Hello, darkness, my old friend! And hello season 302! Always good to start with the nightmares right away; I think that's the sign of an excellent season ahead. I especially liked the image of the Nemeton inside the thrashed classroom (I assume the same one where Lydia was attacked and the Sheriff was abducted) – there's always something so creepy about something otherworldly plonked down in the middle of a place where you know it shouldn't exist. I guess that's the whole point of this entire Secret History of the World genre stories!
So what do we know about the Darkness inside our three protagonists via their visions? Well, Scott's are the easiest to interpret; Scott's not that complicated a dude, as it turns out. The looming threat he feels – the way his brain interprets the Darkness impinging on his consciousness now – is lycanthropy itself. This makes perfect sense; I've always said that the fun of Scott's whole journey is that he's quite unmonstrous, temperamentally, and I have no trouble believing that he often experiences the werewolf – contagion? Condition? – as a thing that creeps up on him against his will and turns him into something that's fundamentally not him. I talked some at the beginning of the first season about werewolves as figures of horror versus more contemporary werewolves as characters who touch on issues of wildness or animalism or connection to nature in a more ambiguous or even positive way, and Scott is a character who kind of splits the middle on that, I feel like. Definitely the show portrays his increasing comfort level with lycanthropy as paralleling or even mutually reinforcing his increasing maturity, heroism, and moral authority. But at the same time, he remains more disturbed by being a werewolf, and specifically by his ability to kill, than I think any other werewolf character we see. So they play a bit of a game with Scott as a character, and it's one that you can view as interestingly complicated, or as authorial cheating, as you prefer: Scott needs to be more at peace with his wolf-nature to function well and be the alpha everyone wants and needs him to be, but he can't ever be completely at peace with it, or he'll come to take the violence of the whole experience as for granted as everyone else does, which undermines the gentleness and compassion that's so central to his way of being in the world as Scott McCall. So basically, yes: Scott enters this season more powerful than ever before, but that only means the shadow of his transformation looms over him ever more threateningly. He's not only literally losing his power to control his dual-self in the waking world, but his hallucinations show that he's haunted by the sense that a monster walks in his footsteps. It's a perfect commentary on the nature of both shadows and Shadows that as he's running from it, the shadow he projects back on the school's steps becomes far larger than he is. It's a simple and powerful set of nightmares and images that fit quite well with everything we know of Scott's arc.
Allison's is a little shakier, because the show has always stressed the external conflicts in Allison's life over her internal conflicts. She did have some inner demons somewhere in late season one and season two, when the show toyed with her falling under the sway of her family's ideology out of an essential fear of being powerless and weak – “girly,” in Allison's own estimation. That conflict kind of got...resolved? Went away? I think the unmasking of both Kate and Gerard as essentially self-serving was meant to read as a cautionary tale to Allison; to whatever degree she is aware that “not wanting to be weak” is also a self-serving motivation, it makes sense that not wanting to be like them functions as an effective counterweight. Chris has an obvious internal arc from True Believer to disillusionment as he comes to realize that literally no one but him gives a fuck about the Code he thought they all cared about, but Allison was never really a believer. She was manifestly horrified from the beginning at the brutality of the hunting profession/vocation, but toys with accepting it as a necessary evil. The question with Allison is one of motive, not means as with Chris. Chris is comfortable killing, but he wants to do it correctly, with certain safeguards of honor to prevent him from becoming the moral equivalent of a werewolf. Allison isn't as fussy about how things are done, but I think she is conscious of the fact that why you do them matters. She initially fell into line with Kate out of fear, and hunting seemed preferable to remaining in fear. She was jarred out of that, but later fell into line with Gerard out of a desire for revenge, which she then had to walk back. Now she's made the decision that a hunter is an all right thing to be, but not if you're doing it to prey on those who would prey on you, and has proposed her alternate defense-based paradigm, Allison's “new Code.” At least, all that is what I've