This week on Buffy and the Art of Story: Phases (Season 2 Episode 15 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer):
This podcast episode covers (1) why Buffy is the protagonist despite this being a key episode for Oz and Willow; (2) using humor and character development to hide clues; and (3) who Buffy feels she is allowed to kill and why.
As always, the discussion is spoiler-free, except at the end (with plenty of warning).
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Episode Transcript for Phases
Hello and welcome to Buffy and the Art of Story Season Two. If you love Buffy the Vampire Slayer and you love creating stories – or just taking them apart to see how they work – you’re in the right place.
I am Lisa M Lilly, author of the Awakening supernatural thriller series and the Q.C. Davis mysteries and founder of WritingAsASecondCareer.com.
Today we’re talking about Season Two episode fifteen Phases.
In particular, I’ll cover:
- why Buffy is still our protagonist despite that this is such a key episode for Willow and for Oz;
- using humor and character development not just as an end in itself but to hide certain clues from the audience; and
- more on the show’s underlying philosophy and theme regarding violence and who Buffy believes that she is allowed to kill as the Slayer.
As always, there will be no Spoilers except at the end to talk about foreshadowing, but I’ll give you plenty of warning.
Okay, let’s dive into the Hellmouth.
Phases was written by Rob DesHotel and Dean Batali and directed by Bruce Seth Green. A listener asked about Seth Green the actor was the same person as the director. It is not. In fact, the two are not related.
Starting With A Call Back
Before we get to our opening conflict…. Which remember is that conflict that sometimes relates to our main plot and sometimes doesn’t. It is meant to draw our audience member or reader in before we get to that Story Spark or Inciting Incident that sets off our main plot.
Sometimes the conflict relates to that Story Spark, and sometimes it does not.
Here, we’re going to have three opening conflicts and the Story Spark. All in that teaser part of the episode before the credits. (Also known as the cold open.)
What’s kind of amazing is even before we get to that, we have a short call back to The Witch. All of this in less than 5 minutes.
We start out and Oz is in the hallway. He’s looking at that cheerleader trophy. The one where in The Witch Amy’s mom became trapped. Now, none of our characters know that, although they do know that that statue or trophy is of Amy’s mom. We see Seth Green (Oz) standing in front of the trophy. He’s kind of moving from side to side.
Willow walks up, and he says something like, “This cheerleader trophy. It’s like its eyes follow you wherever you go. I like it.”
Opening Conflict In Phases
Now we go to our opening conflict. The first one is between Willow and Oz.
Willow asks did he like the movie last night. She is really asking did he have a good time with her. But he answers the literal question. And does a very short mini critique on movies. He says, “You know, movies today, they’re like popcorn. You forget them as soon as they’re done. But I really like the popcorn.”
She responds by saying, “Well, I had fun.” And doing a little bit of hinting around, trying to see how he feels. He is not really getting it. They’re just doing this kind of awkward back and forth until Buffy appears. Willow says something very awkward like, “Oh, there is my friend, and I will go to her.”
We now get a second hint of conflict here. Which is when Larry, a new character, knocks a girl’s books out of her arms. As she bends over to get them, he looks at her butt and makes a sleazy comment. He also looks after Buffy and Willow and says to Oz something like, “I’d love to get some of that Buffy/Willow action if you know what I mean.”
And we get a great quote from Oz.
Oz: That’s great, Larry. You’ve really mastered the single entendre.
Larry goes on to give Oz a hard time about dating a junior and asks how far he’s gotten.
We cut to Buffy and Willow on the same topic. Because Willow answers and says, “Nowhere!” So clearly Buffy has asked a similar question, but with a much different intent.
Note in that conflict with Larry and Oz, a lot happens. we establish Larry as this new character who harasses girls. We also doubled down on Oz’s humor. And we’ll see later, a comment Oz makes that seems like another example of showing Oz ‘s dry sense of humor and wit again actually is a clue to what’s happening.
So now we’re at Buffy and Willow. Willow says something like she doesn’t want to be the only girl in school without real boyfriend. Buffy looks sad and Willow immediately picks up on it. She says she’s sorry, and asks how Buffy is doing. Buffy says it’s hard, but it would help with the three of them could get together and share the misery as they often do.
Willow makes a snippy comment about Xander and Cordelia. But she does agree that they should get together.
So we’ve done a really nice thing there in getting in some very quick back story about Angel and Buffy, about Willow and Oz, and about Willow finding out about Cordelia. If you hadn’t seen the prior episode, you wouldn’t necessarily understand all of what happened. But you would get the sense of where these characters are. And what these relationships are about.
Now we see Cordelia and Xander making out in her car at an area where often the students go to park.
Xander breaks away and says, “What does she see in him?” Cordelia says all he does is talk about Buffy, Buffy, Buffy or Willow, Willow, Willow. And she tells him to shut up. And they kiss.
This adds to both the conflict and more quick exposition. Because we get this tension between Cordelia and Xander where Xander always seems to be focusing on anything and anyone other than Cordelia.
The Story Spark
At 4 minutes 33 seconds in we get our Story Spark or Inciting Incident that sets off our main monster plot. Usually this comes about 10% into an episode. And it does that here. The episodes are generally 43, 44 minutes. We hear this growling, and we see this beast. Cordelia and Xander are at the moment unaware of it.
