An open letter to Jeff Davis and anyone who thinks that character development occurs only through adding more manpain.
Mathematics has this really nice concept called a limit. In math, it means that as x approaches a value a, y approaches a value b. For the non-mathematically inclined, think of it like this: you are 10 feet away from something, say, a chair. You are only allowed to approach this chair by going half the distance between you and it. First, you go 5 feet forward. Then you go 2.5 feet. Then 1.25 feet. Then .625 feet. You get the idea. The point is, you get closer and closer to the chair without actually reaching it, because there will always be that one really tiny amount of distance between you and it. But when you get down to less than half an inch, it doesn’t matter, because it feels like you’re practically there.
I want you to think of mainpain as a limit. The first time something horrible happens to a character, they’re devastated, and we, as the audience, are devastated along with them. The next awful thing adds more misery, but not quite as much as the first. And so on and so forth as awful things keep happening.
However, there can only be so much misery added before it all just becomes dull. We become used to it. It doesn’t shock or ruffle us as the first or second or even third times something terrible happened. It’s just a few more droppings on a mountain of shit. It doesn’t matter because you’re already overwhelmed by the smell.
Now apply this concept to Derek Hale. Derek’s entire family dies; he blames himself; he is a ball of failure and misery. We’ve been at this level since season one. Adding anything else to that? Does not make the impact you think it will. Here’s a graph I drew up for easy looking:
Do you see what I’m saying? We know Derek is miserable. We know Derek blames himself. We know he keeps trying and failing. And you know what? It’s enough. We get it. Life shits on Derek Hale.
But at some point, you’ve got to stop, and you’ve got to start digging yourself out of that shithole. That is character growth. That is character development. Adding more misery for the sake of manpain? That’s boring. That’s dull. The character becomes stagnant. The show becomes repetitive.
So really, just stop.
OH MY GOD TALK SCIENCE TO ME. I AM SO ATTRACTED TO YOU RIGHT NOW. YOU EVEN MADE A GRAPH.
While we’re crafting missives to Jeff, I’d also like to add that, although dramas like Teen Wolf depend on conflict to drive the plot and whatnot, “conflict” does not have to mean “suffering.”
Conflict comes in a million different flavors, some more subtle than others, but conflict doesn’t literally have to mean a fistfight (or a claw fight, either), and it doesn’t have to mean constant mortal peril. As we all know, variety is the spice of life. If you have a character who only experiences a few forms of conflict in an eternal loop, that’s not compelling and it doesn’t make your audience sympathize. It makes them bored. To bring back the spice metaphor, it’s like you’ve got the ingredients for a dazzling array of dishes but the only spices at your disposal are cayenne pepper and a giant bottle of Sriracha.
Thank you, yes, this. I also want to piggyback on this and briefly apply the limit concept to another factor of Teen Wolf: “suspense”, otherwise known as not knowing what the fuck is going on while at the same time being able to accurately predict what the results of that fuckery are going to be. (i.e. What does the Alpha Pack want???? Well, we’re not going to figure that out until 7 episodes in, but we could tell you from before the season started that, in broad strokes, it was to shit on Derek Hale).
There’s a kind of surreal confusion that writers employ, one that makes heavy use of a biased or ignorant narrator. We saw it with Dawn’s arrival on Buffy. It was the whole point of Inception. Apparently it was important on Lost? (I don’t know, I don’t go there, it sounded too much like Lord of the Flies when it was explained to me and I hated that book.) It’s the sense by the audience that something is strange, that they’re being lied to by the very perceptions that are their window into the fictional wold. When done well, it produces a kind of half-enraged, half-joyful “What the fuck is going on?!?” reaction, at least from me.
But it, too, has a limit. Strange is only strange in contrast to the familiar: confusion is only exciting with periodic anchors to the solid and grounded. And Teen Wolf has given us too many plot points that make no sense, too many intentionally surreal events, too many curtailed arcs, and way too many weird handlings of important character moments (Erica’s death, Cora’s existence, Derek’s fake!death, Boyd’s EVERYTHING). Eventually I just start feeling like so little of this feels real and solid, why should I bother to watch? Wouldn’t it be less aggravating to take a break, and come back after the big reveal so I don’t have to side-eye something every other second going, “Is that badly done, or just not real? And if it’s not real, why should I bother to care that it apparently happened?”
If one or two things ~might not be real~, it’s exciting to try to figure out why they were shown, and to feel the agony of them happening while holding out hope that they might just be a set-up for triumph or relief later. If 75% of things seem too clumsy or incongruous to be real, it’s not exciting any more. You don’t care why that particular thing was shown to you despite the fact that it might not have happened, because it’s just one in a long line. Limit reached.
So what could Teen Wolf have done better, at least to make me approach that limit less quickly? Give us more things that feel real. And I’m not talking about plot points, I “watch it for the plot” anyways. I don’t care if what happened actually happened (I’m in Inception fandom ffs); I care that the people feel like people, and the moments between those people hit hard because they feel like real moments, whether they actually happened or not. You know what feels most solid to an audience, Teen Wolf? Peter could tell you: human connection.
