction I wasn’t into doesn’t negate the fact that I had a hell of a time watching the first two seasons.
Like a lot of people, I missed the first season of Teen Wolf when it aired. It looked like just another Twilight inspired ‘dark gritty’ remake of something that’s appeal was largely due to the fact that it was neither dark nor gritty. But then everyone that watched it turned quickly to peer pressure and demanded that I give this silly show a chance. “It’s much better than it looks,” they said and they were right… sort of. I binged the entire first season of Teen Wolf in one go and I was totally hooked! I’d gone from skeptic to convert and I was determined to drag everyone else down with me.
I’m no longer obsessed with Teen Wolf. In fact, in the spirit of honesty I’ll admit I don’t even like Teen Wolf anymore. But I’m not going to sit here and pretend I wasn’t completely obsessed with this show. I’m also not ashamed of my love, partially because I have no shame anymore, but mainly because despite what happened in later episodes, the second season of Teen Wolf is still a god damn good time.
Season 1 of Teen Wolf was fun for sure but Season 2 really seemed to take the strengths and weaknesses of Season 1 and work with them to create something special. For example Scott McCall shift from victim to her. Scott is a fantastic hero, he’s sees everything as black and white, he’s a hopeless optimist, a romantic, he’s righteous to the point that it’s a character flaw. Scott McCall makes a fabulous hero, but for the first half of Season 1, Scott’s a victim. Things happen to him and he doesn’t really get to be an active participant in his own story. In Season 2 Scott is a hero, his goal goes from trying to save himself to trying to save the world and in that he becomes an infinitely more interesting and complex character.
In Season 2, the creators of Teen Wolf also seemed to have worked out that Stiles was a cutie that absolutely needed to be broken. In contrast to Scott’s victimisation, Stiles was active in his involvement in the supernatural throughout Season 1. He’s the one that dragged Scott into the woods in the first place so he really needed his agency taken away from him. He was also the fan favourite from early on. So naturally the best thing to do was to break him, and Teen Wolf Season 2 broke Stiles so well.
In later seasons they take the whole broken cutie trope so far that it no longer means anything, but in Season 2 it was just the right side of heartbreaking. There’s a fabulous mix of over the top camp, like that snake coming out of Jackson’s eye, and simple sincerity that makes it incredibly enjoyable. It really was the best of what this show could have been.
The four act domino mystery reveal structure works as well, if not better, in Season 2 than it did Season 1. One of the reasons it works so well is because it tells us everything we need to know in the first episode. The first episode show us Jackson coming out of the water, and it shows us that Gerard is the big bad of the Season. After the first episode there are red herrings and tangents but the truth was there from the start so that when they’re finally revealed as the season progresses it feels satisfying because we had the answers all a long. It feels like it was on purpose.
The best thing about it is that each reveal is directly connected to the core characters. This is something the later seasons lose track of. In the quest for ‘bigger and badder’ plot twists the big reveals often feel like they’ve come out of nowhere. Sure there’s a level of shock, when something totally unexpected happens but if there’s no emotional connection it that momentary blip of excitement is mostly unsatisfying. But I’m not here to talk about what later seasons of Teen Wolf did wrong, I want to talk about how Season 2 got it right.
In Season 2 the villains, the problems, it’s all personal for one or more of the core characters. It’s Jackson, it’s Allison’s family, it’s Derek’s uncle. When you break it all down the big bads are family drama and personal angst. It’s such small stakes when you really break it down and that’s why it works, that’s what makes it so intense. The world is not going to end, but this small group of characters are in immediate danger and that’s all that matters.
Perhaps the most interesting example of Teen Wolf learning lessons from Season 1 and making them work in Season 2 can be seen in Allison Argent. While she gets more depth than many ‘love interest’ characters, Allison’s role in Season 1 is as the romantic prize for Scott to win and lose. Of course the season ends with them happily in love, which leaves Season 2 to ask wonder whether all of the issues they had getting to happily ever after just go away when the curtains close. Spoiler alert, they do not.
In Season 2 Allison has to try to come to terms with the fact that she’s from a family of hunters. She has to connect what her father does with what her aunt did. She has to work out how to love both her family and Scott. She has to figure out whether it really is possible not to take a side in the war she’s walked into. That’s A LOT of deep stuff for a teen show about werewolves to deal with, but they do a surprisingly good job. Allison actually gets to be conflicted, she gets to make mistakes without being easily forgiven or completely vilified. And Scott is just as guilty as she when their relationship ends. Season 2 of Teen Wolf made Allison one of the most interesting investigations on the ‘human girlfriend’ trope that’s around.
Now I’m not going to sit here and say that Season 2 of Teen Wolf was perfect. It most certainly was NOT perfect. I mean for starters they butchered another cultural myth without any kind of acknowledgement. They added a woman and a black man (treated them terribly too) only to side line them for a white guy (yes I know he’s cute when he takes that dogs pain but come on guys). Also Lydia’s subplot where she’s resurrecting Peter is a bit unnecessary but I probably wouldn’t have hated it as much if they’d actually dealt with the obvious allusions to sexual abuse rather than just hinting at it. But overall Teen Wolf Season 2 a fabulous piece of junk food television.
The early seasons of Teen Wolf with all the slow motion, B movie prosthetics, and unnecessary flips, are just so endearingly sincere. It didn’t try to be anything more than it was. A silly teen supernatural drama. After Season 2 the show gets self aware in a way that I find really annoying. I guess it makes sense as for Season 3 the show moved to LA, and it got more money and more episodes. It had also gotten a lot more public recognition, the audience and the fanbase exploded between Season 2 and 3. The show isn’t made in a vacuum and these changes affect the show on a fundamental level.
The obvious shift in content and tone from Season 2 to Season 3 of Teen Wolf is a stark reminder of how much outside forces affect storytelling in television. The limits imposed on the first two seasons actually resulted in most of the things I loved about the show. The fact that I didn’t like the changes they made then they had more time and money means I probably wasn’t a fan of the show they were trying to make in the first place. I loved this silly sincere small stakes character drama, and they wanted to make a flashy watercooler moment filled action driven show.
Still it’s kind of amazing that a limited budget, an isolated shooting location, and some seriously low expectations resulted in one of my favourite seasons of television ever. An accidental miracle.
Sometimes when I’m reminiscing about Teen Wolf I like to think about the werewolf run. It sums up everything I loved about this show. The wolves are on their hands and feet and they sort of leap along like an animal. It looks as ridiculous as it sounds. I loved it because it looked so silly but the show took it so seriously and that’s exactly what I wanted from Teen Wolf. They mostly stopped doing the werewolf run after Season 2, and that sort of says it all really. It seems like the show suddenly became aware of it’s own silliness and they were embarrassed by. I don’t think they understand that people were actually kind of into it.
Season 2 of Teen Wolf was and continues to be a delight. It presents Derek Hale as the fail wolf we all fell in love with. It shows Scott embracing his role as hero and learning the compromises that entails. It places school events on the same level as supernatural dramas, and it’s got exactly the right amount of Stiles angst. Also Gerard Argent was the best villain this show has had. Sure it’s not particularly deep, but there’s a hint at something below the surface that feeds fandom perfectly. It also features Chris Argent wearing a thigh holster and the general awesomeness that was his wife. What more could you ask really?
Teen Wolf has changed a lot over the years and everyone’s going to have their own opinion as to whether that was for better or worse. However you feel about Teen Wolf now, it’s worth looking back and remembering that the Season 2 was a definite high point. A high point that deserves a little bit of love, and maybe a rewatch. So as we say goodbye to the show Teen Wolf became, let’s all raise a glass to the show it used to be.
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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