So this gives us the spark that sets off the werewolf story. It also gives us our classic horror set up.
After the credits, Xander says he thinks he heard something. Cordelia didn’t, and she’s mad at him, again thinking he is just being distracted. Then a claw comes through the cloth convertible roof. She throws the car in gear and drives away, throwing the beast off of the car in. Xander says, “Told you I heard something.”
The next day, Buffy looks at the shredded top of the convertible. Xander says it was a werewolf. Cordelia says it’s so awful and follows up with, “Daddy just had this car detailed.” Giles tells them that animal carcasses were mutilated last night though no people were injured yet. He guesses the werewolf will be back at the next full moon.
Willow points out that last night was the night before the full moon. I love that Willow knows something, or pays attention to something, that Giles missed. He’s very intrigued because this is one of the classics. All the others give him these looks.
We switch to gym class. It is a session on self-defense. The teacher tells them to get in their assigned groups.
Xander is near Larry and notices that Larry has a scar. Larry says last week a huge dog jumped out of the bushes and bit him. He needed thirty-nine stitches. Oz says he’s been there. He holds up his index finger and says cousin Jordy just got his grown up teeth in, and he does not like to be tickled. Larry rolls his eyes.
This is that moment I was talking about. We have set this up as an episode where we get to know Oz better. And this seems like just the third example of showing Oz’s personality. But really we’ve just learned about the incident that turned Oz into a werewolf.
Larry goes over to Teresa, another student I don’t think that we’ve seen before. He says something gross to her. And says, “Oh, we’re in the same group. I may have to attack you.”
She says, “Oh, there a few people in our group.” Buffy is one of them. She comes over and gives Larry this great look
But Willow pulls Buffy aside reminds her she’s supposed to be a “meek little girlie girl like the rest of us.” Buffy’s attempt to be the meek little girlie girl doesn’t work, though. The teacher has the boys get behind the girls. She’s trying to show the girls how to flip an attacker behind them over their shoulder. Buffy pretends to try and be unable to. Larry says she’s turning him on, and she immediately flips him onto his back on the mat.
I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say, because I’ve mentioned before, Buffy – never great at undercover.
Giles Explains Werewolves
In the library, Giles is explaining more about werewolves using a globe and a model moon. He’s talking about how the moon brings out the darkest qualities and the werewolf is an extreme representation of inborn animalistic traits. Pure instincts, predatory. Buffy says, “Typical male.”
And Giles says, “Don’t jump to conclusions.” And then this is maybe one of my favorite Buffy quotes ever (probably have said that a bunch of times, but I do love this one.)
Buffy: I didn’t jump. I took a tiny step and there conclusions were.
Giles, though, points out that this could be a woman, not a man. He also tells them they will not be making any silver bullets. Because this is a being who is human most of the time and might not even know about being a werewolf. So they need to bring the werewolf back alive. Buffy agrees.
About 11 minutes in, Giles and Buffy are back in that parking area. They’ve split up and are looking around. When they meet again, Buffy starts to tell Giles gossip about who she saw making out with whom. He wants to go around and ask people if they’ve seen anything. And Buffy says, “Giles, no one’s seen anything.”
The One-Quarter Twist In Phases
We are now getting to our One-Quarter Twist. This is the first major plot turn. It generally comes from outside the protagonist and spins our story in a new direction. Usually we see it about a quarter way through the story. Though in television as opposed to movies or books, it often moves around a little bit more. I think because it is timed in network TV for commercial breaks. And here we get it right before the commercial at about 12 minutes.
So that is a bit past our one quarter.
Buffy walking through a more wooded area. She steps on something and gets caught in a rope net or trap that pulls her up. She’s hanging from a tree branch and trapped. We hear a man’s voice say, “Gotcha.” This guy with a gun appears, and we cut to a commercial.
So we have this hook almost literally with Buffy hanging there.
Now that this turn has happened, we’ll take a new direction. The story shifts From Buffy trying to figure out who the werewolf is and stopping it to Buffy racing this guy (who tells her his name is Cain) who wants to find the werewolf and kill it.
Cain is another example in this episode of a character who is almost a caricature of the predatory male. I should say predatory male behavior. We saw that in Larry.
Initially, Giles alludes to it, although he is talking about the werewolf. But now we see Cain. He tells Giles he’s impressed seeing him with Buffy – h says it’s “good to get the fruit while it’s fresh.” So gross. Which Giles immediately points out. And Buffy says it’s not what Cain thinks, they’re hunting werewolves. Cain laughs at that and says, “Well, this guy looks like he’s auditioning to be a librarian” and she’s a girl. So what can they do?
He tells them he has a tooth from each kill. And he sells werewolf pelts. Buffy says doesn’t he care that a werewolf is a person twenty-eight days out of the month? And Cain says that’s why he only hunts then the other three.
