Mon
Sep 24 2012 2:00pm
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: Oz the Great and Terrible

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

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.

Win?

No.

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.

34 comments
Jack Flynn
1. JackofMidworld
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.

Another thing that I love about shows in the Whedonverse (and they both go hand-in-hand) is that everything doesn't get all clean and orderly by the next episode. Or even the episode after that. The decisions and actions of the characters have real impact on the rest of the (albeit fictional) world around them, and not just in a "wronged lover shows up during sweeps" or "return of the Big Bad for the season-ending cliffhanger" sort of way. Buffy, Angel, hell, even Doctor Horrible, they all seem to live in organic, living universes. Makes it really easy for me to care about the characters and the show in general.
Surge
2. Surge
I found it very amusing that Giles was the one to lecture Xander letting Buffy have beer. Probably the first time in history that a Brit tried to school an American about underage drinking.
Surge
3. Gardner Dozois
I've never understood the disdain vented toward "Beer Bad." It's a minor episode, yes, mostly a wheel-spinner with only a small amount of forward movement on the season arc (Spike being captured by the Inititive), but it's also funny, and Sarah Michelle Geller shows some excellent comic chops here. The replay of the initial fantasy about Parker apologizing with the addition of Buffy bopping him on the head in real life is hilarious, as is Xander's "Fire Angry!" routine. On the whole, this and "Fear, Itself" were my favorite episodes of the season to date, and I'd give the edge to "Beer Bad" of the two, because it's funnier. This season, in fact, featured some of the best comic episodes of the series, with my favorite, the Thanksgiving episode, yet to come.

The next episode is less enjoyable, because of its more serious tone and because of the painful emotions involved. I think it's a bit hard to blame Oz too much here--the first frolic with Veruka happened while he was turned into a werewolf and thus his human half wasn't in control of his actions, and the second time ostensibly happened because he wanted to get Veruka locked safely away before she could kill somebody (although it's not entirely unreasonable to speculate that he might have had the motivation subconsciously in mind that maybe exactly what happens would happen). (On the other hand, it might be a bit unfair in the other direction to compare what happened between Willow and Xander to what happened between Oz and Veruka--unless a lot more happened than they showed on camera, Willow and Xander shared a kiss, when they both thought they were about to die, where it's made clear that Oz and Veruka shared a lot more than that.) I also think that Oz's decision to leave was the right one to make, painful as it was for Willow. After all, he'd just killed another human being, which must have been an emotionally upsetting experience even for someone as phlegmatic as Oz, and he wasn't sure of his ability to control himself anymore, and it had just been demonstrated that the efforts of others to be sure he was locked away where he couldn't hurt anybody else were of questionable efficiency. I think he left because he was worried that he might hurt Willow as much as for any other reason, and I'm sure that he was still in love with her when he left. His mistake was to assume that she'd still be waiting for him when he got back, in other words, that she was as much in love with him as he was with her. Regardless of whether it was a man or a woman, though, it didn't take her long to move on and jump into the sack with somebody else. Seems to me the real betrayal here was Willow's, while Oz was struggling to do the right thing in an almost impossible situation. Nevertheless, I wasn't sorry to see Oz go; they'd pretty much done all that it was possible to do with the character, and I was downright glad not to have to see that cheesy werewolf costume anymore. Interesting speculation as to what would have happened if Oz had stuck around. You may well be right that they'd have ended up killing him off eventually, or else possibly turning him Evil. One way or the other, though, happy relationships never last long in the Whedonverse.
Surge
4. Dr. Thanatos
I have a wacky theory about why "Beer Bad" is disliked.

Having been in college, and having to deal with the psychology of those who are almost college-age (translation-my teenagers) I suspect that there's a knee-jerk reaction to being told even in allegorical form, that one should curb one's impulses when it comes to beer. When I was in college, I admit I didn't drink for various and sundry reasons. I was ridiculed and reviled, and any attempt I made to justify my personal behavior was taken as "so you think you're better than us?"

