Wolf Pack is the new Teen Wolf 2.0, helmed by Teen Wolf creator Jeff Davis. And surprise – Buffy is in it! Okay, she’s not technically Buffy, but she’s played by Sarah Michelle Gellar and has been styled to look exactly like Buffy. So I’m just calling her Alternate Universe (AU) Buffy. As a big fan of both Teen Wolf and Buffy, I was excited to see this show.
Unfortunately, it has yet to fill the shoes of its predecessors. While I love both the cast and the show’s dedication to covering mental wellness responsibly, each episode feels unsatisfying. Let’s look at what happened – or didn’t – in Wolf Pack and how it ended up the way it did.
Spoiler and Content Notices: This article spoils nearly all of the reveals in season one. It also discusses the familial abuse that features in the season.
A Season Full of Thumb-Twiddling
The first episode opens when a school bus gets stuck on the road during a wildfire. The kids panic as wildlife pours out of the woods to escape the blaze. In the midst of the chaos, a large predator takes its opportunity to bite protagonists Everett and Blake.
Getting a supernatural bite is usually about mystery and disempowerment, and Wolf Pack is no exception. As Everett and Blake are freaking out about their weird bites, they start getting anonymous phone calls warning them that a beast is coming to kill them. Viewers are treated to scenes of the werewolf lurking in the bushes. This is all standard stuff, much like how Teen Wolf opened.
But from there, Wolf Pack diverges from its predecessor. Teen Wolf let the threat from Mr. Bitey Wolf build up in the background as its hero, Scott, adjusted to his dangerous powers. Instead, Everett and Blake find themselves mysteriously running to Blake’s empty house, so their new werewolf sire can attack them immediately. You might think this is great, since it adds an exciting action sequence. However, the show can’t kill off its heroes or the big monster in the first episode. So what can this fight accomplish?
The answer is nothing. Everett and Blake run to a house for no reason, face a half-hearted attack by a big werewolf, and simply run away again. The only difference is that now, viewers have gotten a close look at some goofy werewolf CG.
Meanwhile, the other teen protagonists, Luna and Harlan, are worried about their adoptive father, Garret. They were born werewolves, and he’s the park ranger who found them as cubs in the woods. Now he’s missing, probably because he’s been trapped by the wildfire. Luna and Harlan go looking for him, and they also spontaneously start running. That’s one way to get your characters where you need them.
This time, the teens are running toward a party! A party with Everett and Blake in the woods, complete with some mutual eye glowing. Then the episode ends. It doesn’t feel very complete, but it’s only the first episode. No doubt, in episode two the four protagonists will team up to rescue Garret from the fire.
Alternatively – just hear me out – the teens could have an awkward conversation and then all go home. You see, once they work as a team, they aren’t cool loners anymore. They might even become a pack or something. Plus, this way the show’s heroes don’t have to bother rescuing anyone.
Clearly the writers agree with me, because Garret is found alive by the authorities, no teen effort required. Meanwhile, the bitey werewolf lurks like a wallflower who can’t muster the courage to ask anyone to dance. Our wallflower does manage to slash some tires though – good for it.
Don’t worry, there’s still AU Buffy here to add some excitement. She’s an arson investigator who loves handshakes, and her devious plan is to … ask questions. Okay, she technically thinks one of the students started the fire and wants to catch the culprit. But after answering her questions multiple times, the protagonists don’t become her primary suspects, clear themselves of suspicion, or have any other impact on her investigation. I can only conclude she does these hard-hitting interviews because she has a secret wish to be a journalist.
Still, let’s not forget the show’s exciting action. A cop on the arson team tries to beat a confession out of Harlan. Don’t worry, Garret and our bitey wallflower take care of that cop so our teen hero doesn’t have to. Harlan contributes by stepping outside and allowing himself to be attacked. It’s a very important contribution.
As the show continues, the teens bond a little, as a treat. After the woods party, facing an interrogation together, and hiding at Garret’s house, they gather in a school bathroom. There, they have their fourth conversation about how they’re magically linked but too cool to be part of a team. Does Luna, who has desperately wanted to be part of a werewolf pack this whole time, have a plan to unite the group? Of course not. She’s too busy brooding over visions of horses. Brooding is tiring work; you can’t expect a person to both brood and do… anything.
