Not to sound like a snob, but in general I like it when TV shows treat me like I'm not a dummy. Unfortunately that is very rare these days because TV executives seem to think that making everything 100% understandable and thoroughly explained at all times means that more people will tune in. The reason that is broken thinking is because making a story more obvious will cause a huge percentage of discerning viewers to tune out. Maybe I am just speaking for myself and all my friends and family and critics and fans I respect, but yeah: Don't treat me like my brain is wet wad of ABC gum. Even when I legit DON'T understand something, I would never tune out because of it. I would just like to be left to myself to think about it, or read someone else's interpretations, things like that. Tuning out is not an option. I WOULD tune out if something was stupid or obvious and not worth my time. You know?
When I tell people that I think Teen Wolf is one of cable's best shows (and by extension one of TV's best shows), they still, to this day, think I'm somehow joking or being sarcastic or trolling them or whatever. But I am not. I happen to watch a lot of TV and Teen Wolf just does things better than most if not all other shows. Humor, horror, pathos, and creative ambition... All are married to simply insane storytelling and enormously likable characters. It's frankly incredible how bad most other shows are in one or more of those areas, but Teen Wolf regularly nails them and in the exact right combinations. But this leads me to my bigger point: Teen Wolf also is especially good at showing and not telling. It's not a particularly cryptic or complicated show, sure. It's not The Wire with shirtless or blood-stained hunks. But Teen Wolf respects us enough to simply show us a character's face and expect us to know exactly what that character is thinking or feeling. Some shows would have Stiles' dad say "I'm sad that my son appears to be dying" and then Melissa going, "I also feel sad that your son is dying." But on two, perhaps three occasions in this episode they just stood there in wordless understanding and it felt like a sucker-punch to those of us with perceptive hearts. "Riddled" was another high watermark for this show. With its long, drawn-out moments of horror, and emotional moments held for a beat or two longer than other shows would feel comfortable with, "Riddled" felt significantly richer than I'm used to from this show or any TV show, really.
Real quick, though, before we get into it. Can I rant for a second about the MTV suggested hash tags again? I know I mention it every week, BUT I SHOULD MENTION IT EVERY WEEK because they are so, so awful. And this ties into what I was saying before: The Teen Wolf writers slave over every word to get across a maximum of storytelling and emotion in a minimum of words, often finding strength in just letting something play out without explanation. And then suddenly some bozo writes a hashtag on the bottom of the screen, just absolutely robbing the moment of its profundity or meaning. It made me so mad when last week's episode hash-tagged that fleeting moment where Stiles mistakenly called Melissa "Mom," and it was even worse this week, when "#StilinskiFamilyFeels" came up while Sheriff Stilinksi processed the information that his son had an INCURABLE BRAIN DISEASE. Honestly, people in power reading this, President Obama, ANYBODY. Please, please stop MTV from doing this. They are ruining these scenes. Guys, I feel very passionate about this, sorry. It's because Teen Wolf is so manifestly well-done and these hash tags threaten to make it seem just as crass as any other subpar teen serial. Is there an e-petition I can sign?
ANYWAY, sorry, I guess we should talk about "Riddled"!
We started in Scott's bedroom where he was just trying to get some restful werewolf Z's, but his smart phone had other ideas. Specifically, it was receiving a distress call from Stiles!
Honestly, the scene was very drawn out and tense and scary in ways that can't be reflected in a dumb recap, but trust me, it was VERY good. Stiles would mutter something about being lost in a dark basement that smelled super terrible, then the phone would cut out, then Scott would only reach his voicemail, then Stiles would call back and repeat. The whole thing was a major nightmare for anybody who's received middle-of-the-night calls and/or gets spotty service. So yeah, Scott was in panic mode and decided to wake up bestie #2 to help deal with it.
I was slightly disappointed that Isaac was no longer sleeping on the floor next to Scott's bed (wait, did he ever do that or have I just been picturing it that way in my head the whole time?). But yeah it goes without saying that Isaac was there to help.
