Warning: discussions of child abuse, rambling, melodramatic over-extrapolation of the text as per usual
I want to take a closer look at Isaac after 2x11, because I think his character, juxtaposed beside Jackson and Allison, plays an important thematic role on this show that is sometimes overlooked. (Stiles is the clear emotional core, but there is so much awesome Stiles meta out there right now that I don’t want to reinvent the wheel). This elaborates a little more on what I noted about him in a previous meta:
Isaac chooses to stay and fight beside Scott because there is something so amazing and beautiful in him that chooses to see good in people. At first glance he looks the most disposable because he has no ties, like he says, so why not run? But maybe all those years of loneliness have made him a kid who makes choices less out of bonds, and more out of a personal reflection of right and wrong. Maybe he’s so used to life on the losing side that the beatings don’t hurt him so much anymore and he’d like, just once, to win. What made him linger all those years at his dad’s house long after the man had gone? Was it fear, or resignation?
Or was it hope?
Jackson has been highlighted so much as The Orphan throughout this season that sometimes we forget that there are actually two orphans in Beacon Hills - Jackson Whittemore and Isaac Lahey.
In one sense, the death of Mr. Lahey serves to introduce this season’s motif of losing one’s parents, whether literally in the case of Isaac’s dad and Allison’s mother, or more figuratively in the way that Scott and Stiles nearly lose theirs through death and then emotional distancing. In keeping with the theme of the Omega, this season strips our heroes of their most fundamental of bonds.
But I would argue that Isaac has been orphaned for much longer than the start of this season, because his real father died a long time ago; the monster who replaced him cannot be called Isaac’s father. Being an orphan pulls Isaac into the frame of this season’s central image - drowning alone in the waters - and it suggests that we should pay more attention to his character. If he’s an orphan, why is he so different from Jackson? Why does the bite show him for a wolf, and not a lizard?
Few characters have been so deeply acquainted with the sense of drowning that Stiles spoke of in 2x11 than Isaac. Like Jackson inside the kanima, Isaac goes through hell, both metaphorically and literally, in the confines of a basement freezer. It is a hell that is not only personal, but invisible: few people notice, and no one cares. Like Stiles and Jackson, Isaac endures on his own while the world of classes and tests and lacrosse games marches on around him. As with Allison, it is a hell created by the loss and betrayal of a parent - or maybe it’s even worse than with Allison, because he has to feel it over and over again with every blow of his father’s fist.
So why isn’t he angry? Why isn’t he vengeful?
Why does he stay?
I’m not asking why he doesn’t fight back against his dad, esp considering abuse victims in real life rarely do so; what I mean is to ask why Isaac isn’t bitter and angry at the world, why he hasn’t turned that hurt within him inside out the way Allison has, given a similar chance. In asking why he stays, first for his father and then for Scott, I don’t want to analyze the psychology of abuse because I can’t treat the subject with the sensitivity it deserves - I only want to try to examine it in the context of a show that asks each character what keeps them going, what makes them choose pain and not peace. Because it’s the overarching question as the season draws to a close, and there are at least two ways to perceive Isaac’s answer.
One of them is that he simply couldn’t leave. Paralysis is the instinct of any human being when drowning; as Stiles says, “no matter how much you’re freaking out, the instinct is to not let any water in is so strong that you won’t open your mouth until you feel like your head’s exploding.” If you look at Isaac’s bond to his father this way, Isaac’s a helpless victim who’s been controlled and abused into submission, and his answer is casebook Stockholm - something tragic and pitiable.
The other is that he had a choice - and his answer is one that makes him an honorable character, not a pitiable one. And that answer is the antidote to vengeance.