Mon
Apr 2 2012 1:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: The Wonderful World of Oz

It was Suzy McKee Charnas, author of the unforgettable werewolf story “Boobs,” who first pointed out—to me, anyway—that the werewolf is the most tragic of the classic horror monsters. It’s self-evident, once you consider it: they’re ordinary people for the vast majority of the time, sometimes they don’t even know they’re lycanthropes, they’re helpless to prevent their periodic transformation into monsters, and they’re contagious to boot. It is a terrible fate and one its victims rarely, if ever, deserve.

I think Being Human (I should mention I’ve only seen the UK version) does this especially well: curse really is the word that applies. 

BtVS doesn’t do it half-badly either, which brings us to “Phases,” one of the most widely-beloved S2 one-offs. The story opens with a little girl bonding: Willow’s increasingly fond of Oz, but he’s not offering up any great sign that he’s, say, physically into her. Buffy is listening as a loyal friend ought, while trying not to mope too visibly over the fact that her boyfriend’s gotten all evil and stuff. 

The girls aren’t getting any, in other words, and before we can get bored we bounce on to Xandelia, who are in theory much further along Intimacy Road, by virtue of having skipped the step where they come to like each other. They’re having a little grapple in Cordy’s car. But this is a problematic boy episode, so Xander keeps breaking the liplock to babble about the WillOz relationship. Cordy has too much self-respect to put up with that for long (to which I say, Go Cordy!) But before she can kick her inattentive, babbling ball of boy to the curb of Lover’s Lane, a hairy arm comes tearing through her car roof, and so much for that date!

Nobody really doubts that what’s going on is werewolf-oriented. Giles is delightfully aglow with geeky excitement. He’s the only one with a genuine happy on, except for maybe Angelus, who’s thinking through ways to make Buffy miserable. (Make that miserabler). 

Checking in with the rest of the cast: Spike is pretty miserable, himself, while Dru remains deeply insane with a slight chance of visions in the morning. 

Night comes, the moon rises, and Buffy and Giles go out a-werewolf hunting. Instead they find the loathsome Gib Cain, who manages to be sexist, ill-dressed and morally yucko, a veritable hattrick of smarm. A race is declared. Will Mien Furrier, as Buffy quippily dubs him, kill and defang the werewolf before she can capture it?

Cain is at least good for one thing: werewolf lore. He foolishly drops a clue that sends Buffy off to the Bronze, and the rest of what turns out to be an action packed night unfolds. The first Wolf vs. Slayer throwdown comes out a draw: nobody dies, nobody gets captured. Second, Angelus enacts a cunning plan—Buffy will be sad if I kill someone! He’s having a postprandial gloat over the corpse of a local schoolgirl, Teresa, when the werewolf shows up. 

There’s a meaningful exchange of growls.

Angelus backs the heck off. 

And all the internet discussion forums devoted to the Buffyverse lit up at this exact moment in history, with a frenzy of “Who would win? Angel versus Oz?” speculation.

Yes, Oz. Because it’s Oz who wakes in the woods the next morning, in a profound state of naked but still with a pretty decent hairstyle, Oz who thinks, basically, “Oh, crap. It’s me who’s the teenaged werewolf. There goes my nephew-sitting income.” 

(This makes me wonder where Oz woke up the previous morning, and why the fistful of Cordy’s hair and car roof shreds in his mitt failed to spark his interest. But whatever.) 

Everyone assumes WereOz killed Teresa. So Buffy’s not bummed at all. At least, she’s not bummed about Angelus having killed her gym partner. Instead, she blames herself for having let the wolf get away.

Up until this point in S2, we’ve still really only had a few tasty Oz bits. They’re appetizers, really, as we see him glint at Willow, play his guitar, and evolve towards being a real Scooby. His man-of-few-words mystique is established, and we’ve had one delightful scene in his van, when Willow asks him to make out and he eloquently puts her off, for all the right reasons. Up until now, that’s all there is to this character: lovely smile, funny persona, and an aura of cool that makes him seem untouchable... which, naturally, makes him a perfect target for the terrible curse of lycanthropy.

What all of this amounts to is Oz becoming the latest Scooby to do the Sunnydale High Offishul Walk of Shame. Unlike Buffy’s creep through the hallways in “Ted,” nobody’s actually staring at him thinking “Homicidal maniac!” (Next week, by the way, there will be another such walk.) 

So Oz walks in on a Scooby debrief and learns Teresa was killed by a monster. Probably him. Oh, the guilt! Buffy’s thinking next time she won’t go so easy on him. Oh, the ouch to come! Xander tries to get into the bad guy’s head. OMG, impending discovery! 