been able to glean in terms of a consistent arc for Allison over the past three seasons: unlike Scott, she wants the power over life and death, but she's looking for a way to claim it that will also let her sleep at night. I think there were ways to tap into some of those emotional currents via “haunted by relentless zombie Kate,” but I don't think the script or direction really managed to find those threads. Kate pursues Allison in her nightmares, but she's a fully threatening figure, a thing that should be dead and locked away and won't stay gone. There's very little sense that Allison is being at all tempted or seduced by Kate's corruption, which would've felt consistent and personal – some sense that Allison fears she is Kate or is doomed to become Kate in spite of her best efforts. The only time I thought the show was maybe making a stab at that was Kate's “let's do him together,” which you could extend yourself to believe hits on some kind of fear for Allison that she has some kind of share in Kate's aggression, sexual and otherwise. But that's a bit of a stretch; Kate was always predatory with men in a way that seemed to put Allison off more than draw her in (Kate's insistence that Allison should have more boyfriends than Scott, her open appreciation of Jackson). So there's really not a lot of inner Darkness generated by Allison's nightmares, which are really just A Scary Thing Is Chasing Me, and that feels like a waste. I guess you could make the argument, if pressed, that Allison's primary fear is and always has been being forced into that role, where her only recourse is to run from the things that are crashing destructively into her life. Though there were surely better ways to bring that out, too. Basically I just feel like they set some stuff up, then got distracted and never really followed through.
Stiles is an interesting case, because his dreams are primarily warnings rather than threats. He isn't seeing his fears come to life. His brain is actually generating fear, because it knows on some level that there's a threat he's being insufficiently attentive toward. From his first nightmare where a girl whose instincts he trusts and whom he wants to protect begs him not to explore what's on the other side of the door to the unbelievably creepy scene with the sign language when literally everything in his environment is trying to drill into his consciousness that something is wrong, Stiles' dream-states really aren't about experiencing the Darkness creeping toward him. They're about his obliviousness to the Darkness creeping toward him, and how if he doesn't open his eyes to it, terrible things will happen. I don't know if that distinction was intentional or not, but the more I think about it, the more appealing I find the idea that Stiles is essentially the person here who has no intrinsic Darkness. There's nothing for the spiritual powers unleashed in the sacrifice to play off of in his head, nothing in there but Stiles' basic goodness and rationality. In every iteration of Stiles' nightmares, the Darkness is alien to him, coming in from outside. His defenses are breached, and because he's not really an expert in this sort of thing, he's unaware of it. Scott and Allison are already afraid of the world and themselves, and the Darkness whips that up higher in both of them. Stiles is fundamentally not afraid, which makes it too easy for the Darkness to access and manipulate him while the psychic equivalent of his immune system goes into massive system-shock, trying to get him to be fearful enough to get up and close the damn door.
I can't hold it against Lydia that she's happy everyone else is finally having hallucinatory fugue states. It's not nice to be smug about your friends' problems, but she's kind of a little bit earned it.
There's a distinct difference in the way that Derek told us two seasons back that Pain keeps you from being able to shift and the way Scott explains that Pain makes you human. Some of that is just the difference between a new show that's focused on setting up its worldbuilding rules versus a more experienced show that's enjoying its freedom to play within the ideas it's set up. Some of it may be the difference between the two characters.
The Sheriff's response to the stolen cemetery flowers makes me love him all the more, not least because it reminds me of my mother. When I was a kid, someone smashed out the back window of our station wagon and stole a pile of blankets and some odd random stuff that had been stacked up with it, including a photo album. I remember my mother saying, “If someone needs blankets badly enough to steal them, I'm happy for them to have those, but I wish they'd left the photos.” Some people are just good people, you know? Like my mom, and Stilinskis.
Maybe Isaac is still milking that! I can't really hate on anyone who cops to it like that. Do you, Isaac. I'm sorry that you were locked in a freezer and now the whole internet misspells your name.