Cain does give them some good information. He tells them werewolves are drawn to sexual heat. Buffy claims she has no idea where that might be. But of course, as soon as Cain is gone, she tells Giles she knows where to look
Angel Attacks, Willow And Cordelia Commiserate
First, though, we cut to Teresa walking home in the dark. She thinks she hears something. And we hear growling. She’s looking back over her shoulder as she runs. And she runs right into Angel. He plays the nice guy, reassures her there’s no one behind her. And says something like, “Oh don’t I know you? You go to school with Buffy.”
We can see that Teresa is very relieved that he knows Buffy. This makes him seem familiar and safe. He says he’ll walk her home.
We switch to the Bronze.
Cordelia and Willow are sitting together and talking as band plays. Cordelia is complaining about Xander. That always Buffy did this and Willow says that. And then he acts all confused when she calls him on it. Willow says she and Oz are in some kind of holding pattern, but without the holding. They both agree that the problem is that Oz and Xander are a couple of guys.
I really like this character development. Despite Willow’s snarky comment about Cordelia earlier, we see them becoming friends. And this to me is one of the strengths of the show. While it does use classic setups for conflict like love triangles, it almost never falls back on the clichés. So we don’t have Cordelia and Willow feuding with each other, arguing over the same guy. Instead, though Willow is upset about Xander and Cordelia, and Cordelia knows that, they are commiserating. They’re there for each other.
And it’s particularly interesting because in our pilot, Cordelia was so mean to Willow. She clearly viewed Willow as far beneath her socially. This also reflects that really none of our core characters are defined by only one relationship or one role in their lives.
The Werewolf At The Bronze
The werewolf drops in, or jumps in, right in front of Willow and Cordelia seemingly from nowhere. I guess from that kind of catwalk balcony area on the second level of the Bronze. Everyone screams and runs.
Giles and Buffy pull up in Giles’ car. Buffy goes inside. The Bronze now is pretty much deserted. She is looking around the stage for the wolf. She has a chain with her, and when she sees the wolf, she swings the chain until it wraps around the werewolf’s neck. But it gets away from her.
Cain comes in right after that and makes a comment about what happens when a woman does a man’s job. Which does not phase Buffy, irritating as it is. But then he says something that does really hit her. That if the wolf harms anyone it’s on her head. (Of course, he says “pretty little head.” And Buffy says she lives with that every day. And we see the weight on Buffy of every time she can’t stop a demon, monster, or Angel as a vampire, somebody can be killed.
Outside of the Bronze, the wolf is following a scent. He finds Teresa’s body. Angel is standing over it in vamp face. They growl at each other. Angel backs off.
This scene seems to me to be here solely to provide that classic vampire meets the werewolf moment. And to give us a little more time with Angel. I really enjoy it, despite that it doesn’t move the narrative along. Ideally, we want every scene to have some significant character development or move the story. This really does neither. But it’s fun, and it’s quick, and I think it works because the story overall has so much emotional impact.
Nearing The Midpoint Reversals In Phases
So now we’re coming up to our Midpoint. Usually we see a major commitment by the protagonist. She commits to her quest or she suffers a major reversal.
Here, we have something a little bit different and interesting. We have two reversals for Buffy. One that appears to be very direct reversal for . And one that is still a reversal for her but is somewhat indirect. Because it’s first impact (that we see) is on Oz and, by extension, on Willow.
Buffy And The Art Of Story In Print
If you are listening Season Two and you missed Season One – and you don’t want to go back and listen to all of it – you can check out the paperback edition of Buffy and the Art of Story Season One. It’s is now available on Amazon.
Also, if you know someone who really enjoys Buffy, and you think would like reading about every episode, please let them know about it.
And finally, if, like me, when you hear something – whether in a podcast or an audiobook – and you feel like you’re learning from it, often I want to go ahead and buy that in print. Because I want to be able to flip to it and reread parts. (I am big on highlighting. When I was in law school at one point I had like five different color highlighters I used. Later I switched to just underlining.)
And now I’m rambling as Willow will do later in the episode. My point being, if you would like to have Season One on paper I will put a link in the show notes. I do not have it yet available widely to order through bookstores. I’m working on that when that is ready. I will let you know that as well.
Amendment: You can now get Buffy and the Art of Story Season One: Writing Better Fiction By Watching Buffy through your local library or bookstore. (If you’re a Chicago resident, you may want to try Women and Children First.)
The Midpoint Of Phases
Back to our reversals. First, we are at 21 minutes 4 seconds in. So right about halfway, a little bit earlier than that, but very close to our Midpoint.
Buffy and Giles have been patrolling the parking area again. Buffy gets in the car. They hear a radio news report about Teresa that says she was killed. It’s linked to the recent animal attacks. And Buffy, we can see in her face and her body language how hard that hits her. She says either here or little bit later that she should have killed the wolf when she had the chance.
This seems like our Midpoint Reversal. And even if as an audience member you’re not conscious of looking for these plot points, most people know at the middle of an episode we have expect something big to happen. A big reveal, a big shift. And it seems like that’s it.
And then the show kind of surprises us with another one at 21 minutes 18 seconds in.
The wolf is lying in a field. Dawn is breaking, and the wolf changes into Oz. I was truly shocked the first time I saw this.
Oz opens his eyes, sits, looks around. He’s naked. And in his very understated way, he says, “Now that’s odd.”
What Happened Last Night?
