Derek and Stiles, a love story

There is a new resurgence of doubt and disappointment in the fandom so I figured I could type up a small essay on why I think Sterek would be good in all sorts of ways: for the show, for the characters, for the world in general.

A love interest is always a tricky subject. If that’s all a character is, if they’re just there for the sole reason of being in love with a character far more important than them, their value becomes intrinsically tied to their sexual desirability. They become an object, which is especially damaging for – and happens the most often to – female characters. Girls learn that their purpose is not to be the hero, but the prize. Their only value is what’s between their thighs.

To tell a real love story, one that resonates on a deeper level, the characters have to be equals, not necessarily within their own universes but from the point of view of the narrative. The two parts of the couple need to have their own personal character arcs. They need to exist outside of the couple, with a narrative agency that few pure love interests ever get. That’s why Jackson/Lydia and Scott/Allison work well as a story., no matter what you might think of their value as relationships. They are established as romantically linked, yes, but more than that, they have near equal shares in the narrative because they are all main characters with their own personal arcs.

Now, would it be possible to switch it up between main characters to introduce new het couples? Certainly. But I think in this instance the show is fairly conservative. Scott/Allison is always going to be endgame for the narrative and Jackson/Lydia certainly looks like it’s heading in the same direction. This doesn’t necessarily mean that this is what would be good for them in real life or what might happen after the show ends, but it is what is good for the flow of the story.

Derek and Stiles fit into this in a huge way because they are the last two main characters. I think Jeff Davis is going to keep telling the story of these six, adding supporting characters and villains as needed. But the overarching journey is that of the original six. If either Derek or Stiles are going to be deemed worthy of a real love story, this is where they’ll find it. Not just because of chemistry, not just because they are both opposites and mirror images, but because they are narrative equals. The show is already stretched thin with giving all characters the time they deserve, adding new main characters is unlikely to happen and it would dilute the tight narrative Jeff has built so far. Teen Wolf isn’t an ensemble TV show, it’s a novel. Adding supporting characters as love interests, while entirely possible, does not do the love story or the added character any favors.

Now, this isn’t just a matter of pair the spares. Derek and Stiles are both in similar thematic arcs. They’ve been brought to a low point, where they are both emotionally isolated, scared and unsure what to do. They can’t or don’t trust anyone, either by choice or circumstance. But of all the main characters, they have no personal bad blood between them. Stiles is hiding his pain from Scott, distances himself from Allison for the sake of Scott, has this whole mess of an unrequited crush between him and Lydia and resents the hell out of Jackson, not least because Jackson is a huge douche who actually has everything and deserves nothing (at least from Stiles’ point of view). Derek and Allison are and likely always will be on opposing sides of a war, Scott and Jackson are always going to be Derek’s responsibility, and Lydia not just barely knows Derek but is also connected to Peter. But between Stiles and Derek there isn’t really anything that isn’t an obstacle by proxy, and this comes through in their interactions.

When Stiles and Derek are in a scene together they bring out sides in each other that are normally hidden. Derek is more sarcastic, more human, less of a burned shell. Stiles is less accommodating, often more focused. When they are together they figure stuff out and get shit done and they play off each other in fascinating ways. They protect each other. They argue and push and pull, because oddly enough, even with threats and such a physical strength differential, their decision making process is democratic or at the very least iterative. They talk out ideas and possibilities and follow through when they’ve figured something out. Watch 1x09 and how in one of our favorite scenes the power ping-pongs between them as Derek has Stiles up against the wall.

They have similar damages, things they can understand that no one else can. They’ve both lost people they loved and felt responsible for it. They both hide their true feelings, one behind a brutish silence, the other behind flailing noise. There is anger in both of them. They have both loved or are possibly still in love with women who will not and can not love them back. Kate’s ghost still trails her wicked fingers over Derek’s naked skin and her cruelty, her disregard for his love is something that Stiles can understand. Because Lydia is not Kate, but she doesn’t love Stiles and her continued silent rejection has to feel like torture for a boy who has never loved any other girl.

Stiles has to learn to value himself, to find his purpose. He’s currently engaging in a campaign for normalcy – get the popular girl, become captain of the lacrosse team, and reject all that is to do with the supernatural. I think Stiles’ insistence of Scott not using his wolfy powers during their practice is more than just a desire for fairness – if you want to get better, throwing yourself against a powerful opponent is more useful than one who holds back to let you win. But Stiles wants to get away from all that, he can’t do this anymore, because it puts himself and his dad in danger. And coming to terms with your sexuality can feel a lot like that. For a while, especially if you’re young and self-esteem deprived, being normal is better than being yourself. But no one can keep that up and the stress of it is occasionally lethal. Stiles’ journey now is that of every kid who’s ever found they’re not what society wants them to be. He needs to accept all the parts of himself, and accepting an attraction to men will feel almost comfortingly normal when stacked up to accepting his mortality and his responsibility within this realm of the supernatural. Derek can help him with both.

