It’s not easy being a supernatural creature in high school. It’s even harder being a supernatural creature’s girlfriend.
The supernatural creature, however tortured about his vampire bloodlust or lycanthropy, gets to be special. He endures a period of guilt. He struggles. But ultimately he learns to control his urges and embrace his powers. He’s the hero who gets to save the day.
And then there’s his girlfriend.
This is, of course, an old-fashioned model. Female characters on genre shows — at least the genre shows worth watching — no longer merely exist to stand to the side and look pretty. They’re not damsels in distress or clueless foils from whom the main character has to keep his supernatural secret. More often than not, they have powers of their own.
But that’s not to say female genre characters aren’t still getting the short end of the stake, especially when it comes to supernatural romance. The most infamous example is Bella Swan, the not-quite-heroine of the Twilight series whose primary characteristic is blandness. Even on The Vampire Diaries, where Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev) now holds her own as a vampire, the show continues to fall back on her conflicting desires for bad boy Damon and brooding good guy Stefan. (It’s a bit more complicated than that, but then, aren’t all love triangles?) And where to begin with True Blood’s Sookie (Anna Paquin), whose fae powers are secondary to the juggling act she carries on with every male character on the series?
And, of course, both Bella and Elena had to become vampires in order to stand on equal footing with their supernatural mates. But in a world of vampires, werewolves, and the forces of darkness, isn’t there something even more impressive about staying human?
On Teen Wolf, Allison Argent (Crystal Reed), who died in the March 17 episode entitled “Insatiable” after being stabbed by an Oni demon, followed the initial trajectory of the genre show girlfriend. She suspected Scott (Tyler Posey) was hiding something from her. She got terrorized by the werewolves of Beacon Hills. She decided that, despite Scott’s dark secret, she could still love him. And we all drew hearts on our notebooks, “Buffy & Angel 4 Ever!”-style.
But Allison isn’t Bella Swan. She isn’t even Elena Gilbert. Over the course of her three seasons on Teen Wolf, she uncovered her own secret — that she was born into a family of werewolf hunters, in which the women made all the important decisions. As Allison struggled to reconcile her feelings for Scott with her family’s quest to protect innocents from the threat of werewolves, she shifted from ally to adversary, and back again. As painful as that was for fans of Teen Wolf’s once central romance, it was an unequivocal sign that Allison had a purpose outside of Scott.
That only grew as her arc continued, with Allison learning to fight with help from her formerly reluctant father Chris Argent (JR Bourne). She mastered the bow and arrow, and proved herself to be an essential asset to the group. As Allison’s best friend Lydia (Holland Roden) discovered latent supernatural abilities, Allison remained grounded in reality. And the fact that she continued to defend herself against an increasing onslaught of werewolves reflected a very human heroism, a far more impressive feat than a preternaturally backed bravery.
It shouldn’t be groundbreaking for a female character in a supernatural romance to have the degree of agency that Allison was afforded. And yet, we’re so used to seeing characters like Allison defined in relation to the male lead. There was something truly transgressive about the way she surpassed her original role as love interest, eventually dumping Scott at the end of Season 2. By the time of her death, her past with Scott was nearly incidental — aside from Scott’s jealousy over Allison’s burgeoning romance with werewolf Isaac Lahey (Daniel Sharman).
That Allison moved on from Scott is, in fact, an even more exciting subversion of the supernatural romance genre than her humanity. In genre fiction, there is a tendency to treat these high school romances — perhaps due to the incredibly high stakes involved — as epic, life-defining loves. But realistically, no matter how many red-shirted students get killed and apocalypses get thwarted, it’s still high school. Your first love may seem like forever, but more often than not it’s the first of many.
Allison understood this before Scott did. When she broke up with him, he promised to wait for her, suggesting that they would one day be together again. But that wasn’t Teen Wolf’s endgame — and it certainly wasn’t Allison’s. She may have died in Scott’s arms, reminding him that he was her first love, but they were never destined for forever. In order for Allison to truly exist as her own character, Teen Wolf made it clear that there was far more to her than a Season 1 romantic pairing. She and Scott had a great thing, but Allison had an even better thing on her own.
We can thank Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy and Firefly, for imbuing his genre shows with strong female characters. We don’t live in a world of Bella Swans. But it’s important to acknowledge Allison Argent’s contribution as a character, based on where she started and where she ended up. Her final sacrifice only added poignancy to her arc, a reminder of her choice to stay and fight while retaining some level of vulnerability, the most human trait of all.
There is a role for heroic humans in a world of monsters. And, more to the point, there is a role in supernatural romance for women who are lovers and fighters, defined entirely by themselves and not by the men around them. In the end, Allison’s most important contribution to supernatural romance was to remind us that it doesn’t have to be romantic at all.