Dark, brooding and badass, Teen Wolf’s Derek Hale is mysterious in all the right places, to say nothing of his other assets. Morally ambiguous, and with a spate of continually questionable motives, he treads the line between hero and villain so narrowly that he seems to have shares in both sides. Yet there is something about him that I just cannot fail to fall in love with. And it’s not simply the abs, I promise.
As a character generally, Derek can be volatile, excessive, domineering, and just about any other negative personality trait you can think of. He also has serious (though highly justified) trust issues which inhibit his ability to work alongside anyone else, and impact negatively on his leadership once he becomes Alpha. He makes umpteen mistakes, some of which in the past have borne dire consequences, and his go-to move in any given situation is violence (kill the Alpha, kill Jackson etc) juxtaposed with Scott’s more reasonable, benign approaches. He is, admittedly, a shady kind of guy who commands about as much trust as he gives out, and this is reflected in Scott and Stiles’ initial Season 1 reaction to him. In the episode ‘Magic Bullet,’ Scott idles his way towards saving Derek’s life – which is about as low on his priories list as anything can get – only to tell Derek to then stay the hell away from him. Because, even knowing nothing about him, he has already made up his mind that Derek is the antagonist. And, sometimes, he is.
Yet, accepting all of this, there are moments, usually in the form of some preservation impulse, when Derek Hale shows compassion, fierce loyalty or else good leadership. And it is these moments, I think, which generate so much appreciation for him, whether people realize it or not. One kind act from a character labelled as ‘bad’ carries more weight than an entire saga’s worth from one who is inherently good. I don’t know why that is, exactly, but it’s true nonetheless. That little gem of goodness can do a lot to recover a character. It can even make someone like Derek a figure of adoration, while someone like Peter, who is actually funny as hell, just doesn’t boast the same appeal.
So, focusing on the first two seasons, because they’re the only ones I’ve seen all the way through (though ruined myself with a couple of spoilers for more), here are ten times Derek Hale was compassionate/noble/a good leader etc, and maybe we didn’t realize it. No guarantees that they’re all in chorological order.
1. ‘You and me, we’re brothers now.’
Episode 1.01 and Derek’s words are instantly revealing here, because he is a man to whom everything is about family, and family invariably refers back to the cruel loss of his own. The Hale fire might have happened ‘like ten years ago,’ but it still leaves its scars, and these are always at the root of everything Derek does. He both wants and resists people getting close to him, and Scott is no exception as we will explore.
To set this moment in its appropriate context, Derek has just returned to Beacon Hills and the burnt-out shell of his former home because his sister is missing – the only other person, at this point, he knows of who survived the fire unscathed. He soon finds her murdered and mutilated in a way that’s meant to implicate hunters, but is really just to throw him off the scent. And, to make matters worse, there’s a brand spanking new Alpha running around with an apparently insatiable bloodlust, and who has already started building his pack by way of a scrawny sixteen-year old asthmatic. In Derek’s life problems don’t rain so much as pour.
Given all this then, Derek is under no obligation to help Scott at all, much less to claim brotherhood with him. And, just going off his general record of wanting to kill things which pose a threat, Scott is frankly lucky to survive the night. Yet for all that Derek does the loner thing, the common truth is that he needs somebody around him, and it doesn’t seem to matter too greatly who that somebody is (he puts up with dear uncle Peter after all, long after anyone else would have sent him packing). This need for companionship is understandable when considering his past, but it is also quite desperate. And, as strange as it seems to consider someone like Derek Hale as being desperate, he is, and this is realized more as the show unfolds. Therefore, following the brutal murder of his sister (the twelfth in his family?), it’s my opinion that he latches onto the first person he sees who has any likelihood of letting him in. As a newly-bitten werewolf Scott is the perfect candidate, because he is just about as lost a Derek at this point. They’re as equal now as they’re ever going to be.
Among werewolves Pack is family, even without the additional tie of being blood related, and as Kate cruelly says: Derek doesn’t have a lot in the way of family lately. He may call himself a Beta, but for all intents and purposes, he is an Omega, a wolf on his own. Teaming up with Scott doesn’t change this status, but I think it at least helps him escape it because, in his own way, he throws himself into teaching Scott everything he knows. Derek wants that connection with people, wants kinship and brotherhood, but he doesn’t know how to sustain it. Not with Scott, nor really with anyone else either.
2. ‘It doesn’t mean anything.’
