I love and loathe “Bitten”, the @Syfy series based on the “Women of the Otherworld” books by author Kelley Armstrong. Bitten is the story of Elena Michaels, who is on the run from her history as the first woman to survive a wolf bite and the resulting transformation – all while trying to protect her new life with new love, Phillip McAdams. He is, of course, in the dark – not knowing that during Elena’s various disappearances, which can include running off during love making sessions, she is out in the city, alone, stripping bare in order to turn into her true self – a wolf who needs to run wild. Elena is protecting Phillip from her secret, and from the scrutiny of her pack, including her former lover, Clay Danvers.
If you guessed that Clay is a stereotypical sex god man-wolf with boy band looks and heavy body hair, you would be right. The only twist in Clay’s persona is that in the human world, his muscular physique plays second fiddle to what we are supposed to believe is a stellar intellect, making him a rising star in the field of Anthropology. As Elena’s former employer and lover, he betrayed her by choosing to bite and turn her – knowing that death was the assured outcome. Yes, you are also correct if you also guessed that Elena is still incredibly attracted to Clay – despite a betrayal that should have cost her what’s left of a hard, but human, life.
Having never read Armstrong’s work, I am pleased that the producers have made Elena the lead she appears to be in the books, from everything I can gather via written summaries. If Elena is the first woman in history to survive the transformation it makes sense that she would be revered and thought of as extraordinary. Having said that, there is a silliness about this show that makes me feel a bit uneasy at the same time:
- Professor Clay Danver’s classes are what you would expect;, there are leagues of bewildered young men who seem confused by their female classmates swooning over him, unaware of his mysterious appeal. We get it, he’s so hot that women can barely keep their pants on. It’s a little too 80s and it’s hard to figure out how, in his human form, he is supposed to have this appeal when they are all supposed to be mere mortals. No other he-wolf seems to have such control over women. I’m guessing a swoon-inducing hair flip is his super power.
- Clay’s intellect plays second fiddle to his rage and aggression in his wolf pack world. It a trait that causes the scenes of him with “glasses on” in the lecture hall to incite fits of riotous laughter from me. (Another big 80s trick: glasses make you smart.) Clay behaves much like a wind up toy in his pack world – set him off and he’s on a tear and will rip anything in his path. It’s hard to buy this guy as educated or walking upright when he is supposed to be human. It wouldn’t be so hard to buy if there weren’t the contrast with Michael Xavier‘s Logan Jonsen to compare him to. Logan is an educated professional also making his way in the human world. Logan portrays a sense of calm intellect and rationality that’s often missing from Clay.
- Laura Vandervoort was so much fun as Arla Cogan on Haven, but Elena feels a bit sleepy and whiny to be such a strong lead. It would be great to see Elena played with a little more energy and authority. It would be nice if she were self-assured. LV plays Elena as if she is always in the midst of a nervous breakdown – complete with breathy utterances begging her onscreen pack members to let her go, let her be human. As if. I feel that I’m on the verge of tears watching Elena who appears to always be on the verge of tears, herself. If women are too weak (what a message) to survive transformation, at least make the one woman who has survived strong in her human form.
- It’s hard to get use to a pack that is killed off week by week. It’s not clear why the show’s producers/writers thought this was a good idea, unless they’re following Armstrong’s lead, and if that’s the case I have three words for them: The Walking Dead. So many characters that I liked as soon as I met them have been killed that I am not so sure that I want to know who gets killed off next week. If Greg Bryk‘s Jeremy Danvers is dead, I’m pretty much gone. His portrayal of a strong and wise Alpha was the only thing giving this show its credibility in my book.
- The use of the word “Mutts”. This too feels like a big 80s dirty attack to me. If you’re not part of the Danvers pack, or one of the other sanctioned packs, you are a mutt. You can never put down roots. You must stay on the run, and you must follow the laws of the packs but have no voice. There is something odd, in 2014, about a story being built on such a hierarchy, one in which those who are supposed to be the show’s heroic leads, refer to others with such disdain and in such a derogatory tone. The more it happens, the more unclear I am on who I am supposed to root for. This seems to be a battle between those who view themselves as Superior (such as the Danvers clan) against those who are fighting for their freedom from oppressive rule. The methods of the “Mutts” are unethical, and the writers went too far having them engage the services of a child predator – while the move appears to be meant to swing the audience in favor of the Danvers pack, it’s heavy handed and takes the nuance out of the conflict. It leaves me not liking anyone in particular.
While there are some real problems with “Bitten”, including the fact that the only new insights into Wolf Mythology are things that weaken characters instead of making them stronger, it can be an enjoyable way to spend an hour – when the plot is good. When I think about this show, in comparison to another show steeped in Wolf Mythology, the comparisons are night and day.
MTV’s re-imagined Teen Wolf is clearly geared to a younger audience that is meant to grow with the program, unlike “Bitten” which doesn’t seem to know who its audience is. The lesson of “Teen Wolf vs Bitten” is one for all genres looking to move forward and cultivate an audience that sees itself reflected in the characters whose stories are being told — yes, and that means you too, my beloved daytime genre! The lesson is not to become YOUNGER, it is to become BETTER – more inclusive.
In contrast to Bitten, MTV’s Teen Wolf is faster paced, it continues increasing the diversity of the cast, taps into intercultural mythology, treats sexual orientation as a non-issue, and shows women who are empowered in their own right – not because of some gift bestowed upon them by a male. You won’t hear the Teen Wolf crew referring to others as “Mutts”. Can women survive transformation in Teen Wolf’s world? You bet! They transform and then kick ass. Former alpha Derek Hale’s mother, Talia Hale (portrayed by ex-Another World Alum, Alicia Coppola), was a respected leader in her pack. Her strength and wisdom led to her being sought out by other packs.
It is also of note that young women in the Teen Wolf world are also powerful if they aren’t supernatural beings. Crystal Reed‘s Allison Argent was, unknown to her through most of her youth, raised in a family of werewolf hunters. More intriguing is the fact that her hunter clan is always led by women, who make the tough decisions and enforce the family code of honor. Allison continues to grow stronger, gather new skills and helps rescue her supernatural friends who are not always capable of rescuing themselves – male and female. Bianca Lawson‘s Ms. Morell, whose story has yet to be fully explained, manages to be in the right place at the right time, in order to kick a little backside and take names while doing it.
While it’s probably not fair to compare the ratings of a new show, such as Bitten to an established show, such as Teen Wolf, I will. Teen Wolf routinely pulls in 2 -3x’s the audience of Bitten, whose ratings have been trending down as the season progresses. Hopefully the audience will hang on until the show has a chance to find its groove. I am hoping that the series includes the growth of the female wolf population. I am hoping that we’ll get to learn who is behind setting Phillip up to become wise about who and what Elena is. I would love to know if Logan will tell Rachel, before their child is born, that she is most likely caring a hybrid wolf baby. I love individual scenes more than I am enjoying the show in its entirety. I may not especially enjoy what “Bitten” has to offer, now, but I do love the potential of the show to become something much better. Bring it on, writers! Drag this show into the 21st century and give fans something to root for!