For this half of the season, I am determined to do better about watching Teen Wolf in a timely manner. I fell down on that so hard during the first part of the year, but not this time. Since the first of the year, I have gotten myself so freaking together it’s mind boggling. For real. I am so on top of things right now. And it’s going to stay that way.
For a lot of people, when they want to talk about relationships on Teen Wolf (or, let’s be real, any show) the focus is pretty squarely on the romantic ones. But while I enjoy many of the romances (the tragedy of Scott and Allison, the antagonism of Lydia and Jackson, the dysfunction of Malia and Stiles, the fumbling of Scott and Kira, and the absolutely meant to be Derek and Stiles), more often I’ve found the other relationships to be much deeper, more nuanced, and vastly more interesting.
I’m especially enthralled by our teen protagonists and their parents. For today, let’s talk about Stiles and Sheriff Stilinski.
The thing I love so much about Stiles’ relationship with his father is just how complex the relationship is. How deep. It’s not enough to simply say it’s a good relationship or a bad relationship; there’s just so much to it that I don’t think you can necessarily classify it either way. There’s positive and negative qualities. Good and bad. And most importantly, it hasn’t stayed stagnate. Stiles is a teenager, still learning about himself and the (very supernatural and dangerous) world around him. He’s growing and changing every minute, so naturally his relationship with his father is constantly growing and changing, too.
Stiles and Sheriff Stilinski love each other, that is just so, so clear. They’re all they have left by way of family and they try so hard to put the other first and do right by each other. And they fail so spectacularly sometimes. Like I said, it’s a complex relationship filled with love and joy and pride. But it’s also run through with guilt, fear, neglect, and regret. On one side there’s a lack of trust and on the other side there’s a lack of faith. And both feed into the negative side. In fact, they’re both constantly cycling through these negatives and reinforcing them on the other side.
From basically the very beginning of the series, Stiles was shown to be a sneaky, lying little troublemaker. Of course at that point, it was mostly harmless teenaged shenanigans, but his untrustworthiness was already on Sheriff Stilinski’s radar. As the series progressed and Stiles found himself crawling deeper and deeper in the supernatural world, he decided not to clue in his father (partly from a sense of wanting to protect him) but that led him to bigger and bigger lies, more and more sneaking around, and just so much that he couldn’t explain: being Lydia’s date when she was attacked on the football field, stealing a police van and kidnapping Jackson, always being around when series, fatal crimes were being committed. And his lies weren’t always good. Sheriff knew that Stiles was keeping things from him, knew that Stiles untrustworthiness had grown into something much more than simple teenage shenanery. And so by the time Stiles did want to bring his father into the fold, it was too late. There’d been too many lies for Sheriff Stilinski to just take Stiles at his word.
And by that point, Stiles knew it. He knew his father didn’t believe in him. He knew that his father looked at everything he said as one big lie. And while maybe I can sit here and say ‘well, that’s kind of justified seeing as how much you lied to him over the first two and half seasons,’ that’s a hard pill for a kid to swallow. It’s a lesson that sticks. Stiles’ dad doesn’t trust him. So how can Stiles ever really go to him if he’s in trouble? How can Stiles confide in him if he’s not going to trust him? And so the vicious circle continues. Stiles doesn’t have faith in his father, doesn’t know that he’s someone he can rely on when shit hits the fan, and so he keeps things from him and he lies to him. Sheriff Stilinski, on the other hand, is so used to Stiles’ secretive, sneaky, and deceitful nature that he doesn’t trust him, takes everything he says with a grain of salt, giving Stiles no reason to put his faith in him.
Of course, there are other factors at play in this aspect of their relationship. Stiles’ self esteem issues, for example, and residual trauma from his mother’s death that he clearly hasn’t fully overcome. For the Sheriff there’s clearly some neglect on his part; not cruel or purposeful neglect, just what comes from being an overworked, underpaid single parent. These issues also feed into the ongoing cycle.
So here, I really want to take some time to discuss what I think is a hugely important moment in the development of their relationship: their conversation in the morgue where Stiles confesses that he was the one who killed Donovan.
Sheriff Stilinski knows that Theo and Stiles are not telling him the truth about what happened to Donovan. And like the good detective he is, he’s poked around and found the inconsistencies and come to his own conclusions. But he still needs that confirmation. Needs Stiles to be the one to tell him the truth.
There’s such a distinction between this conversation and what went down between Scott and Stiles. When Scott found out the “truth” (or at least, the truth according to Theo), it was all accusation and blame and remonstrance. There wasn’t even a question of Stiles’ guilt, no possibility for there to be any explanation or defense. Scott would hear nothing from Stiles, could hear nothing from Stiles. And it was that assumption of Stiles’ guilt, more than anything else, that led to their rift.
With the Sheriff – despite the total aura of defeat emanating from Stiles as he went to face his father, sure of repeat of the conversation with Scott – the conversation was totally different. All the Sheriff said was “I can’t protect you if you don’t tell me what happened.” There was no accusation, no reprimand, no disappointment. Instead, the Sheriff simply gave Stiles and opening to talk about what happened. More than that, he offered Stiles an opportunity to unburdan his soul. And as the conversation progressed, it became so clear (if it wasn’t already from his fall-out with Scott and his breakup with Malia) just how much Stiles needed it.
Sheriff Stilinski lets Stiles speak, lets him make his confession of killing Donovan in self defense, and takes it 100% at face value. And that was just so, so important for Stiles. After Scott’s reaction and with the knowledge that his father often didn’t trust him, the Sheriff’s blunt, simple “I believe you,” was something Stiles so desperately needed to hear. He needed to be believed, he needed to be understood, so that he could start to truly believe it himself.
And clearly, by the look of trepidation on his face as he steeled himself for the conversation – not to mention the fact that he was keeping this secret to himself as much as possible – we can tell that Stiles was expecting more of the same. He was expecting more like the reaction he got from Scott. He was expecting disbelief at his innocence from the man who “hasn’t believed a word out of his mouth since he learned to talk.” And a very large part of Stiles probably felt he deserved it. And Scott’s denouncement of Stiles’ actions only increased Stiles’ own feelings of guilt. But what he got from the Sheriff was not simple trust in his words. It was not even simple validation that his actions were indeed self-defense. No, he got “I will burn the sheriff’s station to the ground to protect you.” He got someone firmly on his side, aggressively in his corner. He got Sheriff Stilinski ready and willing to take on the world in order to protect his kid. Because he deserved it.
I think this moment will be a catalyst for the Sheriff and Stiles. A turning point of progress. Sheriff Stilinski was surprised Stiles would be afraid he wouldn’t be believed. He saw first hand Stiles’ lack of faith in him. But his response to the situation – his unwavering trust in Stiles’ acting in self-defense, his emphatic support of his son’s actions, and his gentle and empathetic counseling of Stiles’ guilt – is a major step towards repairing Stiles’ faith. And if Stiles can act on that faith going forward – can know that his father will be there for him and support him in these worst of times – Stiles can start to lean on him and confide in him. No more keeping the supernatural for the Sheriff, no more secret trips to Mexico, no more silently shouldering the guilt of being a killer.
Stiles needs to have a father he can lean on; he needs someone who will help carry the weight Stiles puts on himself. And Sheriff Stilinski needs to be able to trust his son in order to be that person for him. This exchange opened both their eyes to where they’re maybe falling down on the job. And I think it will be a moment that propels their relationship forward to new heights.