Episode 1.06 and just a small one this time. Derek has stepped up Scott’s training (and we can all see just how grateful the teen wolf is for this), teaching him to survive and resit the Alpha’s attempts to initiate him, but also to tap into his other senses to try and find out what the creature wants. Derek takes this a lot more seriously than Scott does, who is still trying to grip at the threads of his ‘normal’ all-American life. And his manner towards Derek at this point persists in being largely cold and dismissive; as if the vital skills Derek is trying to teach him are just one big distraction he doesn’t need. Not that the result of failing to learn them might be death. Whether Derek envisioned anything about the bond he was establishing when he accepted Scott as his brother, this he definitely didn’t sign up for. To his credit though, he doesn’t give up on him. Derek’s kind of stubborn enough to keep helping even if his help is unwanted.
When the Alpha raises the stakes and confronts Scott directly though, tracing a spiral on the on the window of his car, the teen at least seems to appreciate the severity of his situation for the first time and shows an appropriate fear response. Derek must sense some of this to be already in Scott’s room waiting, and his manner in this scene is markedly different from what we’ve seen from him previously: gentle, almost hesitant, and dare we even say compassionate? For a moment, he ceases to be the drill sergeant and steps up to be a mentor. Furthermore, given that it has pretty much been established by this point that Derek is terminally bad at sharing information, this exchange nevertheless goes off slightly differently in that it is not the information itself which is the point of contention, but Scott’s suitability to hear it.
In a rare show of empathy and discernment, Derek seems to question whether Scott, as a sixteen-year old boy and a newly bitten werewolf, might just be too young to hear the truth about the revenge symbol. He is, in his own way, protecting him, denying him information not out of spite but out of the knowledge that nothing good can come from knowing it. Maybe seeing Scott’s fear after the incident alone he wants to spare him more. With Derek anything is possible. But the bare fact that he does take this consideration, and doesn’t just storm in all guns blazing per his usual approach, is poignant when considering that Derek’s innocence was already destroyed by the time he was Scott’s age; burnt out of him in the fire that took away his family and his home. And as much as he can possibly prevent it, he will not let this happen to Scott. Whatever else can be said about him, Derek’s automatic, integral instinct is always to protect. It’s the way he goes about that protecting which can be the problem.
3. Wanted for murder, and that’s the second time by the way.
Episode 1.08 and Derek’s on the run from the long arm of the law because Scott has thrown him under the bus. Again. After nearly being disembowelled and possibly being dead, in which cases ‘it didn’t matter’ what dirt Stiles and Scott heaped upon him to save their own skin, Derek emerges to face the problem that he can’t get anywhere near the Alpha without the entire sheriff’s department swarming to his locale and trying to take him in. Once again, Scott’s lucky Derek didn’t make true on his charges and decide to murder him. In actuality, Derek’s quite calm about the situation, by his standards at least. So with the full moon approaching and a warrant out for his arrest as some sort of psychopathic killer – thanks Scott – he is in a precarious position where his best option is to lay low, and this is exactly what he intends. Even Chris Argent states that Derek will not be out on the night of the full moon because, knowing thy enemy, he knows that Derek is too smart to risk what is frankly suicide.
Pity then than Derek has claimed brotherhood with Scott.
By this point Derek is aware that he can’t take on the Alpha alone, so his interest in meeting him under the luna influence is minimal. Derek will never enter a fight he isn’t confident that he can win. Except Scott has lost Allison and, through her, his anchor and is now spinning wildly out of control, giving in to his baser instincts and becoming more and more affected by the sway of the Alpha. Though Derek and Scott are not of the same Pack, you have to imagine that there is some kind of bond between them that allows Derek tap into Scott’s emotional climate and sense when he is in danger, or when he poses danger to someone else. The coincidence of him just always happening to be on hand seems a little incredible. So knowing – somehow – what Scott was intending to do, and knowing also that he is the only other werewolf around who can go toe-to-toe with the fully-phased teen to prevent him from becoming a killer, Derek, at great personal risk to his own safety and freedom, goes out to stop him. And if that doesn’t win him some brownie points I don’t know what does! Allison would have died a lot sooner if Derek had laid low like he intended, because Scott clearly wasn’t coming to his senses.
