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. Teen Wolf’s fourth season got off to a rough start in the premiere because it did feel like it was betraying itself, but with “The Benefactor,” the season is not only back on track: The show knows what it is again.
Having said that, it looks like there is now every chance that, even though this is in fact a rebuilding season, the new show that Teen Wolf has become isn’t the mess it appeared to be at first glance. The introduction of a new breed (terrible pun only halfheartedly intended) of teens (wolves or otherwise) immediately came across as the inevitable progression on a show where cast members can drop like flies. New blood is necessary in a show titled Teen Wolf—it’s not like Scott and the pack will be teenagers forever, and even Teen Wolf Too knew to bring in Jason Bateman—so with every casting announcement of a new, younger recurring character, the writing appeared to be on the wall.
However, instead of introducing these new characters as back-up stars of the show should certain characters end up leaving, Teen Wolf is now clearly going a different way—the Scream 4 way. For those unaware, apologies in advance for the spoilers on a three year old movie in this paragraph. Essentially, Scream 4 was promoted and framed as the changing of the guard from the original cast to the new, younger cast. It isn’t until the third act of the movie that it’s abundantly clear that the young cast is all a smokescreen, because, as we all know by now: You don’t mess with the original.
(Unless the original is an ’80s film featuring Michael J. Fox and a very questionable depiction of werewolves. And also its sequel.)
This episode immediately takes two new freshman characters—one of which was getting his lacrosse on just last week—and instead of building up those possible replacement vibes, brings it all crashing down. More on that later.
Honestly, “The Benefactor” is the perfect blend of humor, horror, and a little bit of straight up confusion—the ideal episode of Teen Wolf (or a film in the Scream franchise).
The introduction of Liam as the new wolf on the block is a major step for the show, but at the same time, it is not the important part of this episode. What’s important is how Scott steps up and even how the rest of the pack copes with this kid who is basically part of their crew now, no votes allowed. With someone like Jackson or Isaac, the Teen Wolf pack more or less knew what they were getting. Liam is an unknown entity, both because of his youth and his newly-discovered volatility, just bubbling beneath the service.
Scott (and Stiles, and everyone, really) failing miserably at explaining Liam’s affliction is equal parts hilarious—it’s absolutely absurd and a reminder that, somehow, Scott and Stiles are still allowed to make plans—and frustrating—to the point where one might even long for Derek to show up and break the news. Scott, despite ultimately being a great leader, has a habit of panicking, and as has been proven in the past, panicking Scott isn’t opposed to kidnapping. It’s Liam’s fault for not getting a restraining order.
The lake house party, though, is classic Teen Wolf, with typical teen fare serving as the backdrop for what’s to come. A lecherous keg deliverer turns out to be a werewolf (with a mantra for self-control), Malia works through her own control issues with Stiles’ support, and Scott juggles a “normal” relationship with Kira while also looking after a confused and terrified Liam.
But the most impressive part of an already impressive episode comes from that Lydia scene. At first, there’s a moment of panic that the scene is a botch on MTV’s part, with the audio track amplified as a full-blown conversation happens with muted dialogue; it wouldn’t be the first time to happen on network television after all. But again, it’s that word—”muted.” As far as Lydia’s banshee episodes go, it’s perhaps the most effective one with regards to how it brings the audience into the experience, not just having viewers witness Lydia have another fugue state.
The Benefactor storyline featuring freshman assassins is an interesting twist on a previously boring concept, but having Lydia make the discovery that this Benefactor is specifically targeting supernatural creatures in Beacon Hills brings on a whole slew of questions. Is The Benefactor really a “bad guy”? Is every new monster on his or her hit list an innocent monster like our heroes? Or will some have almost literal skeletons in their closet like Sean and his wendigo family did? Will some just be downright evil themselves? Is the Allison password definitive proof that Kate and The Benefactor are in league together? It’s early, but the moral dilemma that could stem from the very simple concept of monster—not just werewolf—hunting opens this storyline and makes it so much more interesting than the original introduction (Peter Hale’s magical $117 million in bearer bonds).
“The Benefactor” reinforces that Scott (and to their credit, Kira and Malia as well) is not a monster. But Liam—that remains to be seen. Certainly at least two of his friends—Garrett (Mason Dye, Flowers In The Attic) and Violet (Samantha Logan, 666 Park Avenue)—are, even if they are presumably human beings. With Beacon Hills now being a literal beacon for monsters, it makes sense that the nature of the beasts would eventually be examined. If that is what season four intends to do, then the course correction that was needed in the first few episodes has finally been put into effect. Jeff Davis and Ian Stokes’ script really puts in the work necessary to get the season onto an interesting path, but more than anything, it finally gives the show more of a sense of where the regular characters are each at this season and what they want. “Muted” cracked open the door, but “The Benefactor” kind of busts it open. It’s about time.
- One more question about The Benefactor: Is it Gerard? It’s probably Gerard.
- “No, I’m done with teenage boys.” If you didn’t place your bets in the countdown to Lydia and Deputy Parrish hooking up pool during last week’s episode, there’s still time to do so now.
- Instead of criticizing the show for Peter’s “I’m a creature of habit” reaction to The Mute, I’m going to give the show the benefit of the doubt and believe that Peter can’t possibly be as dumb as his moment of beating the The Mute to death would imply, and there was a real reason behind his decision not to try to get information out of the guy.
- Kira may not be the most graceful, but the sound I made as she fell flat on her face would also not be construed as flattering.
- After three episodes of Stiles and Malia being Xander and Anya-lite, both characters are given something to do with their budding relationship, and they also get a little therapy session in the basement. Talk about cathartic (and very, very necessary for both characters).
- You would think mutes would enunciate better, but the Mason/Lydia scene is pretty difficult to decipher without mad lip reading skills. Have we learned nothing from “Hush”? At first I deciphered it as Lydia freaking out about the party and asking Mason to get rid of everybody, but nobody leaves, not even Nigel with the brie. Anyone else have better luck?
- Derek needs to stop hanging out with children anyway, so the Derek/Sheriff Stilinski buddy cop comedy—Another Another 48 Hrs.: Into Darkness—is certainly well-received. Deputize him already, Papa Stiles.
- Sheriff Stilinski, Peter Hale, Chris Argent, and Mrs. Martin all in the same episode? If Melissa McCall were here, I’d say this episode was definitely written specifically for me.