Teen Wolf Chat: Did Season 4’s Shorter Run Hurt It?

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Now that it’s over, season four of Teen Wolf is being described as the series’ most disappointing run. Few are calling it outright bad, of course, but ‘disappointing’ is still a hurtful label for our favorite teenage werewolf show. Some are blaming new characters, others the lack of definition for the central mystery, but I’m more inclined to believe that the issue lies with this year’s episode order.

It doesn’t make much sense to blame the shortened season, sure, for last year’s seasons 3a and 3b were the first instance of the lengthened-season model for Teen Wolf and this was merely a return to the norm of seasons one and two. But what seasons one and two didn’t have was precedent – something magnificent to measure up to and fall short against. Teen Wolf has slowly but surely been getting more ambitious with its storytelling, and the inconsistency in the seasons’ length is thus becoming a problem.

I didn’t hate season four, but it has felt messy and unfocused in a way that the previous three years’ episodes did not. That’s saying something, since one of the glorious things that characterizes the show is its willingness to throw whatever it thinks of against a wall. The difference between this and, you know, bad shows, is that most of what it throws is brilliant and entertaining. It’s the madness that makes it interesting and unique, and is why – for the most part – we love it unconditionally.

But there are more complaints coming from fans about this season, and that’s a shame. There will be hardcore fans who defend it until they’re blue in the face and others who may now abandon it, but no matter where on the scale you fall, it’s an interesting shift at this point in the show’s lifespan.

The common consensus over the last few years is that cable shows are now king, and those old-fashioned 22-episode network shows are stuffed with filler that doesn’t need to be there and detracts from the overall experience. Those high quality 13-episode cable shows are where innovation and great storytelling lives, it is thought, and traditional networks have slowly been taking note of this attitude. But, quietly on channels like ABC Family, MTV and USA, a third structure has arisen – the split-season.

The split-season is not like the way in which those aforementioned 22-episode runs are divided in December, but longer seasons actually split in half. As was the case with Teen Wolf last year, one half generally airs in the summer time, while the other premieres in January. It’s a long hiatus, and one that series like Teen Wolf and have used to their advantage. On PLL, specifically, it’s used to chop up the mystery and spread out the reveals.

Teen Wolf season three was one of my favorite things ever, and that’s partially down to the momentum they could built with 20 episodes. It’s a show that changes and tweaks its tone and mission statement each year, and the character arcs and thematic through-lines of last season really benefited from the extra time. This year, things like Scott’s relationship with Liam, Liam’s introduction to the werewolf life, Lydia’s exploration of her banshee powers and Malia’s acceptance of her humanity were all stuffed into one, short season, and almost all of those storylines suffered.

Again, when I say they suffered, it’s relative. Those arcs were still entertainingly written and compelling to long-time fans, but I can’t help but wonder how much more could have been done if this had only been the first half, rather than the whole thing. These longer seasons often feel scatter-shot and, as is the common perception, stuffed with story detours that don’t matter in the end, but Teen Wolf proved it could do it properly last year, and the transition back to the old pacing didn’t quite gel.

There were so many threads left hanging, and nothing felt final. This made the last episode, ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ feel like a mid-season finale rather than anything more long-term, yet all of the work done with the characters was hurriedly concluded with little to no patience.

There’s a practical element that can’t be ignored – Teen Wolf has basically just churned through a season and a half of episodes without much of a break, and to continue that would probably impact the quality in a way that can’t be explained away. This, then, was the superior option, and season five has been revealed to be back to double-length.

Let’s hope that gives the show back its focus when it returns, and time to flesh out its ideas a little more. Teen Wolf is still the most ambitious and engaging shows on television so, even in an off season, isn’t it natural we want more?