Which do I love more, the way Stiles rolls his eyes at Scott's attempt at “nice doggy,” or the way Scott all but leaps into Stiles' arms when the dog starts to bark? Hard to say. Call it a draw. Oh, Scott. You are the nicest doggy. In many situations, that's useful!
I'm pleased to see the return of the whole business about anchors and controlling one's transformation, because that's – you know, I give different writers a lot of latitude on supernatural stuff! The fun of the genre is playing with the forms, and werewolves aren't so much real, so I'm not going to be the one to say anyone is doing it wrong. That said, there's a point at which you've messed with the tropes so much that you've sucked the joy out of it, for those of us who find joy in that sort of thing. If your vampires aren't tearing into people with their teeth because they'll weaken and die if they don't get inside you now... then what is even the point? And after like one full moon when Scott tried awesomely to fuck over everyone he knew, if then he kind of has everything under control and only ever turns into a wolf when villainy threatens... then kind of he's just Spider-Man with sideburns, right? The point of doing werewolf stories is that there should be a threat of rage blackouts and murderfrenzy. I'm not saying you can't just get bored with murderfrenzy and eliminate it a season and a half into your tv show, I'm just saying you shouldn't do that, because werewolves.
But anyway, they found Reasons for control to be an issue for Scott again, and I approve. At this point we've seen two approaches to anchors: the one Peter taught to Derek and Derek passed on to his merry band of juvenile offenders, which is “anger,” and the one Scott used to self-medicate, which is “I have a girlfriend now.” The reality, of course, is that those are both fucking terrible things to need to depend on in order to have a functioning superego. Because those are both things that, when the time comes, you should be prepared to let go of. Melissa isn't always the world's most competent mom (although I love her impotent aggravation at the property damage generated by her kid and her accidental foster kid working through their feelings on the drywall), but there's a definite advantage to having an adult in your life who has seen some shit fall apart in her time. Melissa is an ER nurse whose marriage fell apart and whose alcoholic jerkass ex-husband peaced out on their kid. She may not know a whole lot about werewolves, but I'm pretty sure she's speaking from a place of authority when she tells Scott that the only thing you can always trust will be there to hold your center is your center.
Be your own anchor is to me – and yes, I'm going to go all Stoic on your asses again, because that's how I roll – equivalent to Epictetus' Bear and forbear. “Bear and forbear” is the kind of saying that makes people feel like Stoicism is about some kind of grueling slog with manly, clenched jaw from the cradle to the grave, which...I suppose can be the case; nothing about Stoicism really requires you to be a barrel of monkeys. But I still like bear and forbear; I once heard someone suggest that an even better modern translation would be “hold up and hold back” – that is, hold up under the pressure of things not going your way, and hold back from indulging your worst impulses just because you can. It's basically the whole Buddhist “Middle Way” philosophy (Stoicism and Buddhism overlap a pretty ridiculous amount), and the thing is that we're kind of trained to think that sounds dull and stodgy and bloodless, but if you really try to live that principle out, it's not just a challenge, but honestly kind of an adventure. The world will never run out of terrible and beautiful things to throw at you, and the reason I love werewolf stories is that it's a mythologizing of that aspect of reality: that we can be so destructive when we thrash around resisting the terrible or when we thrash around chasing after the beautiful, and that life is all about learning how to navigate pain and pleasure without turning into someone else's nightmare. Watching Scott struggle with holding up and holding back is cathartic; it's what good storytelling is supposed to be. It's a true thing told in a way that engages our emotional and rational responses at the same time. It's good advice for living a functional life that feels aspirational instead of medicinal – if this poor high-strung little nice-doggy of a kid can be his own anchor, surely almost anyone can.
Oh, and, uh. This last bit. Okay, there is an art to weaving together disparate moods so that a viewer can laugh at your dialogue and also feel the appropriate anxiety and revulsion of a torture scene and ideally even notice the discomfort of having both those things happen at the same time and wonder what it says about people that we can take in all that at once. Like, I get that this last scene badly wants to be Firefly, but actually it is Teen Wolf, and I'm sorry, but you, sir, are no “War Stories.”