“Wild at Heart”
Written by Marti Noxon
Directed by David Grossman
Buffy is running across campus, pursued by a vampire. She leads him to a secluded spot, then they fight. After delivering a few puns that are cheesier than usual, she stakes him. And apparently she plans those puns. She loudly complains about how lame the evil has been lately. Standing on a hill or a building or something within earshot is Spike, who indulges in one of those scheming villain asides. Unfortunately, he doesn’t pay attention to his own surroundings very well, because he ends up tased by army guys just like that minion vamp from “The Freshman.” Oops!
The Scoobies are hanging out at the Bronze. They like how familiar it is, and Willow and Oz are being super cute. Then Giles throws off the whole familiarity thing by showing up. They’re very weirded out. Oz is the only one present who respects Giles’s taste in music, and their comments quickly make him realize he’s made a grave error by attempting to bridge the generation gap.
Veruca’s band is playing again. Gross. Willow is fake happy about it. Oz is once again mesmerized, and it seems that Veruca is staring back at him. Buffy notices how not happy Willow is, and she tries to help Willow distract Oz from Veruca, but since Oz’s answers to questions tend to be under six words or so, that only works for about a second. Giles and Xander are also mesmerized, and they’re completely oblivious to Willow’s insecurities.
The next morning, Willow and Oz are together in his bed. She’s talking in her sleep and he finds it adorable. She wakes up and the adorableness continues. She wants to spend time with him that evening, but he reminds her that it’s the first night of the full moon, so that’s not going to work. Also, she remembers that she was planning to check out this Wicca club on campus. She’d rather be helping him through his werewolf time, but he doesn’t want to take her away from her interests. She thanks him for his thoughtfulness with a kiss.
Professor Walsh asks Buffy to lead a class discussion. Even though leading discussions is completely terrifying, Buffy is happy that Walsh is so impressed by her work. In fact, she did better on her paper than Willow did. (Maybe this should be Buffy’s major.)
Oz is looking for a lunch table for him and Willow, and he sees Veruca sitting alone. He seems reluctant to join her, but she points out that there don’t seem to be any other empty tables and there are plenty of seats for when Willow arrives. They keep staring into each other’s eyes and it’s very unsettling. Then they start talking music. Willow shows up and sits with them, but she’s not happy Veruca’s there. Oz and Veruca continue their discussion. Willow awkwardly tries to break into the conversation, but she flubs it, and it’s painful. So painful that Oz leaves. Then Willow and Veruca smile fakely at each other, and Veruca leaves too, just in time for Buffy to arrive. Willow vents her frustrations and her fears about Oz and Veruca, and Buffy tries to reassure her that she’s Oz’s whole world. She seems reasonably cheered.
That night, Oz locks himself in a steel cage inside a large crypt. But later, when he’s in wolf form, he breaks right through the door after a very brief effort. Dang. If Willow had been there instead of at Wicca group, she would’ve been in serious danger. Unless the point of her being there was to keep a tranq gun trained on him all night, I suppose.
Professor Walsh is heading home after an evening seminar or office hours or something when wolf Oz jumps out of the bushes at her. She flees, but another werewolf, one with longer, light-colored fur, shows up too. Wolf Oz and the other wolf end up attacking each other, and Professor Walsh gets away safely.
The next morning, Oz wakes up, covered in scrapes. And Veruca is there too. Because she’s the other werewolf. Uh oh. They steal clothes from a dorm laundry room. She seems to have a rather Faith-like attitude about their situation. Being a werewolf means you’re more than human, better, stronger. More alive. She doesn’t lock herself up during the full moon, and she finds the idea repellant. Even if a part of Oz is attracted to her, the rational side of him is in complete disagreement. He doesn’t want his wolf side to control him, and he won’t put other people in danger just to feel free. She tries to seduce him right there in the laundry room, but he turns her down and leaves. She seems confident that his rejection will only be temporary.
Professor Walsh is telling Riley about her harrowing experience the previous night, and then Buffy joins them in time for them to fill her in too. Two “wild dogs” were on campus. She’s understandably alarmed.
Oz is checking the paper for signs of “wild dog” attacks when Willow shows up, looking like she raided Veruca’s closet. Oh, Willow, no. Don’t do that. She tries to apologize for being a spaz at lunch, but he’s so tense about what just happened with Veruca that he tries a little too hard to act like everything’s okay. She’s hoping to alleviate her own insecurities by getting him to have sex with her, but either he feels too guilty right now or he’s worried about how she’ll react if she sees all the scratch marks on him, because he turns her down. She tries to act like she’s not hurt, but she practically flees the room.
Giles is watching some kind of game show, the contestants of which aren’t nearly as smart as him. Buffy swings by to tell him about the “wild dogs.” Nobody’s been hurt, thankfully, but she’s headed to talk to Oz next. Giles seems especially eager to be kept in the loop on this.
