Ghost in the Tank

A slashy blog for Teen Wolf and whatever pop culture snares my attention. Meta, Sterek, Jeff Davis worship, and much rambling will follow.
Who I Follow

"Red moves where the danger goes. Black is bad but Derek’s going gray… and so is Stiles. 2x08 is where it turns." A picturesque mini-series in which I commit amateur fashion crimes analysis for character journeys throughout S2, focusing on colors and layers. Themes include:

***

Stiles Stilinski - Or, What’s Going On with our Little Red?

Stiles is often called Little Red Riding Hood by this fandom for good reason - he’s the human who runs with wolves. What I want to look at here is what that red means - why red is “his” color, and what it means for red to disappear as season two goes on. 

Let me first establish three defining traits for Stiles’s clothes, besides the lack of any fashion sense:

  • Layers. Stiles typically wears at least two, and sometimes three. This highlights how human he is - because he easily gets cold, whereas werewolves like Scott, Derek, and Isaac do not - and it highlights… well, how human he is. Stiles is complex. Stiles is not “one note”. Stiles shows different layers - flippant, clever, caring, pragmatic, vulnerable, petty - in different situations; and what’s more, he’s not afraid to show how much he cares, unlike Derek. Stiles is extremely close to his father and to Scott, but he doesn’t shield his identity with theirs the way Isaac initially does with Derek. Nor does he obsess over his body as armor the way Jackson does with his pretty boy jock status. So… Stiles has layers, and more than one of those layers is true to who he is.
  • Plaid. Again, multiple colors, reflecting a complexity of character, an interplay of emotions. While a strand of red often runs through the plaid, Stiles increasingly wears checkered gray shirts and striped gray hoodies as the season goes on. He’s never all black or all white; he’s a mix of darkness and lightness, depending on how you turn him. He’s a yin and a yang, a light that always holds the seed for darkness, a darkness that can never destroy all of his light.
  • The color red. If blue is “Isaac’s color”, then red is Stiles’s. By this I mean it’s his defining color, the color that is true to him. Why red? Well, he’s the Little Red Riding Hood of this show, the lone human surrounded by wolves. Red marks his vulnerability in the midst of danger. In fact, red denotes when Stiles is in personal danger, and subsides when the focus is on someone else. But I’m also going to argue that Red is who he is - his self-sacrifice, his courage, his heart - and because of that, it’s when Red goes that Stiles is in far graver danger. 

Note that red is - except for one crucial episode - always on the outside. Stiles almost never wears a red inner layer. I’ll argue that this suggests that Stiles is an obvious target for the supernatural because of his humanity, but he’s nowhere near as vulnerable in battle as he seems. He looks like Little Red Riding Hood, he even draws attention to his body at times (like with Gerard), but he’s not *really* some naive little girl skipping through the woods. Beneath that slender body he’s dangerous… maybe the most dangerous character on this show. 

And he’s in terrible danger when the red hood goes. 

*** 

Let me quickly clarify the red outer layers - you’ll notice three jackets that he rotates between, which will become obvious in the screenshots below. To simplify things, I’ll give them names: 

  • The “default” jacket is the thick red jacket with gray sleeves (what I call the ‘Red Gray’). Why is this the default? I’ll explain more below, but note its resemblance to the lacrosse uniform - gray sleeves behind a red body. 
  • The all red hoodie, which always has plaid inside (‘All Red’). 
  • The red plaid shirt (er, ‘Red Plaid’).

***

Our first sight of Stiles as S2 begins in his default Red Gray: 

…which transitions to a brown plaid in the earth tones of the cemetery, though check out the red that runs through it. 

Why is the Red Gray the default? Because Stiles is “normal” at the season’s beginning. The red is the color demanded of him by the supernatural - his self-sacrifice, his endurance, the quality inside him that becomes heroism under pressure - while the gray represents his mundane side - his normal life. It’s the pattern of the lacrosse uniforms in the locker room, the center of normalcy in Stiles’s and Scott’s life:

At the beginning of season two, Stiles is still a normal kid beneath all this fizzbang werewolf crap that’s come into his life. His dual lives - the one where he’s a normal human teenager, the other where he has to be a hero - are in a fragile but stable balance. 

