Retro Recap: Buffy the Vampire Slayer S4E6 — “Wild At Heart”

[E] Slay BelleLadyGhosts of TV Past12 Comments

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“Or you’re the wolf all the time. And this human face is just your disguise.”

Oz and Willow in better times (and in bed).

Images courtesy of 21st Century Fox.

Does everyone have their hankies? Go get them, cause you’re gonna need them.

Where do we even start? “Wild at Heart” is one of those miserable, soul crushing episodes, where everything that is good and true gets kicked in the gut, and terrible things happen to our gang because life kinda sucks sometimes. When bad things happen for supernatural reasons ““ and they do a lot, on this show ““ it’s easier to accept. But battling the forces of evil and saving the world (a lot) doesn’t grant the gang immunity from having your heart broken by regular old bad decisions, and losing someone you love through no fault of your own.

The college season is a rough one, because so much of what happens to the group is what happens to young adults when they move out of the sheltered life of high school and into adulthood. We’ve already done the callous douchebag who uses you for sex episode, and the tolerating new roommates episode and the I’m not longer special episode. This leaves one of the other huge and common rite of passage ““ the demise of your high school relationship. For our purposes and crying jags, this demise comes bundled in the tiny body of Veruca Salt (ok, I don’t know her last name, but whatever).

Oz and Veruca

Images courtesy of 21st Century Fox.

For the last few episodes, the show has been giving us glimpses of Veruca and Oz’s reaction to her, hinting at what is coming. The two of them are quite clearly attracted to each other ““ Oz is frequently mesmerized by her very appearance, something that Willow picks up on right away. And they have similar interests ““ both are in bands and.. ok, well, that’s all we know, but I bet their cd collections have a lot of similarities. That she is also a werewolf is no surprise ““ the two actually sniff at each other the first time we see them both on screen, as they’re walking past each other on campus.

The show hasn’t spent much time exploring what it means that Oz is a werewolf. Aside from when we first discover it, Oz’s condition is often a matter of plot convenience. Need someone eaten? Oz’s gets out under the wolf moon and eats the bad guy. Need someone tracked by scent? Oz happens to catch a wiff of them on the air. Unlike Willow’s witchery, Buffy’s Slayer-ness, and Angel’s blood drinking, Oz’s werewolf-ness just lingers in the background. But Veruca changes all of that. She’s the shadow self to Oz, the girl who is more wolf than man. She’s everything he could be if he let the wolf run loose ““ amoral, greedy, aggressive, and dangerous. When he’s with her, we see a different side of him. Not just the part that cheats on Willow ““ that is almost an aside. But this is almost the only episode where we seem him as anything other than stoic. He smolders. He grabs Veruca by her hair and kisses her. He pants when he talks to her. There’s a growl in his voice. And in the morning after, when Willow catches Oz with Veruca, he’s shot shirtless and muscled, deliberately sexy in a way the show has never portrayed him before.

It’s an interesting glimpse of what it means to be a werewolf in the Buffyverse and seems to be parallel to the state of vampires, who are humans with a demon inside of them. Most vampires, like Veruca, allow this primal part of them to run their lives. It’s the rare vamp who lets the man rule ““ Angel through a curse, Spike through the chip and willpower. Is the corollary then that Oz is an aberration? Is Veruca right that all there is is the wolf, and the man is the mask they wear? As quickly as the show raises the questions, it slams the door shut on them. After betraying Willow with Veruca and actually attacking her while wolfed-out, he feels he’s losing control of the monster and is a danger to everyone. Oz leaves Sunnydale to get a better handle on his beast.

Oh, Oz. What about all your ginger babies? Think of the ginger babies!

Willow crying, Buffy holding her.

Images courtesy of 21st Century Fox.

While “Wild at Heart” opens the door for Tara, who I think is just a great character, the loss of Oz still crushes after all this time. Maybe it’s because Oz was a genuinely decent guy who honestly loved Willow ““ who doesn’t believe him when he says, “My whole life, I’ve never loved anyone else.” He’s the actual “good guy” that the show is trying to insist that Xander is. And he fucks up, big time, huge time, not out of a sense of maliciousness, but because people mess up. Oz messes up. And then he leaves.