But, crack profiler that he is, Xander comes up with bullyboy football player Larry instead—he is a better fit, to be fair. He leaves Oz bewildered, stricken and relieved and not at all focused on Willow’s needs, rushing off to the locker room to confront Larry. All this gets Xander is a big unexpected coming out confession. The quarterback embraces the middle part of his fan nickname, Dead Gay Larry, and is just about ready to embrace Xander too, who flees back to the library in a homosexual panic.

This leaves the gang with less Larry-led sexual harrasment of girls at school and a werewolf still to catch!

Seth Green is at his super-fantastic best in “Phases.” It’s hard sometimes to sell a very quiet character in turmoil, but in this episode you never doubt that Oz is struggling. It’s the quietness, a huge source of his mystique, that gets him into trouble here. Oz is more of a listener than a talker in the general run of things, but like a lot of quiet guys, the facade conceals the fact that he’s emphatically not a confider. He’s scared, confused, guilty about Teresa, coping with unforeseen identity issues, and he doesn’t trust the gang enough to share. It’s no surprise that Willow decides to confront him about his mixed signals, and plain bad luck that she stumbles right into his third transformation.

Even with CGI, turning a human into a big monster dog is a tough task, and the look of Oz is, overall, less impressive than that of other BtVS monsters. (It changes, too, over subsequent seasons.) Even so, it’s plenty good enough to convince Willow to shelve the relationship talk and run for her life. She even scales a fence before calling in the troops. In the ensuing melee, it’s she who shoots her boyfriend with the fast-acting tranq rifle. Everything about Willow in this episode rocks, except possibly her yellow overalls. I’m not so sure about those. On the upside, she’s not in a toque yet.

And now, with all secrets revealed and Oz fortuitously off the hook for Teresa’s death, we get the morning after scene, with its ultra-sweet exchange where both Witch-to-be and Wereboy agree they’re still into each other. Willow stops waiting and claims her darned smoochies, and Oz declares himself to be a werewolf in love.

Can you believe it’s not even Valentine’s Day in Sunnydale yet? That, as it happens, is next week’s romantic horror story.


A.M. Dellamonica freely admits her Locus-recommended Tor.com story about a baby werewolf, “The Cage,” owes a debt to this episode of Buffy. She also has a second story on this site called “Among the Silvering Herd.”

24 comments
Gardner Dozois
1. Gardner Dozois
I always wondered what would have happened if Oz had bitten Angelius? Would Angelius have become some kind of werewolf/vampire hybred?

For that matter, if lycanthropy can be passed along by the baby biting Oz, would Oz and Willow exchanging spit be enough to infect Willow?

I also always wondered about Oz's family, who we never heard anything else about, to the best of my recollection. But they're awfully cool about the whole supernatural thing. "Did you know the baby's a werewolf? Oh, you did. Oh, okay." Seems to indicate a whole background familiarity with the supernatural there. You'd think they'd have had some words of advice for Oz, if not comfort, like "lock yourself up at night. Don't bite anybody."
Gardner Dozois
2. Gardner Dozois
For that matter, what would have happened if Oz had bitten Buffy? Would she have transformed into a superstrong werewolf?
Gardner Dozois
3. Lsana
I will say that while I love Oz, the werewolf special effects were some of the dumbest in the show. One of the first Buffy episodes I saw involved werewolves, and it was about half way through the episode before I finally picked up on the fact that those weird ape-like things that were bouncing around the streets were supposed to be the werewolves. It would have been nice if, at least for post-transformation, they could have used actual wolves or dogs rather than guys in sasquatch suits.

@1,

So with you on Oz's family. I loved the conversation between him and his aunt:

"Hey, is Geordi a werewolf?...Huh, and how long has that been going on?"

I'd have paid good money to hear the other end of that one.
Alyx Dellamonica
4. AMDellamonica
Hmm, how to hand-wave past this? Maybe Oz's tendency to use one word (where I would use 8500) is a family trait. So they are having the 'lock yourself up' conversation. It's just that it's not over until 2005.

Mmm, maybe not.
Alyx Dellamonica
5. AMDellamonica
Man in a rubber suit monsters are hard to pull off, Lsana. I'm not sure I've ever seen a werewolf that was a) good and b) not CGI. Feel free to correct me, though.
Gardner Dozois
6. Gardner Dozois
Now I'm imaging the difficulties involved in trying to change the diapers of a baby werewolf. It's hard enough with a regular baby.

Yes, the werewolf effects in BUFFY were awful. Silly-looking rather than frightening. Same for the devil dogs later on. TRUE BLOOD has wisely decided to skip the man-wolf effects and just have its werewolves turn into wolves instead, which I think is a good choice for a TV show without a bazillion dollar CGI budget.

