The first ten minutes of this week’s episode of Teen Wolf, “A Novel Approach,” are better then all of last week’s episode combined. It built in suspense, created a sense of doom without having to tell us how scary it was, and in the midst of all of that, played into the version of Stiles we know. The Stiles and Donovan showdown wasn’t just thrilling due to it being a favorite character in peril, but also due to how Stiles fought, looking for a clever way out at every turn. And in the end, when the means of escape ends up brutally killing Donovan, there’s some earned surprise but also a sense of it being bound to happen. Aside from the Nogitsune when Stiles wasn’t in control of himself, when has he ever been so up close and personal not just to violence, but death?
Let’s just say that if the show was going to give any character a ten minute, mostly silent scene where they mentally begin to crumble, I’m not surprised they gave it to Dylan O’Brien for Stiles. I can’t help but feel a twinge of annoyance that Jeff Davis is having Stiles have this conflict now, when it would have been more emotionally satisfying and narratively relevant after the Nogitsune storyline, but we’ll just put our fan blinders on for a second. O’Brien does a lot with a little in “A Novel Approach” (something much of the cast ends up having to do on this show), and it’s because of that that the first moments work so well–we buy all of his fear and desperation even if it doesn’t make much sense with what we know of his character.
Quickly, before we go on to the rest of the episode:
Let me tell you how much I don’t care about the misadventures of Theo and Malia. I mean, sexy driving practice? Why? Why do people keep telling Malia that it’s smart to practice driving at night? With underage drivers? I don’t bat an eyelash at werewolves, kitsunes, what have you, but don’t break such simple logistical rules. Malia could have sat this episode out, alongside Liam. It would have sacrificed little and instead would have allowed momentum to build in the main storyline.
However, despite how much I felt that her storyline took away from the rest of the episodes progression, I am glad to see that it wasn’t her who caused her mother and sister’s deaths, but the Desert Wolf.
There is very little that’s redeemable about Theo’s place in the episode, however, because now that we know he’s evil (and let’s be honest, we knew immediately), every other scene he has with either Scott or Malia just ends up being aggravating due to how obviously evil he is. For the most part, I’m enjoying season five far more than season four, but if this Theo nonsense is going to be dragged out for much longer, it’s going to grow tiresome.
The main plot takes place in the gang’s return to Eichen House, the most unprofessional and dangerous psychiatric ward, especially now that we learn that it’s all used as a cage for supernatural creatures. Lydia and Stiles have an exposition-heavy back and forth with Dr. Valeck, who you might remember from last season as being the main with a third eye in the middle of his forehead. He tells them that the book The Dread Doctors can unlock past, blurred memories, memories that they have managed to hide from our heroes. He only tells them so much though, with the promise of a recording of Lydia’s banshee scream in return. They only barely manage to escape before the Dread Doctors appear, due to Kira (in full-on Kitsune mode) triggering an electrical shutdown. Maybe they would have noticed something was wrong sooner if they hadn’t been so busy being used as expository devices to remind the audience that Stiles used to be obsessed with Lydia, the one trait that kept me from at first enjoying a character who’d go on to be my favorite. Stiles is too busy, it would seem, feeling immense guilt over their part in bringing the supernatural.
The pair’s thought processes are all screwed up this week anyway, like when after Scott saves Kira from Eichen House, hurting themselves in the process, they use it as a time to talk about their feelings. Again, I’d buy it if the two had any chemistry at all, but in the end it seemed like a waste of time. Tyler Posey is doing the most to convince me that Scott loves Kira, with Arden Cho doing very little in return.
Scott is clearly heading towards a bump in the road; even though he told Kira he loves her, he’s beginning to distrust her after she almost killed someone last week (a fact that isn’t bringing much ease to Stiles, who’s afraid to tell Scott because of his untouchable moral code of conduct). This would be understandable if what Stiles did wasn’t totally justified, but considering Stiles was an inch away from dying, I’m not so sure Scott will have much of a platform to be angry once their upcoming (and frustrating) fallout arrives.
For about fifteen minutes I was really excited about this episode, even when Stiles was making questionable decisions. The way it was shot, the way it was sold by O’Brien, the potential outcomes–it was well paced and executed well. It’s a shame the remainder of the episode ended up being yet another stepping stone to the larger picture.