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Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Teen Wolf S5E13: After Images



Teen Wolf
Series 5, Episode 13
After Images



As we head into the thirteenth episode of Teen Wolf, we all have a very tense, suspenseful question on our minds: Will anything actually happen in this episode?

Well, the answer is yes! Or sort of. I'm beating an old drum here, but Teen Wolf has a terrible problem with not being able to decide between episodic and serialised storytelling, and that's a problem because while each form of story has to achieve a similar goal with its episodes -- telling a discrete arc that builds to a climax -- the methods they use to do so are very different.


Episodic shows generally follow a pretty simple structure: They introduce a problem, the heroes have to try to fix it, there are pitfalls along the way, and then they fix it, usually by being mindful of whatever that episode's theme is. Often, the problem will be twofold, with an external problem that needs sorting and an internal problem that is preventing the heroes from doing so. Importantly, in episodic shows there is usually a status quo, even within the context of a larger arc, and the characters return to that status quo afterwards. Conflicts are solved in self-contained packages, so the catharsis comes from the resolution of those conflicts.

Serialised shows have a dramatically different approach: When done well, they tend to be follow on from a status quo change in the previous episode -- as the characters adapt to that status quo change, they face conflicts that have been exacerbated or created by that change, eventually leading to a cathartic moment where the status quo is fundamentally altered. Conflicts are much less easily resolved in serial shows, where they might be strung out over several episodes, so the catharsis comes from an escalation or alteration of those conflicts.

Teen Wolf wants to be both, and in the process, we end up with a hodge-podge mix of the two: A status quo change creates an external or internal problem that the heroes have to fix, leading up to the partial-resolution and partial-escalation of those conflicts. The result is that every episode feels like a half-baked holding pattern: They fail episodically because they cannot stand on their own, and because in order to keep the tension up in a serialised format, the conflicts cannot be fully resolved; they fail as a serialised form because a single status quo shift is strung out over multiple episodes without any escalation or alteration, meaning that we swiftly feel like the plot is going nowhere.

To put that into context here: In episode eleven, we were introduced to the idea that some spider-related fear entity has invaded Beacon Hills. By the end of episode thirteen, we know exactly as much about it as we did in episode eleven, and so do all the characters. We're over a quarter of the way through this arc, but the serialised plot hasn't progressed at all. There's been no catharsis, and because of that, it's difficult to keep interested in it.

(Incidentally, the most serialised arc in Teen Wolf, the Nogitsune arc, did this very well -- every episode fundamentally altered the landscape of the arc, providing either information to the audience or an escalation of stakes.)

Instead, we spend almost the entirety of episode thirteen with Scott, Malia, Liam, and Doomed To Die Extra #2 in a cat and mouse game with Gerard and Tamora. Gerard and Tamora are set up early on as being in control of the situation and having the advantage, and by the end of the episode, they are still in control of the situation and still have the advantage -- Brett and Doomed To Die Extra #2 both die, but they die in service of re-re-re-establishing that people are afraid and turning on the supernatural creatures, which we already knew.

In fact, part of the reason we know that is because this episode's B and C plots both revolve around the idea of 'people are becoming afraid,' and they largely begin and end there. Random Googly Eyed Boy is afraid and stabs Cody. Melissa and Chris are afraid but cope. The show is hammering in this idea with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the jaw, but it's all information that we already got. There's no catharsis there because nothing is actually changing, either for the characters or for the audience.

The only real change is that the show confirms that it's shoehorning in a romance between Scott and Malia, despite their total lack of chemistry and the fact that there were not even the slightest hints of a romance between them before this. Or, you know, two episodes ago.

So, while stuff happens in this episode, it all ultimately feels meaningless. You know what would have been better? Cut out the Hellhound stuff from episode eleven and twelve. Have the scene where Googly Eyed Dude stabs Cody be in the first ten minutes of episode eleven. Have Tamora have already killed a werewolf (and have Scott and Malia find its body and be investigating), and have her start to tangle with Brett in that episode. End it with Gerard appearing and killing Brett, and telling Tamora that he's building an army, while elsewhere Lydia -- having her visions of spider silk and such -- realises that Beacon Hills is in the grip of fear.

Then kick off episode twelve with Gerard's army in full swing (because, let's be honest, with all the overtly weird stuff that goes down in Beacon Hills, you don't need an entire episode to set up a bunch of people knowing about it), and with everyone paranoid about supernatural monsters, which is where episode fourteen seems to be going. Add in some clues as to what the spider fear-monster is in episode twelve, and then keep up that dripfeed of information until episode fourteen or fifteen.

So, I'll see you all next week, when apparently Liam will be getting beaten up in a classroom, so that's a whole thing.

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