Marissa Tandon ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
The penultimate episode of Season 3B of MTV’s Teen Wolf brought about the death their marketing campaigns have been threatening all season. With Allison Argent’s (Crystal Reed) passing in battle came (yet another) riotous reaction in the fan-base. Teen Wolf has had an almost cult-like following from the beginning, with a very heavy presence in online communities such as Tumblr and Twitter. Towards the inception of the show, many users in the community praised the show and writer/creator Jeff Davis for the diverse cast (spanning genders, sexual orientations, and ethnicities) and the portrayal of these characters. That love for the show multiplied through huge amounts of fan art, fan fiction, and meta.
The online presence is arguably one of the reasons that Teen Wolf has become so popular—MTV caught on quickly to this fan presence, and decided to grab onto that die hard presence as a marketing tactic. The network has a heavy presence within that community, running both a Tumblr account and a Twitter account that are frequently used to give fans a look into the behind the scenes goings-on of the set. MTV has run many contests that have allowed fans to win walk-on roles on the show, as well as a fan fiction contest that brought the winner to the set and allowed them to interview Jeff Davis himself. They have also begun featuring fan art during the commercial breaks of the show, as well as using some fan created music in promos for this season of the show. With this open recognition of the fans’ online presence by the network itself, the intensity of the reactions of the fandom have continued to thrive and increase.
Allison’s death has sparked immense conversation—most of which is extremely angry—across the internet. Some of this is being displayed on the MTV created website, teenwolfmemorial.com, which the network launched directly after the premiere of the episode for fans to “mourn” the character online. The website includes an interview with Crystal Reed (Allison), saying that she felt it was time for her to move to new opportunities as an actress, though she mourns the loss of Allison along with the fans.
Actresses and actors deciding to move on to new career opportunities is a part of the business side of television that has largely affected Teen Wolf throughout the past three years. Crystal’s departure is most notable, but in season 3A, the writers of the show were forced to find a new ending for Erica Reyes (Gage Golightly) when the actress made the decision to act in a lead role in a new pilot. Actors’ careers and the changes they take have taken a huge toll on Teen Wolf’s narrative, especially as most were sudden.
Largely, the conversation online has been fans directly criticizing Jeff Davis and his writing. One of the more common points has been accusations of sexism. Some fans have even gone so far as to create info graphics (http://pinkmaned.tumblr.com/post/79968158013/apriki-the-core-cast-of-teen-wolf) breaking down gender representation and deaths in relation.
While the above numbers are not entirely correct (the Tumblr user misuses the term “core character,” which refers to characters credited as series regulars, the actual breakdown of this being three male characters and two female characters), it does bring up a large point that the fandom is articulating loudest: women on this show die more often than men. With Allison’s death, there has been a large outcry about female death and representation on the show itself, and whether these characters are developed as well as the male characters. There are fans that would (and do, loudly) argue that the female characters in Teen Wolf aren’t given fully fleshed out story lines.
Is the anger warranted?
In some aspects, a large amount of the fandom misrepresents or blatantly ignores facts. Is Teen Wolf the pinnacle of representation in television? No. Nothing is perfect, and anyone who tells you otherwise is probably selling you something. Yet, looking at the actual numbers compared to the average numbers of television across the board, Teen Wolf does pretty well. The core cast is 40 percent women, compared to the average 37 percent. The first number only includes the main cast members of Teen Wolf, while the second factors all female characters on television, including minor ones.
There has been a lot of backlash sparked with Allison’s death concerning the fact that the show has featured far more female villains than male ones, and that women are being portrayed as fundamentally evil. What is interesting about this point is that much of the fandom is forgetting that quality that made them so excited about the show to begin with: that characters were being portrayed as human, regardless of their gender, race, or sexual orientation. To be fully portrayed and properly represented, characters must be portrayed with flaws, redeeming qualities, love, loss—they have to experience things just like the people viewing them do. In some respects, the female villains were given much more character development than the male ones. The very first antagonist we met, Kate Argent (Jill Wagner), was raised to believe that the only way she could be accepted by her family was to turn herself into a manipulative, hardened killer, and that the death she caused actually rid the world of evil. She was deluded through a lifetime of manipulation, a character born and raised in blood. The great villain mastermind behind much of the second season, Matt Dahler (Stephen Lunsford) was thrown into a pool by the high school swim team when he was a kid and nearly drowned. He then, about a decade later, found a way to go on a murderous rampage because he still held the grudge.
Is Teen Wolf perfect? Of course not. But since when is any piece of art perfect for a mass audience? There’s always going to be an element of commerce within this form of storytelling. The rapidly growing fandom itself will continue to be a part of that, whether they wish to or not. Fans have created charity drives, random acts of kindness to the set (most notably a group of fans who sent cookies with the cast members’ faces to the set last season), and continue to create fan works. MTV has seen its chance to capitalize on that, recognizing the fan base and, at times, pandering to it in the marketing department. That capitalization has absolutely transformed MTV’s name in television. Three years ago, when Teen Wolf started, MTV didn’t have a single successful narrative television show on the air. Since Teen Wolf’s premiere, they have debuted plenty more (though the comedy Awkward has been the only other successful show). Without Teen Wolf’s success, the network would not be making a slow but steady move into the world of scripted television, and that success is largely due to both the fans and MTV’s indulgence of them.
So, does MTV invite the anger, outrage, over-analyzation, and frequent breach of copyright? Sure, with open arms. They also invite the ratings that come with it.
While fans continue to utilize the death of Allison Argent to claim that Jeff Davis’ writing is both sexist and not extraordinary, there is one question to hold in mind: if the character was not well developed and the writing was not compelling at all, why do you care this much? Good writing keeps you interested; great writing makes you react. Whether the reaction is positive or negative (in this case, reactions were many and varied, but most were filled with enough grief and tears to fill oceans and end droughts) the fact that a viewership reacts at all is a commentary on the quality of the writing itself.