Meanwhile Derek needs to learn to trust, to open himself up and allow himself to feel something other than anger and fear. Stiles already brings out more nuanced emotion in him than anyone else. Stiles is annoying but annoyance isn’t the same as anger. Stiles is funny, even if Derek probably won’t admit it for a long time. Stiles touches him, a lot, and without intent. He has no obligations to Stiles and Stiles has no obligations to him. Everything they are or can be to each other will be because of who they are, not how they are tied into the politics of this place. Stiles’ loyalty is something that, once earned, is a solid foundation. Everyone breaks, of course, but Stiles will hold out longer than most. Once someone is in Stiles’ circle even being suspected of being a murdering lizard monster will not get them out of it.

The reason their romance would have to be a slow buildup is probably because once truly and securely together, all issues between them and inside them resolved, these two would be too powerful a force for any narrative. Stiles who is sure of his place and his power, who knows he is loved and can depend on the strength of someone, is a magnificent force. And Derek who has healed from his past, who trusts someone to help him where he isn’t enough, that’s the alpha Beacon Hills desperately needs. But ultimately, I think that’s where their character arcs are headed. And on the way there they can have a beautiful, awkward, emotionally stunted romance that’s at once funny and touching.

As I said, the show will benefit from doing a love story instead of a token romance character. Sterek are the only true love story either of them will get. Anything else will be a pale imitation by default. A token love interest character would have to take narrative space from someone else, from other interactions. And what would we be willing to sacrifice purely and simply to avoid making them gay?

Which brings me, of course, to how this will benefit the world. I’m not joking or exaggerating when I say that canon Sterek can help save lives. For every gay character, especially gay characters who have narrative agency and are allowed to live out a romance, somewhere out there queer kids breathe a little easier. We are starved for these stories, we are desperately yearning for stories about people who are queer as a matter of course, stories that don’t revel in how being gay is the most miserable thing that can happen to you, stories that aren’t about being queer as if that is the most important thing in our lives. Stiles and Derek have fully realized personal story arcs. If they fall in love their story won’t be about them being gay, it will be about them being them. They will be queer people in a queer relationship, but their story will be about werewolves and personal guilt and learning to trust someone. And every time some fourteen year old queer kid sees them doing their Buffy impressions and fighting monsters, that kid will feel more of a person and less of a caricature.

And even more than that, the simple fact of their existence as main characters in a popular show, especially one directed at teens, will desensitize a whole bunch of privileged straight people to our existence. Right now a majority of straight people still live with the comfort blanket of heteronormativity, so much so that everyone is assumed straight until proven otherwise, in media and on the street. But if Derek and Stiles can be queer, then maybe that barista or that secretary or that soldier can be, too. And if Derek and Stiles can be characters with agency, characters we identify with and empathize with and feel for, then maybe we can feel for those real life queer people, too.

See, I don’t want Sterek because it’s hot. That’s a fine reason to want it, but it’s not the only reason out there. And I think it isn’t the most important. I think fannish enjoyment of their chemistry without wanting follow-through is something only the privileged can afford. I trust Jeff Davis to do right by the story, but I want him to do right by me, too. We all deserve this love story. We deserve hundreds of these love stories. Because it does right by the narrative structure Jeff has laid out, it does right by queer fans all over the world, it does right by the characters.

I keep going back to this one question, the one that burns bright at the tip of my tongue. The question is:

Why not?

And I can’t think of a single reason not to do it. Any bigots who are still watching this show despite Danny’s awesomeness and the frank approach to teen sexuality who might leave because of this will be off-set by the queer audience who’s been on the fence, waiting, hurt by every other show that teased but never delivered. MTV, the channel that ordered two It Gets Better specials, has nothing to lose and everything to gain. And if you think that Jeff Davis can’t pull it off, you’re simply wrong. It needn’t be perfect to be entertaining.

So buckle up and come along for the ride. Your hope and your enthusiasm is what made this possible in the first place. This is a new spin on an old love story, but it will be something amazing to witness and entirely necessary for this genre to transcend the shackles of social conservatism once again.

And if it will be anything, it will be fun.