The best thing that can really be said about 'Smoke & Mirrors' is that it's certainly a fitting finale for Teen Wolf's fourth season, which has been little more than a web of cheesy lines and slow-mo fight scenes stretched out over a gaping chasm of plot holes. There have been plenty of ideas vaguely thrown into the mix - everything from magical Aztec ruins to a 1970s computer generating a hitlist of supernatural creatures - but since almost none of it has been explained (and the things that have been explained don't make any sense), it's been difficult to get particularly invested in season 4's hodgepodge of a plot.
Taking away the award for the most criminally under-explained story arc of this season is Derek Hale. To recap, Derek was kidnapped by Kate Argent, smuggled into Mexico and placed behind a wall in some ancient Aztec ruins. At some point during this incarceration, he was magically de-aged and turned into a teenager. After being rescued, he remained a teenager for about a day or so, then arbitrarily returned to his regular age.
It gets better. After being magically de-aged and re-aged, Derek progressively began to lose his werewolf powers until eventually he turned into a human. This was not explained, nor was there any reason given as to why Kate would go to so much trouble to strip Derek of his powers rather than simply killing him. In the finale, Derek receives a mortal wound and appears to die, but then suddenly gets all of his werewolf powers back and transforms into a wolf in time to knock Kate out of the fight. As he stands over her victoriously, Derek says that he has "evolved." This, according to Teen Wolf's writers, is all the exposition that's required.
The Derek subplot is emblematic of what appears to be a fundamental misunderstanding held by the creative team behind Teen Wolf: that a single fight scene or a single one-liner can be cool or impactful without any kind of supporting narrative context. Derek saying that he's "evolved" might have been a cool line if it had actually made any kind of sense, but instead it's just randomly thrown into the bottomless pit of missing mythos that is Derek's Magical Aztec Adventure and sinks like a very confusing stone.
Way back when we reviewed the season 4 premiere of Teen Wolf we said that there was a definite sense of big action set pieces being written in advance and vague justifications for them being hastily scribbled into the margins much later. As the season went on, however, it quickly became clear that the writers were forgetting the crucial second step.
The big showdown of the season 4 finale is between Scott and Peter. Peter is angry at Scott and wants to kill him for stealing the Hale family's power, despite the fact that Scott has never taken any power from the Hale family as he gained his Alpha status naturally. If anything, Derek is responsible for squandering Peter's stolen Alpha status by using it to heal Cora (who, incidentally, is one of multiple characters who have simply vanished from the show with little to no explanation). Peter's motivation for hating Scott and plotting his ludicrously over-complicated assassination makes even less sense than his reasons for coming up with the deadpool, and that's saying something.
It's possible to write an entire essay listing the things that have gone unexplained in Teen Wolf's fourth season, but suffice to say that it's been depressing to watch a show that was once solidly entertaining take such a steep turn downhill. One thing that has kept it from being entirely unwatchable is the fact that the cast includes a handful of great actors, but that only makes it all the more frustrating that they're being wasted on the series' shallow, brainless mess of a run lately.
The one bright spot in all this is that audience numbers have reflected this drop in quality, with ratings plummeting from over 2.25 million viewers who tuned in for the season 3 finale, to less than 1.3 million who stuck around to see last week's penultimate episode of season 4. Teen Wolf has been green lit for one more season, but hopefully it won't be long before we see the cast moving on to better things.
Teen Wolf will return to MTV in 2015.