Puberty is terrifying. The idea that your body is suddenly changing, in ways you don’t understand and aren’t quite capable of comprehending, is massively disconcerting to a brain that can’t yet grasp the intricacies of human anatomy. When your skin starts sprouting hair in places where you “don’t see where having hair is helpful,” as Cory panickedly explains to his brother, Eric, it’s difficult to simply accept it as part of growing up. The advent of hormonally-driven evolutions, both physical and mental, is a weird concept to wrap your head around, and like so many other 7th-graders in the world, Cory Matthews immediately arrives at the silliest conclusion possible: that he is a werewolf.
One of my personal favorites, the second season Halloween-themed episode, ‘Who’s Afraid of Cory Wolf,’ encapsulates everything that’s wonderful about the series. It highlights many of the aspects that lead us to remember the show fondly, with a flashback framing device that shines a light on its two most integral relationships: Cory and Shawn, and, naturally, Cory and Topanga. The episode begins with Cory writing (what he believes to be) a final letter in his natural state, a last testament to the world before he fully transforms into a beast under the full moon at “precisely 9 o’clock, 8 central!,” and brings certain doom to the one girl who “cares for him,” Topanga Lawrence.
Sitting by candlelight, with a feather quill pen he made by ripping apart his mother’s duster, he begins his alleged confession as though he were in a remote castle at the turn of the 20th century. Once Shawn arrives for a Halloween party (dressed hilariously, and uncannily, as Cory), the Matthews boy regales his pal with the tale of his demise, with flashbacks filling in why he believes he’ll soon maim and kill his future wife. As Shawn listens intently– chiming in gently to both support his friend, and prompt him to recognize the lunacy of his conclusion– their deep bond and repartee is on full display. The wiser, more romantically inclined Shawn Hunter instinctively knows Cory is smitten with Topanga, but doesn’t entirely recognize the carnal urges emerging within his best friend (as evidenced by his lack of understanding for why Cory would be unable to enjoy a scene from The Untouchables because he can only “think about how cold the water is on Baywatch”).
But the clear comfort that exists between two lifelong best friends allows sweet, dumb, gullible Cory to open up– and genuinely process his seemingly whirlwind prior few days– without being manipulated, as is the case with his older brother. The morning after being allegedly attacked by an unseen animal and becoming “the chia boy,” Cory is easily steered from rationalizing his newfound hair growth as puberty by his older brother. Eric personally knows about werewolves, knowing that a “friend’s brother met a guy at a party, who knows a guy, who saw the thing,” i.e. was attacked by and then became…(cue dramatic music) a werewolf! (THUNDER ROARS AND LIGHTNING FLASHES).
In his mentally fragile state, with feelings and emotional buttons being pushed by his endocrine system that he’s incapable of processing, Cory latches onto this explanation like the jaws of a wolf snapping into human flesh. He initially receives no solace from his parents after pussyfooting around his concerns, and is only spurred further into madness by a visit to a disreputable psychic (located in the backroom of a frozen yogurt shop). His raging hormones send him further along a raging path, where he’s incapable of rational thoughts or logic, and he eventually concludes he must lock himself in his room to protect the world from the lurking, untamed monster waiting to emerge.
Once he wraps up his retelling to Shawn, and desperately pleads for his best buddy to keep Topanga as far away from him as possible, she, of course, arrives in Cory’s room. As you may have guessed, he does not disembowel her to fulfill the prophecy, but rather, for the second time ever, Cory and Ms. Topanga Lawrence kiss! Almost instantly, his anxiety about becoming a werewolf dissipates, and he welcomes the fact that, as his Dad noted eventually, his body “is going through some changes.” It’s a cute button on the storyline, and provides a solid throughline for the slow burn of the central (romantic) couple during the remainder of the show’s run.
Honestly, even with the information provided to us, puberty is a roller coaster of emotional inconsistencies that are virtually impossible to run through smoothly. There will be hiccups along one’s path from childhood to adulthood– like mistaking our incomprehensible, lustful desires as transforming into a mythical creature– no matter how supported or well-adjusted we may be. We’ll make countless mistakes as we journey through life, and at the end of the day, can only hope we learn from the stupid decisions we make, or come back from the illogical conclusions we draw when we’re young and naive.