Buffy easily defeats a vampire and bemoans the fact that it's so easy and no one appreciates her carefully crafted puns. The cameras pulls back to reveal Spike watching her and just starting one of his boastful rants. He's shot and captured by the commando guys.
Willow, Oz, Xander, and Buffy are at the Bronze. To their surprise, Giles (obviously lonely) shows up. They make fun of his coming to the Bronze. Veruca sings and they are all impressed, especially Oz. And Willow doesn't like that. The next morning Willow and Oz wake in bed together. Oz says it is the night before a full moon and Willow says she has plans to go to a Wicca group that night anyway. In class, Professor Walsh gives Buffy a great grade and asks her to lead a class discussion.
Oz goes to the cafe to wait for Willow but the only table with empty seats has Veruca sitting at it. He sits and talks to her and when Willow comes she's clearly upset. They are talking music and Willow doesn't really fit in. She embarrasses herself by her lack of knowledge. Both Oz and Veruca leave. Buffy arrives and Willow confides that she is jealous of Veruca and feels Oz is attracted to her. Buffy tells her she has nothing to worry about and that Oz would never stray.
That night, Oz locks himself up. But he breaks out that night and attacks Professor Walsh who flees. Another werewolf appears and Oz and that wolf fight. Walsh runs away. Oz awakens in the grass to find himself next to a naked Veruca - she's a werewolf. They break into a dorm laundry to steal some clothes to wear home. Veruca tries to convince him he should run wild, that he is a wolf disguised as a man. He maintains he's a civilized being who becomes a wolf three days a month.
Professor Walsh tells Riley about the attack by what she thinks are two wild dogs. Buffy overhears this and realizes what they really were. Willow goes to Oz's place and tells him she was upset seeing him with Veruca. He claims he didn't notice this. She comes on to him, but he says he's too tired.
Giles is watching a game show on tv. Buffy shows up and he's thrilled to see her. She tells him about the werewolves and he sends her to see Oz while he says he'll see if there are any reports. She promises to report back to him and he seems excited. Willow goes to visit Xander. He's fighting with his mother. She won't let him put a lock on his door and he's withholding rent. He feels she thinks he'll be having sex, which he will be. Willow asks for his advice and he says she should talk things out with Oz.
Oz repairs his cage. Buffy visits and he claims to remember nothing of the night before. She says she'll be hunting that night. Oz gets Veruca to come to his cage. She doesn't want to enter it, but as they change into wolves they go into the cage and have sex. Next morning, Willow arrives to find them together. Oz claims he had no choice, but Willow says he could have told somebody.
Willow is so upset, she almost walks into a car. Riley saves her and Buffy takes her home. Buffy tells Willow she will stop Veruca. She goes to see Oz, who is also trying to find Veruca. He and Buffy go off in search of her. He tries to explain what happened to Buffy, but she cuts him off. Willow starts casting a spell to punish Oz and Veruca. Oz realizes Veruca is after Willow. He and Buffy race to Willow. Buffy smashes into one of the commandos. Willow is at the critical point in the spell, but can't bring herself to complete it. Veruca comes in threatening to kill Willow. Buffy and the commando fight over their guns, he mistakenly picks up hers. She grabs it back and runs off. Oz arrives and tells Veruca to stop. She tells him he's an animal and animals kill. He attacks her as they both turn into wolves. He kills her. As he goes to attack Willow, Buffy arrives and tranquilizes him.
Buffy tells Giles what happened, especially about the commando who she now links to the commandos she saw in Fear, Itself. She's concerned about how Willow will deal with her pain. Oz tells Willow he's leaving. He can't be around people until he learns to control the beast within him. He says Veruca was right, the wolf is always there.
I always like it when a show surprises me. That demonstrates it hasn't gotten into a rut and isn't just coasting. Buffy the Vampire Slayer surprised me twice this week.