Now that I’m re-watching so closely it occurred to me that this is the second night. On the first night did he just come back into bed as a werewolf and put the covers over himself, wake up as Oz, and not know anything happened?
I guess that’s the implication here. Because he is surprised. At any rate this reversal, as I mentioned, directly impacts Oz and it impacts Willow. But I do see it as well as a reversal for Buffy. Because now the werewolf isn’t only a human being, which already was a concern for her. It is a human being that her best friend has fallen for.
What Makes Buffy The Protagonist?
Which brings me to the question: why am I framing this from Buffy’s perspective? Why do I see her as the protagonist?
Our protagonist, ideally, should:
- have a goal that she actively pursues
- be the main point of view character and
- have the most at stake.
Goals And Viewpoints
Here, out of Buffy, Oz, and Willow, only Buffy has a goal she actively pursues throughout the episode. Up until this point Oz hasn’t had any goal. Buffy has had the goal to find and stop the werewolf.
There is a Willow/Oz subplot. But I really see it as wrapped into this main plot. And while you could see Willow as the protagonist of that subplot, she is not actively pursuing a goal. Yes, she is unhappy that Oz is not, that the relationship is not moving forward. She doesn’t know where she stands with Oz. And this grew out of the last episode where he didn’t want to kiss her because he felt she was trying to get even with Xander. Now she is feeling like okay, he said he wanted to wait, and he said he’d give it time, but it’s too much time. Still, Willow isn’t actively pursuing that through much of the episode.
She does start to do that. So I guess I’ll take back what I said about not really being a subplot. I think it is a subplot. It’s just we’ve only got to the initial conflict stage of it. Or maybe Inciting Incident part of it. We haven’t yet gotten to where Willow is really actively doing anything.
So Buffy is the only one actively pursuing a goal for our main plot. She also is our main point of view character. We follow Buffy the most often. We do get a very small amount of Oz’s point of view. And we get more of Willow’s, and a tiny bit of Cordelia’s.
But Buffy is the one of all of them who has the most screen time and who we follow the most.
What’s At Stake
Finally, who has the most at stake is a little bit fuzzier.
Certainly, Oz has a lot at stake here. He could end up getting killed by Cain. Willow has a lot at stake. Both because emotionally because she has fallen for Oz and because the Oz can be a danger to her.
But what we saw with Buffy’s stress. Cain saying it’s on your head if anyone gets killed, and her feeling that maybe she should’ve killed the werewolf. That gives her the most at stake in the sense that she is charged with protecting everyone in Sunnydale. Not just herself, not just her boyfriend or her friend’s boyfriend.
This also threatens her philosophy and worldview as the Slayer, and I’ll talk a little bit more about that right before the Spoiler section.
The werewolf is a particular challenge. Because the werewolf is human for twenty-seven or twenty-eight days out of the month and only a werewolf for three days. It puts the werewolf in this very gray area that threatens Buffy’s mission. Or her view of her mission and herself as the Slayer.
Another Great Hook
So we have found this thing out about Oz, so of course, huge reveal, and we cut to a commercial.
One of those great hooks that Buffy uses to keep us coming back. Always a thing to think about when you’re ending your chapters.
After the commercial, we have Oz on the phone. He’s talking to his Aunt Maureen. And he says, “Is Jordy a werewolf?… And how long has that been going on?… No reason.”
Impact On Oz
Then we get the impact on him. He is walking through the halls. The sounds are a bit hollow. And actually the way that Buffy was when the bounty hunters were coming after her. So we see that in a way maybe it was only talking with his aunt that made this really sink in with Oz. Before that, he knew something was off because he woke up in a field naked but he didn’t know for sure that he was the werewolf.
He walks into the library in the midst of a conversation this is where Buffy says she can’t believe she let the wolf go, that Cain was right, and she should’ve killed it when she had the chance Oz asks if anyone got bitten or scratched and Buffy says Teresa’s dad, Oz looks stricken and Giles says there’s one more night.
And Oz says another night in his whole body sags forward. He puts his hands on the library table and his shoulders are hunched we have truly never seen Oz appear distraught before. So while this is a relatively small body language change it telegraphs so much because normally Oz is so unflappable.
Identifying The Werewolf
Xander says he can find the werewolf because of his experience with being the hyena. And he goes on this whole thing about how he knows that urge for freshly killed meat, and then now Buffy and Willow remind him that he said he didn’t remember any of that. So he kind of rushes past that and he’s looking Ronnie says, wait a second. The answer is right in front of us.
And is looking at Oz and Oz looks frightened and Xander says I’m Larry and says it’s clear. Given how Larry behaves and he is going to go talk to him.
It’s an interesting choice for the audience to know the truth here. That dramatic irony where we know something that our main characters do not. Here I think it’s it’s partly for the humor in the next scene. That we get that there is this misunderstanding going on, that Xander doesn’t.
But it is also for the intensity and the emotion we really feel Oz’s tension in a way that we could not. If we didn’t know what Oz knows because the other characters don’t really pick up other than Willow don’t really pick up, how upset Oz.