Perhaps the reaction to this episode is a reflection of that---we, the audience, like to drink beer and we don't like the message here. Interesting that the same reaction does not occur with episodes that state (perhaps a little more subliminally) that casual sex can get you in trouble. That message is well accepted. But given society's sanction of drinking, especially in college, it seems that drinking is the third rail of TV drama. Don't mess with the beer...
Alyx Dellamonica
5. AMDellamonica
@JackofMidworld - I agree. The consistency of characterization comes along with a good understanding of action-consequence-reaction. @surge - Giles deserved Xander's retort, no doubt about it! Gardner - Seems to me the real betrayal here was Willow's, while Oz was struggling to do the right thing in an almost impossible situation. Such an interesting point! I don't fault Willow for moving on, and maybe if Oz had really hoped to keep his chances up, he might have considered dropping her a postcard. But she meets Tara fast, and Tara comes bundled with that bright shiny promise of power... Thanatos, I'd totally agree that nobody likes to be preached at.
Surge
6. Dr. Thanatos
AMD,

I agree that no one likes to be preached at. But it seems strange to me that this episode generates much heat, while episodes that are a bit preachy about sex (give it up and your boyfriend turns into a monster), drugs (ref: Willow season 6, Spike season 7) and casual violence (Faith, anyone?) don't. That's why I speculate that alcohol is treated differently in our society than other things
Surge
7. wiredog
I loved this episode. Possibly because my first try at college was pre-sobriety and after 2 years, with a cumulative GPA of 0.0, I got a letter from the Dean inviting me to leave and never come back. Fun two years though.

I eventually paid the wasted tuition back to Dad. And got a degree on my own nickel, via the G.I. Bill.
Surge
8. joelfinkle
I had (and still have) problems with "Beer Bad" just because of the characters' ages: Hello, doesn't California have a 21 minimum drinking age like the rest of the country? Buffy & Co. are freshmen, right? So, figure 18 as an average. Xander is not going to be employed to pour. Even (especially) in a campus hangout.

But lines like "Boy smell *good*!" and "Beer foamy!" make it worth a rewatch. Sure as the funny eps go, it's no "Band Candy" but they can't all be.
Ilan Lerman
9. Ilan
I'm glad to see some love for 'Beer Bad'. I think it has some great comedy moments. The scene where Buffy whacks Parker over the head with her club cracks me up every time.

What bothers me about some of these earlier S4 episodes are the contrived ways they lever Xander into every episode by giving him a new job so can he can appear in relevant scenes. It did feel like they weren't quite sure what to do with him in the first half of this series, when there is no reason for him to be hanging around the University as he has no classes to attend, so he can't fit in naturally in the same way he did during high school.
Surge
10. kormantic
Oz taking Tara's bullet would have perhaps driven me mad with grief, and although I was very fond of Tara, I wouldn't trade them.
Surge
11. jmd
Yes, not the greatest of the Buffy works, but you know, as a simple interlude with some not so simple consequences down the road, it isn't bad. Foamy! Fire bad!
Surge
12. Gardner Dozois
I think that Oz's mistake was thinking that Willow would be waiting for him at the end of his long dark journey of the soul, instead of grieving and moving on. Unrealistic, of course, especially when you're dealing with young college kids getting their first taste of freedom and living in a smorgesboard of potential sexual partners, but to be fair to Oz, I think that he might well have actually waited for her if their positions had been reversed, and that's why he based his assumptions on the idea that she would wait for him.

Joelfinkle, you're being a bit unrealistic if you think that many college freshmen aren't already drinking beer (if not doing more extreme stuff). In fact, many of them would have started drinking beer in high school, and their first experience with it would have been years before--kind of unrealistic, in fact, that Buffy wouldn't have had experience with it long ago. And there are almost certainly bars, especially somewhat shady bars like this one, willing to serve it to them.
Constance Sublette
13. Zorra
I've always liked "Beer Bad" for lots of reasons, which means I like it a lot.

