Teen Wolf Rewatch: Like Humans Do

I feel ashamed as I write this, but I’ve got to be honest. I’m about fourderek hale episodes behind the current season of Teen Wolf. I got a new job recently that started last Tuesday, and so a good bit of my focus has been spent on that obviously. And that’s a good reason to let some of television watching slip by the wayside for a few weeks, but still. I’m disappointed. I did this whole big rewatch to be caught up in time for the season and then have only watched like two episodes in a timely fashion. Oh well. Maybe I’ll be able to do better during the second half of the season.

Since I’m so behind, I’ve been trying to keep myself away from spoilers, limiting my tumblr and twitter usage especially. I’m not a big fan of spoilers. I like to be able to experience the story and all the surprises it brings in real time. But it’s hard and I haven’t been able to keep myself completely away. Just yesterday when I was posting a tumblr link to yesterday’s OITNB post, I saw a gifset of Stiles set to the quote “some of us are human.” Now, I don’t know if that’s actually something that’s come up in the latest episode, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was considering what was happening when I left off (Stiles just killed Donovan!). Either way, I liked the quote. Mostly because it highlighted something I’ve been thinking about a lot during my latest Teen Wolf rewatch.

Sometimes I think people, myself included at times, forgets that except for Stiles, these characters aren’t human. That being a werewolf or banshee or kanima means sometime more than just someone with super powers. And we don’t make enough allowances for them to be who they are.

The hard part is, I think, that these characters look like humans. They’re played, obviously, by human actors. We, the audience, are completely human. And so it’s natural that our default setting would be to hold these characters to our own human standards. To view their actions through the lens of our very human values and ideals of behavior. Of course that makes sense. But I think when we do that – when we take a man who’s been a werewolf his whole life or a girl who spent her developmental years living as an actual coyote and judge them based on how well they perform as humans – we lose out on elements of the story.

Werewolves, werecoyotes, kitsunes, and anything else this show throws our way aren’t human. Even those like Scott and Kira who haven’t spent their whole lives that way. Just as much as they have different abilities than humans – strength, heightened senses, an ability to harness electricity, whatever – they have different instincts and compulsions and drive. And that factors into who they are as character and the choices they end up making.

Violence, for instance, plays a much different role in the life of a werewolf than a human. It’s an instinctual reaction, sometimes caused by the pull of the moon but other times just by natural, animal inclinations. And surely would be influenced by experiencing how quickly and easily another were can heal. Scott, Isaac, Erica, Boyd – all four show an increased use of violence and aggression, especially casual violence, after receiving the bite. I would bet my life that not a one of them had ever been in a fight before getting the bite – at least not one where their participation amounted to anything more than curling up in the fetal position. Yet it immediately became an innate part of their characterization. And so when they – as well as the born weres like Derek, Peter, Malia, and Cora – more quickly resort to violence, especially with each other, it’s not something to censure the same way we would a violent human. Derek and Scott’s early pissing contests, Scott aggression towards Isaac over Allison, Derek’s violent training sessions, and so much more can be attributed to this more aggressive and violent instinct. That’s not to say they’re given free range to get violent and just maul anyone and everyone. No, and that’s clearly shown from the very beginning of the show, what with Derek attempting to stop the Alpha, and continues as the series goes on. It’s just their understanding of what’s appropriate behavior and what their limits are, are different.

These instincts aren’t the only things innate to the supernatural characters. Scott and Stiles like to occasionally refer to his abilities – his heightened senses and his reflexes, etc – as his “wolf powers” and a large part of the audience does, too. It’s like he’s a super hero now what with the things he’s able to do now versus his limitations as a human. Stiles, though he doesn’t want the bite, sometimes bemoans his own humanity and sees it as a weakness, that he can’t do what Scott can and is therefore less than. Now, I don’t want to get into a conversation on whether being a werewolf and have these abilities is necessarily better or worse. Instead, I want to point out that to Scott and Stiles, these abilities are powers. They’re special. They’re unusual. They’re extraordinary.

To Derek, on the other hand, there’s nothing super about them. To Derek, these abilities are just his regular, every day senses, no different than how you or I would feel about our eyesight or sprinting speed. I remember last season when Derek began losing the werewolf side of him and being shocked by people wanting to write cutesy fic of Stiles being excited to be on par with Derek or the rest of the pack teasing him about his new human status. I had such a different reaction to the story line! So much of Teen Wolf can be summed up in the allegories it’s (maybe accidentally) telling, and this story line was no different. For Derek, who had always been able to run with normal werewolf speed and employ normal werewolf strength and see with normal werewolf eyesight, this transformation would have been no different than a human going partially blind or their muscles becoming debilitatingly atrophied. For all intents and purposes, Derek was dealing with a newly developed disability this past season. Scott, who spent the first several seasons wanting nothing more than to be human again wouldn’t think of it this way. And Stiles, for all that he sometimes refers to himself as the weak, fragile human, would probably be insulted to think of his best as someone else’s disabled. But to Derek, who’s never known life as a human, that’s what it is.

Truth be told, it’s not simply the audience who sometimes needs to adjust their viewing lens. Scott and Stiles and the rest of the pack can be just as guilty. And why shouldn’t they, really? Humanity is all they’ve known until the start of the series, and while they’ve made some adjustments to how they view the world, they’re still learning. Which brings me to Malia. Just like Derek’s disability allegory, Malia’s story line – especially her Season 3B and early Season Four story line – is an allegory in its own right, for colonialism and imperialism. Malia was perfectly fine living her life as a coyote. That was the world she knew, the life she understood. And she liked it that way. Scott and Stiles – for all that they were attempting to save her from being killed – forced her into a life she didn’t choose, one she wasn’t looking for and had no way to get out of. Stiles was shocked when Malia punched him at Eichen house, had no idea she would be anything less than thankful. But really, who is Stiles to decide that Malia’s life as a human is better than life as a coyote? And then continuing with the colonialism allegory, so much of what we saw of their relationship with Stiles attempting to assimilate Malia into the human world: correcting her favorite food from deer to pizza, for example, or smoothing over her more self-serving survival instincts. Progress, he kept calling it.

And Stiles isn’t the only one expecting Malia to adhere to their human ideals. She’s been a pretty polarizing character since her initial appearance, often because she didn’t comply with an audience member’s human ideals. For some people, she’s not emotionally stunted enough after spending her developmental years living wild in the woods. She should be like a child, some people think, and so it’s gross that she’s involved in a sexual relationship. But those ideas change, for me at least, when I remember that she’s not human. She still lived those 10 years or so that she was a coyote. She still grew and matured and took care of herself and provided for herself and protected herself during those years. So, no, I don’t think she should be like a child. I think she should be more like an animal. Which is how they depict her. Someone without social graces or community ideals perhaps, but still someone who’s capable and intelligent. She’s somewhat wild and undomesticated, but she’s not stupid or undeveloped. In fact, I find her sexual relationship with Stiles all the more reasonable because of this. She wouldn’t be burdened by societal pressures and expectations when it came to sex. She would simply bypass all those hang ups. And let’s be real. Who’s to say Stiles is even her first? Coyotes have sex, you know.

Teen Wolf is only one of many supernatural shows currently airing on television. So I could probably talk for days about other examples of characters and story lines that work better when you take a step back and let go a little of your own humanity. Certain choices make more sense. Certain characters are more sympathetic. Certain actions become palatable. These aren’t characters attempting to be human, so why force them to be?

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