Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Tor.com

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: Oz the Great and Terrible

This just in, everyone! Alcohol can be bad for you. It’ll wreck your life, so get on the sober and narrow. And that’s nothing to what’ll happen if you engage in casual sex, especially with werewolf divas. Mayor Wilkins III, may his memory be a snake-thing, would definitely disapprove of all the immoral liaisons going on in his town.

But before we get to the flying fur, let’s have a drink or thirty. “Beer Bad” starts off with a kicktastic battle: Buffy, outnumbered, saving Parker Abrams from multiple vampires. It’s a terrible shame she’s actually in psych class, ignoring a lecture about the id and wishing the object of her misplaced affections was still into her as she replays her fantasy, peeling the poophead’s clothes and equipping him with tempting gifts for the rerun.

As Willow attempts to convince Buffy to forget Parker altogether, Xander turns up, crowing because he’s got himself a job on campus as a bartender. He has grand visions: girls pouring out their troubles to him even as he carves out a place—as he sees it—in his friends’ lives. And Buffy turns out to support him, which is super nice of her, isn’t it? It’s efficient, too. It turns out that not only can she mope about Parker anywhere at UC Sunnydale, but doing so seems to cause him to magically home in on her location and start coming on to the nearest woman who isn’t a vampire slayer.

It’s all enough to make one dump a drink on Riley, right?

Even though they met when she dropped tomes on his head, Iowa’s sweet about getting drink all over his clothes. He’s racking up the points for later in the relationship. (I guess, subconsciously, he knows he may need them. Psych majors are so savvy that way.)

I’ve never tended bar, but Xander’s first day on the job doesn’t make it look like a blast. But hey, how many jobs rock the very first day? Anyone done it? Is it fun? One of the downsides of serving drinks to undergraduates, it turns out, are smug college guys who like to put the working man in his place. One of them is mean to Xander and Buffy misses it. In time, she decides to have a drink with the meanie and his three friends.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Tor.com: Beer Bad and Wild At Heart

Problem is, nobody knows that what they’re drinking is a magical potion that somehow didn’t get labeled “Clan of the Cave Beer.”

Even as this is happening, WillOz are running out of paradise. They don’t know it yet, but when Veruca and her band Shy take the stage at the Bronze and Oz is entranced, it’s the beginning of their unsettlingly fast end.

Paige Moss, as Veruca, is all about animal magnetism. Whenever she sings, it’s more or less straight to our favorite werewolf, with as much come hither as a girl can muster. Willow, next day, mentions that Veruca dresses like Faith. I’ll add that she has also borrowed more than a little of Eliza Dushku’s body language, especially that fight-me-or-do-me shoulder roll.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Tor.com: Beer Bad and Wild At Heart

Moss does a perfectly fine job, you understand, of making me hate her. But I do. Glad you weren’t a recurring character for long, Veruca!

Morning comes and Willow is jealous and grumpy. Buffy’s hungover and imprecise with her explanations about the night before. For a second, she causes Willow to think she had group sex with four “really smart guys.” But no, she just had beer.

(Beer, which is bad for you, remember? Down with beer!)

After some entertaining misbehavior in class Buffy beelines back to the bar and her new amigos are there. They all continue their devolution until Xander cuts Buffy off.

Willow, once gain, isn’t there. She’d turned down an exciting opportunity to watch Veruca and Oz play (music) together and instead gone off to tell Parker how much he sucks. He tries to seduce her and she plays along just for the laugh, in a scene that is thoroughly awesome. For awhile, the first time, she had me fooled.

Yay, Willow! She cannot be sweet-talked!

Meanwhile, Buffy’s alleged smart guys have become Neanderthals. Srsly! Xander backs them off with a lighter and some quick thinking. “Fire Angry!” Neanderthals fleeing.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Tor.com: Beer Bad and Wild At Heart

Xander goes on to deduce that Buffy isn’t just drunk, she’s out somewhere going all Daryl Hannah and is apt, what with the superpowers and all, to kill someone. It’s the bartender’s fault—he’s been eating undergrad sneer for years and this is his revenge. Which, when you think about it, is a lot of energy to get guys to pay you to drink beer and become temporarily stupid. Isn’t that what you own a bar for anyway?

Xander runs to Giles and gets a lecture about giving Buffy beer, because beer is bad. Xander manfully bats this back, using the immortal phrase “Electric KoolAid Funky Satan Groove,” to refer to Giles’s days of Ripper glory. There should be a Ripper poster with this as its slogan.

Maybe this picture?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Tor.com: Beer Bad and Wild At Heart

By now, the Hellmouth is bored enough with the moralizing about booze and sex and the lack of true evil in Sunnydale to belch out an inconvenient coincidence. The caveguys have retreated to wherever Parker is, which is also, still, where Willow is. They’ve brought some kidnapped women and some improvised clubs, and they bean Parker before he can attempt to pick up their conquests. They knock Willow out too—as a soon to be out bisexual, she might get the same idea, they don’t know!—and so it’s Buffy to the rescue.

The Internets say that “Beer Bad” was written with the intent of being a big, finger-waggy “don’t drink and have casual sex” message to all us fen. I didn’t know this, and I’ll agree it’s no “Hush,” but it’s funny, and even as a cave girl with a broken heart, Buffy’s a hero. She saves Willow, she saves Parker. She gets the fantasy apology, which may be one reason why Sunnydale is a better place to live than Normalville, EverywhereElse. This is the thing I really love: she can’t help herself.  She gives Parker that much-deserved bonk on the head, but only after she’s finished saving his worthless hide.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Tor.com: Beer Bad and Wild At Heart

Okay, that was the fun(ner) part of the essay. Because, I gotta tell you, I don’t love that Oz also can’t help himself, even if that’s pretty much the point of being a werewolf.

