Victoria Moroles (left), Dylan Sprayberry

The majority of Teen Wolf’s “Required Reading” is a solid, even good episode. It begins with the type of action you want to see through, and it brings a lot of much needed substantial weight and intrigue (and something—anything, really) to the Dread Doctors plot. The minority, however, is aggressively bad. It’s not integral to the plot at the hand, until it is (at the very last minute), and that doesn’t exactly inspire any confidence. Its failure is to the detriment of a character who spent an entire season working to gel with the rest of the cast, only to return in this season as a bargain brand version of another character.

Yes, let’s get the minority out of the way, since the description is pretty thinly veiled. It’s the Liam and Hayden storyline. Again, Liam remains outside the main plot to work through a grudge from the sixth grade, and as expected, the sixth grade back story that no one asked for was related to Liam’s IED (which appears to be totally under control, just like his lycanthropy, despite the season premiere’s points to the contrary): Liam was in a fight with a some other kid and ended up accidentally breaking Hayden’s nose. (She retaliated by doing the same to him, by the way.) No, she was not the target of his IED, she was the victim, and because it ruined her sixth grade yearbook photo, that is an unforgivable act.

This episode is actually stellar if you, for some reason, want to know more about Hayden when interesting things are actually happening. Hayden is Deputy Clark’s sister. Hayden is being screwed over in pay by her boss at the (possibly) gay cinema club, as he specifically hires underage kids, pays them under the table, and takes half of their money. Hayden plays soccer, very well. Hayden had a kidney transplant a few years ago, and the money she needs is for her meds. Hayden may possibly be a chimera, and all of the above is supposed to make us care about that.

Meanwhile, I’m actually somewhat interested in why Brett is never at his own school.

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Everything about the storyline—every scene, every line of dialogue, every scenario—is awful, especially in the case of the soccer/lacrosse real live nightmare. There’s nothing to care about when it comes to Hayden, and a sixth grade grudge is already a joke of a back story in the first place. Her unpleasantness toward Liam is revealed in this episode to be overblown (to any adult who is watching, at least), and it’s not even anything she commits to, as Liam constantly giving her money she doesn’t want and taking an inhaler from some stranger is good enough for her. While everyone else in the pack (and Theo) are going through some stuff, Liam is with Hayden, giving her money and not having a real character or goal himself. From Scrappy-Doo to a less helpful Flim-Flam, Liam’s only importance in this week’s episode—the revelation that Hayden being a chimera doesn’t make it or anything before it better—is to get Scott an inhaler. It’s a reminder that he’s here too, even when he isn’t.

If you were to remove every Liam and/or Hayden scene (minus the inhaler) but the last one, it would be the same episode, only without the ill will garned from the terrible writing and acting that came before it. But since that’s not the case, it all drags the episode down immensely.

And it hurts, because the rest of the episode is good, which has been proven to be hard to do with talk of chimeras, Dread Doctors, and electromagnetic fields. Teen Wolf has gotten into a pattern of repeating far too many stylistic tropes for its own good, but when they work, they work. The opening teaser sort of toes the line there, opening in media res like thousands of other episode of TV (Teen Wolf included), but it’s one that inspires a great deal of interest for the rest of the related parts of the episode. It misses a beat when (again) the episode doesn’t explain how far back we’re going before the opening—and for that, it’s easy to forget about the field of chimera holes at Beacon Hills High—but once that initial misstep is out the way, it’s simple to get into the parts of the episode that have nothing to do with Liam and Hayden. This is the episode where the pack finally reads The Dread Doctors, and for that, I’m willing to cut the show some slack for naming back-to-back episodes “A Novel Approach” and “Required Reading.”

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Prior to the twisted book club, it makes very little sense that everyone assumes that Malia’s PTSD vision of the car accident (and the Desert Wolf, though that tidbit is only known by Theo) is related to reading read Dread Doctors book. If the book is supposed to unlock memories of the Dread Doctors—which is what Lydia harps on—then it should have absolutely nothing to do with Malia’s own struggles with her past. In fact, the longer that goes on without the show addressing it, it feels like a plot hole. However, making the book the gateway to repressed, traumatic memories in these characters’ lives works much better (especially since it would be ridiculous for the Doctors to have messed with each member of the pack, right?) and gives a greater meaning to the Dread Doctors’ name than just alliteration. Where the chimeras come in, however, is still the question, just like what every chimera had in common.