Beyond that, currently I'm typing this in London where it is all BEER GOOD, very good. Even if the weather's not so much. :)

Love, C.
Surge
14. Sarah Pi
You asked whether bartending is fun. I managed an Irish bar for a while and enjoyed it, even though my first day was trial by fire on St. Patrick's Day. Luckily, St. Patrick's Day is all beer and whiskey, nothing fancy.
Once things settled down I had a good time chatting with customers and figuring out who wanted to talk and who wanted to be left alone. I liked showing off my perfect Guinness pour. I don't think I would have enjoyed working at a bar frequented by college students, since I'm a terrible judge of age; I'd have to card everybody, repeatedly.
A busy bar doesn't make for an easy first day, but it's a fun job for anyone who considers herself or himself a people person.

PS "May his memory be a snake-thing" cracked me up.
john mullen
15. johntheirishmongol
I didn't love this episode but I didn't hate it either. I was sad about Oz leaving, and I understood completely, why he did. However, it took Willow to a place that, to me, never really fit her. I never bought Tara, thought the character was pretty weak and even if had just been witchy friendship, never thought she fit.

The Buffy/Parker thing was great. The part where he gets whacked over the head is LOL funny. As an old guy, it didn't really bother me that college students were drinking a few beers. I expect it has pretty much happen to everyone at that age. I know I was in service at that age and we were certainly drinking.

The whole episode was a little bit of a morality play with the idea of beer bad...turns you into stupid neanderthal. I thought it was a touch heavyhanded.
Brooke Robinson
16. ShinySpecialOne
I never got the hate for "Beer Bad." I loved it from the get go because it was comedy gold. Nary a bar trip goes by without me throwing in a "foamy" reference...that very few people get, but whatever. And, holy stoners, Batman! Did y'all know one of the cave-dudes was Kal Penn?

"Wild At Heart" was so bittersweet. Yes, Oz cheated. Bad, Oz! Bad! And it had to have serious ramifications for the relationship. But I was so sad to see Seth go. I loved his dry humor and his monosyllabic wisdom. And Alyson Hannigan was beautiful in this ep handling the whole range of emotions (joy, love, hopefulness, doubt, betrayal, anger, loss) masterfully in 43 minutes. Joss's words ring so true for me: when Alyson cries, everyone cries.
Surge
17. ClintACK
Dr. Thanatos: "I agree that no one likes to be preached at. But it seems strange to me
that this episode generates much heat, while episodes that are a bit
preachy about sex (give it up and your boyfriend turns into a monster),
drugs (ref: Willow season 6, Spike season 7) and casual violence (Faith,
anyone?) don't. That's why I speculate that alcohol is treated
differently in our society than other things"

On the other hand, all of those morality plays were part of a much larger ongoing development -- Angelus's arrival drove the best parts of Season 3, the fall to Dark Willow and Spike's redemption were huge parts of their seasons, and Faith's casual violence led to the critical break that turned her into a villain.

In contrast, "Beer Bad" was a stand-alone episode with no run up to alcoholic neanderthall Buffy, and no aftermath. If she'd been taking more and more to beer and frat parties to drown her sorrows (re: Parker) and this episode had been her wake up call... it might be better received, even with the preachiness.

I've always liked it, though. It's entertaining and light, and every season should have a few episodes like that.
Alyx Dellamonica
18. AMDellamonica
Joel--I think Xander had a fake ID and I have the impression that it's common for campus bars to look the other way where their patrons are concerned.

Gardner--yes. We do this... assume others would behave as we would, and it's often to our detriment. Hmm, that's pretty much a story idea.

So glad I made you laugh, Sarah! I almost cut that line twice.

Alyson Hannigan is great in this one, yet again. You're right there, Shiny!

ClintACK - Yes, if there'd been a boozy Buffy arc, it would have carried more weight. Then again, we get magic-addicted Willow and I found that kind of a slog.
Surge
19. Gardner Dozois
I disliked the magic-addicted Willow arc and found it really tiresome, and I'm pretty sure I would have found an alcholic Buffy arc just as tiresome. Better to do it in one shot and get it over with. Besides, Buffy WAS drowning her sorrows over Parker in this episode, it's pretty clear that that--and the fact that good-looking guys were flirting with her while she did it--was the reason why she was drinking in a bar in the first place.