I'd still like to know what Angelius would have turned into if Oz had bitten him, same with Buffy. And later on, when Oz and Willow got more serious, I wanted to shout "No love bites! No scratching!" when they got down to it.
Alyx Dellamonica
7. AMDellamonica
A vampwolf with a soul! Poor Angelus. That would've been too much for him.

A were-slayer, on the other hand, I could really get into. Especially, perhaps, if she were Faith.
john mullen
8. johntheirishmongol
The werewolves and demon dogs were always less than impressive. I think that was one of the reasons you didn't see them that often. Mostly, Oz monthly events were done offstage. I did like Oz, though, he was always good for a comment when needed.

As far as Angel/Oz battle, I just thought Angel didn't have any inclination, not that he couldn't have taken him.

I suspect the infection rate for wolf bites is low, or else there would be lots more of the creatures around. So the odds of a slayer/wolf combo would be pretty nonexistant. And can vamps even catch a disease? I thought you have to be alive to do that!
Gardner Dozois
9. Gardner Dozois
I'd have thought you'd have to be alive to have sex--blood must circulate to provide an erection, and the testes have to be warm enough to produce sperm--but that doesn't seem to stop them.

A were-Slayer would probably be a powerful force for Evil, basically a superstrong werewolf--unless, of course, somehow the Slayer part retained mental control after the transformation. That's not how it usually works with werewolves, though.

As far as you can tell from the lore, werewolf BITES seem to be almost always infectious, when they're in their werewolf form. One assumes, though, that the baby was in human form when he bites Oz--otherwise, Oz would have already known he was a werewolf--so that raises the possiblty that bites from werewolves in their HUMAN form are infectuous as well, must be something in the saliva, and makes me wonder about werewolf sloppy kisses.
Mouette
10. Mouette
Oz, Oz, Oz, Oz. *Squeeloffs*.

I miss Oz.

But yes, the werewolf effects were awful. Even in movies *with* billion-dollar budgets (*cough*Harry Potter*cough*), the werewolves are awful. I think they've been done somewhat decently in Vampire Diaries, though - the actors show the pain of breaking bones, but end up a wolf. There's still cheesy yellow eyes and somewhat distorted faces while they're changing, but ending up a wolf is better than the man in the monkey suit effect. Love the wolves in the Parasol Proctectorate series as well, though as that's not visual, suppose it doesn't count.

Also, Oz!

Interesting point about the baby!wolf bite having to be while said baby was human, or Oz would already know... hmmm.
Alyx Dellamonica
11. AMDellamonica
And then there are the outlying TV werewolves in things like Being Human, where even a werewolf scratch will do.

I always figured a vampire should have to have fed recently in order to get it up. Which is, perhaps, TMI.
Gardner Dozois
12. Lsana
@5,

There's bad, and there's "So bad I can't tell what they were going for." The latter is what Buffy achieved with the werewolf effect. They did pretty well with everything else: their vampires were awesome, their demons were awesome, their werewolves looked like monkeys. I've got to think that even without CGI, Whedon and Co. could have done better with that one. Actual wolves would probably have been best, but that might not have been cost effective.

@9,

Really good point about Oz's bite having to have come from a kid in human form. Do we ever see anyone bitten by a werewolf in wolf form who survives? It makes me wonder if perhaps, in the Buffyverse, werewolf bites are ONLY contagious in human form. That might explain why it isn't overrun with werewolves (given that humans, past a certain age, rarely go around biting each other).
Gardner Dozois
13. Gardner Dozois
If the infectious agent is something in the saliva, which Oz being bitten by the baby would seem to argue for, then a bite might not even be necessary. Probably the saliva would have to enter the bloodstream, rather than being swallowed down to the stomach, say, in order to be infectious--but if you had a sore in your mouth, or a cut lip, it's possible that you could be infected just by french-kissing a werewolf, thus my concern for poor Willow.

It's interesting that werewolves are the only kind of supernatural creature that can INFECT a human and turn them into the same kind of creature as themselves, even if it's done unadvertantly. Vampires can turn humans into vampires, true, but it has to be done DELIBERATELY. Whereas humans can become infected with lycanthropy accidently, as witness Oz and the baby, making them the Typhoid Marys of the supernatural world.
Gardner Dozois
14. Dr. Thanatos
Gardner: don't need sperm to have sex; need circulating blood though; send a memo to angel and spike...