(…Quick sidenote. See this particular shade of blue that’s he wearing inside at the beginning of this episode? Well, REMEMBER IT:

…because it will come into play as season two ends. I’ll explain more when we get there, but it’s the exact same thing that happens with Isaac and the undertones of deep blue in the first shirt Isaac wears post-bite. It’s a foreshadowing of the characters’ “final” colors.)

In 2x02, Stiles falls in personal danger as he and Derek try to rescue Isaac, and thus the red comes out in full force as Red Plaid throughout the entire episode:

Note that he’s sacrificing himself (as usual) for someone he barely knows. 

At the beginning of 2x03, Stiles becomes safe again as the show’s danger switches focus to Erica and Boyd and Lydia. Stiles is now the relatively “normal” one, and so he’s wearing gray:

(Stiles actually wears gray beside Lydia very often. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because she’s still unaware of the supernatural and thus represents an attachment to Stiles’s old life - things like dating, schoolwork, Lydia, and well… Lydia.) 

But as the episode ends, Stiles is back in a spot of danger as he’s physically and sexually intimidated by Erica, who throws him in a garbage him:

It’s the same situation as with Isaac - Stiles gets himself in danger to look out for a classmate he barely knows. 

***

And here we come to our first turning point. Remember how Jeff Davis said that he divides each season into thirds, which would be episodes 1-4, 5-8, and 9-12? 

Well, the hinge between each of these thirds (2x04, 2x08) is a critical turning point for Stiles. If the first third of the season is about Stiles trying to balance his normal life and the life where he runs with wolves, the second third illuminates the very best of Stiles in the darkness - his sacrifice, his cleverness, his conscience. The brightest of his light. 

This is why 2x04 is so important: this is Stiles’s episode.

This is why he is red throughout:

(Look - he’s even wearing red inside too. It’s the only instance this whole season.)

And he’s red from head to toe:

Inside, outside, from top to bottom - this is pure red. This is pure Stiles. We’ve talked about how red marks danger, but red is also Stiles’s defining color - because red’s not just about danger itself, but how Stiles chooses to put himself in it. This is the episode that shows the very best of Stiles under pressure, as he’s pushed by time, surrounded by water, circled by monsters: His willingness to take up others’ burdens, at the expense of himself. His caring for Lydia as a person, and not just as an ideal. His refusal to let go of a man determined to make it about a transaction, when it was always about Stiles’s conscience. 

When it’s always been about Stiles’s heart. 

See, Stiles’s standout trait is his intelligence, but there’s a reason he’s red and not blue, the typical shade for logic and intellect. Red is the color that marks him as a target, but it’s also the color that shows he’s chosen to accept it. It’s the color of courage. It’s the color of passion, jealousy (remember Stiles’s pettiness?), and the overriding of reason by love (and how he can’t let go of Lydia?). It’s the color of caring, and compassion, and sacrifice. 

It’s the color of Stiles’s heart.  

Remember that, because it’s going to go.

***

In the next episode (2x05), it’s all about Lydia and Scott, while Stiles fade into the background. So he’s back to gray:

(Note that Lydia is the only one wearing red here, as the center of the danger.)

2x06 is really interesting, because Stiles actually shifts from gray to red in the same setting. He starts out wearing gray and black at the nightclub, where he doesn’t do much except get a few drag queens’ phone numbers and lie to his dad some more:

… and help kidnap Jackson by stuffing him in a police van:

But wait - in the same setting, he suddenly changes clothes!

So… what’s going on? Why is the red back? Part of the switch in jackets is just indicating the passage of time, but the red also reflects Stiles’s proximity to danger - ie. Jackson - because he’s put himself in a rather more precarious position by kidnapping and talking to Jackson, than he was in the nightclub.

