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