Willow goes to visit Xander, who has been arguing with his mom over whether or not he’s allowed to have a lock on the basement door. Willow wants advice about Oz. She feels that Oz not wanting to sleep with her might be a problem, especially in conjunction with Veruca being all sexy around him. His advice is to actually talk to Oz about it. Pretending she’s not jealous and worried does no good.
Buffy finds Oz patching up the cage door in the crypt. She tells him about Professor Walsh’s experience. He pretends not to know about the other werewolf. She tries to find out what’s up with him. He seems to appreciate the concern, but he doesn’t open up. DANG IT OZ THIS PROBLEM IS BIGGER THAN YOU.
Veruca’s band is practicing. Oz is sitting on his bed, having deep thoughts. Willow is at Wicca group, but she’s not really mentally present. Oz gets up and leaves, looking like he’s made up his mind about something. Oh hey, recycled sunset still from the end of “In the Dark.”
Oz is inside the cage, and Veruca shows up. Apparently he invited her there. He tries to get her to come inside so she a) won’t be able to hurt anyone and b) won’t get hunted by Buffy. I don’t know why he’s so worried; Buffy wouldn’t use lethal force against a werewolf. But maybe this is less about her safety and more about his shame. He doesn’t want anyone else to know Veruca is the werewolf, at least not until he’s completely dealt with this problem by himself. She wants him to admit that he wants her as much as he does. He doesn’t use words, but…yeah. The only good thing is that they are now locked in the cage together.
In the morning, Willow skips cheerfully down into the crypt to bring Oz some food, and then she sees him and Veruca in the cage together, and she just crumples. Oz tries to explain. Veruca’s a werewolf too, and he had to keep her away from people. Willow doesn’t find this explanation sufficient. Oz didn’t have to keep it to himself. Veruca chooses that moment to insert a snarky comment, which leads to Oz yelling at her to get out—the only time he so much as raises his voice in his entire run on the show. It would be awesome if the situation didn’t suck so much. Willow is crying and Oz is deeply remorseful. He chooses that moment to remind her that this isn’t the first time infidelity has been a problem for them. Bad form, dude. He realizes he shouldn’t have said that pretty much immediately. They move on to the real problem: Willow has deduced that there’s a part of Oz that wants Veruca more than her—a part that he can’t quite control. She runs away in tears.
She’s wandering through town, so miserable that she doesn’t even realize that she’s wandering right into the path of a car. Riley grabs her and pulls her to safety as Buffy’s sprinting to her. He then offers some unwelcome platitudes. Buffy thanks him for saving Willow, and then she takes Willow back to the dorm.
Enough time has passed that Buffy has gotten the whole story from Willow, who is still miserable but no longer crying. Buffy would stay and keep commiserating with her, but she has to go find Veruca before she does any damage. Willow gets a very scary idea from the things Riley and Buffy told her.
Oz has had no luck tracking down Veruca. Buffy shows up. She’s not happy with him. He tries to apologize, but she doesn’t want to hear it. He feels guilty enough anyway.
Willow’s scary idea is to actually invoke Satan to curse Oz and Veruca to never feel love again. Things start floating as she continues the incantation. Uh oh. Buffy and Oz find a pile of Veruca’s clothes, which she left to lure them in the wrong direction. Oz realizes that Veruca is going to go after Willow, and they race back to campus. Buffy bonks into an army guy on the way, but Oz keeps going alone.
Willow’s about to finish the spell, but her anger fades when she looks at the picture of Oz. And there Veruca is. She locks the door to the lab. She’s here to kill Willow, thinking her death will free Oz (both relationship-wise and from locking himself in cages every month).
Buffy struggles with the army guy, then keeps running. In the lab, Veruca mocks Willow for her lack of resolve, since she failed to finish the spell. She also mocks her about Oz, then backhands her to the floor. At that same moment, Oz breaks down the door. The change is about to happen. They start to transform, which for Oz means enormous mutton chops. That’s unfortunate. Veruca insists that they’re animals, which means they’re killers. Oz looks at Willow, then at Veruca, and agrees. He lunges at Veruca before they finish transforming. They fight. Then they finish transforming and keep fighting. Wolf Oz kills wolf Veruca by ripping her throat out with his teeth. Then he looks up at Willow, who reaches out a hand to him, crying again. He’s too far gone to recognize her, and she’s in serious danger now. But luckily, Buffy has finally caught up! She tranqs Oz, then hugs Willow, who is a sobbing mess. If it wasn’t such a sad scene, I’d probably appreciate the parallel with the way Willow holds Buffy while she cries about Angel in “The Prom.” But yeah. Too sad for me to do much appreciating.
Buffy is at Giles’s apartment, filling him in on the military guy she ran into, as well as everything with Oz and Veruca. She thinks these army guys might be something to be worried about. She’s also worried about Willow, who isn’t doing so well. For anyone who hadn’t already seen the parallels between Buffy/Angel and Willow/Oz, Giles helpfully points them out.