Apropos of nothing, I was amused last night to see "Jonathan" from Buffy win an Emmy for Best Screenplay. He looked pretty much the same as he did on the show, and as I always got the vibe that the actor was a nice guy, I was happy for him. It's good to see that he didn't let being sacrificed to an evil god stand in his way.
Surge
20. RobinM
I was also happy for Danny Strong because he won an Emmy. He does look the same only a bit more mature. I looked at the screen and said, "Good Job! Jonathan."
I like Beer Bad it's funny. Paker being bonked on the head makes me laugh every time. The other episode makes me sad.
I'm sad because I enjoy watching Oz and Willow together and didn't want him to go. On the upside there was no immediate and horrifying Doom unleashed on Sunnydale when broke up with Willow and fled town.
Jason Parker
21. tarbis
"Beer Bad" always seemed to just sort of be there. Not good or bad, but just there. Maybe it would have worked better with a little more seriousness to help the humor, or maybe not. Pretentious jerks who get drunk and become cavemen can only be taken so serious without breaking out the heavy rape tropes or killing people.

It did however underline how Xander was no longer an organic part of the show. Making college central isolated him and made a lot of his appearances awkward. Moving the action off campus next season smoothed that out nicely.

Oz leaving was a sad moment, but for the best. The character didn't really contribute anything except a van and some good jokes. (He was the smart guy that couldn't do smart things because that would take over other character's roles.) In all honesty they could have started writing Seth off the show at "Lover's Walk" and not lost much. Even the relationship with Willow, once reestablished, sat there spinning its wheels and failing to provide interesting conflict or drama.

Also I think you're overestimating the level of foresight in the writer's room. The furthest they ever seem to plan is dropping hints for the next season at the tail end of the current. For example the Mayor only started sound menacing in the last episode of season two and Dawn doesn't get a shoutout until the end of this season. If Seth Green had stayed on the show season six probably would have looked very different with something else triggering an actual threat near the end.
Surge
22. Gardner Dozois
It's true that Oz never really contributed much to defeating the Menace of the Day, and actually probably hampered the Scoobies by giving them something else to worry about--that he'd turn into a werewolf, get loose, and kill somebody or attack the Scoobies themselves. Since he's a non-directable weapon, he can become dangerous but can't control his actions when he is, as likely to attack his friends as the enemy, he's not really of much use in a fight with other supernatural creatures. It's hard to see how he could have contribued much to the fight against Adam that developes later in this season, or the fight against Glory in the next.

Of course, most of the above could be said about Tara too, who didn't really contribute much (except for occasionally augmenting Willow's power) to either fighting the menace or figuring out how to defeat it, and who (admitedly through no fault of her own) became a real burden to them in the fight against Glory, the need to care for her distracting Willow from the fight at hand, just as Oz might have done if he'd stayed with the show. Maybe that's why they decided she needed to go too.

I think in some ways they took the easy way out in killing Tara. To my mind it would have been much more interesting to have had Willow become Dark Willow, motivated by bitterness over the breakup (we've already seen her drift in this direction a couple of times before, as has been pointed out), and then have had Tara have to fight her.
Andrew Love
23. Andy Love
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.
Dark Willow had a lot of precursors. Willow always had a tendency to look for quick fixes to her problems - like offering to sleep with Oz to "make up" for kissing Xander, baking apology cookies after accidentally wishing her friends into a great deal of trouble (in the next episode I think), etc. Access to magic just make that tendency easier to indulge and more dangerous, too (attempting to kill Verucca, trying to create a "delusting" spell to apply to herself (and to Xander, without his consent)). The idea of "magic addiction" was such a waste of all that buildup - changing the cause of "Dark Willow" into an external factor, rather than a long-standing character flaw.
Jack Flynn
25. JackofMidworld
@ Gardner - I read "easy way out" and bristled, then I finished the paragraph and holy crow, that could have been an epic storyline! Would have totally changed the demographic of the group, putting Tara as the powerhouse of the group. I want to know when the fanfic/alt universe version comes out!
Surge
26. Gardner Dozois
They'd already set it up in a way, establishing Tara as the one who was steadfastly against Willow using so much magic in inappropriate ways, so she would have been the likely one to have to make a stand against Dark Willow, a stand made even more poignant by their former love. It would even have made more sense for the coven of witches in England to have pumped additional power into her than pumping it into Giles. Then, boom--Tara was gone, rather abruptly.