Is this the episode with one of the best lines in TV history:

"Yeah, I know, werewolf; but 3 days out of the month I'm not much fun to be around either"
Gardner Dozois
15. Gardner Dozois
You need sperm to ejaculate, though, and although it is possible, very few men ever reach orgasm without ejaculating. Perhaps vampires are better at it. Otherwise, even if they can (somehow) get an erection, it makes you wonder what they get out of sex, although they all seem eager, particularly Spike, to give it a go. Maybe it reminds them comfortingly of their cuddly human days.
Gardner Dozois
16. Dr. Thanatos
Although men who have had vasectomies, and therefore don't get sperm any farther than the vas deferens, have completely normal sexual function including ejaculation. No sperm; normal function.

Having said that, I suspect that Angel and Spike may have been using pump devices, since their circulatory systems are not what they used to be...
Michael Green
17. greenazoth
Yeah, vampire physiology is confusing. Like that "I have no breath" schtick, which was very cool and all, but how are you talking?

Just . . . magic. It's all magic.
Gardner Dozois
18. Gardner Dozois
Or they're all doing what the scriptwriter wants them to do--which is the same as magic in this context.
T Neill
19. Anarra
Gardner, no you don't else every man with a vasectomy would be sad.

I figure vampires don't need to breathe to live. But they do to talk.
Alyx Dellamonica
20. AMDellamonica
Building a vampire body that works has got to be a bit of a feat. I mean, there must be enough metabolic process going on that blood gets digested, right? So the mouth stays wet, the throat works, the gut and they all seem able to drink booze. Also, there's something that passes for brain activity.

And movement, muscles, blah blah blah. Lots of body parts still engaged, so why not the testes?

If we grant all those systems are working, and maybe figure that nutrition is coming from the blood and feeding them... hmmm. Maybe it's the idea that they are dead that's wrong. Maybe a clever writer with some biology background could sell changes that only apply to the digestive system and the conscience.

Of course, that leaves the super-healing, the sun allergy and the stake-through-the-heart convention.
Gardner Dozois
21. Gardner Dozois
They're inconsistant with whether vampires CAN eat or not. On ANGEL, it's established that Angel eats nothing--there's a wonderful moment on one of the shows where he momentarially becomes human again, and immediately begins eating everything in the refrigerator, moaning in ecstasy--and doesn't drink anything except blood, but on BUFFY, Spike enthuses about how good the onion flowers at the Bronze are, and drinks alcohol all the time. (He later says he spends his money on "cigerettes and beer.") Many of the other vampires you see in dive bars at one time or another seem to be drinking booze too, on both shows.

Let's not even get into the fact that if their digestive system isn't working, and they don't excrete, anything they eat will just sit in their intestines forever. But as you point out, you'd think they'd have to at least digest the blood somehow, if it's supposed to nourish them.

I imagine that a stake through the heart would kill just about anybody, but I think it would be a lot harder than they make it look. To drive even a sharp wooden spike through the thick muscles of the chest would take a tremendous amount of strength; Buffy could do it, sure, being superstrong, but they frequently show regular people doing it, even people without a lot of body mass or arm strength, and I think it would be very hard to drive that stake in deep enough to go through the heart if you WEREN'T superstrong. Most people would probably just make a gash in the chest, or penetrate but not enough to kill.
Gardner Dozois
22. Jezebellydancer
I read an essay ages ago about vampires and sex. The main thesis was that when men write about vampires, that while they may be sexy as hell, they cannot have sex. But when women write about vampires--there is sex and lots of it. How it all works is another matter. I've always thought that it's the blood that keeps a vampire functioning much like they did when they were alive. And I've always figured vamps need to breathe to talk, but they don't need to breathe to live.
Alyx Dellamonica
23. AMDellamonica
I've always figured there was a soft spot over the heart with vamps, or that wood had some kind of 'open sesame' clause. Because, yeah--who's strong enough to kill a human that way, let alone a superstrong monster?

If there's a link to that essay, Jezebelly, I'm sure the group would love to see it.
Jack Flynn
24. JackofMidworld
RE: non-cgi werewolves. I don't know if you mean just in TV shows or in general (and I'll go on record that the ones in Buffy are some pretty bad ones) but the werewolves from Dog Soldiers and Evil Ed's dying scene from the original Fright Night are two that come quickly to mind. The only one that I can think of from a tv show was that old Werewolf from Fox.

I always took Buffy's werewolves as straight cursed beings, which, imho, means that it'd take an actual bite or claw to pass it along, not just a supernatural STD (which always rung true to me).

I've heard that, at least in some vamp mythologies, that the chest of a vampire is actually weaker than in a normal person, like it's "nature's" response to how powerful they are. Not that you've gotten this far along in the rewatch yet, but there is a scene where a slayer is able to stake a human, which just tells you how much strength they're really putting behind it.

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