Aunt Maureen. Hey, it’s me. Um, what? Oh! It’s, uh… actually it’s healing okay. That’s pretty much the reason I called. Um, I wanted to ask you something. Is Jordy a werewolf? Uh-huh. And how long has that been going on? Uh-huh. What? No, no reason. Um… Thanks. Yeah, love to Uncle Ken.
I think I’m going to start doing a feature called “˜What Slay remembers before she watches the episode again’. It’ll be hilarious. This week as I sat down to do the rewatch I pulled a complete blank on what followed up “˜Surprise/Innocence’. “˜Phases?” I asked myself. “Self, what the f is Phases?” Then I remembered it was the Oz-becomes-a-werewolf episode, which seemed a strange follow-up to the emotional one-two belt of the last couple of weeks. Except that it’s totally not. Having watched it again, “˜Phases’ is a really smart next episode, with it’s themes of relationships, sexual desire, and sexual violence. Because what is Angelus except walking, talking sexual violence?
The show also touches on something I’ve brought up before ““ the destructive hyper masculinity that has no room for women or thoughtfulness or gentleness in it’s philosophies. This episode is practically soaking in it. We have Larry, Angelus, and Cain on the actively destructive side of the spectrum, violent and violating. Cain wants to kill things for money, spews overtly misogynistic bull, and actively denigrates the Slayer in the “˜just a girl’ way. Angelus, who looks charming and smooth, but will snap your neck and leave you as a message to his ex. And Larry, so terrified of facing his own inner truths that he lashes out, making everyone uncomfortable and unsafe, just to prove what a He-Man he is.
And then there’s Oz. Oz and Giles have their own category, where they’ve transcended a need for grandstanding and embrace traditionally feminine things, accepting and inclusive of both male and female ideals. This is why Giles is a good father figure for Buffy and a good Watcher. And this is what makes Oz one of the best male characters and love interests across the show.
And then there’s poor, flailing, Xander, caught in the middle. Unable to shake the expectations of “˜maleness’ and best friends with a tiny, blonde superhero. So many of his problems are rooted right in his inability to meld these two worlds.
I hope you’ve all enjoyed the tour through my thought processes. Let’s get on to the rewatch.
TNMAS, we catch up with Oz and Willow, who have been dating since the events of Surprise/Innocence. There’s a nice little shout out to the first season episode, “˜The Witch’, as Oz is waiting by the trophy case, remarking that the Amy-Mom cheerleading trophy has “˜eyes that follow you’. Oh, they do follow you, Oz. They do. Things seem to be progressing slowly with them, much to Willow’s frustration. She’s dropped anvil of hints to no avail. Buffy, good friend that she is, suggests that sometimes the girl has to be the aggressor. Which is, you know, a fairly typical Buffy approach. When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
Cordelia and Xander are having their own issues. Where Willow and Oz are all talk and no tonsil hockey, Cordy/Xander are their polar opposites. They are all tonsil hockey to keep the talking (and the feeling of feelings) at bay. Except Xander keeps throwing the groove off by fretting over Willow or swooning over Buffy while they’re parked up at lover’s lane and Cordy is starting to feel a little neglected. As Xander attempts to get back into the zone, the couple is attacked by a werewolf.
Giles is a little over excited by the news that he gets to research a werewolf, because 1) it reminds us what a tweedy nerd he is and 2) what, he doesn’t have enough weird stuff going on in the Hellmouth already? He goes off to do that and the gang goes about their days. Part of their day involves gym class, where it comes out that aggressive, sexual harassing Larry has recently been bitten by a large dog. Oz has had his own brush with teeth, having been bitten by a little cousin who doesn’t like being tickled. File this away, viewers!
Because at least 1 teacher in the school watches the news, the gym instructor believes that the students need a lesson in self-defense since Sunnydale is getting increasingly dangerous. Buffy does her, well, “˜best’ is an overstatement –tries to pretend to be a weak little girlie girl who has a hard time grappling with big tough men like Larry. Until he grabs her ass and she plants him on the ground.
