Oh man, it’s a whole mess of things, but specifically it’s that they’re two symmetrically written individuals who are both working off a bunch of my favorite structural things in similar ways who get SO MUCH BETTER when they’re together—like each of them are fine-written on their own, when they get to be on their own, but their structural quality goes off-the-charts sensical and high-stakes wonderful when they’re together. This is a hallmark of many of my favorite ships—I like people who are better together on a purely structural scale, whose narratives are actually two sides of the same narrative coin, I like ships introduced as almost inextricable, that’s when I care most about the ship. When I understand the characters most purely through each other, as a structural unit, for good or for ill within that unit.
Like, right now I’m not sure what to say about them as individuals, or where I could begin if you asked me to talk about them outside the ship. I don’t resent this: it feels foregrounded (we meet the ship in media res, we meet them together) and it feels mutual (no one of them is more narratively autonomous than the other). They both—both of them—have been absent all season except in regard to each other; they were both positioned in the same way, as walking shells of outside darker forces, and they only became inhabited when they came to call on each other. (There’s a list of things that bother me re. Lydia’s writing, but it’s about keeping her on the outside and about dropping the ball on an arc that could have been mythic in scale* and NOT PUTTING HER ON THE DAMN SHOW.)
*God, and all the pieces are here, too, and I’m talking about the finale too, which was again a reminder that this show is DUMB LIKE A SACK O’ HAMMERS (CLAW HAMMERS I WOULD GUESS), but which could have had Lydia fulfil the exact same function only with interesting vocabulary if they’d bothered to cut one or two of the 10000 Stiles Cries About It scenes and give her some vocabulary—she gives Jackson the key, she is a key, she’s been a key all season, key and doorway and emblematic of journeys in and out of the underworld, Persephone to Peter Hale’s Hades turned momentary Orpheus to Jackson’s lizardy Eurydice, do you know how here I would be for Lydia as walking untouchable conduit to the underworld, who can touch deep dark things because she’s immune and can always come back to the light? Do you know how close we were? And then the show’s just not that interested, and I don’t expect it to be able to sustain interesting myth metaphors tbh because DUMB LIKE CLAW HAMMERS but I would like it to spend time with the mythic bitch it gave me in spite of the odds.
Anyway, regardless of individual writing failures/baffling absences, the ship is super sound because it’s made of two individuals who excel in making beautiful American-high-school-ideal untouchable-image-icon shells, who make each other’s shells more glorious and impervious and high-school powerful by being with each other, and who throughout the show are hollowed to nothing but that shell, and who bring each other back because they know each other on a wordless ungamesmanly flesh level in spite of themselves, because they let each other into the unguarded spaces in spite of themselves by happy sexy accident back when things were easy and now that things are not easy they can’t pretend to be anything but intimate and mythically important in that intimacy. Their narratives speak the same language, even when the show skints both characters on words. The language is masks and Americana and sentient Lana del Rey songs and aconite flowers growing under the skin, the language is ambition and fierce embrace of high-school clichés to get high-school power and makeouts in cars and all the cruelty and casual desire that would get them killed first in a more boring horror story than this.
It’s a really good ship on a really dodge show. It’s a really good ship in a way that directly belies a lot of horrible young adult fiction clichés, like the vicious shallow alpha couple have to be evil and deserve to be unhappy and can only make each other worse, like sex needs love to back it up and can’t work the other way, like all these things (high-school ambition, image-consciousness, sex) need to be punished if the character and characters want to be worth our time. I’ve got a background in young adult fiction that goes way too deep, and this ship makes me happy in my bones.