The hallucination scenes are some of the best directed scenes of the series, letter-boxed and instantly giving a more cinematic feel to the series. The episode actually goes from best to worst with the scenes (or better yet, vignettes), from Lydia to Scott to Stiles. Lydia’s vignette is hauntingly beautiful, especially as her red shoes roam the halls of Eichen House and dread fills the air (and blood drops) on her way to her grandma. Scott’s is more dreamlike, working more with the concept of the unseen (or at least, quickly seen), than following a real narrative structure. Stiles’ vignette, however, is a more straightforward approach to it all, only really focusing on the surreal as Stiles walks the hallway to follow his mother or when he looks at the shadow of his 10-year-old self. “Worst” is too negative, but it’s certainly the weakest of the three, even with more emotional heft to it. When Teen Wolf pulls out things like this, it makes it even more frustrating that its go-to style choice is aggressive slow motion.

Kira’s literal inability to read the book is interesting, as is Mason having something to do (and having a very real reaction to learning about monsters in his friend group) in explaining to her why she (or the kitsune, really) can’t read The Dread Doctors. With kitsunes having trouble with language, it most likely means the kitsune may be more in charge than she thought. Scott even says that, based on what he’s seen, but the problem is, he doesn’t say it to Kira. Scott continues to hide what he’s noticed about her, not even thinking to go to her parents about the information. Scott telling Theo he doesn’t know whether or not to trust her is a problem itself, but as we’ve learned, the point of having adults be in on all of this supernatural stuff is for the ability to confide in them. It’s why there’s still the question of why Stiles didn’t and hasn’t told his Donovan secret to his father. It’s why Malia should at least talk to Deaton about the Desert Wolf vision. “Everybody has secrets” being the new “nobody has money” ignores the fact that the pack is supposed to be special and strong (partially because Scott McCall is special and strong). I realize the characters have to have something separate them (as the premiere showed us), but writing something in service of a few moments instead of the other way around is always shaky.

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Still, it’s better than all things Liam and Hayden.

Stray observations

  • “So, Theo has no trauma?” is what the pack should be asking next week. Kira is having trouble reading the book, which will hopefully come up to the group next week, but Theo read the book along with the rest of them and didn’t go catatonic with a traumatic flashback. The only way they don’t address that (and if they do, he could give a fake answer) is if everyone decides to keep their visions secret, which… actually could be likely given the choices in this season.
  • It looks like Sheriff Stilinksi hates the name Dread Doctors too. It’s funny, but at the same time, the show actually decided to go along with that name in the first place. Less funny.
  • “God, I hate all ages night,” says the 15 year old serving alcohol and glow sticks.
  • Lydia: “My mom’s book club usually has more wine.”
    Stiles: “Well they also probably didn’t read books that caused violent hallucinations.”
  • Is Scott McCall the only person with asthma at Beacon Hills High School? Liam thinks so, but that doesn’t account for the person he gets the inhaler from.
  • Malia has been stepping it up in the fighting department this season, and I’ve got to say, I am a fan. I assume it’s picking up slack for a lack of Derek Hale or, really, other “badass” Teen Wolf characters. Liam is very busy earning money for Hayden’s meds, you see.
  • Theo ripping out another underdeveloped chimera’s* throat was kind of cool, but Banshee did it better and in a better fight sequence. (That clip is really, really, really not for the faint of heart. Plus, spoiles.) Also, Theo working out and trying to seduce Malia reminded me just how much this show likes to pretend Dylan O’Brien is a shapeless blob.
  • *On second thought, if the definition of a developed chimera is Hayden, I’m fine with underdeveloped chimeras.
  • The casting for young Scott was scarily good, to the point where I said “HOLY CRAP” to my screen as soon as I saw him.
  • Scott is saved by the asthma attack (like “saved by the bell,” get it?) when he tries to drop out of AP Bio due to “scheduling conflicts.” Thank you, asthma attack—Scott’s AP Bio storyline is not-so-secretly the best part of this season. And Scott saying “psychosomatic” made me absurdly proud.
  • Sleeping Kira is saying “I am the messenger of death” in Japanese. Sounds like normal pillow talk to me.

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