What am I supposed to feel about Boyd’s death when he’s been fading in and out of existence all season? How am I suppose to feel anything about Erica’s death when it was fed to us in flashbacks and secondhand information, and then immediately forgotten? How am I supposed to anchor hope or suspicion in Cora when the moments that I might build those out of happen offscreen? (guys do you know how badly I wanted to see the Cora and Derek reunion, do you understand how confused and cheated I feel that it just didn’t exist, that we missed it because the camera wasn’t paying attention???)
Let’s take Inception as an example, here. Mal isn’t real. (er, spoilers). But Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s delivery of the line “she was lovely”? Motherfuckers that is one of the realest moments in the movie. And see how it made Mal the Shade so much more powerful in her unreality, to have that line behind her, that grounding? That’s what Teen Wolf needs to do. I’m pretty sure Erica’s not actually dead, but I feel cheated anyways, that her death was robbed of its power. Now, instead of being all “YES! I knew it!” when she’s revealed to be alive, I’m gonna just feel sort of “Oh, good, they didn’t handle that so badly for utterly no reason.”
(okay, not gonna lie, I’m probably still going to scream my vindication from the mountaintops when she and Boyd come back.)
tl;dr: the limit of f(x) as x approaches too fucking much, where x is this underdeveloped fuckery and f(x) is my investment in it, is 0.
Shamelessly reblogging again, because it got even better.
Bolded for SO MUCH EMPHASIS.
Slow the fuck down for a second. You have 24 eps, give yourself, your characters, your audience a minute to breathe and spend a little time on the quiet moments that will let us connect with the characters.
Things we should be seeing:
—- Cora bitching to Derek about having to go to school because as far as I can tell she hasn’t been for 6 years as she was faking her own death, which, as an aside would be nice to know more about but w/e.
—-Let everyone have a moment to GRIEVE, ffs. Not even long scenes but a few short conversations with interesting groupings of people. Like Danny telling Isaac he’s sorry to hear about his friend, Lydia approaching Cora and just making a small gesture. Those are the things that make us connect with characters and make them three dimensional in our minds.
—-Someone, at some point, mention that everyone thought Derek was dead? And idek, maybe mention they are grateful he’s not?
—-Instead of three deaths a night + epic slo-mo battles, maybe one scene with Stiles and his father that is NOT at a crime scene?
—-Most importantly someone needs to whisper: ‘HE KILLED BOYD IN COLD BLOOD’ to either Lydia or Danny ANYTIME they allow the Aiden or Ethan near them. Because that happened and it’s never going to be okay.
It’s okay to skip over the ‘boring bits’ of everyday life, but sometimes those ‘boring bits’ can be filled with the stuff that makes the characters real for us and creates tension and/or bonding moments between secondary characters that bring out things that even the writers don’t expect. It makes them come alive.
It seems to me, the only people given time to have these short moments together are Scott and Stiles, Scott and Allison, Scott and Isaac, Stiles and Lydia. Mix it up if you want us to care about anyone else. It says a lot to me that the only interesting thing about the Alpha pack so far is Kali’s reaction to Ennis’ death.
Do better, Jeff. You have 24 episodes. USE THEM.
I heard a rumour recently that Isaac would be killed off in this episode, and my immediate reaction was “NO!!!” because a) Isaac has endured constant torment for two solid seasons now, and b) why kill him? It would be cold hard proof that Jeff Davis is indeed Voldemort. However, I wouldn’t necessarily have been annoyed with it as a writing decision, because it would’ve been in keeping with Teen Wolf’s overall tone as a show where bad things happen to good people, and everything is tragic and dismal all the time. However, killing off Boyd struck me as total bullshit.
Since the introduction of the three new betas, Boyd has always been the one with the smallest amount of useful screentime. Until last week he had almost no backstory, and overall he’s been given fewer lines and less agency than almost anyone else in the cast. This season he’s had maybe three good moments, including this episode’s electrocution plan and last week’s revelation about his sister. And in the light of his death, this now makes it seem as if he was written to be a disposable character. Which surprises me, because Teen Wolf’s M.O. is to torture its audience by torturing its characters, and it’s kind of difficult for the audience to get attached to a character when he’s rarely given anything to say.
…Who was Boyd? Do we even have a solid idea of his personality and life goals? Why on earth did he tell Derek that the bite was “worth it” when a couple of weeks ago, he was telling Stiles that he’d just lost his only friend? All of these issues are exacerbated by the fact that out of all the Teen Wolves in Teen Wolf, the two fatalities so far have been the sexy blonde girl and the black guy who never got much dialogue: two crappy old horror movie tropes that Teen Wolf should really be trying to subvert rather than copy. Of the three betas, the girl got to be sexy and then dead, the black guy got to be silent (and occasionally threatening) and then dead, and the white guy got a ton of screentime and a tragic backstory."
"I heard a rumour recently that Isaac would be killed off in this episode, and my immediate reaction was "NO!!!" because a) Isaac has endured constant torment for two solid seasons now, and b) why kill him? It would be cold hard proof that Jeff Davis is indeed Voldemort. However, I wouldn’t necessarily have been annoyed with it as a writing decision, because it would’ve been in keeping with Teen Wolf’s overall tone as a show where bad things happen to good people, and everything is tragic and dismal all the time. However, killing off Boyd struck me as total bullshit.”