Meanwhile at the school, Lydia and Aiden were enjoying some late night art room flirtations complete with sexy naked posedowns.
But right before there was any full-frontal nudity to be had, a nearby bluetooth speaker started making noises only banshees can hear!
Eerily enough it was very similar to what Scott and Isaac were hearing from Stiles' phone calls:
So yes. Now everybody knew that Stiles was lost and in trouble and possibly freezing to death in a smelly basement. Oh, and one more thing: He WASN'T ALONE. Cue opening credits, because only that frenetic and stressful opening sequence could help calm my racing heart, you know? (I love those credits so much.)
Meanwhile Kira was pulling an Uncle Fester in her bedroom and lighting up dead lightbulbs and also breaking them in her fingers. It made me laugh when she immediately yelled for her mom to come fix it rather than just, you know, go get a lightbulb. Kids!
Except, look what happened when her mom changed the lightbulb!
UH-OH looks like fire foxes run in the familyyyy.
Then we finally got to see what was up with Stiles. And honestly it didn't look very fun!
But having his leg stuck in a trap wasn't even the worst thing he was going through. No, the worst thing was probably the creep chilling in the corner writing graffiti on a steel door.
AAAAAAAHHHHH! Poor Stiles! This is what nightmares made of! (Also cheese).
So then everybody knew to show up in Stiles' bedroom and they discovered that in a manic state he'd tied red yarn to all of the evidence on his bulletin boards and then stabbed scissors into his bed. That is honestly a great idea to add a little pizzazz to a drab bedroom, but as far as being an expositional device the kids were baffled.
Despite Stiles making Scott promise not to involve his dad, Lydia set Scott straight about it and the boys headed off for the Sheriff's station. A very emotional Sheriff Stilinski shouted orders at everybody, which made me think that maybe he wanted to find Stiles ASAP, I don't know, what do you think? Oh nevermind, the hash tag told me what was going on. Got it.
I don't know about you guys but I am VERY invested in this character:
I'm sure he will be fine and definitely won't be killed off or anything. Not like that other lady sheriff who got killed off in Season 2. No, this guy is probably totally safe, don't worry.
Then we got another great Derek-as-Yoda type scene! I love these scenes, we haven't gotten enough of them since Season 1. In this case he took Scott up to the roof and taught him to use his sense of super-smell to detect what emotional state the target was in. From Stiles' scent they could tell he was dealing with high anxiety up on the rooftop there. But why? It was a mystery, okay?
For some reason Agent McCall believed that the ghost demon ninjas were actual dudes, so he filled out a police report and talked to a sketch artist about it? Anyway, this was what they came up with and it was hilarious:
I was a little disappointed because I'd hoped that when Agent McCall was stabbed by a ghost it would've made him realize that there were supernatural things happening, but nope. He was still thinking everything was just a regular case! He is a bit of a dummy to be honest.
Then Lydia discovered that when she strummed Stiles' yarn like it was a Spanish guitar and she was Banshee Charo, barely coherent voices would whisper secrets to her.
In one case a piece of yarn whispered something about an old sanitarium so she immediately became 100% sure that's where Stiles was.
Next thing we knew she'd gathered up the troops and they all ran into the sanitarium shouting about where was the basement and also please take us to the basement.
But WHOOPS! Stiles wasn't there. Despite the presence of one of those backwards-5 symbols on the wall, Stiles was nowhere to be found.
Sheriff Stilinski was VERY frustrated with Lydia, but then he apologized. Dads worry! Also she seemed very freaked out for having been wrong. I think my favorite thing about Lydia's banshee powers is how weird they are. Too often on shows a psychic ability is just a cheat, writing-wise. In this case she hears things that she doesn't understand or know how to interpet, and that is automatically interesting to me. Also it makes me feel bad for her because that's a straight-up curse. Even when her "visions" do make sense they're all about death? No thank you. Being a banshee seems like a total hassle.
Meanwhile Agent McCall teamed up with his ex-wife and after some charming banter about his former drinking problem, he realized that maybe Stiles had been sleeping when he described a smelly basement to Scott, and Agent McCall had a feeling he knew where Scott ACTUALLY was.