In addition, just look at his body language throughout this scene (which, I’m sorry, the picture doesn’t reflect). This is Derek completely non-aggressive as the only moves he makes against Scott are to prevent him from going anywhere near the car where Allison and Jackson are. He is diffusing the situation, which, for him, demonstrates a novel sensitivity and maturity that is quite beautiful to witness. Furthermore, we can assume that he walks Scott all the way home as well – since neither of them look like they brought a car – offering protection to the novice wolf both from himself and from the Alpha in the night. These scenes show the potential for Derek to be a good leader, and to provide a positive (if slightly rough and intimidating) role model for Scott, and later for his own wolves. Unfortunately though, this potential is never really met, for reasons we will subsequently explore.
4. Anything with Stiles is just pure gold.
No specific episode this time, but basically any time Stiles and Derek have an extended interaction. As noted keenly by many people, Stiles occupies a pretty special niche in the world of werewolves and supernatural beings as a kind of honorary Pack member. Arguably this is because of his close friendship with Scott, yet Derek, from the start, also seems to facilitate and support this position – just look at the amount of times he [grudgingly] relies on Stiles’ help when Scott is otherwise engaged (read: has better things to do). And we have to remember that the Hale family wasn’t entirely one of werewolves, there were humans in there too, so accepting Stiles into the fold, as it were, was already something Derek was primed to do. And he does anything grudgingly when he can’t achieve it by his own strength and means.
At the least sentimental level then, Stiles is sufficiently useful to him to bear having him around. Or, giving Derek some more credit for feeling, there might be a kind of warped, genuine friendship there, because everything Derek does is slightly warped. Judging by the tenor of his actions alone, I’m always inclined to believe the latter: that Derek does sincerely care about Stiles and might even have some small respect for him. I mean, come on, Derek’s not a complete unsociable sourwolf, after all.
His relationship with Stiles always reminds me of the badass older-brother/geeky younger-brother dynamic, and I honestly think Derek gets a kick out of Stiles initial fear of him, which he accordingly plays up to. In fact, Stiles is the only person who Derek’s bravado ever really works on. Yet beneath their constant back and forth, I think there is at least a basic level of trust there – I say basic because Derek largely holds himself back from trusting anyone which, considering its him and considering his life, is probably a smart thing to do. To this effect though, his actions in episode 1.04, ‘Magic Bullet’ are deeply revealing and deserve some discussion.
Shot with the Argent’s crème de la crème of werewolf weaponry, Derek goes to Scott for help, stating that the teen needs him alive. By this point, he knows Scott doesn’t trust him, will barely tolerate him, and has even accused him of being the Alpha. But Derek is desperate and Scott is his only fall back, or so he thinks. When Scott predictably shows more interest in his hormones, Derek accepts Stiles’ help instead, who at least does him the curtesy of not leaving him in the lurch. Derek, I think, is genuinely grateful for this, as little as he shows it, and this is the first time we ever see him, dare I say it, relying on Stiles a smidge? When he states that the teen can’t take him back to the Hale house where he is currently unable to protect himself, there is at least a tacit implication that he is trusting Stiles to protect him. Trusting in the sense that, if Stiles fails, he’s going to rip his throat out, which is almost affectionate for Derek. In addition, because of the effects of the wolfsbane Derek is not in control of his phasing – Jackson, the parking lot – yet notice how calm he is around Stiles and how the instances of him turning drop to zero. As they say, actions speak louder the words, and with Derek and Stiles it is always less about what they say to each other than how they move.
Another example, if you need one, is when Derek is on the run from the law (the second time) and under Scott’s orders to lay low – where does he turn up? Stiles house. The same house where the Sherriff heading his investigation also lives. On the surface, this is an action which has the potential for dire consequences, except that he knows it won’t because some part of him trusts Stiles, and maybe even feels comfortable around him. As a case in point, he calmly accepts Stiles’ threat that if he’s harbouring his fugitive werewolf ass then he plays by his rules. Which Derek does, entirely. The shirt scene anyone? Derek respects authority, and at this point he recognises that Stiles has enough of it over him that maybe he should obey. It’s difficult to imagine him making this kind of sacrifice for anybody else though. He never does for Scott.
Yet even for all of this, when he is paralyzed by the Kanima and plunged into 8ft of water, Stiles asks him to trust him just for a second and he firmly, even fearfully, refuses. The only reason I can fathom is that there is a difference between him choosing to place his faith in someone and being forced to by any given situation. Derek lives to be in control of his destiny; needs to be after everything that’s happened.