In contrast, Harlan spends all of his solo scenes at raves or the gym, having sexy times with hot guys. Look, I’m glad we’re at the point where a big-budget show isn’t afraid to add some gay eye candy. But when hooking up is the only thing your gay character does, it starts to feel less like representation and more like objectification. Thankfully, Harlan also has werewolf visions to brood over. His visions are about – can you guess? – sexy times with hot guys.
The writers do make a few good choices. While hiding at Garret’s in episode three, Everett, Blake, Luna, and Harlan discover that the bitey werewolf isn’t interested in hurting them any longer. It thinks they’re part of its pack, so instead, it’s begun killing their supposed enemies. That means anyone the teens bicker with could become a target. This twist helps connect their teen drama to the external threat, and it prevents a fight with Mr. Bitey from happening too soon.
The obvious next step is for the teens to protect the werewolf’s targets. There’s just one problem: the writers are still dead set on preventing their teen protagonists from making a difference. Because of this, the story feels like a tabletop roleplaying game with the most frustrating GM alive.
Wolf Pack: The Roleplaying Game
GM: Everett, the werewolf is coming to kill your friend Connor, who is at the hospital.
Everett: I go to the hospital to save him.
GM: You get to the hospital, but he’s no longer in his hospital bed. Roll your Investigation skill to find him.
Everett: Yes! I got a natural 20.
GM: You successfully find his cast. It’s stuck in a fence, indicating he tore it off his broken leg in a desperate but doomed attempt to escape the ravaging beast.
Everett: Can I search for clues as to where Connor might have gone? Or maybe where the werewolf’s lair is or who it might be?
The table stares at the GM awkwardly for a moment.
Harlan: Are there any male NPCs with a six-pack nearby?
GM: I guess there could be. Why?
Honestly, Harlan is making the best of this situation.
In episode five, the GM finally has a task for the players. They get an anonymous call from someone who tells them exactly where to go and what they need to do. Most GMs use a friendly NPC like Garret for this, but the teens roll with it. They learn that the bitey werewolf murders someone every night, and they have to stop it. If four people with werewolf powers can’t do it, who can?
They dutifully go where instructed and find a car wreck. One passenger has already been dragged out of the car, but the second passenger is still there, alive but injured. From somewhere in the shadows, Mr. Bitey begins to drag the whole car away.
If you were playing one of the teens in this situation, would you:
- Try to draw the werewolf’s attention elsewhere, so your friends can get the passenger away safely?
- Roar really loudly, hoping to intimidate the werewolf into backing off?
- Jump over the car and battle the werewolf, so it will never hurt anyone again?
- Stand and stare while the passenger gets murdered, and then run away?
Even though the teens showed up specifically to confront the werewolf, they choose #4. After fleeing, they decide to try again the next night. You know, when the werewolf decides to murder someone else. It’s not like Luna has a super scent ability she could use to find its daytime hiding spot. Oh wait, she does.
The next night, the GM instructs them to attend a pool party. That way they can have some drama in skimpy outfits while they fail to protect people. Plus, one of Harlan’s lovers is there, and he becomes a love interest with plot relevance. I don’t know why Harlan thinks this particular hot guy is boyfriend material, but I appreciate the cute scenes where Harlan hides his love interest from AU Buffy. Or tries to. Naturally he fails, and his love interest is taken away in cuffs.
Sure, there’s some movement throughout the season. The protagonists gradually become a team while they learn what’s going on with Mr. Bitey and AU Buffy. But since these gradual changes don’t fill up eight episodes, the characters are continually robbed of agency and made to play out repetitive, pointless scenes.
It isn’t until episode seven, after 75% of the story is done, that the teens are finally allowed to come up with a plan and actually succeed at something. Because, as it turns out, this story only has enough material for about three episodes.
Teen Wolf and Buffy didn’t have this issue, so how come Wolf Pack does? Let’s look at where the show’s plot structure should be coming from and what might have gone wrong.
How Reveals Obstructed the Action
TV shows range from highly serial to completely episodic. Buffy was mostly episodic. It had a season arc that slowly developed in the background while it focused on the monster of the week. This made it easier for viewers to jump in anywhere, but it gave them less motivation to come back. Teen Wolf was more serial, using its season arc for most of its material. Viewers would be confused if they jumped in mid-season, but the plot was engrossing.
However, most Teen Wolf episodes also had a strong arc. A character might be missing for an episode, or a villain might appear at the beginning of an episode to give an ultimatum that’s resolved near the end. These episode arcs gave viewers some closure with each episode, and it often moved the season plot forward as well. The Teen Wolf format created a satisfying sense of progress even though the big villain was still at large.