Considering that there were enough ill feelings there that the actress refused to come back later as the First Evil's impersonation of Tara (rather destroying that episode in the process), I can't help but wonder if behind the scene conflicts of some sort with the actress were the real motivation for her character being killed off, just as that was rumored to have played a part in what they did with Cordelia in later ANGEL episodes.
Emma Rosloff
27. emmarosloff
@Gardner - I always wondered why Tara didn't show up in the episode "Conversations with Dead People". It'd be a shame to learn that conflict behind the scenes was the reason she took the bullet, although it was quite a twist. I heard a similar thing about Cordelia on Angel. And, of course, that Sarah Michelle Gellar wouldn't show up on Angel to put distance between her and the Buffy character. So silly. In all cases, the continuity and overall quality of the shows suffered. But, it's easy to forget these are real people, behind the scenes.

Back to the episode(s) at hand, though -- I wasn't actually super bothered by the fact that Xander was crowbarred in. Yeah, the fact that he was serving alcohol was a little questionable, but as someone who didn't go to college (while all my friends were at one college or another) I can relate. I spent a fair amount of time on campuses that weren't my own, going to parties with kids I wasn't in school with, sleeping on dorm room/co-op floors, etc. I even did a bit of travel (although not nearly as much as I'd intended to) like him.

Sure, the Xander scenes were awkward, but I felt like that was in character. And I loved how much comedy they mined out of his time in his parents' basement, as well as his somewhat sad rapport with Giles during season 4. They're both feeling outmoded. Similar to what JackofMidworld said, I feel like this is just a natural consequence of things changing, and we get to see the fallout for awhile. That's okay. I like that everyone doesn't need to be in their perfect places all the time. Sometimes, we're just in transition.

As for Oz's arc, I thought it was handled well, tough though it was to watch him break Willow's heart. Since the Buffyverse is full of tropes, I wasn't put off by the rather sudden "werewolf recognition" trope, and thought that Paige Moss was captivating (at least up until she goes all crazy psycho in the end there). It was perfect that she was a musician, and had a sultry voice on top of that -- on so many levels, Willow can't compete.

Honestly, though, as easy as it was to hate Veruca in the end, and as convenient as it was that Oz kills her, I almost would've preferred it if she was another Oz type, inexorably drawn to him, but just as sick about the fact that she has feelings for a stranger -- a stranger whose taken. I thought that was really compelling in Oz's case, and it would've been interesting to explore this possibility of "love (or something like it) at first sight" among werewolves between the two of them. Instead of just pure lust and the very flippant-Faith-esque "we're above people so it doesn't matter how we impact them". Although I suppose it wasn't out-of-character for Veruca to act the way an animal would, fighting to the death for a mate, instead of being a little more civil about it.

The Faith archetype seems to be Joss's bad girl go-to, and while those kinds of people are real enough (particularly people with power) I feel like it would've more interesting if Veruca's character had been likeable, and maybe even if her and Oz ended up together at some point down the line, despite Oz's attempts to fight what he was feeling because of his love for Willow. This could all happen off screen (with a brief appearance later on to cement it), but it would've been torturous for Oz, and we all now how Joss loves that.

