Oh Alpha, my Alpha (pt1)

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OPINION: Part one of a two part look at the character Derek Hale from MTV’s Teen Wolf.

The Season finale of Teen Wolf has aired and by now we all know what some of us have been keeping quiet about for the past few days: Derek Hale has left Beacon Hills. Our Alpha is no more.

Despite rumours that heart throb Tyler Hoechlin will be back for the second half of the season (including one that he’s been training with a parkour expert in preparation for season 3b. I’m praying for this one. to be true.) with the way “Lunar Ecllipse” ended, it certainly looks like the Derek Hale we’ve known for the past two and half seasons at least is gone for good.

Having surrendered his Alpha powers to save his sister and with presumably nothing left to keep him in the sleepy NorCal burg, “Lunar Eclipse” sees Hale supplanted as top dog by 17-year-old “True Alpha”, Scott McCall, packing up his life in a carry-all and getting the hell out of dodge.

“I honestly don’t know if he’s ever coming back…” Scott says over scenes of Cora and Derek closing the door on the Alpha’s loft. “Part of me hopes he does, but part of me also hopes he’s happy.  Somewhere else.”

tumblr_mqf3a111iE1ro2nguo1_500It’s true Derek, who’s been through the wringing this season, looks at peace as he turns his back on the cluster frak of teen age apex predators he created.

And it should be a moment of triumph for him.  But, thanks to a patchily written, plot hole riddled season it feels like yet another wound licking retreat.

Besides, I’m not sure I’m ready to say farewell to Beacon Hills’ resident bad boy with a heart of jello just yet…

Jeff Davis has repeatedly and gleefully said he enjoys making Derek suffer and 3a was certainly a case in point.

Lets do the list:

In ep2 “Chaos Rising” Derek discovers his beta, Erica, dead.

In ep3 “Fireflies” Derek is mauled by his deranged sister Cora and his unhinged beta, Boyd.

In ep4 “Unleashed” he is staked through the heart and threatened unless he agrees to kill his own pack.

In ep7 “Currents” he is forced to murder Boyd against his will

In ep8 “Visionary”, we see that Derek’s beta blue eyes were a result of having killed his first love, Paige, an act of mercy that has scarred him for life.

And in the final three episodes, “The Overlooked”, “Alpha Pact” and “Lunar Ecllipse”, Derek discovers the one bright spot in his grim life, his girlfriend, is the psychotic mass murderer who’s been plaguing town since the beginning of the season, brought to life by blood he spilled killing Paige years before. Adding insult to bloody injury, both his last remaining beta and bratty sidekick Stiles Stilinski taunt him for it.

Yeah, thanks for that, Jeff.

By the final scenes of the season the relentless man-pain heaped on Derek, repeatedly at the expense of fridged-female characters, had become exhausting. I just wanted someone to give the guy a hug – and not just because they want him to be their sexy attack dog.

I’m not the only one.  Many fans started to resent the turn the story and the treatment Derek and the female characters sacrificed to his tragedy took.
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So what was it all about?  Why did Davis keep lashing out at Derek and why did it result in squandering the good will of the fans and the potential of a classic character?

Derek is a character cut from the same cloth as Buffy’s Angel, Professor Snape, and even Rebel Without a Cause’s Jim Stark – a direct descendent of Byronic anti-heroes, men who have suffered and who either seek redemption for their sins, real or imagined, or have given in to them, wallowing in their dissolute natures.

They glower and loom, lurking in the dark, romantic corners of our bedrooms, waiting to offer us all manner of vile caddery. And we bloody love them for it.

From the start Derek was positioned as this kind of character – in “Pilot” (ep1, S1) he has Scott’s inhaler, suggesting he is responsible for the dead girl in the woods. He continues to loom, leer and lurk his way through the first season, a constant source of violence and threat.

But we just knew he couldn’t be a killer. Mostly on account of his unfeasibly attractive face. But also because of the moments when he’d step up to the edge of kindness – when he warns Stiles to run from his deranged uncle Peter;   when he startles, wanting to protect Scott from Peter too.

By the time he revealed the dead girl in the woods was his sister it was all over. Derek Hale had us in the palm of his furry paw.

We grew to understand that Dereks bad boy exterior was nothing more than his baggage – the stuff we learn about when Kate appears in ep 4, season 1 “Magic Bullet” and then hear more about later, in “Visionary” – rearing it’s many-horned head.

