[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Marti Noxon | Director: David Grossman | Aired: 11/09/1999]
The writers were presented with quite the challenge here. Seth Green wanted to do movies, so they had to find a way to write his character off the show that made sense. They led up to this with a quick glance in “Living Conditions” [4×02] and a real hint of problems to come in “Beer Bad” [4×05] . This is Oz’s sendoff and while he doesn’t come off as completely in character throughout the entire episode, it mostly works and makes for quite an emotional ride. Considering the constraints they were under, I call this a success.
The Willow/Oz problems pick up right where they left off in “Beer Bad” [4×05] : Veruca. She’s singing again at the Bronze and the gang (with Giles, more on this later) is listening in. This scene is utterly brilliant because of the silent conversation that is had between Buffy and Willow. Buffy notices that Willow wants Oz’s attention, which is currently being mesmorized by Veruca, off Veruca a bit. So Buffy pipes in and asks Oz about his band. He responds slowly with a distracted response and quickly returns to staring at Veruca singing. Buffy gives Willow a “sorry, I tried” expression and Willow responds with a silent “darn, but thank you for trying” look. In this interchange we have no words spoken, lots of subtlety, and I completely understand what’s going on. Like I said before: brilliant!
The scene doesn’t end there though. Willow still tries to get Oz’s attention and says, “they’re good, aren’t they?” Oz responds, “nothing special.” Buffy then sweetly tries to help her again and says, “yeah … color me bored.” Giles then completely ruins their attempts by complimenting Veruca. Buffy then immediately gives him a “GILES! Don’t say that” wide-eyed look even though he doesn’t notice her. This is when Willow gets a really worried look on her face like she can sense there’s big trouble ahead.
Trouble is indeed what’s quickly happening. Not too far later Willow catches Oz and Veruca chatting at a table together. She looks a bit surprised and worry for a second, but then puts on her brave face and marches forward to jump into the conversation. Unlike Buffy, who would feel hurt and run off, Willow is able to suck it up and face the conflict. Good for her! This scene, with the three of them sitting at a table together, is incredibly awkward for all of them. Willow ends up being a bit embarassed by mistaking their musician talk for the name of a song. Oz takes off first quickly followed by Veruca, who manages to sneak in a quick insult about Willow’s “birthday cake” shirt.
It turns out Veruca is, of course, a werewolf. Oz ends up escaping his cage and fighting (among other things) with Veruca. This leads to a speech from her about Oz’s nature, which while heavy-handed at times, gets the point across. She says, “you’re a wolf all the time and this human face is just your disguise.” He pushes her dialog off and is able to leave for now. A bit later, Willow stops by his dorm room dressed up all in leather like Veruca which is strange, yet touching at the same time. She wants to have sex with him but he pushes her away. He says “nothing’s wrong,” and I genuinely feel that he believes that right now. He thinks he’ll be able to push Veruca away and that it won’t be an issue. What’s really surprising is that he doesn’t tell Willow what happened the previous night, or that he even got out of his cage. At least he doesn’t try to deny it when Buffy catches him welding his cage back together.
Willow, now very confused, goes to Xander for some advice from the male side of the species. Xander tells her exactly what she needs to know and manages to be very amusing at the same time. He says, “But you are [jealous and worried]. And odds are, he feels it. I’ll bet that’s all there is to the weird you’re feeling. You guys should talk things out, Will. You’ll both feel better.” Here’s yet another piece of evidence to support what people just begin to notice of Xander in S7.
Anyway, Buffy investigates to see if Oz knew anything about the loose wolves the previous night and notices that he got out. One thing that really bugs me here is that he doesn’t tell Buffy that Veruca is the other wolf. It’s always been in Oz’s character to be open and straightforward with people and I feel that this is a a bit out of character. Later when the sun goes down and Veruca meets him by his cage, they begin kissing and end up doing who knows what together as wolves. This could also be interpreted as out of character, but I’m willing to excuse his actions based on the fact that he’d never been with a female wolf before. It’s likely he didn’t know how powerful his attraction to one would be, especially right when he’s changing into a wolf.