I could even see Willow (as difficult as all of it would be for her) possibly coming to a place where she could understand that it was literally hardwired into Oz's nature to be with this other person, and that his nature is the only reason the Oz she knew and love would've betrayed her. That ultimately, she'd want him to be happy, and she'd be willing to let him go (but maybe not interact with him on the regular). I don't know if any of you have the read the comic series "Elfquest", but there's a really compelling storyline along these lines.

As far as Tara's emergence, I personally loved that arc in Willow's story, and I was ready for Willow to be done moping by the time Tara came along. In TV time, she was sad quite long enough. Willow falling for Tara felt organic to me. It's not like she sought it out, or started dating again. She was wallowing hardcore, going through the stages of grief over Oz. And even though she didn't want to give up on him, it would've been unrealistic for him to expect her to wait for him. He could hope, sure, but he had already put her through so much. As much as it sucked for Oz, sometimes that's how life is, and you've just got to let it run its course.

Hannigan continued to astound me throughout this series with her sheer range. I believed her every step of the way, and her and Amber Benson had real chemistry, which I thought was marvellous (unlike Willow and Kennedy in season 7, no chemistry there at all). I remember when Hannigan showed up on Angel to help them change him back from Angelus (this was right as season 7 Buffy was ramping up, and Angel was still stuck in a groan-inducing Cordelia's pregnant story arc). Hannigan was like a breath of fresh air. Her Willowness permeated everything.

Back to Tara -- I liked her a lot. Partiularly in Season 6, once all that Glory business was done and stuff really started to get heavy. Tara offered something the Scoobies needed -- a level head. Particularly once Giles was gone. Sure, she was always soft spoken, but she was there, chiding Willow for abusing magic, taking care of Dawn, being Buffy's confidant when she couldn't tell anyone else that she was sleeping with Spike.

And Tara was strong enough to take a stand when things were getting bad with Willow, and even tried to keep up her relationship with Dawn. I feel like she was one of the only characters not totally absorbed in her own shit. Initially, that's why I figured she was killed off -- Season 6 was all about self-destructive spirals, and she was the only one holding back the tide. Once she was gone, all hell broke loose.

But I agree that it would've been awesome if she could've been the one to confront/battle Willow (although I loved that it was Xander who talked her back to reality). I'm a big Tara/Willow fan, and I was more sad when Tara died than I was when Oz left (as much as I loved Seth Green). It's funny, too, cause I'm realizing that while it didn't bother me how quickly she moved on from Oz, it bothered me how quickly Willow moved on from Tara. In my mind, Tara was her be all end all. Seeing her with Kennedy really bothered me. It felt forced.

Okay, this is super long! It's just fun to come up with alternative narratives.
Surge
28. Gardner Dozois
I don't know for a fact that behind-the-scenes problems were the reason they got rid of Tara, although I have read that there was enough bad blood there (perhaps because they'd gotten rid of her character) by the time they filmed "Conversations with Dead People" that the actress refused to reprise her role as Tara--which really hurt that episode. I've heard several bits of gossip about what was going on with Cordelia on the last few seasons of ANGEL, but since I don't know any of this stuff for certain, I won't repeat them.

Veruka being nice and Oz being unable to fight his attraction for her would have made for an interesting story arc; with Veruka being such a bitch, you didn't really care that she died at the end--the choice would have been a lot harder for Oz if she had been a good person...although that would have taken a lot more than one episode to resolve. Speaking of behind-the-scenes, I wonder if it's possible that they got rid of Oz because Seth Green wanted to move on and do something else.
Jason Parker
29. tarbis
I can't speak to the Amber Benson situation. (The story I heard was that the shooting schedule for "Conversations with Dead People" didn't match her availabilty, but that might have been a cover story.)

However if I remember the commentary track to "Wild at Heart" correctly the original plan was to have a longer story with Oz and Veruca before Seth Green left the show for more movie work. However Seth started getting offers that were shooting sooner than expected and everything got compressed into the one episode.

Considering how little of season four was about the main character already, Riley had the big emotional arc for the season, it might have been for the best to not have a Oz/Willow/Veruca triangle pulling more screentime away from Buffy.
Alyx Dellamonica
30. AMDellamonica
@andylove - yeah, the addiction thread wasn't the way I would have wanted to see this go, either. My impression is it was widely unpopular.

