“Strange Frequencies” isn’t a strange episode of Teen Wolf, but it is somewhat indicative of a bigger problem with season five right now. Things are happening, but the question of whether or not they’re compelling looms over all, and as such, that’s often the deciding factor of the show’s quality. After the season premiere’s opening teaser, each week after has felt more and more like the writers came up with that idea first and then worked their way through the rest of the season. They know there needs to be separation and disarray, so what better way to create separation and disarray than with secrets, lies, and broken promises? The question of whether it really makes sense for most of these secrets, lies, and broken promises to exist isn’t as important as whether it all looks cool, right? If it is the case of knowing where the season will go without first knowing how to get there, then it’s a reminder that Teen Wolf’s more shallow instincts of style over substance don’t always just apply to its casting and directing decisions.

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This isn’t to say that “Strange Frequencies” is a complete bomb of an episode. It’s really more of a mixed bag, forming a below average episode that’s inoffensive at best and mediocre (and meandering) at worst. A lot happens in this episode, but by the time it’s all over and done, you’d be hard-pressed to really thinking about what that was.

Continuing a little bit after last week’s “Required Reading,” this episode opens with Theo and Stiles talking about the dead chimera on the hospital roof and Theo dropping the “I know you killed Donovan” bomb on Stiles. Even though I’m still very much in the camp of Stiles being in a position where he committed the ultimate act of self-defense, I’m of two minds about the situation. The first is that it makes sense he would—as he admits here—fear he would lose Scott. Stiles spent the first couple of episodes this season freaking out about losing Scott’s friendship after high school, and while it’s not on the tip of his tongue, it’s still something he thinks about. If he can lose Scott just by graduating, imagine what killing a person would do. The second, more rational mind is that Theo is absolutely right to tell Stiles that he would never lose Scott over this, especially given the circumstances. Which is also to say that if he does, then Scott isn’t exactly the “true alpha” we’re all constantly told he is. By the way, you know something’s wrong when the psychopath who is systematically trying to destroy you is speaking logic, Stiles. Buffy and Angel learned that the hard way.

The Theo/Stiles scene isn’t the heart-pumping adrenaline rush of your typical Teen Wolf teaser, so to pick up the slack, Hayden and Liam are given the responsibility. So the teaser remains lacking in the heart-pumping adrenaline rush department this week.

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I’ve had some time to think about whether or not I was too hard on the Liam/Hayden storyline—which I dubbed “aggressively bad”—last week, and I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t. It was aggressively bad, and it remains terrible for Liam as a character. This is the episode that finally brings Liam back into the pack as (almost) an integral member, but it’s only because of his obsession with (or “feelings for”) Hayden that it happens, and he ends up getting kidnapped for it. Liam has been a joke of a character for the majority of this season, but as he gets punched in the face for revealing his wolf in public or has a chat about how the end of the rainbow for this chimera situation is Hayden forgiving him for the dumb sixth-grade grudge, it’s impossible to continue to take this character seriously anymore. If Teen Wolf ever wants to address Liam’s control issues again (which were not fixed in the premiere, not by a long shot) and take him seriously, hopefully the damage will be reversible. The sixth grade sure isn’t.

As far as the “he’s just a kid” argument goes, it’s one that could actually work in the case of Liam. He’s a sophomore, and his pack is constantly trying to keep him out of the fray, so he should be able to have a life outside of the chaos. But after a season of character development for a kid who’s actually pretty messed up, regressing to a character he never was feels more like the show applying what it needs (a goof) in order to get to what it wants (an emotional response?).

Another part of the mixed-bag nature of this episode is its decision to focus on things like Theo and the connection between the chimeras. While the latter is important in theory, the combination of the undeveloped and underdeveloped chimeras and the fact that “skin grafts” are key (in a season where electromagnetic waves are also key) are pretty underwhelming driving forces for a plot—as smart as the skin grafts twist clearly wishes itself to be. As for the former, the details of Theo’s relationship with the Dread Doctors isn’t completely known, but at the same time, who cares? So far, the most interesting thing about Theo has been the one scene with his “parents,” with the flashback to him watching his sister die in second place by default. But even with the interesting parts of the character, Theo still is neither as charming nor as terrifying as he supposedly should be. In his scene with the Dread Doctor this episode, he looks like he’s a few seconds from throwing a temper tantrum because they won’t let him in on their secrets, which is coincidentally how the majority of Cody Christian’s scenes in Pretty Little Liars have gone.

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Not knowing the name “Dread Doctors” earlier in the season, I had compared them to a combination of all the various depictions of Bane, and the biggest reason for that wasn’t even because of their looks—their voices were a huge factor in that. Because in an effort to sound as mechanical (even though they’re not machines, right?) as possible, their dialogue is nearly unintelligible on a first listen. The assumption is probably that they won’t come across as scary with subtitles, but:

1. They don’t come across as scary in the first place. They come across as over-plotted and as the writers’ decision to keep everything that stuck to the wall as part of of their characters. But not scary.

