The hallmarks of the teen drama are instantly recognizable, and Netflix’s Wednesday is littered with them. Wednesday finds herself caught in the middle of a love triangle with the bad-boy tortured artist Xavier and the soft “normie” Tyler; her friends are all walking cliches (including Eugene, a friendless nerd with braces and glasses whose name is even cliche); and maybe worst of all, they turned her into a teen sleuth.
While that path is par for the course for the Nancy Drews and Betty Coopers of television, for Wednesday, teen-sluthing her character turns her into an oxymoron—why should she care about justice and truth? This girl has murderous intent and gives “zero effs,” and the series doesn’t do much to convince us otherwise. Wednesday Addams cares about truth (to some extent) and justice (a little), but Wednesday’s overstuffed mystery and much-too-forgiving treatment of their titular character leaves any truly meaningful examination of her buried as deeply as Garrett Gates’ remains. Instead, she hardly changes throughout the series, never really learning from her mistakes—and the show forgives her for all of it, in the name of attempting to make her a passable teen drama protagonist.
In Episode 3, Wednesday finds out the dark truth behind the town of Jericho (and we, the audience, find out why this series was released on Thanksgiving instead of Halloween). Her ancestor Goodie Addams was nearly murdered by a pilgrim named Joseph Crackstone, the founding father of the town and notorious “outcast” hater. She finds this history repulsive, and expresses her feelings to Principal Weems. Wednesday is surprised to find that Weems already knew about this history, and continues to work with the town of Jericho out of the best interests of both the town and Nevermore Academy. Wednesday calls her complicit, and says that she is no better than the oppressive, outcast-hating townspeople by working so closely with them. These moments between Weems and Wednesday are a hallmark of the classic teen drama trope of Teen vs Establishment. Wednesday, our heroine teenager, up against Weems, our representation of the establishment, who simply doesn’t understand the difference between right and wrong—or simply doesn’t care. In that way, the show succeeds in creating a sleuthy teen drama heroine out of Wednesday, but due to the nature of her character, it continually gets walked back.
Episode 4’s Rave’N dance provides Wednesday an opportunity to learn more about normie barista Tyler, who Xavier has been warning her about. Xavier tells Wednesday that Tyler and his normie friends attacked him while he was painting in Jericho, the crime clearly motivated by Xavier’s status as an outcast. Wednesday confronts Tyler about this hate crime, and he attempts to explain himself, saying that he’s a changed man now. You would think, based on Wednesday’s reaction to Weems’ compliance in the previous episode, that she would be furious, right? Instead, she laughs in reaction: “Did you think I was going to judge you over some lousy prank?” She writes it off by downplaying this hate crime on Xavier, completely contradicting her moral stance from the previous episode.
When you have a character like Wednesday, who seemingly cares for no one and puts her own sadistic love of pain and suffering over the feelings of others, it’s difficult to make her fall into the archetypes needed for a teen drama main character, especially when trying to convince the audience that she does truly care about solving the various murders on campus and off. So, in an effort to shape her into their ideal protagonist, the series relies heavily on the heavy-lifting done by the characters around Wednesday to excuse her worst behaviors and write them off as small hiccups in her road to her status as Nevermore’s savior.
Throughout the season, Wednesday is truly awful to literally everyone around her. She’s terrible to her parents, who simply are attempting to give Wednesday the same memorable school experience that they had; she’s awful to her roommate Enid, who continually attempts to be her friend despite her constant rebuffing; she’s awful to her two love interests, never truly trusting Tyler or Xavier. But, because the plot deems that Wednesday is our hero, she’s only rewarded for her bad behavior.
In Episode 6, Enid is fed up with Wednesday and her reckless endangerment of her life with no remorse, so she decides to move out of their shared room. At the end of the episode, sitting alone in her room, Wednesday seems to actually be remorseful, truly considering what her actions have caused. Though, a few moments later, she is rewarded for her troubles by finding images taken of herself and her friends within the music box that belongs to Laura Gates. In that moment, the mystery plot takes precedence, pushing Wednesday back into the thick of her sleuthing, shoving Enid’s feelings out of her mind. The same thing happens in the next episode, when Wednesday stumbles upon Xavier in the Nightshades library; they fight and he storms out. However, that gives her, Uncle Fester, and Thing the perfect opportunity to find just the book they need to solve the case of the mystery monster. In each instance, the series offers no time for reflection from our titular character, never allowing her to consider the feelings of those around her, and actively rewards her for that behavior by immediately handing her another clue afterwards.
By the end of Episode 7, Enid is back in their shared dorm, moving her stuff back in. Wednesday asks her why she’s back, and Enid replies: “Because we work. We shouldn’t, but we do.” Wednesday never apologizes to her for her actions, and instead just has Enid dropped right back in her lap, despite the fact that she’s done nothing to re-earn her roommate’s trust. By Episode 8, after Wednesday has gotten Xavier arrested for murder, she never has to earn his forgiveness either, as he walks back the things he said about her from his cell (“You’re toxic,” he told her, which he apologizes to her for). That’s not to say that Wednesday doesn’t attempt to almost apologize. She tells Enid that she’s “been a disappointment” of a friend, but her apology is rebuffed by Enid. There are many instances in the finale where Wednesday could have learned something, could have grown as a person in relation to her friends and how she treats others, but the series continually lets her off the hook for her worst grievances.
Of course, none of this is to say that Wednesday would have been more successful if she was nice the entire season—quite the opposite. Wednesday’s characterization is interesting and complex, but the series did not allow itself time to actually explore it. If Wednesday truly wanted to explore the inner workings of her mind, these huge character moments would not have been brushed aside in favor of its other plot priorities. Because the teen drama structure requires Wednesday to face the series’ monsters with the help of her friends, Wednesday sacrifices moments of reflection in favor of fast-paced forgiveness.
It’s like the show wanted to tell a story about Wednesday, her relationships with those around her, and her relationship with herself and her morals, but the overdone teen drama elements stunted any growth or exploration, leaving the series skirting past little moments of character-focused intrigue, overshadowed by the high-stakes murder mystery and teen TV cliches. In the trap of the teen drama, they had to excuse Wednesday for being herself, pushing the other characters to forgive Wednesday’s grievances without an apology or remorse, instead attempting to convince the audience that everything she did was okay because her friends began apologizing to her, rather than letting Wednesday be as morally gray as she should be. Behind Jenna Ortega’s ever-present scowl, there is a version of Wednesday that is allowed to be as layered and interesting as her performance indicates, but unfortunately, the series falters—and she shines in spite of it.
In the finale, Wednesday finally allows Enid to hug her, and she even takes an arrow for Xavier; these moments indicate a change made within Wednesday. But because she was right about everything and came out the other side successful, she simply reverts once the danger is over. In the aftermath of a cliche, over-the-top, teen drama capital ”F” Finale, all sins are forgiven because Wednesday is our hero. Because, after all, Wednesday’s mistreatment of others and her selfish nature allowed her to solve the mystery, didn’t it? She became Nevermore’s savior, like the prophecy foretold.
In spite of the slap on the wrist treatment of Wednesday by the show (and of her penchant to speak in one-liners that feel perfectly curated to have been viral Tumblr screenshots circa 2014), Wednesday still manages to be a fun teen drama filled with mystery and intrigue. But it’s hard not to think that it could have been better had the series committed to examining the psyche of fiction’s favorite little psychopath rather than try to shape her into a classic teen drama heroine, unpacking what makes the Addams, and Wednesday in particular, so spooky, kooky, and ooky.
Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Indiana. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert—if Twitter still exists.
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