That evening, Giles and Buffy go out looking for the werewolf. Giles has pointed out that the werewolf is a human who is only a monster 3 nights out of the month, so Buffy and her ethics have decided to try to catch, not kill, the beast. They hit up lover’s lane. No wolf there, but they do run into Cain, a monster hunter out for a new pelt. Buffy is disgusted by Cain’s willingness to execute a human being and also because he thought Buffy and Giles were a thing. Some information is dropped: werewolves are attracted to lust and sexual heat, so they prowl places with lots of both. The Bronze has lots of both, as well as Cordelia and Willow, so that’s where the monster ends up. Buffy tries to subdue it, but the monster runs away, and Cain mocks the softness in her approach.
We follow the werewolf, who turns back into Oz when the sun rises.
Oz, predictably, is a little freaked out. More so when he gets to school and finds out another student had been killed the night before, and the Scoobies assume it was the werewolf that got her. Xander thinks he’s got a line on a likely suspect; Larry, he of the aggression, wolfish leers, and suspicious amount of back hair.
Xander goes investigator, tracking Larry down to the boy’s locker room and confronting Larry about his “˜secret’. As soon as he pressures Larry into coming clean, which, by the way, is that Larry is a closeted homosexual, Xander totally freaks out. He’s not gay! He’s not hitting on Larry! His freaked out anxious masculinity shtick hasn’t held up well over time, and while this reaction to Larry’s revelation is understandable in the context of Xander being kind of putz, it’s a jarring scene to watch with some distance from the characters. When he refuses to tell Buffy why he knows Larry isn’t the werewolf, one gets the sense it’s not from willingness to keep Larry’s secret as much as the fear of how it will reflect on him.
Somewhere along the line, Buffy realizes that the news reports of Theresa’s death don’t mention any sort of animal attack. She takes Xander with her to go check out the body, laid out at the funeral home. No werewolves here, only vampire victims. When Theresa rises, she has a message for Buffy from Angelus. Xander dusts her.
Meanwhile, Oz is taking some (late) steps to keep him from hurting anyone when he turns. Somehow he owns a well-worn box of metal shackles, which deserves a real pause ““ why, exactly, does he have access to a well-worn box of metal shackles? Willow shows up at the wrong moment, demanding to know why he won’t kiss her, blew off their date, and, oh, what’s up with the chains? Oz tries to hustle her out of the house but it’s too late; he’s already changing.
She’s only a few steps ahead of Were-Oz when she stumbles and it looks like curtains, but Were-Oz smells something even better than Willow and takes off after it. Willow goes screaming to the library, where everyone else has congregated, and let’s them know (hysterically yells) that Oz is the Werewolf. And then she freaks out because Buffy has a gun in her hand. Giles assures her it’s just a tranquilizer dart as they head out to find the errant boyfriend werewolf.
And conveniently! They arrive just in time to keep Cain from shooting Oz with his Manly Death Bullets. Oz attacks, Giles misses his shot, and its shy Willow who takes up the rifle and takes down her rampaging beast of a prom date. Cain is not impressed. Werewolf hides make good money, and there are a bunch of chicks and a librarian messing with his income. He says a bunch of other misogynistic crap, saying that there’s no one with the right amount of balls in town to take care of Sunnydale’s problems. And then Buffy bends the muzzle of his rifle into a pretzel and sends him off on his way. Sunnydale has its own sheriff. She doesn’t need balls.
TNMAS Oz and Willow reconnect. He’s still coming to grips with his new second nature and is intensely relieved that he didn’t eat anyone. Willow runs off, and then remembering Buffy’s advice, dashes back in and kisses him. It’s a great kiss. When she drifts off again, Oz stares after her, awe-struck. Werewolf in love, indeed.
Bonus clip: The Cramps, “I was a Teenage Werewolf”