5. Family concerns, and a very concerning family.
Episode 1.10, and not Derek’s finest episode. It has to be remembered here that this is not a straight up, good guy we’re dealing with; this is a guy who walks the shadows between two extremes with the potential to demonstrate either one of them, and ‘Co-Captain’ really brings that reality home. In a highly questionable show of loyalties, Derek apparently sides with Peter, even going so far as to describe his uncle’s murder of his sister as ‘an accident,’ something committed by the by. His attempts to lure the egotistical but naïve Jackson also take on a more sinister tone in this episode, showcasing the dark potential of what Derek could have become as a result of the Hale fire: someone as twisted and remorseless as Peter. What no-one knows though, because Derek is terrible at sharing information, is that these are elements of a plan; one that, if it works, will solve all of their problems on his terms. He needs to get close to Peter in order to take him down, and realizing that Jackson cannot be trusted otherwise, he intends to give him a self-interest in keeping the world of werewolves a secret. When Derek decides to do something he is committed to seeing it through, and he has enough restraint that he won’t let anything deter him from his aim.
Even in the midst of this apparent identity crisis though, there is still that spark of faulty compassion, and the instinct to protect at his core which he can’t entirely subdue. Not even for ultimate victory. Look at the way he reacts to Peter subjecting Scott to his memories. He categorically cannot break focus at this point, because that might be the exact kind of weakness Peter is testing him for, but one glance at his face reveals all the conflict of conscience and complete powerlessness he feels. Derek can take anything the most twisted mind can throw at him, until it’s someone else who’s being hurt instead. As much as Scott rejects him, Derek does consider him pack, and there is a sense that having to walk away and leave him, barely knowing what kind of mischief Peter’s wrought, is one of the hardest things he’s had to do to achieve an ultimate end. Just think of all the times to date he has literally dragged Scott out of danger. It must be a hard cycle to break.
Yet for all that his loyalty to Peter is almost certainly feigned, his dear psychotic uncle does have a worrying influence over him. He acts almost like a devil sitting on Derek’s shoulder whispering poison into him, and he can get inside Derek’s mind in a way not even Kate can. With Peter around there is always the danger that Derek will become a second reincarnation of him, because he’s just so damn susceptible. For example, when Scott later confronts Derek over his hugely questionable decision to kill/turn Jackson, Derek responds with a true Peter-like aggression which goes way beyond the bounds of his own nature.
However, the instant that Derek, Jackson and Scott are put in danger, this influence breaks when Derek is forced to revert to his integral survival instincts. Rained on by hunter’s fire, Scott immediately pushes Jackson to escape and gets shot for his trouble. Assessing the situation and seeing that Scott is in no position to stand his ground against anyone, much less the hunters that are literally outside his door, Derek realizes that he needs to make a decision, and that there can feasibly be only one outcome: he has to sacrifice himself to save Scott, which he has done, to a lesser extent, a thousand times before. Whatever sway Peter has over him is always inferior to his own vital instinct to protect those around them. And it’s this instinct, this unremittent flame of compassion and humanity, which stops him from ever fully becoming like Peter, as dark as his own nature can delve.
For Scott he gives up everything he could have achieved, and walks straight into a trap. Worse, because there is no chance that he wouldn’t know it was Kate outside his door. If that doesn’t win him respect then I don’t know what does.
6. ‘You can’t just go around turning teenagers into werewolves!’ ‘I can if I give them a choice.’
Episodes 2.02 – 2.03 and Derek is an Alpha now, putting him in pressing need of pack. Especially since Scott seems content to keep running around on his own (arguably laying the foundations of what will become the McCall pack) and Jackson, despite actively seeking the bite, equally wants nothing to do with him either. You have to feel at least a little bit sorry for Derek at this point because he tries so hard and nobody will give him an inch. When he does finally choose his pack, there is a sense that Isaac, Erica and Boyd are just as unknown to the Beacon Hills High School general body as to the viewing audience. They are the kids who fly under the radar, the ones who have few friends if any at all, and who barely make an impression on the people around them except, perhaps, as something pitiable. They are outcasts, like him, and I don’t think it’s possible to ignore that fact. As with everything Derek does, his motivations aren’t easy to discern, yet it’s not too much of a stretch to consider that there might be something Samaritan in his actions. Derek is still looking for that lost sense of family, after all. And Scott and Jackson both rejected him because they had other anchors in their life.