THIS GUY. So this guy was obviously a tremendous nightmare. Not just because of the mummy face and silver teeth, but he was constantly yammering in Japanese and also riddles. Everybody knows that riddles are annoying, but Stiles figured them all out but one: "Everybody has it, but nobody can lose it." And in case you didn't hear the dark kitsune in the mummy wraps say the riddle, then a bright green hashtag popped up to spell it out. STOP IT, MTV.
Anyway, but yeah, Stiles was still not enjoying himself, and that includes the part when the demon guy dragged him by the steel trap across the floor!
But then Stiles WOKE UP! He'd been asleep in the woods and Mrs. McCall was able to hug him awake because she is the best. It was VERY intense, and honestly kind of surprising. We were only halfway through the episode and Stiles had been found! Then it's like the episode shifted into a whole other gear as the characters attempted to investigate what exactly was going on.
First Isaac showed up at Allison's because she hadn't been returning his calls. It turned out that her phone had been off, and all the voicemails she'd received had been a Japanese radio address of some kind. Totally normal voicemails, in other words. I get those all the time, it's very annoying.
Meanwhile did you laugh when AIDEN became the first one to correctly guess that Stiles was possessed by the dark kitsune?
I mean, dang, guys. Aiden is beating you to the punch now. Get it together.
But then Derek did this for some reason and it jogged his brain about something. BUT WHAT? It was a mystery, again. Relax.
This was touching:
Even though Sheriff Stilinski and Agent McCall were mortal enemies currently drag racing down the highway to hell, they shook hands like gentlemen because that's how happy Sheriff Stilinski was that his boy was alive. Dad stuff.
Meanwhile the next day at school Derek pulled a classic Derek move by showing up at the high school to hang out with underage teens. In this case he wanted to take Kira to the power station where she had exploded Doug Jones and ask her what ELSE she may have done to passerby, specifically Stiles.
The idea was that Doug Jones had lured Stiles and Scott there so that Kira could use her fox fire to accidentally electrocute Stiles and thus activate the dark kitsune living in his bones and soul. So phew! THAT question was answered. Just kidding, I didn't actually know that stuff was in question. Stiles has a dark demon in him, Derek, who cares why?
Meanwhile Isaac and Allison took her voicemails to Kira's dad to get his opinion:
As it turned out, the recordings were a radio broadcast intended for Japanese-Americans unjustly sent to internment camps following Pearl Harbor. That's right, Teen Wolf is GOING THERE. In my opinion, for all the rightful introspection we do about America's various crimes against our own people there has definitely not been enough talk about this particular travesty and I'm being super serious right now. I know this is a monster soap but I really respect and admire Teen Wolf for possibly informing a whole new generation of kids that this was a real thing that happened and it's one of our country's biggest shames. Anyway, let's see where it goes! But for now I'm cautiously impressed that something so serious is factoring into the mythology here. Oh, but the twist is that the voice on the radio was mentioning the name of an internment camp that supposedly didn't exist. Why? IT'S A MYSTERY.
Meanwhile Lydia was hearing EVERYTHING and it was giving ME a headache.
Ugh, banshee stuff. Lydia had to run outta there because no way.
Uh, this was heavy. Like, truly and surprisingly heavy. We learned that Stiles' mom died of an incurable brain disorder called Frontal Temporal Dementia, and his symptoms are now mirroring hers. So his dad decided to bring him in for a scan. Just before he got in the tube, probably one of Teen Wolf's deepest and most understated exchanges in history happened.
Sure this was not plainly stated but Scott promised Stiles with such conviction that he would figure out how to save his life should it come to that, and in my mind I think that meant turning him into a werewolf or at least enlisting a druid to use some druid magic on him. But really it was Scott's certainty that got me. He WILL figure out how to beat a very serious medical condition on Stiles' behalf. And also I respect how seriously Teen Wolf is taking this medical angle. Sorry if this is an overshare but someone close to me has a degenerative brain disorder and it's really scary and sad and maybe I won't be very professional about seeing scenes like this. But yeah, like in the face of so much ludicrous monster mythology to make a straightforward, unflinching acknowledgment of human fragility (which simply NEVER happens on teen dramas, teens are supposed to be invincible, you know?), I just found it really affecting. And that was BEFORE this happened:
I mean I don't even know what to say. I guess I could focus on how good the acting was in this episode, just from everybody. Everybody was doing A+ gold star work. Also I'm crying right now.