@tarbis - interesting. I definitely can't imagine enjoying more Veruca, so yay that!

Gardner - I'd always heard that Seth Green bowed out to do films, and rather suddenly too.

Emma - a not-evil, not-promiscuous Veruca would have been so interesting! And even more heartbreaking, I think!
William A.
31. General_Vagueness
re: 27. emmarosloff: "It was perfect that she was a musician, and had a sultry voice on top of that -- on so many levels, Willow can't compete."
Well, I don't know about so many levels, I mean there was this one time, at band camp....
Emma Rosloff
32. emmarosloff
@General_Vagueness: Hahahaha. I got a good laugh out of that one.
Surge
33. NullNix
Dr. Thanatos, I think I disprove your wacky theory. I haven't drunk alcohol since the age of thirteen on the grounds that it would probably kill me, but I still loathe _Beer Bad_. It's not that the moralizing is thumpingly anvilicious (though it is), it's that the cavemen are so utterly tiresome and every single scene in which they appear makes me want to throw something at them. The show normally has crackling dialogue, excellent character growth, or at the very least some nicely choreographed combat going for it -- but this episode throws all three away and leaves you with big fat nothing for huge chunks of screen time. It's just a waste. There are still a couple of nice moments in it, but they are not at all outweighed by the meh. And that's unusual for this show.
Surge
34. Sian
I know I'm late to these comments, but I want to say my bit anyway.

On people exiting - I've only ever read that Seth Green left suddenly because he got he got a role in a film, and I've never heard that there was any bad feeling with Amber Benson. I've read in various places and contexts that the decision to kill Tara off was made a good while before it happened, and that the reason she didn't appear in Conversations With Dead People was scheduling issues, and in the many years since it's happened she seems to have stayed very involved with Whedon things.

(I agree, though, that Conversations was rather messed up by her absense. I like to think, in one of my attempts to rationalise things that don't make sense, that Tara was just so lovely that the First Evil couldn't bear to assume her appearance.)

I like the point about people not wanting to be preached to about alcohol. I think I agree. I did go on to think, though, that Beer Bad really isn't all that preachy - as some have commented, it's really just a minor, amusing episode. But people perceive it as preachy, because many people get defensive when alcohol (as being bad) comes up.

As adultery storylines go, this is one of the better ones, I feel - it's not your usual. What I find odd, though, is that so little a deal is made of Oz killing a person.

One of the big Buffy issues is Willow's sudden turn around from oh-so-in-love with Oz to her relationship with Tara and being 'gay now'. This is another thing that I try to rationalise to make it fit. One particular thing that I think is that, as is said in this article, they had the whole 'first-love glow' thing going on. Was it really that great of a relationship? The dreadful angst of their break-up seems less like real angst (though Oz's motivations are moving) and more like very high school-college relationship traumas. And then Willow's over it and she moves on. It was a lovely relationship while it lasted, but it was a first-love relationship. And when I think of it like that, it makes far more sense that Willow moved on so quickly. (Meanwhile, for poor Oz, perhaps it was more like true-love. It just wasn't reciprocated.)
Alyx Dellamonica
35. AMDellamonica
Sure, Willow and Oz are young when they get together, but I don't doubt their sexual attraction or mutual affection. As for Willow then 'suddenly being gay'... well, it was foreshadowed.

And this is something that happens to a lot of queer folk, me included. You're in an okay (or less okay) relationship that's nice and straight and acceptable to the wider world. Then it ends--or it doesn't--and you meet someone amazing. Maybe it's your one true love. (In my case it was exactly that!) Maybe it's just someone you really like, or desire. But you and they don't add up to society's baseline expectatation of "nice straight couple."

Anyway, you grapple with the gay that was already there and and any fears, identity questions or crap attached to it. Hopefully, you conclude that you're good with yourself and get on with being a truer you and chasing that lovely new person for a date.

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