The unlikeliness of his choice, nevertheless, is evoked when Scott, learning of Isaac’s new identity, openly questions why Derek would choose someone like him. And the honest answer is: he wouldn’t, not for any material advantage, which is what Scott’s got Derek’s entire MO worked out to. If Derek had wanted exceptional wolves then there was a whole host of other people he could have chosen, faster, stronger, bigger and brighter. He chose Isaac, I’m willing to bet, because he reminded him of some aspect of himself: of the powerlessness of being persecuted by someone you love, and someone who was supposed to love you back. In this way, he connects with Isaac, as he never has with Scott or Jackson and maybe, just once, he wanted to play the hero, take someone out of a bad situation, and have them be just the tiniest bit grateful to him.
This pattern continues with Erica and Boyd as well. Plagued by seizures, Erica’s life is a constant battle to be in control, to have possession over herself and over her own body. In a different sense, this fight for self-control is one Derek knows all too well, and has waged a thousand times before (against guilt, doubt, regret). His ability to remain human, even on a full moon, shows that at some point he must have won this fight and, by turning Erica, he is offering her the same chance at ultimate control. Boyd, by comparison, represents a more sombre and less expressed aspect of Derek’s character: his isolation. Both have the ethereal quality of being able to move through society without ever really being immersed in it. They have few connections, little to no family, and dark secrets in their pasts. If Derek sees traits of himself in Isaac and Erica, I think he sees a mirror image in Boyd and, by turning him, he fulfils not only his own need for a Pack and a family, but also satisfies a bit of wish fulfilment too. The wish that someone else might come along and induct him into a Pack, instead of him having to build and lead one of his own.
Derek states that ‘everybody wants power,’ yet his choice to give this power to people in especially vulnerable positions is significant. He has told Scott from the start that the bite is a gift, and for Isaac, Erica and Boyd it truly is, allowing then in turn to become strong and unafraid, to develop self-confidence, and to have friends for possibly the first time in their lives. He builds a family out of broken odds and ends and, by so doing, solves problems he has similarly experienced in his own life, but which no-one was around to remove. This is empathy, this is altruism, because although the bite removes all physical defects, it does nothing to affect the mind, and, as he admits in the Lahey basement, the things which happened down there were the kind to leave an impression. Yet he still offered Isaac the choice, still offered to take responsibility for him and make him Pack because, god knows, Derek’s a little broken inside himself and he is prepared to handle it. He is prepared to do anything for the people he has chosen as family.
And his commitment to Isaac, furthermore, is shown straight from the outset when, barely knowing him and finding enough motive in the Lahey basement to justify murder, her still believes Isaac is innocent. Because Isaac said so, and because he trusts his senses in reference to him, which is a lot to say for a guy who does not do trust.
7. A new family.
Episodes 2:06 – 2:07 and we see the new Hale pack slowly coming together, which is pretty gratifying, not least because Derek finally has some company to draw him out from his brooding reserve. Considering he has spent the last … three? four? months (not sure of the timescale) since he returned to Beacon Hills living in the charred remains of his former home where three-quarters of his family burnt to death, a change of local and a new sense of responsibility is infinitely good for him. It gives him a sparkling new purpose, one that is more meaningful than simply kill-the-Kanima-kill-Jackson. And, though we don’t actually see it, we can reasonably assume that Isaac and Boyd are pretty much living full time at the hideout with him too: once Issac’s home has stopped being evidence in his father’s murder it will be sold, and, of the brief view we get of Boyd’s supposed home the bars on the window don’t exactly decry occupied residence. Like Derek then, they have no-where else to go, and while I don’t presume the Alpha and his two Betas have extended, life-affirming conversations during their downtime, I do think they – maybe inadvertently – get to know each other, which accounts for the increased familiarity we see onscreen. Look at the united team Derek and Boyd present when Scott confronts them on the field; there’s almost an easy kind of arrogance between them because they both know they have the physical power in any given situation. And Boyd’s flippant comment: ‘I’m three times bigger than you,’ is such a channelling of Derek it isn’t even funny. Though, it kind of is.