The Limits Of First-Person Point Of View
I’m kind of jealous that I can’t use dramatic irony in my current series because it is first-person and limited to my character. Quille’s point of view my previous series, the awakening series was thriller and it was multiple points of view so I could do that. Where the audience could learn something key from another character a more minor character and my main characters didn’t know it and that can be so great for ratcheting up the tension and how your audience feels.
But in first person, the audience can only know what the main character or what the main viewpoint character knows.
Willow Tries Again
Willow does notice that there is something going on with Oz because she asks if he is okay, and she attributes it to him knowing Teresa and says you know, I know you knew her, and he says is trying not to think about it. It’s a lot, and Willow says she’s can research and he could help her research and he says he’s busy. He’s gotta go.
Buffy overhears and look sad for Willow because they both take it as Oz not being as interested in Willow as she is in him. Or at least Oz just not picking up on things and not moving their relationship forward.
Larry And Xander
We then get this scene with Larry and Xander in the locker room. Xander says to Larry, “I know your secret. I know what you’re hiding.” Larry threatens Xander, but Xander says hurting him won’t make the issue go away. And Larry says what, he wants hush money?
But Xander reassures him he knows what Larry’s going through, and he just wants to help. That Larry should talk about it. And Larry says that’s fine for Xander but Larry has a reputation. “How are people going to look at me after they find out I’m gay?”
Xander now looks shocked. And Larry feels great now that he said the words. He says it again. And he’s grateful to Xander for helping him and says that knowing Xander went through what he did, went through the same thing, made it easier for him to admit it. Xander laughs very awkwardly, looks a little panicked, and says, “No, I’m not – ”
And Larry says, “Don’t worry. I wouldn’t do that to you. Your secret is safe with me.”
This scene, looking at it twenty-some years later, it can be read a couple different ways. At the time, in a number of shows you would have this what some critics call the Gay Panic. Where the joke is hey, it’s okay to begin gay (think of Friends), not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the guy panics at the idea that anyone would think that he is gay.
The reason I feel like there is more to it than that, or it is not meant to be that, is Larry is saying he does not think people in Sunnydale High would be accepting. So he feels he needs to hide. It could be perhaps be a dangerous thing to admit. Sunnydale High isn’t the safest places to be.
Also, I don’t read Xander — and I could be wrong – saying being gay is scary thing or that’s it’s a bad thing. But some audience members might feel that we should just have left out this scene.
Teresa Delivers A Message
Back at the library as they are researching, Buffy suggests to Willow that maybe she needs to do something daring and make the first move with Oz. Separately, Xander tells Buffy that Larry’s not the werewolf. and she talks about how bad she feels about not being able to save Teresa.
As they talk, she realizes that the news reports did not say that Teresa was mauled, which would be consistent with the werewolf.
We cut to the funeral home. Teresa is lying in the coffin. Buffy moves a scarf on her neck And we see a vampire bite. First, Xander is saying, “Oh this is good. It’s not a werewolf.” And then he says something like, “Oh. There’s no good here” because it’s just something else Buffy couldn’t save Teresa from. Xander says she can’t blame herself for every death.
Teresa rises from coffin. She and Buffy fight. Buffy is about to stake her, and she says, “Angel sends his love.”
This catches Buffy off guard. And Teresa is able to overpower her. Proving Angel’s point that he made to Spike in Innocence – that the way to kill Buffy, you have to work from the inside. You have to love her. Get into her heart.
Teresa’s on top of Buffy, about to bite her and Xander stakes Teresa from behind.
Xander And Buffy
He helps Buffy up and hugs her and holds her. And says, “He’s not the same guy you knew, Buffy.”
She gives Xander this look that could be interpreted as romantic and walks away. And Xander says, “Oh no, my life’s not too complicated.”
That part of the scene has never quite worked for me. I really feel like this is here because maybe there were fans who still shipping Xander and Buffy. Or the network thought that this should be held out there, this maybe they’ll get together idea. To me, it doesn’t ring true. It’s one of the rare times there is a moment in Buffy, where what the characters do just doesn’t work for me.
Moving Toward The Three-Quarter Turn In Phases
We are now at 33 minutes in. We’re moving toward the Three-Quarter Turn in the plot. That’s the next major plot turn. That should grow out of that Midpoint Commitment or Reversal and spin the story in another new direction.
Before we get there, we see Cain. He’s in his truck and he’s making silver bullets. The full(ish) moon is rising. It’s the night after the full moon, but it still looks full.
Oz is at his place. He’s gotten out these rusty metal cuffs and chains from a box. Someone knocks on the door. It’s Willow. So we’re at 34 minutes in, and were getting that turn where Willow is putting herself directly in the path of the werewolf.
I see this as arising from that Reversal where Oz was turned into a werewolf. Or we learn that Oz is the werewolf. And it is a reversal for our protagonist because now it’s not just a human she has to find but someone she knows and cares about.
And we see this become the conflict here, that Willow is directly in danger.
Going back to that reversal again for a moment, the idea of Teresa being a reversal for Buffy, that she couldn’t save Teresa. Now we realize in a way that was not a reversal for this episode because Teresa wasn’t killed by the werewolf. So it doesn’t really serve as an episode reversal for Buffy. Other than it has that emotional impact when Buffy believes that’s what happened. Yet it is still a personal reversal for Buffy because Angel is the one who killed Teresa. Not just a generic vampire that Buffy never ran across but Angel. Buffy still feels she was responsible for his change, for his turn into Angelus.