But I also think the red here is again indicating Stiles’s heart - Stiles’s conscience. Because despite his earlier talk of just letting Jackson die, Stiles is the one who brings him sandwiches and gets up and close to talk to him. Stiles is the one who takes on the burden of being the truth-bearer, the way he did for Lydia in 2x04 in a different sense. Stiles doesn’t know Jackson, Stiles doesn’t even like Jackson, but he’s the one trying to get through to him. He’s the one trying to take care of him (grudgingly, but it’s still caring). 

It’s another delicate balancing act too, hence the Red Gray - Stiles has just kidnapped a classmate who knew nothing about the supernatural. The supernatural is now seriously encroaching on Stiles’s last bastion of normalcy since werewolves have been endangering his father and Derek has been violating (hehe) his own bedroom - his school life. And that means Stiles is about to get in serious trouble at school. 

…which is delivered to him by his father as 2x07 opens:

2x07 is another episode that focuses on endangering the other characters, so Stiles fades back to gray for the rest of the episode:

****

Remember how 2x04 was the crucial turning point between the first and second thirds of the season? Well, 2x08 is the other, as we transition to the last third of this season.

And it’s the big one. Because after this episode, outside the lacrosse uniform, Stiles never wears red again

Let’s go through what happens in 2x08. (See the blue in this hoodie here? Remember that color in episode one?) 

…no red…

…no red…

Why is 2x08 such a big deal? Why is this the moment the red in Stiles begins to disappear?

At first I thought it was about the mountain ash, so of course Stiles should be gray-and-black themed in this episode. 

But then I realized that this is the episode that Sheriff Stilinski gets fired

See, the supernatural had been fucking over Scott, and even Lydia, but up til now it hadn’t really damaged Stiles’s oldest, deepest, fiercest bond. 

But now? Now Stiles has really fucked up. Now Stiles’s actions have hurt his father. 

Now it’s personal. 

I think this moment is the turning point that culminates in the Stiles we see in the finale - the Stiles who’s given up, the Stiles who wants out. Because before now, Stiles has just been throwing himself into fighting the supernatural and saving lives and protecting Scott and Lydia, but he hasn’t really felt the full consequences of doing so. He’s kept thinking that he can just take on the problems as they come up, whether it’s Scott going loony, or Jackson turning into a lizard, or whatever. 

It’s not until his dad gets fired, that Stiles begins to realize how deep this can go. How permanent. How it might be something he won’t be able to fix. And it gets worse and worse from here on out, because first it’s his dad, and then it’s Stiles himself as he gets paralyzed, stomped on, and beaten up. 

And this is the moment when we start seeing something troubling in Stiles:

Scott: You okay?

Stiles: (pause) Yeah. Why?

Scott: …’s just, you didn’t say anything the whole way here.

Stiles: (shrug) Yeah, I’m fine. Just grab the other bag.

Scott: I can’t. Remember, Deacon said you could do it alone?

Stiles: Okay, this plan is really starting to suck.

Stiles doesn’t tell Scott about his dad’s firing. Look at that massive deflection - ‘just grab the other bag’ - as Scott prods him. Look at how Stiles is just fucking fine and dandy for the rest of this episode. Scott is his best friend, Stiles’s dad getting fired is a HUGE deal - but Stiles doesn’t say anything.

It’s the same side to Stiles that we first saw in 1x08, and it’s the same side that culminates in the finale, when Stiles lies about the beating to everyone

Stiles will take up other people’s burdens, but he won’t share his own.

Stiles will hide, and lie, and deflect until the sun doesn’t set to avoid sharing the Serious stuff inside him with the people he cares about. He will sacrifice for others until his breath gives out, but he won’t accept anyone sacrificing for him

See, if 2x04 is where we see the brightest of Stiles’s light, then 2x08 is where we begin to glimpse its shadow. I’ve argued before that Stiles’s good and bad are the very same thing, that comes out under different trials, that brightens and darkens when help up to different lights. Well, in 2x04 we see how Stiles’s heart lets him be everyone else’s anchor - pushes him to comfort Lydia as the clock winds down, keeps him holding up a grown man for two hours as the water drags them down - and now in 2x08 we realize it won’t let anyone return the same for him. 