Willow goes to Oz’s place. He’s packing. She doesn’t agree with this solution. He feels like he needs to go away so that he can figure out the two halves of himself. He doesn’t really have a definite plan to come back. She desperately wants him to stay. Even after what happened, she loves him so much. And he loves her. He grabs his bag and leaves her sobbing in his room. He gets in his van and turns the key in the ignition. And then, because the writers are jerks, he shuts it off again for about five seconds and looks back at the house where Willow is still crying. Then turns it back on and drives away.
So “Wild at Heart” is pretty much the most upsetting episode of the series so far. Dang it, Seth Green, why’d you have to be such a highly sought-after actor? Pretty much the only consolation to Oz’s exit is that they didn’t kill him off. Also, this episode does a fairly good job of not making us completely hate Oz, which isn’t easy to do when the plot centers around infidelity. But while it’s a good thing for Oz, it’s not a great thing for the topic of infidelity, which never comes this close to the surface of the Buffyverse again. That Oz’s wolf side is, against his will, attracted to someone other than Willow does not appear to be his fault or even within his ability to control. His only mistake is not telling anyone else about it before it’s too late. Maybe if he had stayed in Sunnydale longer, they could have dealt with this the same way another couple trying to overcome infidelity might deal with it, but there’s no time for that. Willow’s anger and betrayal burn out in a couple of hours, then Oz kills Veruca, then Oz leaves, and all that Willow can do is be sad that he’s gone, not hurt or insecure or mistrustful about the actual infidelity. I’m not sure I’m explaining well why this rubs me the wrong way. I’m glad they didn’t pull a complete character assassination on Oz by making him voluntarily unfaithful, but that also feels kind of like…cheating? (Cheating in the writing sense, not the relationship sense.) Veruca is made into the perfect scapegoat, and she plus Oz’s uncontrollable wolf side are like a set of external circumstances that break Oz and Willow apart against their will. Just once, I’d like to see a piece of werewolf fiction where the wolf has a “mate for life” mentality, like actual wolves. That would’ve really helped here. Actually, wouldn’t it have been interesting if Willow had considered turning into a werewolf herself in order to stake her claim on Oz? They wouldn’t have had to actually go through with it, but I would’ve liked that better than her trying to summon the powers of hell.
I like the moment where Buffy is torn between her best friend duties and her Slayer duties. It really hurts her to have to choose the latter when Willow is still hurting so much. She knows very well what Willow’s going through. It must make her feel so helpless that she can’t spare her friend that experience. I like that she’s still confiding in Giles, even about things that aren’t necessarily a major threat, like the mysterious soldier guys. Also, Buffy actually seems to be good at psychology, and she enjoys it. Does it only not become her major because Walsh turns out to be in charge of the Initiative? Did that ruin her experience with that subject? Because there’s never been a subject she’s enjoyed before. This seems like a big deal.
Xander has less involvement in this episode than almost any other so far. I like his scene. It’s really nice to see how sympathetic and helpful he can be about his friends’ relationships when he doesn’t actively despise their love interests. (So on the other hand, it makes me kind of annoyed that Buffy never had access to that side of him when she was with Angel.)
On occasion, Willow displays remarkably good instincts. She figures out Veruca is a threat long before anything happens. Unfortunately, she doesn’t act very decisively on those instincts. I’m not saying it’s her fault, but this was definitely a situation where better communication would only have helped. After she sees Oz and Veruca in the cage, the scary side of her comes out, more pronounced than it’s ever been before. In “Lovers Walk,” she showed that she was willing to use emotional magic on Xander without his knowledge or consent. Her intentions were good, so it wasn’t nearly as alarming as the curse of hatred she was about to do on Oz and Veruca, but it was definitely a forerunner of it. Fortunately, her love was strong enough to overrule her feelings of betrayal. By the time Oz is ready to leave, she seems like she’s well on her way to forgiving him. Even if he kept things from her and sort of cheated on her, he also proved that he would kill to protect her.
Oz’s undoing is the very same flaw he demonstrated in “Phases.” He tries to solve his problems alone and in secret. Particularly problems revolving around being a werewolf. I think control is important to him, and being able to fix the problem himself would represent gaining control over his wolf side much more effectively than if he got help. But, of course, he can’t fix it himself, so everything goes horribly wrong. He effectively forces himself into a corner, where his only two choices are to give in to his lust for Veruca or to let her run amuck in wolf form. The former is the lesser evil, and he definitely hates himself for it, but it didn’t need to be necessary. And then it goes even farther downhill, because he ends up killing Veruca instead of helping her. She’s his first kill as a werewolf, but he made the choice to kill her before he finished transforming. I can understand him feeling like he can’t be around people until he’s sure he has his wolf side under control after that. But that doesn’t make it any less painful to see him go. Or to watch Willow see him go.
Giles is clearly struggling to find his place. Nothing less would have driven him to the Bronze for casual purposes. He really needs a job—much more for his own sanity than for the money. His scene with Buffy when she comes to tell him about the soldier guys and talk to him about Willow feels very paternal. It’s a nice moment in an episode largely filled with anguish.
“And she wants me to lead a discussion group next class. That means more work, right? Shouldn't she have a better reward system? You know, like a cookie or a toy surprise like at the dentist?”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.