The first surprise came when Spike appeared in the opening sequence, never to be seen again. At least not in this episode. For a major recurring character like Spike to be used as a teaser for a future episode (and for that tease to happen at the start not end of an episode) is pretty unusual. I spent the whole episode waiting for Spike to pop up again and for the real story to begin.
The second surprise was a a lot bigger. It came when Oz killed Veruca. I never expected a lead character in the show to kill somebody. Admittedly, Veruca was a werewolf and she was bad. But the point she made to Oz was a good one. He thinks of himself as a person who sometimes becomes a wolf. She saw herself as a wolf who for most of the time was a person. As a wolf, her actions were normal and appropriate. As a person, they were unacceptable. But Oz kills her as a wolf, indeed he kills her in his own wolf form. So, is he killing the wolf (who is acting normally) or the person (who is acting immorally). And since his own actions take place in wolf form are they motivated by morality or animal instinct and desire.
Oz maintains that in wolf form he ceases being himself. Veruca believes that in wolf form they are more themselves. But it is clear that Oz remembers more than he admits to of his wolf experiences. And if he is totally an animal, why does he fight with Veruca (who is now basically his mate) rather than join with her in attacking Willow. He seems to still have some memory of his human decisions at this time and of his anger at Veruca for attacking Willow.
Another interesting point was the obvious loneliness of Giles. For Giles to go to the Bronze for fun or to sit at home and watch game shows on tv is pretty pathetic. The series has been leading up to this. Each week, Giles has been portrayed as either bored or desperately trying to find something to do. We saw him getting into Hallowe'en in Fear, Itself and rushing - too late - to Buffy's aid in The Freshman. In this episode, not only is he doing things like going to the Bronze (likely in the hopes of meeting the gang), but he's pathetically happy to see Buffy show up at his house in the hope that some evil is brewing. It's interesting that Xander, who also finds himself a spectator in the life of Buffy, Willow, and Oz, is the one to explicitly state that Giles is trying to escape the emptiness of his home. Xander is trying to do the same and there is a strong parallel between these two characters. Of course, Xander has Anya and a real relationship seems to be building there. When will Giles work up the guts to start dating Joyce?
It's interesting that Buffy's visit to Giles is followed by Willow's visit to Xander. In the first case, we have a relationship which has changed from parent/child to one of equals. Giles is happy to see Buffy because her coming to him reaffirms that they still have a relationship. But she isn't coming for advice in the way she did in the past. Instead, she's coming to keep him informed. And his suggestion about seeing Oz is something she has already thought of. Giles has said that Buffy doesn't need a watcher and he's right. But she does need friends and allies and that's the role he is moving in to. He's like the parent who realizes that while his child may confide in him, the child no longer expects or wants the parent to step in and solve her problems.
Willow and Xander have always had a relationship where Willow was the parental figure: wise and mature. But now she is coming to Xander for advice. Advice about the most adult of topics. And he has it for her. While Willow can barely bring herself to say the words, Xander has no trouble in telling her to do the mature thing: talk to Oz. If Buffy has reached adulthood, Willow has regressed.
Since I see a parallel between Xander and Giles - both are now outsiders living alone and seeking to maintain their relationships with Willow and Buffy, I see in these parallel scenes an attempt to create a similar parallel between Buffy and Willow. And Buffy makes that explicit at the end of the episode in which she expresses concern for Willow and hopes that she does not have to go through the agony Buffy did (running away from home and quite literally descending into Hell) to get over it. The parallels here are quite clear. Buffy has sex with Angel and he turns evil and goes off with Dru. Willow has sex with Oz (we get the most explicit Willow/Oz shot of the season in this episode) and he turns into a wolf that night and runs off with Veruca. Buffy stabs Angel and tranquilizes Oz. At the final moment, both Angel and Oz realize that they love Buffy/Willow. Angel, to save the world, is sent to Hell. Oz, to save the world from the violence within himself, leaves it and seeks out a place without people and especially without Willow. And for someone in love, that is Hell. Willow, like Buffy before her, has to deal with this.
