Teen Wolf has always had cinematic aspirations, but they've really come to the fore this season, which is replete with long shots sweeping across muted color palettes and eerie, empty vistas. The first episode featured a full-on Hitchcock homage as a flock of black birds invaded a high school classroom, and last week's episode paid tribute to two time-honored tropes: the away game and the road trip. This week finds our high school heroes (werewolves Scott, Isaac, Boyd, and Ethan and humans Stiles, Lydia, Allison and Danny) spending the night in a creepy motel after the track bus gets caught in an intractable traffic jam on the way to a meet. An opening flashback has Allison's werewolf hunter uncle starting to turn into a werewolf and killing himself to stop the transition; a vocally-impaired night clerk at the front desk informs Lydia that the place is famous for the high rate of suicides among its customers.
The rest of the episode is spent in a tangle of flashbacks and hallucinations--and, unlike last week's oddly plotted mess, all of the backward action actually works to drive the story forwards. The wolves get caught up in their worst, most traumatic memories, recollections and imaginations so bad they'd rather die than keep living them. This means we get backstory on the previously mysterious Boyd (his little sister was kidnapped from an ice rink while he was babysitting her when he was a child, which makes his after-school job running the local Zamboni particularly poignant) and a reminder that Isaac was abused by his late father, who regularly locked him in an unplugged freezer. Ethan-- one of a pair of Alpha twins whose bodies fuse into one enormous super-wolf when they shift-- is terrified of his brother getting trapped inside of him, and Scott might just be suicidal.
All of the other wolves are snapped out of their trances by heat-- Ethan burns himself on a space heater in a tussle, after which cool-headed Lydia suggests road flares to startle Isaac and Boyd back into themselves. So when Team Human finds Scott standing in a puddle of gasoline holding the last flare, already sparking, lucid and able to communicate with them, you have to wonder. The ritual murders that have marked each episode of this season come in sets of threes, but there are four wolves in the motel, each attempting to off himself; Scott's definitely the odd one out. He's still distraught over Derek's assumed death (he shouldn't be-- Derek spend the episode bleeding sluggishly and making out with a woman he barely knows, so he's definitely all right), earlier he hallucinated Alpha pack head Deucalion killing his mother, and he's suddenly (and inexplicably) an alpha himself, which means a whole host of other problems coming his way. Scott's despair, while exaggerated, seems genuine; the moment in which Stiles steps into his puddle of gasoline, saying "you're my best friend, you're my brother," is beautifully poignant. Last week saw Allison stitching Scott's wounds to trick him into healing; this time, there's no illusion involved. It's a good reminder of why you need humans on a werewolf show-- because while supernatural creatures are mostly indestructible, they can be brought low (in this case by wolfsbane poisoning, a callback to a similar sequence in the second season), and they need humans who know about the science of road flares, who can call them back from the brink of themselves to the very real communities that they spend their time trying to protect.
Also a quick mythology note: there's a definitely play of fire and ice going on this season-- Isaac and Boyd in the freezer and on the rink, being burned back into themselves; in the first episode, Derek took a blowtorch to Scott's arm to make his tattoo permanent. Promos showed Scott drowning himself. Derek's family was killed in a massive house fire six years ago. I have no idea what it has to do with the Alpha pack or the dark druid Darach, but it's interesting to watch the motifs expand and unfold as the season progresses.
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