I haven’t been faithfully following the season 8 and 9 comics, but I did read them enough to catch the arc where Oz returns. Despite the fact that Willow is a lesbian and has loved (and lost) other partners, and years and years have gone by, there was a part of me that was just infuriated to see this fictional character, Oz, had moved on with his fictional life, and it didn’t include Willow. I am aware that this makes me a huge nerd. I accept this.

Stupid Joss Whedon.

“Wild at Heart” is a pretty on the surface episode ““ it has a huge impact on Willow’s personal story arc, but there’s not a lot of deep analysis to be performed here. The beast-as-man trope is a familiar one, and an archetype the show gets a lot of play out of. It’s at the heart of Angel’s story, after all, and we’ve touched on it in a number of monster of the week one-shots. But there is an important bit of foreshadowing that I can’t let go unremarked upon. Fans of the show likely already know where I’m headed with this: when Willow gets hurt her instinct is to turn to dark magic. At the time, this seemed like the knee-jerk reaction of a broken heart. Especially since she is unable to go through with the curse against Veruca and Oz. With the long view, it’s an early indication that our sweet Willow isn’t so sweet at all. What is the curse she aborts but an early (and less bloody) version of DarkWillow?

Bonus track:

It didn’t escape my notice that when Willow dresses up to seduce Oz, her outfit bears a striking resemblance to the ensemble VampWillow wears ““ black leather pants, a shirt with bell sleeves and a tailored torso. This, by the way, is also the kind of top Willow is wearing when she becomes DarkWillow (though I don’t think her pants were leather in that outfit). Do bell sleeves symbolize evil?

Willow in two outfits: dressed up to seduce Oz and the later VampWillow outfit

Images courtesy of 21st Century Fox.

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[E] Slay BelleRetro Recap: Buffy the Vampire Slayer S4E6 — “Wild At Heart”

12 Comments on “Retro Recap: Buffy the Vampire Slayer S4E6 — “Wild At Heart””

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  1. Profile photo of Femdish
    Femdish

    I was SO devastated by this episode as well as by “New Moon Rising”. It’s why it took me 2 more seasons to start warming up to Tara (pretty much only in her interactions with Buffy). I wanted her to be temporary and for Willow and Oz’s meeting in Istanbul to be NOW. I had the same reaction with Season 8, part of me believes he should always be pining for Willow.

    I’d also like to take this opportunity to express why I have always had an issue with Willow’s “lesbian” label. As a huge Oz/Willow shipper I felt betrayed by the “I’m a lesbian now” storyline because WHAT DOES THAT MEAN ABOUT OZ?? Was that not real? Did she just love him because he loved her? Was it a relationship of convenience for her? And what does that mean about her and Xander? Especially her affair with Xander?? I just feel like her new identity betrayed these relationships

    Now, I suppose that sexuality is fluid and after meeting Tara she maybe truly did feel like a lesbian and never wanted to be with men again. I guess that’s possible, and I choice I can respect, but I always felt like that label didn’t properly honour her relationship with Oz. I could understand if he was the only man she found herself attracted to in her life, BUT turning her into someone who is not attracted to men at all makes her affair with Xander even more awful. Their affair was portrayed as sexually based, hormones and a lifetime of build up made them act on their feelings. Then she suddenly realizes she’s gay a year later, which means she has no attraction to men, ever again?* This doesn’t make sense to me! Why couldn’t she be bisexual? I know TV may not have been ready for that label at the time, but they could have implied it or left that question ambiguous rather than hit us over the head with the “lesbian” label for the next several seasons but never addressing her previous relationships. As a bisexual woman I wish that I had had a bisexual role model to look to as a teen. Honestly, I might have come out 5 years earlier if everything in the world and the media wasn’t telling me sexuality is a binary not a continuum.

    *In Triangle she tells Anya that she isn’t a threat to Xander and Anya’s relationship because, “Hello? Gay now.”

    Wow, I didn’t even rewatch the episode and I’m still so emotional about it almost 15 years later.