I can't count Willow and Oz in bed as a shock since we've seen this before and we know it's going on. Still, it just seems strange for a girl who uses words like 'blanky' to actually be having sex. As a human, Oz is the kind of guy you can see Willow with. But as a wolf, he's definitely not her type. Veruca realizes this and tries to convince him that he's a wolf disguised as a man and belongs with her. He maintains he's a man who sometimes becomes a wolf and belongs with Willow. At first, Oz tells her he knows where he belongs while Veruca claims he has been domesticated. But by the end of the episode, Oz is no longer sure of his place in the world or what he really is - man or wolf. What Veruca did was wrong, but Oz realizes her question was valid. He has to know what he truly is. He has to decide whether he belongs with humanity or outside of it.
Willow is right when she says Oz had a choice. He could have told Buffy the truth. Keeping the secret is a sign that he is interested in Veruca, or at least in the darkness that she represents. In Fear, Itself, Oz tells Willow that the dark part of himself frightens him. Indeed, the fear that attacks him in the house is the fear of becoming a wolf. But Veruca says that giving in to the animal, to the darkness, is liberating. That it can give him power and make him more alive. Oz is the kind of person who cannot help but think about such a proposition. Is he really living only half a life, pretending to be a human? By not telling the truth to Willow or Buffy - and each give him the chance - he's tacitly agreeing to give Veruca's way a chance. When he invites her over to his cage, he's inviting her into his world. He's sharing something with her he can never share with Willow. And that, more than the sexual misconduct, must be what hurts her the most. Even Veruca agrees with Willow. She knows that Oz is coming over to her side.
When Veruca attacks Willow, she isn't so much attacking a romantic competitor for Oz as the outward sign of his domestication. Sexually, Veruca has already conquered Oz. The wild passion of their animal selves is something he and Willow can never have. Remember Xander asks Willow if she were planning on wild monkey sex or tender romantic sex. Well, Veruca has the lock on the wild sex. But she knows she cannot get Oz out of his cage, both physical and metaphorical, as long as he feels human emotions, like his love for Willow. It's telling that in her final words to Oz, she talks about his having to escape his cages. She realizes that the physical cage is only one of many holding the animal part of Oz in check.
Although Oz defeats Veruca, proving that even in his werewolf form he could still maintain some of his human feelings, he does so by reverting to animal. He uses violence and the darkness within him to gain his victory. And when Veruca dies, she doesn't change back into a human - at least we don't see this. She remains a wolf. Giving weight to her argument that they are both really wolves disguised as humans.
Finally, Oz says Veruca was right, that the wolf is always inside him. This was the point made in Beauty and the Beasts, an episode in which it was feared Oz was killing and in which Angel (now good again) returned from Hell. In that episode, the message was that the beast can be controlled, that we needn't give in to it. In this, much darker, episode, the message seems to be that no matter how much control we exercise, no matter how carefully we build the cage, the beast can escape. And we have to decide how much of a threat from the beast we are willing to accept.
Some quick final thoughts. Why didn't Walsh get security and go back to where she had left the dogs? It makes a lot more sense to try to track them down than to talk to Riley about them. If Walsh really thought they were dogs (even though they looked more like apes) then she's clearly not thinking of the area as being demon infested. I still think Riley, who has way too much good advice, must be evil. When Buffy stops Oz from explaining himself we have a unique moment in the series - Oz talking more than people want to hear. There's nothing Oz can say to Buffy that can make things right. I have never seen such a flood of tears on tv before.
Lines of the week:
"Isn't home that empty place you're trying to escape." - Xander accurately assessing Giles' motives.
"You're the wolf all the time and this human face is just your disguise." - Veruca making a disturbing suggestion to Oz.
"Whatever it is, it's not worth hurting yourself over." - Riley giving Willow his trademark good advice.
"My whole life, I've never loved anything else" - Oz answering Willow's final question.
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