Tonight, Teen Wolf gives us the loosely connected backstories of Derek and Deucalion, a saga so thrilling it requires the services of two normally underutilized narrators. In one corner of the show, Michael Hogan, as Allison’s Grandpa Gerard, is sitting in a wheelchair, relating family history to Scott, while dabbing his mouth and nostrils, which keep leaking what he calls “this bizarre black fluid.” While Hogan tears it up, Allison stands off to the side, looking every bit as thrilled as you or I might be if our grandfather was being especially gross in front of someone we liked and with whom we had experienced the wonder of physical love, and might just be thinking about experiencing it with again sometime. Meanwhile, Stiles is hanging out with Cora and Uncle Peter, trying to get to the bottom of the often shirtless enigma that is Derek Hale. He thinks it must be important, since Derek is, he says, the one that all the bad guys seem to be after. Stiles is a couple of pages behind on this one; in the closing moments of last week’s episode, Scott and Dr. Deaton seemed to reach the conclusion that it’s actually Scott who all the villains have at the top of their Christmas lists. But who cares? Haven’t you always wondered what Derek was like in high school?
According to Peter, Derek was “a lot like most teenagers: Unbelievably romantic, profoundly narcissistic, tolerable only to other teenagers.” (Give MTV credit for understanding that members of its target audience love to hear shit talked about their kind; Yeah, the ideal teenage Teen Wolf viewer thinks, that sounds just like those assholes I go to school with!) The young Derek meets Paige, the Girl Who Will Change Everything, when his manic basketball dribbling in the hallway disturbs her cello playing. He grins at her like a monkey spotting the banana of his dreams; she looks at him as if she were wondering how much extra credit her science teacher would give her if she killed, stuffed, and mounted him, then put him on display as the missing link. You can practically hear the big, gooey pop song playing in their heads, and when I say “practically,” I mean “literally,” because, MTV.
The big surprise is that, as played by Ian Nelson, the young Derek’s look and vibe are closer to Bieberland than a young Elvis or Milo Ventimiglia circa Gilmore Girls. This begins to make better sense when the actor playing the young Uncle Peter appears and does a spot-on imitation of Ian Somerhalder as the more louchely sexy brother on The Vampire Diaries. The young Derek isn’t just the “good” werewolf in his family; he’s a high-spirited, freewheeling kid who hasn’t even begun to develop a dark side. So much for any idea you might have had that being a werewolf makes you feel like an outsider and sets you on a dark path; Teenage Derek, the popular jock, is more in the mold of the Michael J. Fox movie on which this series has never been especially closely modeled. (Becoming a werewolf did greatly improve Scott’s lacrosse game, but that hasn’t even been a major subplot in forever.)
This episode also introduces Alicia Coppola as Derek’s mother, Talia, the matriarch of the Hale pack. Nothing much is revealed about the nature of their relationship; about all we learn is that Big Mama Hale is a beautiful woman and a shapeshifter; she can shift her shapely ass off. And she’s patient, listening to Dr. Deaton reel off that old chestnut about the scorpion and the frog while a bored, patronizing smile plays around her lips. (The show’s idea of suggesting that Uncle Peter and Grandpa Gerard may be very similar deep down is to cram that story into the script twice; Gerard tells it to Derek, though he substitutes a turtle for the frog.) Ultimately, it’s Uncle Peter who sells Derek out, by taking it upon himself to serve Paige up to be “turned” by a werewolf whose pack has lost a member to Gerard and his hunters. Unfortunately, being bitten by a werewolf isn’t all it takes to have the stuff to make it as a werewolf, and as Paige slowly, painfully dies in Derek’s arms, he takes it upon himself to cut her suffering short. “Taking an innocent life,” Peter explains, darkens the soul in a way that turns gold-yellow werewolf eyes blue. It’s like that Crystal Gayle song, but with a much higher body count.
Maybe this is just my cross to bear for not being a teenage girl, but I had more fun watching the Gerard half of the show, which reveals that it was old man Gerard himself who blinded the Duke, jamming hot arrows into his face and setting off sparks as if he’d stuck knitting needles into a light socket. At the end of the episode, both Scott and Stiles express doubts about the truth of what they’ve been listening to—Stiles apparently because he had to read Heart Of Darkness for school and, like a number of bright lads his age, is all mind-blown over the concept of the unreliable narrator; and Scott, insanely enough, because he was listening to Gerard’s heartbeat the whole time, and it remained steady and level while he was talking. Well, yeah, says Gerard, because I was telling the truth. Or maybe, says Scott, sounding like Inspector Frank Drebin, maybe it’s because you’re such a good liar! I hope this isn’t the start of some complicated, meta-textual thing that Teen Wolf isn’t clever enough to pull off, though I’m fine with it if it’s just the show’s way of leaving its options open, in case it later wants to change something that either Gerard or Peter has put out there as if it were gospel. In the meantime, they’ve given us an episode that, to say the least, has something for everyone; if the doomed-love teen romance stuff isn’t your cup of meat, hang in there for a couple of scenes and you’ll get to see Michael Hogan pulverizing werewolves with a homemade spiked mace. And did I say that Hogan “tears it up”? I misspoke. He takes a chainsaw to it!
- “I think it’s quite fitting that we are meeting in a distillery,” Gerard tells Deucalion and the other werewolves with whom he is meeting in a distillery. “You know, the process of distilling is the separating of two elements by pushing them into their different volatile states.” Give the man credit—whether hale and fit and swinging a mace or sitting in a wheelchair leaking motor oil from his nose, the man can talk some gaudy shit.
- “Teen” romance is a relative term where Derek is concerned, since as Stiles points out, saying that Derek was in his sophomore year in high school when he met Paige doesn’t really spell out Derek’s true age at the time. How old, he asks Peter, are you and Derek, really? “Not as young as we could have been,” says Peter, “but not as old as you might think.” Not much caring for this answer, Stiles asks Cora how old she is. “I’m 17,” she says. “See,” says Stiles, “that’s an answer. That’s how you answer people.” “17,” Cora adds, “is how you’d measure in years…” Stiles decides to drop it.