    1. Profile photo of [E] Slay Belle
      [E] Slay Belle

      I understand what you’re saying re: Gay, now, but I think that there are an awful lot of people out there who had hetero relationships early on in their lives who identify as gay later. I know personally of at least three acquaintances who had relationships with the opposite sex (two of whom married and had children with them) who don’t consider themselves bisexuals. They loved who they loved at that point in their lives, but they are not attracted (in general) to the opposite sex.

      I think, also, you have to place what happens with Willow in the large context of 90’s television. Making a female character bisexual was generally a cheap ratings ploy — you’d have one relationship or one kiss, and then the woman would go back to dating men. Put up against that, it makes more sense for Willow to declare herself a lesbian as it implies she won’t be ‘going back’. That is, that she really is interested in women, not just during sweeps week. And because of her past, Joss introduced a really complex and true to life arc of someone’s sexuality on tv, and I can’t easily think of any other character who develops along a similar line.*

      I don’t think Ellen’s coming out on her sit-com counts, for a lot of political reasons. Mainly in that it wasn’t an actual development of the character as much as tv exec bending over backwards to hide her sexual orientation in the early seasons of the show.

  2. Profile photo of Sheena likes cold weather but not broken heaters
    Sheena likes cold weather but not broken heaters

    Okay. Angstbaby still represents my feelings about this episode.

    OZ. OZ. WHY THE HELL OZ. I CAN’T WITH YOU OZ.
    But, yes. Xander is the Buffyverse Nice Guy (yes, I mean the “I’ve been nice to you for months, Buffy, and now you tell me you don’t want to date me, and I’m going to snit about it for TWO SEASONS” kind of Nice Guy), but Oz was the genuinely kind, honest, caring friend who adored his girlfriend. He forgave Xander and Willow of their illicit smoochies, and waited until he and Willow were both ready for the sex, and still tried (and eventually succeeded) to be friends with Xander, and was genuinely friends with Buffy. Not just “we’re in the same superhero club” friends, but actual real friends that hang out together.
    And, well, he focused more on being a person than a werewolf. He knew that he was a werewolf, never tried to deny that, but he *chose* to live as a kind, honest, compassionate man. He looked out for his friends, especially Willow, but it was never “me man, you girl, you need protecting”; it was “we’re dealing with dangerous things, and that’s scary, and I want to make sure you’re safe”. As much as Oz mastered the cool, stoic facade, he still always had that undercurrent of intense badass. And the wolf was even more intense, even more of the tough, intense, sexy, and brutal. I think this is the first episode in which he shouts — even at the end of season 3, when Willow’s life is in danger and Wesley is more concerned with stopping the Mayor’s ascension, Oz doesn’t raise his voice. He just acts (by smashing the urn).

    Veruca’s werewolf nature got his attention. His wolf instincts wanted that sexy, sensual, sharp woman; Oz as a person may have been wholly in love with Willow, but the wolf wanted the danger in Veruca. And, well, he chose to spend the night with Veruca — partly to keep her from hurting anyone (I have no doubt that he was honest with that intention), but also partly because, deep down, the wolf wanted her. OZ wanted her. And he made that choice, without telling anyone who could help with the situation or telling Willow. And it was in very tiny part an okay decision (the “Veruca staying in a cage for the night” part) but mostly a really, really bad decision. And he knew it. And he knew the consequences would be ugly. And, instead of dealing with them, he left. Because he’s human and humans do really stupid things sometimes.

    Willow’s “dark side” has been hinting at us since the beginning, honestly — there are first-season episodes where we see early signs of jealousy and anger and resentment, but without any power to do anything. And while Cordy’s wish-verse isn’t exactly “canon”, Vamp Willow is similar enough to our Willow (and there are small hints of her later shit-losing). And, well, Willow is very protective of “her” people — she hated that Xander dated Cordelia, hated Faith and Xander sleeping together, and reacted strongly to Parker/Scott. (And those are just the humans.)

    Gah, I hate this episode. OZ. WHY OZ. WHAT THE HELL OZ.

  3. Profile photo of [E] Slay Belle
    [E] Slay Belle

    I had a really hard time writing this recap, guise. There’s not a lot to say about it but how sad it is, even after so much time has passed. I really struggled and I can see from the comments, that my emotional response to the episode is a shared one.

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