[This is a review of Teen Wolf season 3, episode 19. It contains SPOILERS.]
Beacon Hills isn’t the safest place to live even at the best of times, and in this week’s Teen Wolf episode, ‘Letharia Vulpina,’ the nogitsune inside Stiles Stilinski makes things a whole lot more dangerous by setting up a series of deadly practical jokes around town. Luckily, Stiles somehow manages to overpower the spirit inside him and turns up two days later, offering Scott his aid in backtracking the nogitsune’s footsteps. He’s even got a useful set of plans and clues to help them, and nothing about this is suspicious at all.
Before all that happens, however, Seth Gilliam makes a very welcome return as local veterinarian and part-time druid Dr. Deaton, who has learned about Stiles’ unfortunate condition and has gone to obtain the cure from a yakuza boss’ garden. Meanwhile, Kira’s mother continues to send Oni demons after the nogitsune, with no qualms about having Stiles killed along with it, and Derek Hale and Chris Argent get arrested and spend much of the episode handcuffed to a bench. Every little helps.
Much of the episode is dedicated to Stiles, Scott and Kira’s attempts to figure out exactly what the nogitsune has planned, but dealing with a trickster spirit isn’t easy and despite their best efforts they are unable to prevent tragedy from striking. First Coach Finstock gets shot in the stomach by a booby-trapped crossbow bolt (luckily this doesn’t kill him, so Orny Adams can continue to be a highlight of the episodes he’s in). Then the nogitsune hides a fake bomb on a schoolbus as an amusing (haha) reminder of that time a crazed murderer killed a bunch of kids the same way, whilst secretly dropping the real bomb off at the police station.
The nogitsune’s exact motivations remain unclear – not because none are offered, but because there are few different possibilities circling in the water. At first it’s suggested that the nogitsune just enjoys sowing chaos and discord because it thinks such things are funny to watch, but later on the creature is shown literally feeding off Scott’s pain. It also appears that the nogitsune is harboring a very specific grudge against someone in Beacon Hills who has offended it. You’d think a trickster spirit would be better at taking offense in good humor.
This hodge-podge of muddy motives still has the potential to make this season’s villain fall somewhat flat, but right now the ambiguity actually makes it significantly more unnerving. It helps that Dylan O’Brien plays the role with subtlety rather than full-blown cackling evil, and the reveal that the nogitsune can imitate its host so perfectly that even his own father and best friend are fooled is quite disturbing. As of this latest episode, the nogitsune is definitely the most interesting antagonist of the series so far.
With so many episodes dedicated to Japanese folklore, it was starting to look like the plot of ‘More Bad Than Good,’ involving feral werecoyote Malia Tate, had been forgotten entirely. As a subplot involving Lydia, Allison and Derek’s creepy uncle Peter Hale reveals, however, there was more to the werecoyote episode than just creating a bonding exercise for the three teens who had sacrificed themselves to the Nemeton.
As with the nogitsune, Peter’s motives are a little difficult to discern. He’s been both a bad guy and a sort-of good guy over the course of the series, and in the midseason finale his needle definitely seemed to be swaying back towards the “bad” end of the spectrum. Since then his scheme to regain Alpha status seems to have largely fizzled out, but we’ll have to wait and see whether the discovery that he is Malia’s father distracts him from his goal or ties into it.
Altogether, ‘Letharia Vulpina’ had a lot of set-up in it that raises questions about kind of climax this half of the season is careening towards. One of Sheriff Stilinski’s crew, Deputy Parrish, not only got a name but also received enough character exposition to imply that he might play a significant role in upcoming episodes. Kira’s kitsune powers also continue to grow, giving her super-speed, fighting skills and a general dose of increased badassery. Could season 3 end with a simple showdown between the two foxy spirits, or will things get a little more complicated than that?
Teen Wolf returns next Monday with ‘Echo House’ on MTV @10pm. Watch the promo below.