Wolf Pack, on the other hand, doesn’t have any episode arcs until episode seven. The characters go through various conflicts, but these conflicts are usually too small to fill an episode, and their timing doesn’t line up very well with episode boundaries. And since these events rarely make a difference to the season, it looks like writers are just filling time. Instead of providing a satisfying sense of progress, Wolf Pack is stringing viewers along.
So why isn’t Wolf Pack structured more like Teen Wolf? To answer this, let’s first look at the season’s big reveal.
Unlike Buffy or Teen Wolf, the antagonist for the season isn’t actually evil. Mr. Bitey was just a normal teen werewolf named Baron until he was caught in the wildfire. The fire transformed him into a wolf-human hybrid monster with a separate, murderous consciousness. But he occasionally changes back into Baron, and the disoriented Baron consciousness doesn’t want to kill anyone.
Baron is actually Luna and Harlan’s brother. AU Buffy is mama wolf, and she’s come to find Baron and help him return to himself. As you might expect, she wouldn’t arrest or hurt any of the teens. Instead of being angry or resentful of Garret for raising her kids, she concludes he’s been a good father to them. While she ends the season on an antagonistic note, her goals don’t really conflict with anyone else’s.
People love storylines where the big bad villain was just misunderstood. It provides a nice reveal and a heartwarming ending where everyone can just get along. But after writing a number of these storylines myself, let me tell you: they are a bloody nightmare. It’s extremely hard to create genuine conflicts when the characters are one honest conversation away from making up. Not only do you have to keep them from talking, but if they stay in character, no one is that interested in fighting in the first place.
Baron’s monster possession needs more than a conversation to solve, but he’s still just one werewolf. Imagine if an experienced park ranger, four teen newbie werewolves, and a deadly mama werewolf all teamed up to solve this problem. It would be taken care of in a single episode. When it’s too early for the plot to wrap up, characters have nothing to do but avoid each other and angst.
Okay, but what about saving other people? While rescuing a different person from Mr. Bitey every episode would get repetitive, the writers could have done more with this. However, they might have avoided it because of the other big conflict killer of the season: the authorities.
Keeping the authorities out of the action is a challenge for many stories, especially stories with young protagonists. Buffy and Teen Wolf used the excuse that the local cops not only didn’t know about the supernatural, but they also weren’t equipped to handle it. That’s a tougher sell when you have only one werewolf threatening people, a park ranger who knows about werewolves is on the main cast, and your four teenagers act hapless most of the time.
Every time someone survives a werewolf attack, the show needs a reason why the survivor either won’t go to the police or the police won’t take it seriously. When the bitey werewolf first attacked, wildlife was rushing the roads to get away from the fire, creating chaos. At the pool party, all of the teens got high on shrooms, so no one would trust what they saw. The final witness is Blake’s little brother. He’s autistic, and, unfortunately, in this show that means people are unlikely to believe him. The show can’t simply repeat these tricks for everyone who’s attacked.
AU Buffy makes everything worse by leading a police task force. While she’s in charge, the police become wrapped up in her depiction. To prepare for her reveal, AU Buffy needs to be menacing but not fully antagonistic, so the authorities can’t be villains. While one cop disobeys her to beat up Harlan, it’s not plausible to keep that problem going for long.
Altogether, the writers wrote themselves into a corner. Could giving a larger presence to another antagonist solve this? Technically, it could. However, despite the lack of plot, the story is pretty complex. Adding another villain would have risked making the whole thing too complicated, and it would have taken time away from all the personal scenes that Jeff Davis clearly wanted. Speaking of which, why didn’t those personal scenes have more structure?
The Personal Arcs That Weren’t
Besides exciting werewolf fights, the show had another option for giving each episode purpose and meaning. In both Teen Wolf and Buffy, supernatural threats are supplemented with personal stories.
Many Buffy episodes are about Buffy’s new crush, her mother’s new boyfriend, or the competition between Buffy and Cordelia for the prom queen title. A random monster always appears to complicate Buffy’s plans, but in many cases, the personal story holds the episode together.
Teen Wolf heats up beyond teenage drama pretty fast, but nonetheless, it also uses some personal arcs. The second episode is about whether Scott will play in the upcoming lacrosse game. His new werewolf powers have gotten him a spot on the team, and now he’s under a lot of pressure to play. But his werewolf mentor warns him that since Scott’s powers aren’t under control, playing is too dangerous. The episode’s climax is an exciting lacrosse game.