It should go without saying that the scan itself, a 45-minute procedure filled with loud, clanging noises, was not the most peaceful experience for Stiles. Also this is a horror-themed show and scans never, ever go well. That included this one! It could even be argued that this scan ended up going pretty badly, but we'll get back to that in a second.
Then Derek and Scott had another lovely scene. In this case we learned that he'd dropped Cora off in South America (IS THAT WHERE SCOTLAND IS?) and returned so that he could talk to his dead mom. She told him that it's the Hales' job to protect Beacon Hills, and now Derek wants Scott to know that that responsibility falls to him also. That's a heavy thing for a teenager to hear when he has his whole life ahead of him, but Scott is such a nice and decent guy that he just accepted it. But he also insisted that Derek continue to mentor him, which was a very humble thing for an Alpha to request. Anyway, nice guys, nice scene.
But then all the noises from the MRI machine were starting to get on Lydia's nerves.
That banshee SCREAMED! That's because Stiles was dreaming and some bad things were going down.
Well, first of all, this happened:
The doctor informed Stiles' dad that the scan did indeed show signs of brain deterioration, as they feared. Man, their faces said it all:
(This suggested hashtag particularly enraged me.) Stilinski Family Feels? Way to ruin a perfectly moving moment with stupid tumblr lingo! Oh I am so, so steamed.
Anyway, here's what Stiles was experiencing in his dreams!
The dark kitsune informed Stiles that they would be murdering everybody in town pretty soon, and that included all of Stiles' friends and family. Stiles didn't like that idea very much, but that's when he finally figured out the answer to the demon's riddle. And while he was figuring it out, the guy started taking off his mummy face!
They had the same face! And also the answer to that riddle was "shadow." As in, everybody has it but nobody can lose it. Uh, first of all, it's called an overcast day, dummy. Or what about being surrounded on all sides by spotlights. NO SHADOW. What a dumb riddle. Anyway, that's when it looked like a semi-permanent switcheroo took place.
Uh-oh. That is a look of evil! Stiles is officially evil now!
Meanwhile up on the roof, the thing Stiles had done earlier started paying off. He'd shorted out the power to the generator!
But then when Evil Stiles escaped from the lab and tried to leave the building LOOK who was waiting for him in the elevators!
Kira's mom! She was a good kitsune currently in control of the Oni! Man, I clapped at this, not gonna lie.
When Evil Stiles wasn't scared of the firefly-toot warriors Kira's mom threatened him with a weapon even worse. Which, in my opinion is probably her own daughter, right?
And after a super long shot of Stiles looking SO CREEPY, the scene cut to Kira standing outside the hospital. And she was in danger!
Whoops, Kira was about to get Final Destination'd by a loose power line! I am not psychic or even a banshee, but I am pretty sure she'll be fine. That is not a spoiler, just a prediction. Please don't scream at me in the streets for saying that.
Well, "Riddled" was a seriously frightening and emotional hour of television. It didn't feel so much like a traditional episode since it was split into two arcs really, but it made me wish so hard I could watch the next episode right away. It was one of those kinds of episodes, where it had answers and shed light on the mystery but will only function as the beginning part of the next batch of episodes. But the main thing was how well done was. Teen Wolf has really become so much more confident in allowing scenes to play out wordlessly and allowing long, artistic shots without over-explaining or over-editing things. You know? You know.
... Did you predict that Kira's mom was a kitsune?
... Which part made you feel most emotional?
... Does being a banshee seem fun to you?
... Should Derek open a werewolf boarding school already?
AIRED ON 3/8/2016
Season 5 : Episode 20