At first glance, Teen Wolf might easily be dismissed as a corny supernatural teen drama, but, over the course of two and a half seasons, the show has proved itself to be anything but ordinary. The show has never been afraid to take stylistic or storytelling risks, and last night’s episode was nothing but a storytelling risk: a bus full of ordinary (and not-so-ordinary) high school students stop at a creepy, Bates-like motel for a night and encounter plenty of horror movie thrills, complete with phantom suicides, werewolf mind control, and spooky motel managers that take pride in their motel’s suicide record. Oh, and Alpha Derek managed to gain a girlfriend whilst lying on his deathbed (though that particular storyline felt a little off, to be honest).
The episode opened with a flashback to the motel in 1977, where an injured man was checking himself in with a gun. After examining a werewolf bite on his side, the man pulled open the shades to witness the full moon. As his eyes turned gold, the man held a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Who was the man? None other than an Argent. Self-sacrificing has been in that family for a while, apparently.
Present day, the bus stops at a cheap and shady motel after their cross-country meet was pushed back a day. Lydia immediately gets bad vibes from the place, but Allison comforts her by saying it’s only for a night. Lydia counters with “a lot can happen in one night.” Cue credits.
Sharing a room, Scott and Stiles ran through Stiles’s list of suspected murderers (the number of which had dropped from about ten to four, and Derek had been on the list twice though he’s still presumed dead by the group). Topping the list was chem teacher Harris (whose body has not yet been found), followed by Derek’s sis Cora, mysterious vet Deaton, and Lydia (because of her past mind control via Peter). Back in Beacon Hills, Ms. Blake dragged half-dead Derek to his loft, and Mr. Argent inspected the abandoned mall where the vicious wolf fight had taken place. Looks like Allison isn’t the only one breaking her promise, though it was really only a matter of time before the Argents’ lackluster attempt to keep away from the town’s supernatural shenanigans fell through.
Speaking of supernatural shenanigans, the group was only in the motel for a short period of time (but luckily long enough for Danny and Ethan to have a hot make-out sesh) before the freaky hijinks began. Stiles found Boyd staring blankly at the motel’s vending machine, and, when the machine failed, Boyd simply smashed the glass with his fist and grabbed his food. Awesome, but not normal. Scott stopped by Allison’s room whilst she was showering and spouted some weird(er than usual) junk in an apparent attempt to get back together with her, though he spent the whole exchange in a strange daze. Isaac began to hear his father’s voice in his head (remnants from a past exchange between the pair) and remembered his time spent locked in a freezer. And Ethan abandoned Danny once a HEAD tried to burst through the Alpha twin’s stomach. His solution was to hold a handsaw to his stomach, but Lydia, Allison and Stiles heard the noise and stopped him; he snapped out of his suicidal state once his hand brushed a burning heater.
Lydia, who’d been plagued with hearing phantom suicides since the bus’s arrival, heard a past instance of a mother drowning her baby (this was a pretty dark episode, by the way) and realized someone in the motel was drowning. Stiles and Lydia burst into Boyd’s room (he was being haunted by his childhood past, when his sister died by falling through some ice) and found him lying underwater in the bathtub with a heavy safe holding him down. Realizing heat would wake Boyd up, Stiles ran to the bus for flares that would burn underwater, and Lydia found Isaac cowering under his motel bed. The pair saved Boyd and Isaac, then caught up with Allison to find Scott. Unfortunately, Scott had retrieved the last flare from the bus; he was holding it whilst standing in a pool of gasoline. As Stiles, Allison and Lydia helplessly watched, Scott ran through the reasons why he thought he’d be better off dead, namely that he’d be nothing again (like he’d been pre-wolf bite), and his friends and family would be safe. The scene was truly heartbreaking–Scott was clearly still wrestling with the guilt over Derek’s presumed death, as well as every instance where someone he cared about or knew had been hurt or killed thanks to the wolves. Toss in his reluctance to lead a pack of teen wolves, and whatever was currently messing with the wolves’ heads, and Scott was in a seriously bad head space. Stiles managed to talk Scott down by telling him how much he needs him, how they’re more than best friends, they’re brothers, and Scott finally threw the flare away. Unfortunately, something blew the still-lit flare onto the gasoline, but Lydia tackled the boys and saved them. Looking back, she caught a glimpse of the previously-unseen big bad, a dark druid with a skeletal face and a set of dark robes, lurking in the flames.
The next morning, Ethan sat by Scott on the bus and offered him some info in exchange for Scott (but really Stiles) having saved his life: the Alpha pack was pretty sure Derek was still alive, but he had killed one of their own, meaning Derek either had to join the Alpha pack or be killed. Then, Lydia noticed a black smudge on the coach’s shirt and stole his whistle; she found it was full of wolfsbane, meaning every time the coach had blown his whistle, he’d blown wolfsbane into the air and unintentionally poisoned the wolves. Stiles took the whistle and promptly threw it off the bus, much to the coach’s annoyance.
Lastly, Derek spent the episode separated from everyone else, back at Beacon Hills with Ms. Blake. Their scenes mostly involved Derek trying to heal followed by plenty of kissing (during which Derek finally did heal). The scenes felt off to me simply because Ms. Blake has been handling her encounters with Derek and the wolves so strangely–rather than be suspicious or ask a lot of questions (she asked some, though seemed relatively uninterested or unconcerned with getting answers), Ms. Blake largely accepted the weirdness and gave in to her attractions to Derek, who always seems to be on the verge of death around her? I don’t know. You’d think she’d be worried or scared, but whatever. Good for you, Derek, I guess?
‘Motel California’ was definitely insane, but it was so much fun to watch, and the craziness was balanced perfectly by genuinely touching character moments (which are a Teen Wolf specialty–this show rarely skimps on character development, even with secondary characters, and the show really knows how to handle the characters’ largely-supernatural struggles in ways that feel organic rather than forced). At first, I assumed the episode was a mid-season standalone, but the show surprised me by tying in the druid’s (Lydia brought up the recent sacrifices, and reasoned that werewolf sacrifices could be next on the list–a point that was seemingly proven correct by the episode’s end); every episode this season has fit in well with fellow episodes, keeping the season moving with lovely full-circle cohesion, a feat all shows should, or do, strive for but often struggle with. Overall, Teen Wolf has a very unpredictable style–you never know what each episode will bring to the table, and, though every episode seems to be a unique piece of awesome crazy, the show clearly isn’t afraid to reach for or try different things, and it’s never shied away from doing its own thing–luckily, Teen Wolf is in great hands, and the payoff is almost always worth the show’s frequent risks.
You didn’t seriously think I’d miss mentioning Grandpa Argent’s return, did you? I somehow missed Michael Hogan’s credit at the beginning of the episode, so I was completely shocked when he turned up at the end, wheelchair-bound and still bleeding black fluid through his nose. So glad he’s not dead! Mr. Argent paid him a visit to learn the name of the Alpha who’d bitten the Argent we saw at the beginning of the episode. I bet you can guess his name, but here it is anyway: Deucalion!
- ‘Teen Wolf’ S3E5 Recap: Coming Undone (noplaceliketelevision.wordpress.com)