So we get what I mentioned, a great Willow ramble.
On Not Letting A Character Talk
She’s angry. Oz is trying to say this isn’t a good time. But Willow goes says something like she had the whole thing worked out. She had it written down, but it didn’t make any sense when she was reading it back. So she just kind of free forms with the things Oz did that made her think he really liked her, including something I love. That he tucked her tag back into her shirt. But now he’s backing away. She goes on and says that Buffy says a girl has to make the first move.
And then she says, “And now that I’m saying this, I’m starting to think that the written version sounded pretty good but you know what I mean.”
This is a great example of a genuine misunderstanding and difficulty communicating. We’ve all seen those scenes on TV or in movies where someone comes in to tell something vital. That maybe could stop the other person from getting killed. And the other person won’t let the character talk.
Most of the time I see those and find them frustrating and artificial. Because in real life, if I had come in and tell you something like that and you were insisting on talking about something else, I would stop you. I’m a fairly soft-spoken person when I’m not arguing in court. And even I would just cut that person off. I’d probably put my hand on their chest and say Stop. Or put my hand up and say Stop, or I’d yell over that person. Whatever it took to get their attention.
And yet so often in TV and movies a character doesn’t do that. And even in books. They just let the other person keep them from speaking.
Conflict Arising From Characterization
Here, though I believe this. Because Willow is so angry and she’s going into all of this. And because we have established that Oz is still in shock. He is still processing this. So I feel like he just doesn’t have the words to tell her. I don’t think he’s ready to tell her. And she’s really angry that he’s home. So the situation has increased her anger. She says now you’re here doing nothing rather than being with me. And he says is going through some changes. She says she’s going through a lot, too. And Oz says, “Not like me.” And then she sees the chains and the handcuffs and kinda trails off, and she’s very confused.
The other thing that makes the scene work, where Oz isn’t cutting her off, is we’ve also already established that Oz is a man of few words. He doesn’t ramble. He doesn’t express emotions in a big way. So I think that goes to the idea that he doesn’t quite know how to jump in and stop this. Or he’s not quite ready to do it. But now he tells Willow get out.
The Change Puts Willow In Peril
Oz staggers behind the couch. We see him changing into the wof. Willow can’t see it until he rises up and he is the wolf.
The special-effects here, especially looking back twenty-some years, not great. Even at the time I feel like the wolf seemed a little maybe a little goofy. But I’m willing to go with it. Especially because Willow is in peril. And she sees him, screams, and runs.
She runs outside. She gets over this fence just before he catches up. Once she’s over he tries to follow. She hits him with a garbage can.
And we do a quick cut to Cain, who hears werewolf howling. So this just reminds us of this danger Willow’s in. Danger from Oz, and Oz is in danger from Cain.
Now we are at the library. Buffy comes in and tells Giles about Teresa.
Then Willow is running through the woods. She stumbles and falls. The wolf catches up with her. But then stops, sniffs the air, and follows a scent to I think it’s this piece or pile of raw meat.
Willow runs into the library and says it’s Oz, it’s Oz. We get a nice back and forth.
Giles: Are you certain?
Willow: Can’t you just trust me on this?
Then we move toward the Climax.
That whole sequence, watching it now when I know what’s going to happen, it does make me wonder about the layout of Sunnydale. Where exactly are these woods? Willow runs on the sidewalk and then she’s in the woods and then she’s in the library. I don’t know.
So we are at the Climax, where we bring the main plot to a close and bring our opposing forces together. 37 minutes 47 seconds in Cain is aiming gun at the wolf as the wolf bends over the meat. So he left that as a way to lure the wolf.
I like this because Cain inadvertently saved Willow. And it is somewhat set up because we saw that earlier when Cain caught Buffy, he had been trying to catch the werewolf with a trap. So it fits. I feel like that makes it work where otherwise it would seem sort of too convenient that Cain does this right in time to save Willow.Bbut we have seen that he tries to trap werewolves before shooting them. And that he heard the howling. So he no doubt was also tracking the werewolf.
At the last second Buffy kicks Cain, kind of comes out of nowhere kicks Cain. And now she is fighting the werewolf, trying very hard not to get scratched.
Giles has a tranquilizer gun, but he can’t use it because they are spinning around and around. Willow ultimately ends up with the gun and shoots Oz.
He falls, and Willow says, “I shot Oz.”
Giles says, “You saved us.”
Willow’s Character Growth
So though Buffy is pivotal to all of it and to the resolution, as is Giles, Willow is the one who shoots.
I see this as key for Willow’s character. It shows that Willow is so strong in the sense that she is able to grab that gun and shoot Oz despite her feelings for him. She is not letting her emotions and her love for him blind her to the danger. And she’s making a choice to stop him. To be the one who stopped him.
Now, is it a deliberate choice? Most people are acting on instinct in these kinds of moments. But her instinct still is to protect herself. Protect her friends and others by stopping Oz.
The Falling Action
So we move to the Falling Action. That is the part of the story where we tie up the loose ends.