In Wolf Pack, Everett and Blake have personal problems far beyond what Buffy or Scott deal with. Everett is struggling with his anxiety and enduring a mother who is emotionally, and sometimes physically, abusive. Blake’s parents recently underwent a messy separation, and her father is subjecting her to neglect and parentification. This is a toxic family dynamic in which her father’s neglect forces Blake into the role of a parent for her younger brother. Neglect is also a form of abuse.
The scenes showing these toxic interactions are tense and build sympathy for Everett and Blake. However, they have the same basic issue as the rest of the show: They don’t offer satisfaction or move the plot forward. Building episode arcs around them could change that. Having an arc would mean presenting some part of these toxic dynamics as a significant problem that Everett or Blake could actually solve during the episode.
Currently, the closest thing the show has is in episode four when Blake’s father makes her watch her brother right before her work shift. She has to bring her brother to work, and then Mr. Bitey shows up to threaten him. Unsurprisingly, the writers don’t allow Blake to save her brother. The kid disappears when Mr. Bitey is nearby, and then Everett finds him offscreen.
This brother arc is also only a small part of the episode. That’s largely because Wolf Pack has four teens with different storylines to cover – fragmenting the story. In contrast, Buffy and Teen Wolf focus on their main character, only spreading out the spotlight once characters are friends. That makes it much easier to include everyone.
To give Wolf Pack decent episode-level arcs while also covering all four teens, it has to invent a reason for its loner teens to be together. Hence the spontaneous running and the magical link. That’s enough for at least a few personal episodes; let’s look at an example arc.
Maybe at the start of an episode, Everett’s mother demands he attend a session with a toxic therapist she’s picked out for him. Then the action slowly heats up, and Everett is drawn toward the other teens because of their magical link. He’s instrumental in helping the other teens during the action, but because of the incident, he fails to show up for the “therapy” appointment his mother made. She lashes out in retaliation. At the last minute, the other teens show up to provide him with cover or help him get through the punishment. To give Everett more agency, viewers could learn that he planned their late appearance. Then the episode ends.
Obviously, these are sensitive issues, but there are benefits to giving sensitive situations more development. For one thing, the show would have more time to discuss and explicitly acknowledge what is happening. Many people don’t know how to recognize abuse. Without saying “abuse,” viewers might think Everett’s mother is simply mean. Similarly, viewers might believe it’s fine for Blake to be responsible for her family’s welfare. That’s because the show has not fully explored the damage her father is doing by neglecting his children and pushing Blake into a parental role.
Characters like Everett and Blake also shouldn’t be stereotyped as helpless. To avoid both stereotyping and blame, survivors of abuse are best depicted as having constrained agency. This means showing what constraints make it difficult for survivors to escape or fight back against their abuser, but also focusing on what they can do. Everett and Blake could use more agency in their own lives; it just has to be done in a way that recognizes how harmful and controlling abuse is.
We do see how Everett has learned strategies for dealing with anxiety, which is fabulous. He also teaches strategies to Blake, which really strengthens their romance. This too could be expanded into a bigger arc. Becoming a werewolf naturally aggravates Everett’s anxiety. Combined with werewolf powers he can’t control, that could become a disaster. Viewers could watch him as he develops new coping strategies to help ease the stress.
A show covering sensitive issues benefits from having lots of people with lived experience in the writers’ room. Consultants can help make depictions more responsible, but they’re not always storytellers, and they usually offer advice after the script has already been written. In this case, showrunner Jeff Davis has anxiety himself and used a general mental health consultant. But I’m not sure the show had proper support for depicting abuse, and their depiction of an autistic child comes off like it was informed by experts, but not by actual autistic people.
If making arcs out of sensitive issues was too much, Wolf Pack should have reduced the abuse and built more hefty relationship arcs instead. Imagine if Luna spent an episode bringing the pack together. Perhaps they aren’t friends by the end of this one episode, but they also take a proactive step forward, such as agreeing to stay in touch.
While the first season of Wolf Pack left me unsatisfied, I’m still rooting for the show. So here’s the good news: all of these issues can be fixed for season two. By the end of the first season, the authorities already look antagonistic. The show just needs a supernatural villain who’s actually villainous, and then it should let the teens proactively solve problems together – for the whole season!
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