A similar instance along this theme is the opportunity Isaac is given to kill supposed-Kanima-Lydia which, if you take away the whole murdering of a minor by a minor angle, boasts some pretty interesting facets as a leadership decision. To Derek, things are basically black and white (despite the fact that he is the most blurred shade of grey you could ever imagine) so, in one sense, by handing down this task, he allows Isaac the opportunity for something he has always been denied himself: revenge. To his mind, Isaac would deserve a chance at justice, and letting him try ultimately detracts nothing from him plan anyway because, if he fails, Derek can just step in afterwards. Though, maybe knowing Isaac as he undoubtedly does, he would know that he’s about as badass as a Labrador, as so he sends Erica in as back-up and moral support – just think of how often these two are given a task together which Isaac appears to lead, but Erica ultimately ensures gets done. And though Derek’s relationship with Erica might not be as strong: her being female and mentioning at least one adjusted parent, which suggests she still has a home to go to, his decision to place her as Isaac’s partner, still has personal relevance. She cannot take revenge on the people who recorded her seizing, nor anyone who watched it but, akin to her in so many ways, Derek knows that allowing her to be an instrument in someone else’s revenge attempt will help to take the edge off. And it does. We notice a significant shift in her character over the consecutive episodes which tones down her bitterness to find her far more calm and content.
For a brief time, Derek has the complete loyalty of his pack. A Daylily moment.
And, as his relationship with his new pack grows, there also comes a change in his conduct towards Scott, which moves away from viewing him as a subordinate, someone he is trying to recruit, to seeing him as an equal in his own right. Not an Omega, as he says, but an Alpha of his own Pack, and one which Derek can now co-operate with and work alongside. This is far more than his early, Season 1 self could ever manage, and he can only manage it currently because he is secure in himself. It is an ability which waxes and wanes (no luna humour intended).
8. ‘Thank you.’
Episode 2:08, and ‘Frenemy’ to ‘Raving’ really marks Derek’s apex as an Alpha, though, like everything else good in his life, this is ultimately doomed to destruction. His interaction with his own pack is limited in this episode (seen briefly only with Isaac) but this temporarily reduced contact permits a beautifully timed comparison between his and Scott’s relationship from Season 1 to now, when both have grown and matured as individuals. So much so that they can now not only work in synthesis, blending their two ‘Packs,’ but under Deaton’s guidance as well – for Derek this has certainly come a long way from trying the vet up and wanting to murder him as the Alpha. Just saying.
With a plan that almost works – except for Boyd getting shot and having to be sent out of the action – things nevertheless go awry when Mrs. Argent takes the code into her own hands and decides to eradicate Scott (sixteen-year old werewolf who has never taken a human life) for the crime of continuing a relationship with Alison. Some parents are just so overprotective. Being dead-set on capturing the Kanima, literally at this point it is Derek’s all-consuming goal, he still abandons everything they have worked for the instant he knows Scott is in danger, as he has done countless times before. It is famously said about Scott that he prizes people over power, and while I don’t claim this can be said about Derek to the same extent – it honestly can’t – I do argue that to dismiss him as entirely power-driven is both myopic and erroneous. The sheer amount of time he has prioritized the lives and safety of the people around him over his own personal advantage has to be recognized, and this is a prime example.
In general, a werewolf howls to signal its position to the rest of the pack, but from Scott’s howl Derek can deduce not only his location, but his precise mortal state. This, I think, can only come from the fact of him being Alpha and experiencing increased sensitivity to the wellbeing of his pack which Scott, at this point, is at least honorarily part of. Though there is a sense he has always been part of, despite denying Derek as a leader.
Rushing in for the rescue – again at great personal risk, because the vaporised Wolfsbane that is rapidly killing Scott has the same potential to kill him – Derek is faced with a desperate decision because Scott’s condition is way beyond anything he can personally salvage. Thus, in a frankly unprecedented action, and one that can only be feasibly made while he is self-secure as Alpha, Derek Hale places his faith in somebody else and asks for help, though only on Scott’s account as it is clear he accepts none of Deaton’s counter-measures for himself. The next time we see him he is sitting vigil over Scott, possibly because of a lingering distrust of Deaton’s motives, or just possibly for his own peace of mind. Derek is hardly one to wear his heart on his sleeve but he does care, a lot actually, and in this sense his actions again speak louder than his words. He won’t willingly admit his fear or doubt or even his compassion, but his expressions and movements reveal it anyway. Given the right opportunities he could be a good leader; this episode, I think, proves it, but then Derek never wanted to lead, and maybe that face is what ultimately undermines his attempt. With one unlikely event following another we also witness Derek Hale showing gratitude: his ‘thank you’ to Deaton is simple, earnest and just a little bit sulky. Classic Derek on all three accounts.
