Queens, NYC native Audrey T. Carroll is an MFA candidate whose obsessions include kittens, coffee, Supernatural, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and the Rooster Teeth community. Her work has been published in forthcoming in Fiction International, So to Speak, Feminine Inquiry, the A3 Review, and others. Her poetry collection, Queen of Pentacles, is forthcoming from Choose the Sword Press.
Elena Michaels is the only female werewolf, and a character whose complexity will challenge the notion of a gender binary.
In the world of Bitten, no female has ever survived being bitten by a werewolf. In season 1 of the show, Elena has rejected her werewolf pack in Stonehaven, NY, to pursue a normal life in Toronto, complete with a normal boyfriend and photography job. She does everything in her power to reject the wolf side of herself. Elena goes so far as to refuse to turn as often as she should, despite the fact that this can lead to a loss of control over her transformation. She is brought back into the supernatural otherworld to help when her pack is under attack. Elena finally accepts her werewolf side, returning to her pack to be with Clay, the werewolf she loves, and the rest of the wolves she considers family. Season 1 ends with Elena happily engaged to Clay, then discovering the head of her ex-boyfriend sitting on her bed.
Season 2 opens with Elena seeking revenge for this. Season 2 is a playground for challenging all sorts of thematic binaries and dualities: good and evil (naturally), but also primal and civilized, id and superego, masculine and feminine. This becomes only more evident with the introduction of witches, a long-standing metaphor for female power (either used for empowerment of women or to demonstrate fear of such a thing). When the season opens, Elena is out for blood. She threatens a man, holding him by the throat and demanding information. Clay counters Elena’s immediate rush to violence with “Let him talk.” She retorts: “How about I let him die?” The “traditional” or “stereotypical” primal masculinity is represented by the wolf side. Elena is letting that primitive nature overtake her, not allowing for the more stereotypically feminine approach of restraint and communication. Clay, turned into a werewolf as a very young boy, has had more time to control his primal urges and practices a more thoughtful and strategic masculinity.
Later, when confronting the werewolf responsible for her ex’s murder, Elena denies this werewolf has control over her. He responds with a speech: “Not me. Your nature is in control. Like it or not, you’re a werewolf. You are bound to our ways by your biology and it will not be denied. Do you still have that silly dream of living in Toronto, being one of them? Shopping, going to brunch, having art shows. It’s so terribly mundane and superficial. Do you feel it? The rage, the lust. It is your power. You can thank me, Elena, because I gave you the greatest gift of all: Your true self. You are now all wolf. You are our future.” He is trying to convince her to accept only her primal/masculine side as her “true self.” Anything viewed as feminine (which he picks very specifically as signs of her “normal” but “superficial” life: shopping, brunch, and art) is sneered at by the werewolf. He only sees strength and substance in terms of physical prowess.
Elena finally meets witches, which werewolves were unaware existed, and one of the women says “Look. A female werewolf. … She seems just as barbaric as the rest of them.” The witches add another piece to the puzzle of Elena’s gender role balancing journey. The witches often refer to werewolves as brutes, where the witches’ power relies, much of the time, not on physical harm but on psychological games. They use the voice of a werewolf’s girlfriend to draw him out into the woods. In another instance, they trick a werewolf into thinking he’s gone blind just long enough to accomplish their current mission. Ruth, the coven leader, even says “We don’t like to harm. We don’t like to torture. We also don’t like having our girls kidnapped.” They do not do physical damage, but play in the realm of the mental and emotional instead. However, this is not enough against the witches’ enemy. Aleister, the only male witch to have ever existed, is prophesized to be the end to all witches.
When Aleister takes not only a young witch but also Elena captive, the wolves and the witches find in him a common enemy. It is in working together that they are both able to realize the strengths and limitations of their methods. The masculine brute strength of werewolves is not enough on its own, but neither are the illusions and cunning of the witches. It is only in combining strategies and strengths of both the masculine and the feminine that anything is able to be achieved. Clay says, for instance, to one of the witches: “You witches with your talk of communing with nature, you don’t know enough not to wear heels to the forest.” This makes sense on a practical level, because Clay has more experience with the woods, but it also highlights the witch’s femininity as an issue of practicality. She responds: “Don’t be such a meat-head. You need me with you,” again falling back into the stereotype of the masculine being devoid of intellectual substance.
The end of Bitten’s second season proves that the strength of traditionally gendered capabilities is situational; they must learn to adapt to what is necessary given any particular circumstances. Some of the wolves engage in intellectual pursuits, like art and anthropology and psychology. However, their fighting styles do tend toward the more stereotypically masculine (physical and impulsive) in almost every case, where some situations call for a more measured approach: strategy and cunning in combination with physical assault. The witches need to recognize, too, the value of strategically applied brute strength.
And, as the wolves and witches are realizing this, Elena must come to that conclusion in her own personal journey towards balance. She is trapped on her own, accepting as her responsibility the job of saving a young witch who is also held captive. Aleister sees Elena’s kindness toward the young witch as a threat to his operation, so he casts a fear spell on Elena. This spell makes Elena hallucinate from the depths of her subconscious, with the intention of keeping her too preoccupied with that fear to function long enough to stop Aleister’s plans.
When Elena is under this spell, she fights to escape through all sorts of hallucinations claiming that she is a monster, trying to make her feel hopeless and powerless and like an animal. Some of her most interesting moments mid-hallucination are when her mind manifests Clay. In one instance, Clay arrives to save her. This hallucination underscores Elena’s wish that Clay could just rescue her; it’s much more difficult to be the strong and responsible woman than it is to play the damsel in distress. But she’s not the damsel in distress. The young witch needs her help, and Elena is the one who can rescue her. Though she wants to give in to the fantasy of Clay saving her, this is quickly interrupted by hallucinations of Elena drowning in a tub of blood, a symbol of violence overwhelming her. Elena steels herself and toughens up to prepare herself to get out.
In the next instance when Elena hallucinates Clay he is a manifestation of Elena’s inner thoughts; he asks her “What do you want?” and her immediate response is “Love.” Hallucination Clay then says “Love? In the end, it’s all that matters. It is the key. We’re not monsters.” Through this conversation with herself, Elena finally realizes why: “Because we … we can love.” She forges strength from love, from her love for Clay and her pack, and from her compassion for the young witch. It is this melding of Elena’s two halves that is key: her traditionally feminine emotional side gives her strength, gives her something to fight for, where her traditionally masculine physically capable side is what gives her the means to be as ferocious a fighter as she is. It is only when Elena makes this realization that she is able to save the young witch and escape.
She cannot succeed with only her primal wolf side driving, but she also cannot succeed with only good intentions. Elena needs the balance, the emotional and the physical, the feminine and the masculine, to realize her true self and to claim victory over Aleister. This need for balance is mirrored with the wolves and witches: It’s only when they combine their efforts and abilities and strengths that they’re able to rescue their people. So, in essence, this arc of season 2 of Bitten is calling for a breakdown of gender binaries, instead showing that we each need to strike our own balance founded on our views of the world and practical application.