2. It’s hard to be scared when you don’t know what you’re supposed to be scared of, dialogue-wise.

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I’ll give them this: The Dread Doctors have created terrifying visions for characters—which is still a major highlight of this episode—but at the same time, these are doctors who were once all human and became a mix of both human and supernatural… and with that, they gained unlimited powers? The idea of the book triggering the pack’s worst nightmares is one ridiculous thing, but having the Dread Doctors immediately incapacitate everyone with other fears in the blink of an eye doesn’t quite work. Scott acknowledges that they don’t know the rules to the game they’re playing (or even the game they’re playing), but that could also be a problem if the Dread Doctors are so powerful that their defeat ends up being with lazy writing (see: Berserker Scott).

What do the Dread Doctors want? The connection between the chimeras isn’t the important part; a villain isn’t worth the screentime given to it and its decisions if there’s no motivation (or worse yet, a poor motivation). Teen Wolf season four completely botched that with the reveal of The Benefactor, so it can’t do the same two seasons in a row. They’re making these monsters—teenagers are dying—and for what? Again, I’m of two minds: It would be truly despicable if scientific curiosity was their only motivation. At the same time, that could easily go back to the old Teen Wolf standby of a plot being a waste of time.

It’s all a bit frustrating because the chimeras keep coming, and they continue to be one-dimensional props. The only vague exceptions have of course been Tracy (the tragedy), Donovan (the sociopath, with or without the transformation), and Hayden (the…Hayden). Tracy’s story, as sympathetic as it was, took place in a very condensed amount of time (though it’s quite the quick blow to see her “appear” in this episode again). Donovan was never more than an over-the-top rage monster. And Hayden is…Hayden. As for the rest of the chimeras, one chimera (whose name we usually don’t even know until after the fact) dies, and another one is right around the corner. In choosing not to really do monster-of-the-week, Teen Wolf is losing the strong characterization that can come with it. Then again, season four was built especially for “monster”-of-the-week, and that ended up being part of its downfall. So this season, we’re left with questions like: If it’s only teenagers—which is not what the chimera from the premiere looked like—who are being turned into chimeras, then why are teenagers the only ones in Beacon Hills getting skin grafts? Why are skin grafts a plot point on a teen horror show?

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On second thought, “Strange Frequencies” is a strange episode of Teen Wolf.

Stray observations

  • That final scene: That’s not Hayden (Hayden’s red shirt was striped, this girl’s was solid), but it is Kira’s sword. Thoughts? Besides the facts that the final scene would make a pretty good opening scene and Melissa McCall/Melissa Ponzio is a national treasure, that is.
  • I can understand Scott not thinking about the fact that loading the school up with cell phone jammers would mean they couldn’t use their cell phones. Lydia (and Stiles), I cannot.
  • Will somebody on this show please acknowledge that Parrish’s playing card queens look like Lydia? Then they can acknowledge his sex hallucinations of her and proclivity for stealing chimera corpses.
  • Theo brings up his eyes not being blue to prove to Stiles that he wasn’t responsible for the death of an innocent in killing a chimera. It does not work.
  • By the way, yes, the audience knows that Theo is up to no good. But thanks to Cody Christian’s acting in the “heart-to-heart” scene, it’s ridiculous to believe Stiles doesn’t have more confirmation of his suspicions by the end of the episode (even if he has other things on his mind). The way Theo brings up his sister’s death is that of a last-ditch effort to get the guy on his side, and Christian telegraphs instantly with his line delivery.
  • Not to get too topical, but Sheriff Stilinski calling Donovan “just a kid” is infuriating. Not only was he not just a kid by the law’s standard, he was a psychopath hellbent on killing Stilinksi (and Stiles). Stiles and his dad both need to cut the guilt trips out.
  • Anyway, do you think the Sheriff and Lydia’s mom ever had a second date?
  • Beside the unintelligible voices, I suppose I can chastise the Dread Doctors for making me ill with their vibrating technique of moving, especially in their final scene.
  • Scott acknowledges in this episode that the hard decisions need to be made, and for that, I applaud him. He soon after has a conversation with Kira where he still doesn’t fully address the kitsune in the room, so he gets booed for that. Then there’s a shipper fan video in that scene for some reason (should I start a Kira Farewell Tour?), and this really is a strange episode.
  • If nothing else, the Kira plot leads to a pretty fun sword sequence with the show minimizing the slow motion in favor of (much superior) overhead shots. The kitsune storyline is one of the few that comes across as worthy of the wait-and-see approach, especially after the episode’s ending.
  • The episode really does try to spice things up visually with a few new shots from Russell Mulcahy, from the sword fight to the pan through the school when the Dread Doctors come to the dread interludes (which aren’t as great as they were last week).
  • Khylin Rhambo could and may be a better actor than Keahu Kahuanui, but at the same time, a focus on Mason’s character after everything with Danny reads slightly as too little, too late. Plus, Mason being onscreen with no regular character should feel like a big deal, but given the questions of “why?” that surround the main plot, now’s not really the best time.
  • The cinema night club that serves and employees underage kids is one of those Teen Wolf ideas that’s supposed to be sexy and a little dangerous, but the more it’s shown, the more ridiculous it is. (This is exactly what happened with the show and slow motion, and I am aware I have taken on a personal vendetta against slow motion in Teen Wolf.)

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