It’s barely 10 minutes into the episode when it feels like Jeff Davis titling the season four Teen Wolf finale “Smoke And Mirrors” is some sort of a insensitive inside joke. In all honesty, Teen Wolf: Smoke And Mirrors does have a nice ring to it, and it would be a rather direct way to advertise the season. This is, after all, a season light on substance and meaning, more content with the illusion of those two qualities than the actual presence.
It makes sense that when Teen Wolf goes back to the plots introduced in its first two episodes, its quality level also mirrors the mediocrity of said episodes. Basically, “Smoke And Mirrors” is a 50-plus minute (without commercials) presentation on all that is wrong with Teen Wolf’s fourth season.
The best way to really address why “Smoke And Mirrors” is such a disaster of a season finale is to go back and look at some of the criticisms of the season as a whole. After all, this is all the culmination of what has turned out to be Teen Wolf’s weakest and most disappointing season.
“Really, what is any of this for? One episode in, and there’s already a lack of direction in this season that really doesn’t bode well.” — “The Dark Moon”
The fact that the same question can still be asked 12 episodes in—even with the Benefactor detour right in the middle—is one of the biggest problems with this season of Teen Wolf.
With this season only being 12 episodes instead of two 12-episode halves, there wasn’t the choice of having The Benefactor in part one and Kate/the Berserkers in part two (or vice versa). So what happens instead is too little on focus on the latter—despite it being the true main plot of the season—and the former ending up not really mattering—despite it being the crux of the season. And somehow, during all of this, monetary issues become a focal point, even though they had absolutely no impact on the finale.
Seriously, what was the point of every other person in Beacon Hills going broke?
On a smaller, character-based level, the episode also begs the question of what any of this was for when it comes to Liam, the character who was expected to (and probably needed to, for the future) come off the best in this episode. After weeks of Liam’s PTSD and fear being a genuinely compelling storyline for both the show and the character, that’s all done now. There’s no rally cry for him to join this battle, and Stiles even tells him he should sit this one out. He’s simply over all of his trauma literally over night, because Scott is in danger. Derek and Stiles even throw in a couple of the mantras from this season for good measure, but now Liam is neither in constant fear nor out of control—just in time for him to be a series regular with no baggage next year.
If it weren’t so frustrating, it would actually be rather impressive that the show is able to flip the switch and completely throw out all of its work so easily.
“Scott’s decision-making has been a minor subject of all of these reviews so far, including his decisions to go to Mexico and also lie to young Derek, but the fact that these questions are coming from these episodes is actually a positive about season four.” — “Muted”
While it looked like season four was building up to Scott making even more difficult decisions when it came to his monstrous nature, last week’s episode nipped that in the bud by having Kate kidnap and transform him into a Berserker. Cut to this episode, and Berserker Scott does exactly what she wants and expects: He goes after the people he loves (and Peter). That’s his mission, and it doesn’t come from any place of Scott’s subconscience; it’s simply from them charging at him. There is no inner turmoil. There is no loss of control from deep inside of him. Simply put, a wizard (well, a witch in the form of a werejaguar) does it.
The episode also shows that it is apparently very easy to save (not kill but actually revert back to human form) a Berserker, even after Peter reminds everyone that a Berserker’s humanity is completely overtaken by their beast nature. Liam simply telling Scott that “[he’s] not a monster, [he’s] a werewolf,” is just as easy as sending a mass email to a bunch of mercenaries hell bent on killing everyone for money.
Everything is back to normal, as though it was never askew. Scott never had any moral dilemmas, despite what the rest of the season appeared to show.
“Quite frankly, it’s a disappointing twist that again makes the show feel like it’s the writers’ need to pull the wool over the audience’s eyes just to be able to say “gotcha!”” — “Monstrous”
Early in the episode, Kate gives her cliched villain over-explanation of the “why” of her plan to Kira. She talks about the fact that she is able to make Berserkers and control them, but she intentionally never answers “how.” According to Kate, why is more important than how, but even then, she doesn’t answer the former until she’s talking to Chris later in the episode. At no point during Kate’s explanation does anything click or even really make any sense, but Jill Wagner recites the lines she has to say with a conviction that almost makes it sounds like she is saying something substantial.
That conviction in the absence of substance is season four of Teen Wolf.