Cain says no wonder the town is overrun with monsters. No one’s man enough to kill them. Buffy has his rifle. And she says, “Don’t be too sure of that,” and she bends it into a loop, so it’s unusable. She hands it back to him and says something like, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
Giles reassures Willow that while Oz will be a little sore tomorrow, he will be okay.
At school the next day Buffy and Xander are sitting at a table near the vending machines. Xander says it’ll be so weird. He doesn’t know how to look at him now that he knows so much about him. Buffy says he’s still a human being most of the time, and Xander says, “Who are we talking about?”
And we realize he was talking about Larry and knowing Larry’s secret.
The Danger Of Secrets
Another guy knocks a girl’s books out of her arms as we saw Larry do in the beginning. She bends over to pick them up. The guy starts make a comment. But Larry helps her retrieve her books and is really nice to her. So it seems to me that Larry’s story here encapsulates one of the themes of the show. Which is about being who you are and the danger of secrets.
We saw Larry with his secret. He was behaving in this terrible way. Either as a cover or because he couldn’t admit something about himself. He even says to Xander (when he thinks that Xander is telling him he’s gay) that, “Hey, maybe all those times I beat you up it was because I saw something in you that I didn’t want to accept in myself.”
So that is part of the message.
And with Oz, we see that in a different way in that Oz is this huge danger to Willow, to everyone, until he becomes aware of who he is and can take precautions to deal with it. So during the month when Oz is human, everything’s fine. And we’ll see in the next scene he’s going to have to lock himself up on those three nights.
Xander says to Buffy – at first as a joke and then for real – that he is worried Willow’s not safe with Oz. He starts to say, “If it were up to me –” And Buffy says, “Xander, it’s not up to you.”
Oz And Willow Move Forward
We cut to Oz and Willow. This is where we tie up what’s can happen with Oz. He says Giles told him he’ll be okay. He just has to lock himself up three nights a month.
And then Oz says, “Only he used more words than that. And a globe.”
Oz says he didn’t tell Willow because he didn’t know what to say. It’s not every day you find out your werewolf. He says maybe it’s best if he stays out of her way. But Willow says she’s kind of okay with him being in her way. They agree they will keep seeing each other. She walks away. Then she comes back and kisses him.
This is a three beat involving Willow making the first move.
Initially we got Buffy saying maybe you need to do something daring and make the first move. Then we got Willow trying to make the first move, and I guess she does make it. She shows up at Oz’s, but she can’t follow through because she finds out he’s werewolf. So that is the second time we have that Willow making the first move beat. And now we get Willow actually making that first move.
They’re both very happy.
Werewolf In Love
Oz, after she’s walked away, turns and kind of looks at the camera and says to himself, “A werewolf in love.” I don’t love this moment. It’s rare that Buffy breaks the fourth wall between the show and the audience. I’m not sure it ever does it other than this.
What’s interesting is I always forget that this is here. Every time I watch this episode, I’m surprised by it. I think in my head I edit that scene out. It ends for me when Willow kisses him and she walks away and they both look so happy.
There is no DVD commentary for this week.
But before we get to Spoilers. I wanted to share a couple things from one of the books I talked about before, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale edited by James B. South.
You’re Not Who I Thought You Were
The first is an essay I talked about before by Tracy Little. Little pointed out that Season Two, throughout it is woven this theme of You’re Not Who I Thought You Were. And we saw that already. We saw with Giles in A New Man, with Buffy realizing there is this hidden side to Giles. We just saw it with Angel turning to Angelus. With Ted, Joyce’s boyfriend. And with Buffy’s friend Ford in Lie To Me when this guy she had such a crush on comes to Sunnydale High. And it turns out he knows about her and wants to use her. Trade her life for his basically.
And we also found out last week about Jenny being from the clan that cursed Angel. So again, something hidden, something in a close romantic relationship. Often that is unknown, “you’re not who I thought you were.” Now we have this with Oz.
High School Is Hell
This also fits the show’s High School Is Hell metaphor because it’s that time in life when more and more young adults are realizing that about first their parents. So I think that’s why we see that. with Giles. That their parents are not necessarily who they thought they were or how they saw them. This can often be a source of great disappointment and even anger. Which we see Buffy go through in A New Man. I’m sorry, I could keep saying A New Man, which is a different episode down the road with Giles. So those of you who are saying that in your heads to me, yes. Not A New Man. The Dark Age.
Also, it is that age where often the first love, first sexual experience occurs. These intense emotions and hormones and attachments. And that very difficult lesson that many people learn at that stage can also happen later. But it can have so much impact there to find out that that person you have fallen for, that you feel so smitten with, is truly not who you thought. So we really see that metaphor again here with Oz. Although it plays out in a much less awful way than the Buffy/Angel experience of it.
Feminism And The Ethics Of Violence
The other essay that talks about Oz, Feminism And The Ethics Of Violence, Why Buffy Kicks Ass by Mimi Marinucci goes to the theme of this episode. And why I think that the stakes are so high for Buffy here. Because it explores who can Buffy kill. The essay makes the point that Buffy kills vampires and monsters, but not always. Only when they’re a threat. So it says that this “suggests Buffy does not use violence against vampires, demons, and monsters insofar as they are vampires, demons, and monsters. Instead, she uses violence against willing agents of evil.”
