Great question, but I suspect I think so for different reasons than you asked it. :)
I’ve been thinking about the triskele of Scott, Derek and Stiles and their roles in the narrative a lot lately. And to cut a long and winding train of thought short, I disagree with you that the show is ultimately Scott’s story. The reason I think this is because it seems to me the protagonist, main character and viewpoint character are all different people, which is not all that common in TV.
Viewpoint character: I think Stiles fulfills the role of the viewpoint character. He often finds things out for us and explains them, or gets someone else to explain them. We tend to accept his view of events, and so far, he’s mostly been on Scott’s side, so the narrative privileges Scott’s story, but he also asks questions about other people too — increasingly so as the seasons go on. Stiles is the narrative glue which makes the different plot strands stick together.
Protagonist: Scott is our protagonist, as he’s the person who gets the most attention, and the person we are rooting for; his hopes and problems are privileged, and events are presented in relation to him. Scott is seemingly the eponymous teen of the title. However, he is not the focal/main character because his actions seldom drive the plot, and he has no backstory involving the supernatural world and its politics which are a big part of the plot.
Focal/main character & antagonist: Derek is actually the focal/main character, although he’s positioned as the antagonist to Scott’s protagonist at first, so it takes a while to realise that’s not all that he is. While we are meant to sympathise with the protagonist, we are meant to be fascinated by (but not necessarily sympathetic to) the focal character (think of Dracula, who is the focal character and main antagonist, but not the viewpoint character or hero; or the Phantom of the Opera is another example of a focal character who isn’t the protagonist). In fact, Derek’s the character who is driving the plot — he’s the werewolf with the important political backstory, he’s the one in the war with hunters, it’s his doomed relationship with Kate that sets off the chain of events that leads to Scott being bitten, his mad uncle killing people, and his decision to mercy-kill Peter and become alpha; it’s his decision to create a new pack, kill the kanima, trust Scott; his decision to rescue the betas from the alpha pack, to date Paige (and so unwittingly provoke Peter’s jealousy), to attack Isaac who then joins Scott, etc.
But here’s the interesting thing: Scott and Derek are switching roles!
Derek is becoming more sympathetic, building more alliances with other characters (most notably Chris Argent, the Sheriff and Stiles), but was also less of a plot driver in 3B.
Scott is becoming more unsympathetic, losing allies, and carrying more of the plot in 3B — particularly by making secret backroom schemes with Deaton and not telling anyone about them.
To give one specific example, compare the two fights they each led in 3B:
In the finale of 3B, Derek’s actions as leader in the attack against Nogitsune!Stiles were part of the causal chain that got a(n unsympathetic) twin killed — but note he had an archer in a high safe place, and Chris Argent survived. While Derek didn’t win this battle (hahaha), the battle was ultimately won and his contribution was key to that.
Scott’s actions as leader in the rescue of Lydia were part of the causal chain that got (very sympathetic) Allison killed, because he positioned her at ground level, not at a vantage point. Note that this battle made everything worse.
Even the viewpoint is changing to reflect this.
In Stiles’ own words he was the sidekick to Scott’s hero in S1 — Scott is definitely positioned as the hero/protagonist of the story. In contrast, Derek is the broody loner Stiles does a weird “Wow, look at you” dance for in the pilot — he’s definitely positioned as antagonist and focal object of Stiles’ (not always happy) fascination.
But as Stiles’ understanding of the world changes so does this. By 3A, in the (still terrible) episode Visionary, Stiles seeks out Derek’s story, and is obviously moved by it. In 3B, Derek is the “King” of Stiles’ chessboard, and by implication the “real alpha” too, where Scott is not (in fact, I think Scott is a pawn on the chessboard, if memory serves — which admittedly can become a more powerful piece, but has not yet done so).
If Stiles was Scott’s (childhood) BFF and sidekick, how are we expected to read his (adult) parallel relationship with Derek? Parallels are central to the way Scott and Derek are presented, so that’s pretty damn suggestive.
To bring this back to your question about how effective the death of Derek or Scott would be… I’m actually not convinced either of them will die. It’s a possibility, but by no means a certainty at this stage. I do agree that Derek has suffered so much that a heroic self-sacrifice at the end would leave things on a really sour note, no matter how well Hoechlin played it. And I also agree that if Scott does have a dark arc and redemption, a noble death is definitely one way it could play out, and yes, it would be more satisfying than Derek getting kicked one more time (although I still don’t really want Scott to die).
But the reason for my lengthy digression above is to point out the possibility that Davis is doing something else entirely. Namely, switching around the protagonist and antagonist, due not only to the ways in which they have both changed over the course of the show, but due to the increased maturity and understanding of the viewpoint character, who no longer takes things at face value.
I suspect this may have been Davis’ plan all along, as the seeds of Scott’s potential as an antagonist have been there from the start. They were somewhat forgivable at first, on the grounds he was still a kid and didn’t know better. But he’s still doing the same problematic things, and it’s less forgivable all the time.
This also explains my problems with reading the text in S1 and S2. I had trouble understanding how Scott was meant to be heroic, because those flaws were always there, and reading them from an adult perspective… the finale of S2 was unforgivable. I can’t put it any plainer. That was no hero. But see, I’m not the intended audience. I remember as a teenager I did tend to automatically think people were telling the truth, and I’d get very confused when the things I saw didn’t match up with the things I was told (like that people were chosen on merit — hahahahaha, no, because racism and sexism and classism are things which exist). So what I think Davis is doing, is taking the audience on a coming of age journey right along with the characters, and showing us that people lie and get things wrong and aren’t the way we assume they are on first impressions, that they lie for all sorts of reasons both good and bad, and they even lie to themselves, and that people will go along with and believe a lie if it’s told enough, even if the evidence shows it’s not true. But as the seasons go on, it’s harder and harder to believe the lies and what we’re told over what we see.
If that is really what Davis is doing, if he’s really switching Scott and Derek’s roles, and he’s doing it to mimic the way our perceptions change as we grow up, then I will a) be surprised he managed to pull it off, b) scream “YES!” and fist pump in excitement, because that’s awesome, c) have no idea how he will decide to wrap things up until much closer to the end.
If he does go down that road:
Scott might (I hope) get a redemption arc, in which he has his turning point, comes out the other side, and grows up to become a decent person. Derek might (I hope) get the hero’s ending of happily-ever-after. Stiles might (I hope) grow out of his childish childhood loves, and into more adult ones.
None of them might die. All of them might grow up.
And I think as far as “surprising and effective” twists go, that would be pretty damn great.
I’m reblogging this, because the topic seems to have come around again in light of Scott’s dark arc in S4.
I originally wrote this after 3B, and before my re-watch, if I remember correctly. I’ve changed my thinking a little about some of the details since then, but the central contention about the three narrative roles is still valid. I still very much think the viewpoint character, protagonist and main character are separate, and there has been a shift in the viewpoint over the course of the seasons.
That’s one of the reasons I predicted a dark arc for Scott, and S4 so far is playing out very much as I expected on a thematic level.
(Just a reminder than I’m in the outback on slow internet, and probably won’t be answering asks until I get back to the city late next week.)