Teen Wolf has a problem. Specifically, Teen Wolf has a women problem, and that central issue leads to weak interpersonal relationships among its core heroes that leave fans feeling disconnected from the story. Well-defined characters and reliable, rewarding bonds of friendship are the backbone of any successful, healthy TV series. They provide emotional nourishment and bestow motivation, and how characters react to or relate to one another is a driving force in terms of the narrative. When it comes to shows aimed at a younger demographic, those characters and their potential developments are even more vital, because they're role models and the ability to connect with them is one of the more obvious attractions that draws viewers in and keeps them coming back week after week. Relatable characters and engaging emotional bonds can add depth to a show when deployed correctly, but Teen Wolf is struggling in this regard as the series ages.
It's easy to blame the show's swinging door of actors, because it's incredibly difficult to build lasting and believable relationships when cast turnover is as high as it is on Teen Wolf—since the series premiered in 2011, cast members Colton Haynes, Crystal Reed,Daniel Sharman, and Tyler Hoechlin have all left to pursue other opportunities. And that doesn't even include secondary characters portrayed by Gage Golightly and Adelaide Kane, among others. The fear of losing talented actors to other projects might be one of the reasons Stiles' relationship with Malia (Shelley Hennig) felt so rushed in Season 3, but we'll likely never know. Still, it's rather clear that the writers have forsaken developing rich female characters in favor of creating bigger and badder villains with each passing season and that they care more about the threats they potentially pose than about developing compelling women to drive complex stories that create foundations for lasting, meaningful relationships between characters. There needs to be a balance between plot and characterization if the series, which has already been renewed for Season 6, hopes to regain its former strength.
This is not to suggest that Teen Wolf is not still a fun and scary teen drama that occasionally has the power to give us nightmares, or that the series isn't important and shouldn't strive to develop interesting villains, but rather that something is missing, something that cannot be ignored. It's true that the best friend and brother-like relationship between Tyler Posey's Scott and Dylan O'Brien's Stiles has always been the beating heart of Teen Wolf; It's the series' strongest and most natural bond that isn't a parent/child relationship (for what it's worth, the Stiles/Papa Stilinski and Scott/Mama McCall scenes remain some of the series' most evocative and rewarding). Even in the show's fifth season, even as the world has changed around them and Stiles has struggled with guilt over killing Donovan in self-defense, this single fact remains true. But Scott and Stiles are only two characters in a cast of many at this point.
Challenging the series' central relationship this far into the game adds a new energy to the show, but Teen Wolf needs more than one support beam to stay upright, and despite the fact both Posey and O'Brien have said they're not going anywhere anytime soon, the fact remains that the show can only reap the emotional rewards of Scott and Stiles' bromance for so long before the lack of a foundation regarding many of the show's other characters and their relationships puts enough stress on it and it fractures, too. And perhaps the most frustrating aspect about this situation is that the writers seem to have recognized it as a problem with the potential to affect all new characters, but have only done half the work to rectify it. It probably shouldn't come as a surprise that the work done was largely to build the new male characters.
The addition of Dylan Sprayberry's Liam and Khylin Rhambo's Mason in Season 4 was the show's attempt to relieve some of the pressure from Scott and Stiles and usher in a new wave of characters should the original leads depart. Season 5 has seen a rise in their screentime and significance to the overall narrative as Scott continued to grow as a leader and shifted to fill the leadership void left by Hochelin's departed Derek, while Liam and Mason become the new Scott and Stiles.