Derek can’t trust anyone (at times, not even himself), he makes terrible choices (A pack made up of teen aged misfits? Biting Jackson? Seriously?) and nothing really changes for him. And who can blame him?  He makes terrible choices pretty much all the time.

But after the shocking final of season 2, “Master Plan” where Derek’s bodily agency is taken from him (again) and he’s used a catalyst to kill the season’s Big Bad (again), enough seems to be enough.

When Derek makes his entrance in ep 1, season 3, “Tattoo”, it’s as if he had a few months of in depth therapy and maybe took up tai-chi or something.

Gone is the dark browed loomer with the leather jacket and thighs that could crush a guy to death (OK, so the thighs are still there, but you know what I mean). Instead, Derek’s entrance at the start of the season is an heroic one. He’s Scott’s saviour in fact, claiming his Alpha status and dishing out some pretty fierce smackdown on the interloper, before putting Scott in his place too, just for good measure.

“Shouldn’t you be in school?” Derek asks Scott with a wry quirk of his formidable eyebrow, every inch the wolfy pater familias.

It’s a far cry from season 1, ep 5, “The Tell” where he asks Scott if he’d rather do his homework or not die, as if school is little more than a petty distraction to real life. This is the dutiful elder brother, stepping up, taking charge  and correcting the wayward pup, not the desperate ne’er-do-well scrabbling around for back up, any back-up, even a 16-year-old kid.

Teen_Wolf_Season_3_Episode_8_Visionary_Ian_Nelson_Young_Derek_HaleAs season 3 begins Derek is framed as a hero in the making, someone dependable who, as he searches for his lost betas and defends the ones closest to him, is looking to set his past mistakes right.

It’s no secret that Jeff Davis likes his mythology – season 3 plays with Norse myths of druids and ritual, while way back in season 2 we learned that the werewolves’ symbols come from ancient Celtic folklore. This love of folklore seems to extend to the new role Derek takes at the start of season. Only, here Davis’ arc for Derek is a medieval one – the Knight Errant, who having found his cause, also finds himself.

OK, stick with me on this one, coz, it’s kind of out there.

But I think of Derek as St George, or Perseus, or even Harry Potter in season 3. The details are different, but essentially, his is a story in which the hero takes a journey (even a metaphorical one), defeats a monster, finds “love” and is finally free to go about his life.

Here’s what I mean: In ep 3, “Fireflies”, Derek literally goes into the monster’s den – the underground cavern hiding horrors or path to hell represented by the boiler room in which his deranged progeny – Boyd and Cora – are trapped in.

There’s even a damsel in distress, represented by teacher Jennifer Blake’s pounding heartbeat, in there for him to rescue.

As the beta wolves attack, the camera closes in on Derek’s suffering as he contains them and bears their wrath.

Using Alpha strength – something only he is capable of – Derek comes face to face with his inner demons made tangible flesh.  Cora and Boyd (I consider Cora a cipher for Erica here, as it’s likely would have been Erica in her place if the actress Gage Golightly had stayed in the role.) are his responsibility, his fault, and the living embodiment of his guilt.

Their attack on him is a scouring and his pride is literally flayed from him.

By the end of Derek’s night of suffering he is a shadow the haughty Alpha we saw rolling his eyes at Chris Argent at the start of the episode.

According to the mythology, the hero is “clean” enough to receive his reward – the favour of the damsel in distress and the “crown” that comes with her.

derek_hale_by_teenwolffan001-d41hj25Davis gets a little literal here as the episode ends with Derek claiming Jennifer Blake’s actual hand and beginning their relationship, having saved the day – or in this case, night.

But, true to form, Davis just can’t let Derek have nice things for long.

The “crown” that comes with Miss Blake’s hand is a pretty thorny one.

Having positioned Derek in the role of hero, Davis tears him down again by letting the character fall back on old habits.

Derek stops communicating again, stops trusting his “brothers”, and by ep 4 “Unleashed”, Derek is severing ties with his pack, kicking Beta Isaac out (to protect him from the Alpha threat) and turning his back on Scott.

It’s tiring, tedious and above all frustrating when we have already seen Derek begin his ascent to the heroic throne.

With the wider story arc if the season – in which Jennifer Blake is the villain – unfolding beyond his influence, and the ‘growth’ of other characters taking centre stage, it’s as if Davis doesn’t know what to do with Derek other than tear him down or simply ignore him.

Part 2


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