Stiles’s determination to endure is his defining trait. He endures with such a deep awareness of everything - Lydia’s goodness, Scott’s problems, his dad’s problems, his own problems - that it’s actually a horrible kind of awareness. Stiles can’t lie to himself about how shitty everything is, but he can’t tell anyone the truth either. So he holds it inside. So he keeps his mouth closed in the water. 

So he drowns in silence.

***

As we begin to sense that Stiles is in trouble, the red begins to vanish. But look - the red’s not just fading to mundane gray. Something else is replacing it, something that should look familiar:

That’s right. Blue is replacing it - first the Red Gray jacket, then the Red Plaid. It’s the same shade we see hinted in the first episode, as the lettering on his t-shirt.

Look at the very last thing that Stiles wears this season:

Blue is his final color. It goes from being a small part of an outer layer (the Blue Gray hoodie), to covering most of the outer layer (the Blue Plaid), to being pretty much the only layer he wears in the last shot. 

Our Little Red is gone. 

But why? Why has the red disappeared in the last third of this season? Why blue?

Let me address the blue part first. I’m not sure why blue is the replacement in particular, but here’s a theory - remember how I said that blue is the color of logic and intellect? Well, what if the show is suggesting that Stiles’s brain - Stiles’s reason, Stiles’s pragmatism - is “winning” over Stiles’s heart?

Look at the way the blue is the top half of that Blue Gray hoodie, whereas the red part of Stiles’s Red Gray jacket is the bottom half. The blue is closer to Stiles’s head; the red lies over Stiles’s heart. In the last third of this season, Stiles is distancing himself more and more from his bonds. Stiles is starting to listen to his brain, for once - the common sense that tells him he’s just a human, he can’t fight anything, he can’t be a hero. The logic that tells him to just quit now, because he’s going to die, and he’s going to die while being totally useless. 

The rational part that tells him to just… give up. Get out. Abandon this whole werewolf crap. That’s why, I argue, he’s wearing all gray in 2x11 and 2x12:

Because Gray is normal life. Gray is Stiles just sitting in his room while his friends risk their lives fighting the bad guys. Gray is Stiles ignoring his phone, while Scott sends him seventeen text messages and Lydia begs him to help.

Gray is Stiles cracking.

Because you know what? Stiles is red. Red is his color. Stiles is not about his brain. Stiles is not about his logic. Yeah those things are there, but Stiles isn’t meant to be blue

That’s why the disappearance of red in the last third of this season is so dangerous -  because red means more than being in danger. After all, if it were just a marker for danger, then wouldn’t Stiles be redder than a tomato throughout 2x10 and 2x12? He gets paralyzed, stomped on, and beaten till his face bled, for chrissake. That’s much worse than anything he’s ever endured before, and yet there’s no red at all here, besides the lacrosse uniform that’s his last attachment to normalcy.  

Red can’t go, because red is Stiles’s humanity. Red is Stiles’s heart. 

Red is the color that makes him vulnerable. Red is the color that makes him weak. Red is the human in a forest that belongs to wolves. 

But red’s also the color that makes him strong. Red’s the color that makes him hold on when his reason’s lost hope. Red’s the color that makes him stay in the face of far stronger forces than he knows he can ever defeat. Red’s the color that drags him back in the end, long after he’s quit. Red’s his stubbornness, and red is his love. 

Red can’t keep him from breaking, but it’ll give him a reason to go on.

If Stiles rejects red, he’s rejecting more than his body’s weakness. He’s rejecting the part of himself that chooses to be human in a world determined to crush that humanity. He’s rejecting the part of himself that chooses to hope when he’s supposed to be hopeless. He’s rejecting the part of himself that chooses to be stupid, and foolish, and brave. The part that chooses to be red despite all its costs.  

Stiles isn’t blue. Stiles isn’t gray. Stiles is red, because Stiles is meant to be human.  

Because Stiles is meant to be a hero. 

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