This is one of the earliest and most explicit examples of this.
We saw a little bit of it when Xander was possessed by the hyena. Here we see it in even more depth. Buffy doesn’t want to kill the werewolf even before she knows it’s Oz. Because the vast majority of the time, it is human and not a threat. And because there’s this intent and knowledge question. She didn’t kill Xander as a hyena, though he was a threat and a danger, because he hadn’t chosen to be a hyena. She didn’t think he was in control. And likewise here Giles makes the point that the werewolf might not even know that it is a werewolf. And, by inference, that it didn’t choose to be a werewolf.
This further develops Buffy as a hero. Though she briefly regrets not killing the wolf when she thinks it killed Teresa, I think even if Teresa had been killed by the werewolf, she ultimately still would’ve brought that tranquilizer gun.
So that’s it for the main part of this episode, I do have some Spoilers to talk about. I hope you’ll stick around for those. If not thank you to all the patrons who support the show. And thank you for listening. I hope you’ll come back next Monday for Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered.
And we’re back for Spoiler.
Cordelia’s Feelings For Xander
The scene before the credits shows that Cordelia has stronger feelings than Xander. Or at least she is more focused on the two of them than Xander is. And I’m talking about that scene where they’re in the car and Xander keeps breaking away from her as they’re kissing. Saying things about Willow and Oz.
Cordelia’s complaints later to Willow in the Bronze emphasize that. Because now that Willow knows, Cordelia is fairly open about her feelings about Xander, though she is saying it in the context of expressing irritation with him how everything is about Buffy and Willow. And this heightens how much we feel for Cordelia in the next episode. There, though she breaks up with Xander, we realize that she really does care about him. And this episode builds up to that.
A Female Werewolf And A Possessive Xander
Very minor foreshadowing: Giles mentioning that the werewolf could be female. And in Season Four we will see a female werewolf that will be key to the whole Oz storyline.
Also, the tension with Xander saying in Oz isn’t good for Willow, and he is worried about Willow. And Buffy saying, “Xander, It’s not up to you.”
We will see this, Xander continuing to have these possessive feelings about Buffy and Willow and who they’re involved with. Particularly with Buffy.
Xander is very negative about her relationships. About Angel. The only guy he really likes is Riley, and I have to wonder if that’s because he senses that Riley is not there for the long term.
You can obviously also argue that Riley doesn’t pose any physical danger to Buffy. He’s not a vampire, he’s not a werewolf. He’s not a monster. But it is an interesting thing that that is the one guy that Xander likes to see Buffy with. And certainly this hints at the issues when Buffy and Spike become involved. How judgmental Xander is of Buffy.
Trust And Faith
And then there is the theme in the episode, the point from the essay about Buffy using violence only when she sees a vampire or demon as a threat. This will be a source of conflict between Buffy and Faith. Next season when Faith discovers Angel’s still alive, and Buffy has not told her that, Faith assumes that Angel is evil and tries to kill him.
That is the same episode where Gwendolyn Post, pretending to be a new Watcher, shows up and completely misleads Faith and manipulates her.
I see that episode has a huge turning point for Faith. Largely because of Gwendolyn Post betraying her. But also because she feels betrayed by Buffy not telling her about Angel.
And because I think at least in the beginning Faith has a more black-and-white view of everything. And in some ways that’s great. She has more joy in life than Buffy because she doesn’t see all the shades of gray and doesn’t struggle as much with the moral complexities of being the Slayer.
And this episode foreshadows that a bit. That there will be numerous issues where Buffy has to make these decisions about how much of a threat another being poses. Whether it is right for her to kill that being.
Spike And His Chip
And of course that will be a huge issue with Spike when he has that ship in his head in Season Four. It keeps him from harming humans, or at least killing humans, but doesn’t really change who he is. At least not for much of the series.
Many different times, different characters will think that Buffy should kill Spike and she will not do it.
Beast And Aggression
Finally, this episode is necessary for the episode we get later in Season Three when Angel comes back. Beauty And The Beasts. Which will further explore this relationship between the idea of male aggression and violence and the idea of a beast within. Or turning into a beast.
So there are some really interesting things in that episode I’m looking forward to talking about. But I’ll leave it to when we get there. Other than to say we will come back to these issues that this episode raises.
That is it for the Spoilers and for this episode.
If you have questions or comments about the show or the story structure elements I talked about. You can tweet me @LisaMLilly #BuffyStory. Or email me Lisa @ Lisalilly.com. Thank you again for listening. Next week we will talk about Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered, a fun episode where we find out what happens between Xander and Cordelia next. And we get to see a slightly racy side of Joyce.
Music for this episode was composed and performed by Robert Newcastle. The podcast Buffy and the Art of Story is a production of Spiny Woman LLC copyright 2020. All rights reserved.
About Lisa M. Lilly
In addition to hosting the podcast Buffy and the Art of Story, Lisa M. Lilly is the author of the bestselling four-book Awakening supernatural thriller series and the Q.C. Davis mysteries, as well as numerous short stories. She also writes non-fiction, including books on writing craft, under L.M. Lilly. She is the founder of WritingAsASecondCareer.com.