Giving Liam a distinct personality and a more active role in the narrative, like when he joined Stiles as he trailed Theo early on in Season 5 or when he became involved in a story involving Hayden, made him more well-rounded and more easily accessible to fans. It also made him more interesting and likable as he embarked on his own heroic journey of self discovery in a storyline that was largely separate from the main action of the pack. Meanwhile, Mason learned the truth about his supernatural friends, and although he's still not an integral member of the team, he was instantly familiar and relatable in the same way Stiles was at the beginning of the series, back when he was more excited and intrigued by the supernatural rather than burdened by it and the problems that came with it. The series needs a beta for Scott to nurture as he grows up and it needs someone like Mason to balance the light with the ever-increasing darkness. Both of these characters and their evolving importance to the story represent maturation on the series' part—especially if MTV is hoping to turn this into an ongoing series, one that outlasts the original cast like a supernatural Degrassi—but fans need more. Specifically, they need a female component to balance out the testosterone.
As much as we'd like to leave it in the past, it's hard to deny that the series suffered a major loss when original cast member Crystal Reed departed the show at the end of Season 3. Not only did the series lose its de facto female lead—a well-developed, nuanced character who was introduced as an innocent love interest but went on to become an independent beacon of heroism, resilience, and loyalty—it also, apparently, signaled the end of the show's desire to focus on the development of its female characters.
Because Scott and Allison had reached their natural end before her death, and because she died in his arms and he received some form of closure when she told him she loved him, it was Holland Roden's Lydia who suffered the most when Reed left the series, and not just because the writers largely ignored the grieving process and skipped straight to the next supernatural apocalypse. Allison's devotion to her friends was what initially helped bring Lydia into the core ensemble before anyone even knew she was supernatural, and it also gave her a reason to exist beyond Stiles' infatuation with her. Their friendship balanced out the Scott and Stiles dynamic. After Allison's death, Lydia's importance seemed to diminish as she took a backseat to a lot of the action as the writers explored new character pairings as if because her best friend was off the table, she was too. It wouldn't be totally crazy, based on what we've seen lately, to think of her as a supporting character and not one of the remaining original leads in which longtime fans are emotionally invested. And that's wrong.
Teen Wolf is very much a male-dominated cast, and it's fun to ogle and joke about the men's oft-bared chests (it's refreshing to see a series objectify men instead of women for once), but the series needs a strong female component that isn't only tied to the dramatics of the men to make it a well-balanced ensemble. Despite the fact that series creator Jeff Davis has promised fans they'll see a more Lydia-focused storyline this season, and despite the fact Season 5 opened with Lydia kicking ass, she was still locked up and being assaulted in Eichen House by the end of the premiere. We're hardly close to achieving a kickass version of everyone's favorite banshee and there are only two episodes left in this half-season (which is related to another problem all together involving the show's pacing).
We're hardly close to a reality in which Lydia is the show's female lead—a role she's earned by seniority if nothing else—and it's unclear whether there even is a female lead at this point. So far this season Lydia has largely played a supporting role to the supporting roles, flitting in and out of Parrish's (Ryan Kelley) still confusing origin story, and getting injured by Tracy in order to put her on the path toward learning how to fight. But after one short sparring scene with Parrish, she was back to standing behind Scott and Stiles, lost in the background as characters like Theo ate up screentime.
Teen Wolf needs its women to be front and center like Allison was. It needs role models for young women to look up to. And if Lydia isn't that person, then the writers owe it to fans to introduce and develop characters who will fill those roles. Unfortunately, Kira (Arden Cho) and Malia (Hennig), have failed to live up to the expectation set by Allison because, until recently, both characters were undeveloped and largely existed to service the storylines of their respective boyfriends.
Stiles and Malia jumped right into couple territory and for whatever reason, that meant very little was done to give her agency or develop her beyond weird quirks and misunderstanding social cues or personal boundaries. It wasn't until recently that Malia became an active participant in her own life, and it's possible she relied on Stiles to be her connection to the human world and is only now feeling comfortable enough to come into her own, but that still doesn't excuse the fact the writers largely only used her for comedic purposes or to draw emotion from Stiles. The series mined her academic woes for comedy, and even toyed with them for dramatic effect in the Season 5 premiere, but that was still just to support Stiles' fear of losing his friends as the prospect of leaving Beacon Hills loomed large over his future.
