Tuesday, June 4, 2013

'Teen Wolf' 3.01 "Tattoo" Review

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Typically the worry with a hit show is the sophomore slump but in Teen Wolf’s particular case the show actually popped in its second season so the worry would be that the third couldn’t live up to the standout episodes of last year. After watching tonight’s premiere, it’s quite clear that Teen Wolf is interested in taking what they learned from last year and growing from there as represented by a thrilling, mystery-laden, action-packed episode that proved why this show is quite possibly the modern-day heir to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer throne of thematic genre storytelling. Oh and don’t worry, there’s still plenty of shirtless guys and a Stiles cracking wise so don’t think this is Teen Wolf  suddenly going grim. That said, things are quite dark from the get-go in a season that seems poised to deal with its latest threat with a little more maturity and readiness than in the past.



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When I say thematic storytelling just think about what Buffy used to be so very adept at—using monsters to stand-in for real life struggles and pivotal moments in a teen or young adult’s life. The title of this episode, ‘Tattoo’, comes to mean much more than what at first seems like Scott’s need to have the most dude-bro ink on his arm since the barbed wire coiled around a bicep. This show has had a long-standing relationship with exploring symbols, the most famous being Derek Hale's Treskele tattoo. This season is throwing focus on the power of symbols more than ever--even in the new segments of the opening title sequence. Scott McCall may claim that his desire to mark his flesh is just his reward for not breaking his oath to contact Allison over the long summer, but what he’s really committed to in that time is to his own personal growth. This moment is about a boy becoming a man who isn’t afraid of wearing his internal scars on the outside without fear of what will come tomorrow. A symbol of someone that worked all summer to become more of his own person and to rely on himself alone to change his situation and hopefully his destiny. Even though it seems that no matter what kind of man Scott tries to be there are always elements of fate that can alter his path.

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It’s a bit of an ongoing joke in the Teen Wolf fandom that the star of the show isn’t even the best or most-liked character on it. I think this year is one in which we’re going to see a truly different Scott—an evolved Scott and not just because he’s doing wolf-strength one-arm pull-ups while reading classic novels. Though I do kind of love the idea of that moment as a gauntlet being thrown to Stephen Amell’s frequently shirtless and exercising self over on Arrow a.k.a. the show where the wolf who shall not be named is residing. (Seriously, Jackson may as well be on the level of Voldemort other than a quick mention and a pretty funny pun involving his current status in the world of the show). Salmon ladder? Ha! One-armed pull-ups are the new thing in slightly gratuitous genre show workout porn.  Scott is definitely still pining over Allison, but it feels like it’s less about her and more about the comfort that being with her once represented. Being your own man is a difficult journey to embark on and no one can argue that, but thanks to his werewolf healing screwing over his ‘human’ attempt at completing the first tattoo rite of passage into adulthood, it's his literal trial by fire which fits more with the person he’s meant to be and that's truly why this time his mark sticks. 

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Apparently Scott's future self is extremely important to the big bads of season three. The Alpha pack has fully arrived at Beacon Hills and the chaos their presence has brought with them is mounting by the day. Animals are going ape-shit over this seismic shift in their social eco-system leading to some dodgy CGI effects. I found that the implied violence of shelter animals tearing themselves apart in their cages was more sinister in the classic what you don't see is far worse way and it displayed the effect the arrival of the Alphas has had. What's exciting about the Alphas is they have a variety of personas, and they also have special powers that really make you think twice about getting too close.

In various interviews, Jeff Davis has assured fans that he’s set on building a real mythology with his version of werewolves and the creative use of claws outside of combat (they can be used to share and manipulate memories) is a really interesting take on that idea that I can’t wait to really experience. Not to mention the presence of the twins and their jaw-dropping special move was something to behold visually. Wonder twin powers, activate! Form of a huge fucking alpha wolf, shape of…a huge fucking alpha wolf.  I’m sure we’re going to see more of that beast this season even though the literal way the twins, um combine is just begging for a lot of double entendre to be spoken. As it stands, the Alphas with the most panache are the lethal and sultry Kalli and the leader of the Alphas, Deucalion. I’m interested to learn more about the other three as well, but those two are the ones that have my eye at the moment with what we’ve seen so far.

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The Alpha pack works as an excellent threat on a few levels so far and it’s more than just the fact that they’re a clear physical threat with one confirmed kill to their collective name already. When Deucalion informs the name-less girl who saved Isaac from the Alpha pack earlier on in the episode of his plan it holds with it a certain insidiousness in using an ally of Scott’s against him  that fits with the idea of the struggle to fully realize one’s own potential. It's social and psychological warfare and I loved the touch that the wounds they inflict heal on the outside not on the inside. It's a metaphor that works for the various traumas our favorite characters have already suffered through in their lives as well as for what's to come. 

Scott is a threat to this group because of who he’s meant to be, but Deucalion shrugs it off with the affirmation that he’ll just have one of Scott’s own people end his life for them. Now, Scott and Derek have clashed since the beginning of the show but in order for Scott to break free into his own fully realized self then it’s necessary to learn how to be his own guide. That means he must be willing to stand up for himself and surpass his own status. It’s just like when a younger wolf takes on the more experienced current alpha—there’s a challenge and if the young wolf is ready then he will have surpassed the fellow creature and incidental mentor it likely learned a great deal about their way of life from. It’s another rite of passage on Scott’s road to being the best wolf he can be. Deucalion realizes that the emotional and psychological scars of forcing Derek against Scott are just as harmful to the both of them as the blood and fur that will fly should an altercation come to pass between them once more. 

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It would be too easy to have Scott’s new outlook this season leave his mother in the dust, but Teen Wolf has another check in the ‘lessons to be learned from Buffy’ column by making sure that the adults always remain part of the action. Using Melissa McCall’s status as a nurse is a great way to keep her deep in the mix in a season that’s clearly going to be very dangerous. Also, wow am I ever still shipping her and Sheriff Stilinski, they have such chemistry together and this is the kind of show that might actually make something of that. I know, what a shocker that adults have romantic lives too since that other teen-focused occult show on a network with two letters for its name couldn’t care less about characters out of their teens or early twenties right now unless they need to up their body count. It was a wise decision to let Melissa in on her son’s extracurricular activities last season—she’s a fierce woman who will do anything for her son and from the promo after the show it’s clear that bond too will be tested.

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There is one character however, who I feel isn’t where they should be by now. I’ll openly admit that during last season I was a very loud protester of Allison Argent’s vicious vengeful assault on Erica and Boyd following the death of her mother. I’m not going to use this space to talk about that any longer, but what was disappointing to me is how it felt that Allison in this episode was behaving far more like she did in the early days of season one. It’s a wait and see right now, but things were definitely not moving forward for her development in this episode. I’m worried that they’ll just stick her back into being primarily Scott’s love interest and friend again but the role the hunters have to play in this tale has yet to be revealed so I’m hopeful that just because there was controversy toward her actions, Allison won’t be defanged so to speak as a poor substitute for actual redemption.

Overall, this episode was a nice smash cut opening into the next season of wolfy exploits in and around Beacon Hills. There are questions to be asked, people to save, and challenges in place for our heroes already. Not to mention, they still find time to remember these kids are still awkward teenagers. Sometimes misguided, but they’re ultimately well-meaning teenagers trying to figure out who they will become in the wake of some truly extraordinary circumstances. Two notes I have for next week though: Bring on Danny and Peter Hale please.

What did you think about ‘Tattoo’? Who do you think will suffer the most from the actions of the Alpha pack this year? Hit us up in the comments.

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