We start well: Buffy kills a vamp, easily, and complains the forces of evil just aren’t trying lately. And, of course, in true be careful what you ask for style, Spike shows up and bursts into monologue. Then he gets zapped! Haha! Go Initiative Go!

And the yucks continue, briefly, when we cut to the gang at The Bronze, discussing the comfy familiarity of their adolescent hangout. 

Giles shows up, freaking out the young Scoobs. Veruca hits the stage and all the men are, like, “Buhhh.” Especially, as previously noted, Oz. Willow freaks out, quietly. Buffy tries to run interference, but no dice.

Cute WillOz cuddles next morning, though, make everything right. We establish that they’re in love, so in love, it hurts how much in love they are. Also Willow has a Wicca group orientation while Oz is going to be wolfed out for three nights.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Tor.com: Beer Bad and Wild At Heart

The happy fades, later, when Willow catches Oz and Veruca out talking amps. The awkward silence sends everyone fleeing in opposite directions. Willow looks to Buffy for support. Veruca heads off to write her Villainy 101 paper. Oz goes and cages himself.

Sadly, he gets loose. The two werewolves (did anyone not know who it was?) chase Maggie Walsh, and then get into wrassling each other. Walsh gets away and OzRuca runs off into the bushes to. . . well, you know.

When Oz wakes up and finds himself with Veruca, he’s deeply unhappy about it. She, on the other hand, is thrilled. This is when he realizes she doesn’t self-cage, which adds to his profound Oz feelings of horrid horribleness and horror. These feelings do not stop him from lying to Willow, and then Buffy, and then convincing Veruca to come cage with him for night two. More sex but no deaths are the result.



So, the first time, you could argue pretty convincingly that Oz had no choice. The second time. . . well, it doesn’t matter where you stand, because Willow catches them, and she’s not inclined to cut slack. There’s an ugly, painful three-way fight. Oz isn’t the first of this duo to have strayed, after all. And like that, boom, the golden relationship is so much burnt toast.

The argument ends with Willow walking out, so hammered emotionally that she wanders in front of a car, giving Riley a chance to foreshadow his superpowers and earn even more markers from Buffy. Willow grieves with everything she’s got. Including anger. Lots of anger. Soon enough she’s breaking out the magic box and whipping up some quality vengeance.

I’m so struck, this time around, about the consistency of characterization in BtVS. It’s so excellent. Right here, right now, we can see a preview of Dark Willow’s rampage. All those personality traits, especially the turning first to magic, before the shock’s even passed, are right there on the screen.

Veruca, meanwhile, has decided that if Willow dies, she can have Oz to herself. And so, to celebrate the third night of the full moon, OzRuca changes and takes turns trying to kill Willow. Oz fatally gnaws Veruca, and then Buffy arrives in time—after an arc-furthering tangle with the Initiative guys—to prevent a tragedy, all so that Oz can leave.

Which is so damned sad, isn’t it?

I was dreading this rewatch. I am not a fan of adultery as a story gambit. Or of people in love tearing each other apart, especially characters I really like. (This would be why I don’t like the pile on Buffy episodes, like “Dead Man’s Party.”) So, from my point of view, “Wild At Heart” is just one big long ouch, with a cut-rate Faith-type and questionable music, tied up in a TV People Break Up Stupidly ribbon.

In the end—I’m not sure why—I found this episode slightly less wrenching this latest time around. Perhaps it was because I knew Tara was waiting in the wings. But I adored WillOz, and I would contentedly have basked in their first-love glow for a good long time.

That telebreakups do tend to happen fast and with limited build-up is just a function of how romance works on TV. Often as not we get a long teasy build-up of sexual tension. Then it’s: Yay! At Last they’re Smooching! (And other things too!) The honeymoon comes and goes in the blink of a few episodes, and then one or the other partner is suddenly killed or up or decides all of a sudden that they aren’t in love, and/or the relationship can’t work because mystic surfers will never allow it. Sometimes the reasons are so wafer-thin it’s insulting.

That’s not the case here, though. Joss and Company did pretty well with the build-up. And the emergence of another werewolf is such a logical Achilles heel for Oz. It’s exactly the thing to make him confront who he is, and to conclude, correctly, that he’s a danger to everything he holds dear.

And, finally, Oz leaves with an idea that he’s going away to fix things. The separation, in his eyes, is temporary. He’s still in love—he’s going because he’s in love. He just fails to make false promises about being back soon. He doesn’t lay a big wait-for-me-and-stay-heterosexual-too-if-you-can-manage-it trip on the girl he’s just betrayed. (Maybe something of an oversight there, Oz?)

Even so, I wasn’t glad to see the back of that badly executed hairy wolf costume, or its wearer.

But here’s a question: would WillOz have lasted all the way to the end of S6 if Seth Green hadn’t decided to leave the show? Did lovely, wonderful, soon-to-arrive Tara take a bullet meant for Oz?

A.M. Dellamonica has two novelettes up here on Tor.com. Her ’baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales.

In October, watch for her novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.


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