And even though Malia took some initiative this season (i.e. finding the Dread Doctors book), her transition from sidekick to heroine has been under-explored. And that still does nothing to combat the fact that it felt like she just traded one man for another. She was thrust into storylines with Theo, a character Stiles hated and mistrusted from the moment he arrived in Beacon Hills, which again tied everything back to her relationship with him. Soon Malia will embark on a story involving her mother, the Desert Wolf, and that holds promise, but the character still needs more definition before she can be more than just a love interest, before she can exist on the same emotional playing field as Allison once did. She can fight, but can she do more?
Similarly, Kira's relationship with Scott took a bit of a leap a few weeks back, when Scott let it slip that he loved the kitsune, but Teen Wolf has done very little to endear her character or her relationship with Scott to its fans. Like Malia but somehow even less interesting, she's largely been a set piece, a character who is only now being developed as her own person outside of her relationship with Scott. And yet, even as her powers grew stronger, the show's exploration of her development was still tethered to her relationship with its hero. She's being used to prop up the idea that Scott is failing as a leader and an alpha; If he can't help his girlfriend—if he can't even stop her from running away without addressing her problems—how can he protect his pack or save his friends? Why is Kira only being developed to tear Scott down? Why has it taken the series two years to give her any kind of growth? Why? Why? Why?
Teen Wolf needs women who are just as powerful and engaging as its men and I want to care about Malia and Kira as individuals the way I cared about Allison and the way I still care about Lydia. They should be more than just the girlfriends of the show's heroes who join in the battle for good. The recent attempts to tell their independent stories is a good first attempt at bringing them up a level, but the writers need to work on building a foundation for them if they want viewers to care about them the way they care about Scott, Stiles, and Lydia. They need to work more diligently to prove why these women are worthy of being members of the pack for reasons that are wholly unrelated to their relationship status. By doing so it would raise the stakes and actually make their relationships stronger and more emotionally rewarding for fans. Scott doesn't need to have the all-consuming intense fire of a first love with Kira—we've been there and done that and no one is eager to retread that story when it was done so well already—but fans should care enough about her and about her relationship with Scott so that when she packs up and leaves, even if we know she'll be back, it means something.
Think about what that scene in "Ouroboros" would have been like if it had been Lydia who'd driven away and Stiles was left standing in the rain. Their bond is now second only to the one his character shares with Scott, and what began as unrequited love on his part has evolved into a partnership of trust and respect. Their friendship provides, for lack of a better word, a necessary emotional anchor. Even as Lydia has been forced into the background of stories, their relationship is still a grounding force around which fans can rally. Recently there have been hints—some more clunky than others—that the show is looking to return to the more romantic aspects of the Stiles and Lydia relationship in Season 5, but whether or not Teen Wolf's fans agree that the two should be romantically linked—some argue that their friendship has surpassed that point and evolved into something deeper and even more personal than a romantic ideal—the design of their bond was woven into the very fabric of Teen Wolf, where it was nourished and developed for years alongside the threats that constantly knocked at their doors.
As it's aged, Teen Wolf has suffered because of this difficulty merging the personal with the increasingly dangerous overarching narrative. Early in the series' run, the show's characters and their relationships had time to breathe and develop in easy, natural ways. It's understandable and acceptable that the threats they face are more high-risk as the show progresses, but when compared to how steady the series used to be in crafting its characters, their personalities, and their various relationships to one another alongside those threats, the weaknesses are apparent. Many of the show's current storylines often feel rushed and underdeveloped, and milestones—like Scott's recent declaration of love to Kira, for instance—feel largely undeserved. Maybe if the writers spent a little less time on trying to one-up themselves each season and instead focused on building and integrating the characters at the heart of the story, that season-long threat would feel much greater and more dire. Maybe then we'd actually care if our supposed heroes were suddenly no longer there. Maybe we'd care if Teen Wolf was no longer there.
(story via TV)