The next morning Willow comes to bring Oz some food and finds him completely naked cuddled up around a naked Veruca. This scene involves lots of fabulous acting from both Alyson Hannigan and Seth Green. Oz brings up the Willow/Xander ‘thing’ back in S3 but she points out it’s not even close to the same, and she’s right. She’s also correct when she tells Oz he should have told someone about what was going on and that locking Veruca up with him wasn’t his only option by a long shot. During all of this Oz yells at Veruca to leave the room, which is very effective, and admits to Willow that he does have lusty feelings towards Veruca along with the fact that he wants Veruca more, in an animal way, than her. This is when Willow completely breaks down and storms off barely being able to keep herself from falling over. Her reaction is very reminiscent of Buffy’s in “Innocence” [2×14] .
Later on Buffy tells Willow “The main thing is put the blame where it belongs.” I think this statement was remembered by Willow long after this episode. Not only does she begin a dangerous cycle of turning to the darkest black magic available to her every time she is emotionally traumatized, but Buffy’s words to her also fit every time she does it. Obviously Buffy never meant for Willow to hurt herself in the process of putting the blame where it belongs. Willow has taken that phrase and twisted it to fit her own desires and motivations. This is very cool setup for what’s to come and is also able to serve the issues that are currently in front of everyone.
After failing to go all the way on her dark spell, Veruca tries to kill her and Oz ends up killing Veruca while trying to protect Willow. Now in full werewolf form, Oz charges after Willow and Buffy tranquilizes him. Willow loses it again and starts just pouring streams of tears out while Buffy holds her, just like Willow held Buffy when she was in pain during “The Prom” [3×20] . This is very touching and sad to watch. After all of this Oz makes the decision to leave town, to figure things out. He says to Willow, “Veruca was right about something. The wolf is inside me all the time, and I don’t know where that line is anymore between me and it. And until I figure out what that means, I shouldn’t be around you… Or anybody.” He kisses her and then abruptly leaves. While in his van he looks back to the dorm, very much in pain and wanting to run back to her, but instead sucks it in and drives away. Bye Oz, you’ve been highly entertaining to watch and I will definitely miss you.
Before I wrap up this review I’d like to point out a few interesting pieces of development for Giles. Early in the episode he appears at the Bronze just to hang out with the Scoobies. This obviously surprises all of them, who aren’t used to him being around for anything other than work. I like how Oz says, “Don’t scoff, gang. I’ve seen Giles’ collection. He was an animal in his day.” Xander, though, as knowing as he is simply jumps to the heart of the problem. He says, “Isn’t home that empty place you’re trying to escape?” Further along in the episode we see Giles guessing answers to a game show on TV with a sweat shirt on. He sure isn’t the tweed-clad stuffy Watcher anymore, that’s for sure.
This episode is an emotional ride which explores and develops Oz’s werewolf nature (which should have been talked about more in S3). It also develops Willow’s budding magic habit and devastes her emotionally in the process. So a lot of important character threads are moved along and Oz ends up leaving — quite the episode, though not perfect. Fortunately the writers got the vast majority of it right.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Buffy’s relocate and disappointment that the vamp didn’t get her pun.
+ Spike’s macho speech being interrupted by the Initiative guys and their tasers. I love how we don’t see what happened to him until the next episode.
+ Willow’s explanation of why they keep going back to the Bronze. It’s a “place blanky.”
+ Willow is cute when she wakes up with Oz in the morning.
+ Buffy making Willow academically jealous of her for the first time.
+ The collection of infomation we’ve been sprinkled about Xander’s family.
+ Buffy doesn’t save Willow from being hit by the car — Riley does. Cool. I also liked Buffy’s silent “thank you” to Riley afterwards.
+ Buffy telling Oz that it’s time for his trademark stoicism.
+ Buffy telling Giles she doesn’t want Willow to use her as a role model for dealing with pain.
* Riley briefly gives Buffy a glance of interest when she leaves after overhearing Professor Walsh talking about the “wild dogs.”
* The episode begins the pattern in Willow where when she is seriously emotionally hurt she’ll use the darkest magicks available to her to exact vengeance on those who caused her the pain. She isn’t able to actually go through with it here, but she very well does in “Tough Love” [5×19] and “Villains” [6×20]. The road to Dark Willow is being paved right here!