But the ultimate “gotcha!” moment of the episode is the death and “evolution” of Derek Hale. For weeks the Derek Hale Farewell Update has been a constant of the Stray Observations in these reviews, half in jest but also half in seriousness. The writing has been on the wall since at least the second episode of the season, and this episode could also be alternately titled “Derek Dies At The End.”
So when Derek does die, it’s expected. What the show wants the audience not to expect, however, is the complete reversal of that decision.
“This is the rare time where a shortened season hasn’t done anything to help a show’s plotting and pacing issues. In fact, it’s as if the writers have chosen to wait until the very last minute to get to the true story of the season, in hopes that no one would realize the lack of focus or direction. What is it that Teen Wolf wants to be anymore, and is it even achieving it? What story is it trying to tell? What does it expect of its characters? Of its audience?” - “A Promise To The Dead”
How have any of the events of this season truly affected the protagonists of Teen Wolf? Derek Hale has a girlfriend and a lot more power now, but in what version of the show was he on a journey to evolve? It certainly wasn’t in the one we watched on a weekly basis, with the Derek who didn’t even have a problem with his new found human status until this very episode.
There is a full-on gun fight in this season finale, which does absolutely nothing but remind the audience that the Berserkers are insanely powerful and impervious to anything that’s not an I.E.D. (or Liam’s love or Derek’s evolved hands). So while the episode would like to create the illusion of it being exciting and entertaining with all of gunshots and stab wounds and running around, it’s not that. Not even a little. It’s only smoke and mirrors.
Braeden, originally introduced as an asskicking mercenary who does anything she can to get a job done, essentially sits out all of the fighting to tend to a dying Derek. Lydia is stuck in school and again is relegated to the background after spending the season finally being interesting again. (In fact, even though she’s kept away because she could point out that Scott is the Berserker, Kira is already around to do that, so Lydia’s even less needed.) Peter goes on and on to Malia about not mistaking humanity for control—one of the more interesting moments of the episode—only for everything he says to be disregarded because he is the Big Bad. The teen wolf himself, Scott McCall, is barely in the episode.
These characters can repeat all of the mantras they want, because at the end of it all, they’re meaningless.
“The biggest problem a series can face—whether it’s one of the best on television or even straight up fluff—is to eventually betray itself. A television series’ identity stays with it throughout the show’s run; even if a show’s mission statement changes, as long as the change feels true to the show itself, there’s nothing wrong with it.” — “The Benefactor”
“Smoke And Mirrors” is essentially the culmination of Teen Wolf betraying itself, its characters, and everything that’s ever made the show worthy of praise as a teen genre show. More than any other episode of the season, the season finale hurts the show completely. Now, in retrospect, even the better episodes of the season leave a bitter taste, because they were all for nothing.
- Derek Hale Farewell Tour Update: He technically died for about a minute, only to evolve into a black wolf.
- Peter Hale Farewell Tour Update: He’s stuck in Eichen House’s Belle Reve floor with the three-eyed, quasi-Hannibal Lecter from last week’s episode. Not even a technical death.
- Despite the disappointment of this season, it has been great getting to write about Teen Wolf, especially because of all of you commenters. Just think: This season wasn’t even supposed to be a part of regular coverage. Truly, thank you all so much for reading and having thought-provoking discussions after each episode. You guys are the best, even when the show isn’t. Keep on trucking.
- “Not when they killed Allison.” What does work 100% in this episode, however, are the very brief Kate and Chris moments. It really is a shame Jeff Davis didn’t see fit to really focus on that dynamic this season. Family revenge being Kate’s goal should have been clear from day one, instead of it just being crazy Kate being crazy.
- Chris Argent is off to track Kate with the Calaveras hunters, in what sounds more like a departure from the show than a quick trip.
- “You were never an alpha, Peter. But you were always a monster.” No, I’m pretty sure he was an alpha. You can’t just go around re-classifying that basic principle.
- Malia is happy at the end of the day because she gets to be with her family: Stiles and Sheriff Stilinski.
- Let’s do some armchair casting for who will play Malia’s mother, the Desert Wolf. While you’re at it, how about some armchair casting of Mr. Tate, since it appears he’s been poofed out of existence.
- The “favorite food”/“pizza” exchange doesn’t work half as well the second time around.
- Lydia is going to help Parrish figure out what type of creature he is, which means by the time season five rolls around, they’ll probably be not-so-secretly dating, right?