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For much of Season 3B, Teen Wolf has gestured pointedly toward the past. From Stiles' early inability to read his World War II textbook to Allison's mysterious voicemail from 70 years prior and again to a villain dressed in 1940s military uniform, Japanese-American relocation during the war has remained an obscure but ever-present shadow over current events. Finally, "The Fox and the Wolf" provides a lengthy flashback in which most of the earlier details are explained. It's Teen Wolf's first real attempt at historical criticism and commentary, and at least in my mind, it does so with mixed success.

I understand that this commentary is always secondary to the story Teen Wolf is otherwise telling, which is of course up to its usual high standards, but I can't help but consider the attempt: what Teen Wolf did right and where it disappointed.



What It Did Right...

1. "The Fox and the Wolf" is a timely reminder of a shameful policy in American history. In response to race prejudice and war hysteria following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 and the Ni'ihau Incident in the days immediately after, President Roosevelt signed into effect Executive Order 9066 (text here) in February of 1942, which authorized the military detainment of civilians designated by the Secretary of War as a threat. The overwhelming majority of interned citizens were Japanese Americans in the Pacific states, which were designated "exclusion zones". While these camps never approached the brutality of concentration and extermination camps under Nazi Germany—whose atrocities, as they became known in the later years of the war, would hold a very troublesome mirror to North America's own domestic wartime measures—the practice of systematically relocating and detaining citizens because of their racial heritage is indefensible under any conditions. Nevertheless, these offenses have often been overshadowed by the war itself and the Holocaust.


(Image from Tule Lake, California)

2. The vulnerability of the internment camp residents is unmistakable. These are people living largely at the mercy of their captors. They are dependent for food, which is not always entirely sufficient, and subject to their discipline with little recourse for injustice. There are several documented instances of detainees being shot and killed by guards claiming they attempted escape or exceeded the boundary of the facility. The further ability for the Oak Creek atrocity to be covered up at any administrative level betrays their defenselessness.

3. The central conflict in the flashback highlights institutional corruption and war profiteering. The practice of diverting supplies during wartime and selling them on the black market is an old one and unfortunately a not infrequent one as well. (It's also a popular motif in wartime film, including notably Harry Lime's penicillin racket in The Third Man.) The abuse of administrative supervision by the camp doctor and the two soldiers Hayes and Merrick over the medical supplies results in the death of a young boy Michio and ignites the riot. It's a strategy, if somewhat saccharine and sentimental, that puts a face to an often faceless crime. (£20,000 for every dot that stops moving from atop the Ferris wheel, so to speak.)




Where It Dropped the Ball...

1. The conditions of internment for Teen Wolf's Oak Creek detainees are significantly improved from the historical evidence. In particular, food and sanitation were very real problems in WRA internment camps. With war rationing beginning in 1942 for the entire country and significant food shortages for perishables, the internment camp residents often suffered from nutritional deficiency. Milk, meat, cheese and fruit were in particularly short supply. Additionally, the large number of internees were housed in tightly confined barracks with poor waste disposal built in fields with poor drainage, turning many of the yards between buildings into mud traps sometimes more than ankle-deep.


(Image from Minidoka, Idaho)

Teen Wolf is just far too pretty. Even for the most pleasant of WRA camps, detainees were cramped, camps were isolated, and luxury goods were scarce. Arden Cho looks spectacular in 1940s fashion with her bright red lips, glossy red nails, and beautifully arranged hair, but the realities of camp life—even though they were allowed to bring a personal suitcase—would make this kind of up-keep highly impractical. The facilities themselves—both the living quarters and the associated buildings, including Eichen House—are well constructed. Even the camp fence at Oak Creek is an elegant wrought iron gate instead of the barbed wire and chain variety common for these facilities.



2. Noshiko Yukimura is the camp's most prominent (perhaps only) thief. She's also a kitsune. While her supernatural abilities make her an exceptional pilferer, her trickster personality and impish theatrics also suggest she enjoys it, much like Kira's own first foray into breaking and entering and evidence tampering. There's an underlying glee in her deception and an innate contempt for rules, one that motivates her to take risks with a careless disregard for the possible consequences for the larger community in the camp. It's a trait she's called out for by Satomi, a (seemingly) older lady-werewolf, as we later discover. While it's very deft character development, Noshiko's temperament compromises Teen Wolf's portrait of historical injustice. It makes for excellent storytelling but uneven historical criticism.

3. What Noshiko steals is sometimes frivolous and unnecessarily reckless.Stealing apples and painkillers is easy to defend, but Noshiko steals a baseball. She may steal it for young boy Michio, but she must realize that it will go missing, and it's difficult to imagine that the simple thrill of stealing one of the thuggish guard's toys isn't a significant factor in her decision, and it's one that draws immediate attention from the soldiers. When she's seen just later hiding a jar of hard candy, her thieving habits are even more difficult to justify, especially in light of Satomi's accusations. Ultimately, Noshiko's (and thereby Teen Wolf's) decisions trivialize the very real needs the internment residents have, including nutrition and medicine.

4. "The Fox and the Wolf" ignores the dangerous and exploitative undertones of Rhys and Noshiko's romance. This is perhaps my strongest objection to the flashback storyline. While the previous three undermine the implicit historical criticism of this era of American history, they all contribute in interesting ways to the immediate characterization of Noshiko and the future trajectory of Teen Wolf's plot. This romance, on the other hand, not only recasts the conflict as a love story, but is also blindly dismissive in very troubling ways. The vulnerability of internees, mentioned previously, is not limited to explicit shows of force. When creepy Merrick harasses one of the female residents during their abbreviated search, it's evident that he's out of line. But the exploitative potential for a soldier using his clout to disguise a prisoner's stealing and offering her treats as presents (for which he receives kisses in return) is very, very unsettling. It's a more subtle and more silent manner of rape, one that exchanges the unspoken protection from harm for sexual favors. Teen Wolf never plays this possibility as such. Instead, it plays the romance straight. It's not that a real romance isn't possible, but "The Fox and the Wolf" white-washed some of the more subtle violation that happens in these situations. In the end, Rhys would have been a stronger and more morally admirable character if there were no reciprocation for his sympathy and kindness.





So, how do you think Teen Wolf did with its internment camp flashback? Are you happy with the tone it struck for both the history and the story? What compromises are you pleased with and which ones, if any, are troubling?

A related note: Satomi, the werewolf, is easily my favorite character in the flashback. I think she provides a wonderful foil for Noshiko, a different perspective on their detainment and a different strategy for survival, and I'm eager to know what happened to her. You?
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