9. Full moon rising and first transformations.
A price has to be paid for the kind of power the Alpha bite grants, and in Episode 2:09 Derek prepares to confront the first full moon with his fledging pack who, until they learn self-control, are going to want to tear apart anything with a heartbeat, including each other and himself. Anyone envy the Alpha? Nope, me either. We have seen him in this position before with Scott (point number two, if I remember correctly) and while controlling a new werewolf one-on-one is manageable, three against one are ambitious odds because, once again, Scott is off doing something else and is no help at all. [Honestly, I love the guy, but I wouldn’t be asking him to do me any life or death favours]. This episode always irrationally amuses me because Derek just completely resembles the put-upon parent, whose children are acting out, and they know they already lost the battle five hours ago. Which is pretty much what he is at this point. He is massively out of his depth, though to be honest he has never really been in it since he became Alpha.
The full moon has decidedly high stakes for Derek: after nearly losing Isaac the last time, and with the Argents and the Kanima still out there and fully prepared to decimate his Pack, he cannot afford any mistakes, he must keep his wolves contained and under control. To his credit he takes every conceivable step to ensure this, even giving Erica a lovely piece of head torture because female werewolves have a higher pain threshold (of course they do! And the ‘wolf’ has nothing to do with it). While he remains as brusque as usual he is nonetheless efficient – compare the way Styles attempts to confine Scott on his first transformation – and, as Alpha, he gets to experience not only his own visceral instincts but the power of all his new-fledged Beta’s too, which must test his self-control to the absolute maximum. Though he doesn’t transform, not even a little.
His interactions with Isaac are really the high points in this episode. Out of his three Beta’s it is Isaac he chooses to speak to about anchoring and retaining humanity during the sway of the full moon, he also notably chains Isaac up far less heavily and away from Erica and Boyd. Arguably this is because Isaac has already experienced one full moon and should have at least built up a little resistance to its effects, though since his father had been murdered and he was detained on suspicion, whether this actually occurred or not is debatable. Another argument is that, on some integral level, Derek recognizes that he can get through to him, if he can get through to any of his Beta’s; even filled with bloodlust on the first full moon, Isaac showed obedience to Derek’s command, and Derek would be likely to remember this. In a rare moment of personal reference, Derek admits his own anchor to Isaac, while equally explaining that it doesn’t have to be something as negative as anger for everybody, it could even be love (like Scott’s). Considering that Derek generally shares NOTHING about himself willingly, this moment has its poignancy, and maybe this simple fact of exchanging personal information is what allows Isaac to find his own anchor, because it creates a bond, a connection between them, something which Derek usually holds back from through fear of anyone getting close to him and getting hurt as a result. (His whole life).
However, Derek has not ultimately been able to teach his wolves control, he has not been able to teach them anything due to the consistent threat of the Kanima, so when they turn on him and make a bid for freedom his sense of failure is absolute. Except, as it turns out, he hasn’t failed. Isaac comes back to him, fully in control and helping to subdue Erica and Boyd. That moment, for me, validates all of Derek’s efforts as an Alpha, because he has done something so right, even if he doesn’t really understand how. He has opened up (about as much as Derek ever will) and been heard, been obeyed. He has been a leader, in every sense of the word. However, as Derek chains Isaac back up for precaution, I don’t ultimately know whether it’s more sad that Isaac’s tie to humanity is love for his father, before he turned abusive, or Derek’s inability to understand how love trumps hurt.
10. This moment …
It basically speaks for itself. After being abandoned by Erica and Boyd in favour of a potential new Pack, after having been manipulated by Scott who he had finally got around to trusting, after being forced to give Gerard the Alpha bite and watching the horrific aftermath of that, and after having his entire world fall apart again, Isaac is the only ‘family’ he has left, and, in a rare moment of demonstrative emotion, Derek evokes this claim. His gesture is both reassuring and comforting, an Alpha to a Beta, especially since Isaac has been significantly injured in the fight, but it is also possessive, he is physically holding on to the one thing he has left so no-one else can take it from him. If he had shown this side a little more often he might have retained Isaac’s loyalty in the end, but, for all the reasons explored above, he could not. Derek Hale is his own self-contained tragedy; he is damaged and conflicted; neither a hero nor a villain, but yet sometimes one or both; and someone who is unlikely ever to be happy or get what he wants. He is one of my all time favourite modern characters because, try as you might, and I have tried (note this 6,500 word attempt) you just cannot completely figure him out.
And that’s kind of the whole point.