Did somebody who works on this show get a stack of back issues of Giant Robot for Christmas? The opening scenes of the mid-season premiere unfold with a heavy Asian-horror vibe—especially when Allison walks into an abandoned morgue that looks as if the ghosts of Van Halen found some brown M&M’s in their complimentary snack bowl. The place has been trashed, water is drip-drip-dripping from the ceiling, and suddenly, unnoticed by Allison, a spectral form beams in behind her for just a brief, shimmering instant before disappearing. It seems that, ever since the events of the mid-season finale, Allison, Stiles, and Scott have been caught in a permanent waking-dream state, or, as Stiles puts it, trapped “in a dream within a dream.” “We did die and come back to life,” says Scott, teen heartthrob, werewolf, and exposition master. “It’s got to have some side effects, right?”
Damn straight, dude. A dream within a dream is has always been a pretty good description of the tone Teen Wolf has striven for, or, at least, of the tone it’s often wound up with. When the three central characters are living it literally, it’s not all bad. When Stiles “wakes up” in the middle of a nightmare he’s still experiencing, Lydia is there beside him in his bed to talk about it; that’s the first tip-off that the perpetually lovestruck Stiles is not as awake as he thinks. Mostly, though, it’s a bummer. Walking around the highs school campus, Scott turns around and sees his shadow turning all wolfy—a clever effect that might have more comic potential than it’s tapped for here.
Allison can’t focus on her marksmanship, and when she and Lydia are out in the woods and Lydia is trying to help coach her, they almost do the William Tell act, à la William S. Burroughs and his unlucky spouse. Stiles being Stiles, he gets the worst of it—sitting in class and hallucinating that the Coach, who’s actually screaming at him to pay attention, is communicating in sign language. It’s easily the Coach’s finest moment on this show, ever: His hand gestures appear to be sign language, but he manages to put so much hostility into every motion that he looks as if he’s flipping Stiles off in a variety of exotic languages.
In keeping with the evolving Asian-horror theme, the show has added a new character: Kira, a Korean-Japanese student played by Arden Cho. It’s hard to tell yet whether Cho can act, but she has a likable entrance scen—dying of embarrassment when her father shows up to teach her American history class and lament the fact that, judging from what he’s heard at the dinner table, she doesn’t seem to have any friends. (They later have it out in the hallway. Dad: “I thought you wanted to be noticed.” Kira: “If I set myself on fire, I’d be noticed!” Dad: “Then, you’d be dead.” Kira: “Exactly!”) She’s also well-equipped to brief the heroes on the “Asian mythology” that overlaps with what they’ve been experiencing. (This season’s—or, I guess, this second half of this season’s—scheduled big bad is a canine shapeshifter called a “kitsune.”)
With any luck, Kira may be called upon to help Scott nurse his broken heart, which isn’t getting any better now that Isaac, who is living under Scott’s roof, has decided to put the moves on Allison. When Scott is having trouble controlling his transformations and she yells at him to find his “anchor,” he whimpers, “My anchor was Allison.” “Then be your own anchor,” she says. This is excellent real-life advice, but it’s not what most people tune in to a teenage horror soap opera hoping to see. I, for the moment, remain solidly Team Allison, but am open to seeing what Kira brings to the table.
The last mid-season finale seemed to end with the promise of romance between Scott’s mom and Stiles’ father, but somebody must have decided that most of the audience for this show is also not tuning in to see the old folks make out. It might happen, but it’s not going to be part of the main plot, and it doesn’t come up in the premiere, even though Scott’s mom probably has more dialogue tonight than at any time since the first season. For his part, Stiles’ dad, who has recently had his eyes opened to the truth of the supernatural, is busy going through his old cases, wondering which ones could have been better dealt with by obtaining some silver bullets and holy water.
Anyone who’s dying to see whether we have to wait a while for the return of Derek will be happy to learn that he and Uncle Peter both show up before the premiere fades to black. Their appearance only occupies the concluding minutes of the episode, but it’s seriously worth the wait.