‘Sup guys! I want to talk a bit more about Teen Wolf’s take on the idea of supernatural creatures and what that means for the idea of humans. This latest set of ramblings is inspired by this great post:
You know what I find interesting? The fact that Peter said the power of human love. Not just love in general, but HUMAN love.
It seems like an odd distinction to make because it almost sounds like he doesn’t include himself or Derek in that category. Like they’re outside of those feelings,…
I was struck by this phrase and particular word choice too, but I read it slightly differently, because I don’t think that the show is so literal in separating the human and the inhuman that you can only fall in one category or the other, with the sole determinant of your category the presence of a bite.
That is, being a werewolf does not, ipso facto, deny your humanity.
Let me ramble on this a bit more, because I think it could be a really important nuance to this show. I want to argue there are two interpretations of the conceptual divide ‘human’ and ‘not human’ going on here, and this ambiguity and tension is critical to the show’s worldview.
If we interpret human and not-human literally, keeping to the strict sense, then kanimas and werewolves must fall under the latter category, and people like Stiles and the Argents in the former. Where you fall is determined by your identity, by your body - by whether it bears the bite or not.
But I think there’s another way to look at this that gives another layer of meaning. Kanimas and werewolves are literally monsters, but they aren’t necessarily monsters in the most meaningful sense of the word - a sense that refers to a person’s actions and choices in life. Inhuman is not something that you are, but something that you do.
Similarly, being human is not something that you are, but something that you do.
Jackson is not only the kanima - even though he’s not ‘human’ anymore the way Stiles and the Argents are, this show argues that there is a human under the reptilian skin, and it calls both Jackson. That is why Scott is a Good Guy: because his desire to save Jackson throughout this season acknowledged the perspective that Jackson was a kanima but also a human, with all the rights of humanity. Note that Scott has been fighting for this even though there’s no explicit mention of a solution that ends in a permanently kanima-free Jackson (ie. a ‘cure’); there’s only been the ketamine, and then Lydia to bring back Jackson’s consciousness for a second - things that manage the kanima, yet leave the kanima a part of him. What it means to “save” Jackson has never been clarified.
Derek was physically born a werewolf with werewolf blood in his veins, yet I argue that the word human is not nonsensical to apply to him. Just as Jackson might end up “saved” without removing the kanima part of himself, the presence of a werewolf identity does not necessarily deny a human identity in the same body. I think it is undeniable that Derek has a human heart, with human feelings and human thoughts. To become a non-human, you have to lose a kind of humanity that a bite, in itself, cannot take away.
And he has human rights. This is the distinction that Chris Argent makes between werewolves that are legitimate targets for killing, and those who are not. Some werewolves become monsters in the deepest sense - through their actions - and therefore lose their human rights. Others retain their humanity and become monstrous in form, yet human in meaning.
This is precisely why Chris is a moral character, and why the current Allison is not - because she is a literalist. She separates people into strict human and monster categories solely on the basis of a bite. To her, the very fact that Erica and Boyd are werewolves, with werewolf blood in their veins, denies them any chance of also being human.
Chris Argent’s take on the human and non-human, in contrast, is a fluid one. Just like ‘werewolflihood’ can be gained, humanity can be lost. The distinction between them is not determined by one’s blood, claws, and fangs, but by what one chooses to do with them.
So how does this apply to Peter’s particular usage of the words human love?
I will argue that Peter’s choice of the word human here is not meant to exclude Derek from this ode to love, but to achieve the very opposite - to include him by appealing to precisely that component of Derek that Derek has chosen to put away. The human exists in Derek Hale, but by choosing to deprive himself of trust, by choosing to deprive himself of love, Derek is also choosing to deny himself the most powerful of all things.
This is Peter’s reminder. He’s talking about Lydia, but I think he’s also connecting here to Derek with words that are meant to speak to Derek’s heart as well as his head. Derek’s mind can’t form this solution the way Peter does, but Derek’s heart understands the concept of this feeling, and so he doesn’t immediately reject or scoff at it the way you’d expect. Human love is not unfamiliar to Derek. It is simply something he doesn’t want to think about.
Derek doesn’t think he needs people. He’s been living as a full-time werewolf, as an alpha who’s created betas but not a pack. Not a family. But he doesn’t just need numbers and the strength of an alpha; he needs a home, he needs bonds, the feelings of joy, and sorrow, and happiness, the permission to grieve. Human things.
Peter probably doesn’t have Derek’s best intentions in mind, but he does want Derek to trust him, and he knows what will resonate. Through him the show is calling out Derek’s humanity. Because god knows Derek has been bashed over the head with this message by Dr. Deaton and Scott and his own failures, yet he still can’t bring himself to accept it.
Of course, this is not to say that the strict interpretation of the words human and werewolf isn’t valid. I think there is a strong case to be made that the show distinguishes them in the strict sense but elevates werewolves to the same rights as humans; separate, but equal. So Allison’s wrong to kill werewolves because they may not be humans but they are still moral beings with agency - which we might call for example persons (though person usually refers to a subset of humanity).
In that case, Peter’s exclusion of Derek and himself by choosing the phrase ‘human love’ would fall on the opposite side of the show, because he’s arguing a case for hopelessness, for differentiating werewolves in a fundamental way, for further removing Derek from the things he needs. I think this is a really intriguing view, and it seems to better fit the side of villainy and Peter’s vast experience as a werewolf, and it raises a few more questions. If the love between humans is the most powerful bond, then what the love between werewolves? or does it even exist?